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Advice from farming masters

Prairie Farmer Master Farmers advise the next generation to pay attention to margins, get involved, keep good records and find a mentor to navigate the year ahead.

Betty Haynes

April 10, 2024

3 Min Read
Master Farmer Gerald Thompson talking to his son Reid Thompson
NEXT GENERATION: 2024 Prairie Farmer Master Farmer Gerald Thompson, Colfax, Ill., shares advice with his son Reid Thompson.Betty Haynes

With high expenses and low returns, the 2024 crop year is shaping up to be one for the history books. To navigate the coming season, the 2024 Prairie Farmer Master Farmers share what’s on their minds, their experiences from past years and their advice for young farmers.

1. The economy. Gerald Thompson, Master Farmer from Colfax, Ill., says the biggest thing on his mind moving into the 2024 crop season is the economy. Thompson says he’s preparing for a year where expenses and inputs are high, but crop prices are low.

“It’s important to watch margins, but we still need to grow a crop,” he says. “Maintaining profitability is more important than ever.”

2024 reminds Thompson of when he started farming in the 1980s with double-digit interest rates and low commodity prices. Thompson’s advice for young farmers this year is to pay careful attention to margins by creating efficiencies, watching cost of capital and keeping equipment expenses low.

2. Regulations. Lou Lamoreux, Master Farmer from Lanark, Ill., says the biggest topics on his mind for the coming year are legislation and regulations.

As a beef producer, Lamoreux worries about the impact animal rights groups will have on regulatory conversations. He fears Illinois legislators will look to California for increased livestock regulations.

As a crop producer, Lamoreux is apprehensive about steps U.S. EPA has taken to restrict dicamba, and is concerned about what the future of chemical application looks like under the Endangered Species Act.

His biggest advice for the next generation is to get involved with commodity groups and local lawmakers.

“Dig in and get involved,” Lamoreux says. “If there’s something in Springfield or Washington you don’t agree with, do something about it.”

3. Marketing carryover. Chris Hausman, Master Farmer from Pesotum, Ill., says the biggest thing on his mind for the 2024 crop season is marketing carryover from the 2023 crop. Hausman says he’s hoping for a price recovery to market the 2023 crop at a profitable level since margins are tight.

Hausman says 2024 reminds him of the 2013-14 growing season, where crop prices were high from the ethanol build and then quickly decreased. He says the biggest difference between now and then is that today, he doesn’t dwell on things he doesn’t have control of.

Hausman’s advice for farming in the coming years is to invest in good records and seek advice from reliable people.

“Records are the road map for your farm, and without them, you’re driving blind,” he says, explaining the benefit of good records to watch margins, work with the lender and calculate farm data.

4. Expansion and interest rates. Malcolm Head, Master Farmer from Blue Mound, Ill., says 2024 presents both tremendous opportunities and considerable threats to their farm.

Head says opportunities exist for expansion in the coming years as older farmers retire and farms turn over. He’s also optimistic about the cattle side of their farm, as cattle prices remain strong for 2024.

Being positioned to take advantage of farm turnover, Head says, will be a trick with high interest rates.

Head says although farming experiences highs and lows, the key is to always look forward, regardless of the circumstance.

His advice for young producers is to find a mentor. “Work with a mentor to gain knowledge. They’ll help you minimize mistakes since they’ve been there, done that,” he says.

5. Advocacy. Susan Head, Master Farmer from Blue Mound, Ill., says telling agriculture’s story is front-of-mind for her in 2024.

“We need to tell the good story of ag before someone else tries to tell it,” says Head, referring to those with negative perceptions about production agriculture. “There’s so much information out there about our products, but not all of it is accurate.”

As a cattle producer, Head says it’s her duty to help set the record straight about topics like beef nutrition, welfare and sustainability. Head has been active in the Illinois Beef Association and Illinois Farm Families, and says consumers are always amazed at what it takes to raise the livestock at Head Bros. Land and Cattle.

Her advice to the next generation is to be well-informed, and to talk about life on the farm with friends and neighbors.

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Master Farmers

About the Author(s)

Betty Haynes

Betty Haynes is the associate editor of Prairie Farmer. She grew up on a Menard County, Ill., farm and graduated from the University of Missouri. Most recently, Betty worked for the Illinois Beef Association, entirely managing and editing its publication.

She and her husband, Dan, raise corn, soybeans and cattle with her family near Oakford , Ill., and are parents to Clare.

Betty won the 2023 Andy Markwart Horizon Award, 2022 Emerging Writer, and received Master Writer designation from the Ag Communicators Network. She was also selected as a 2023 Young Leader by the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists.

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