Allen Entwistle remembers exactly when he got into the cattle business.
He was 12 years old, and he hired a teenager to drive him to town one day. He walked into Mason City National Bank, sat down with his dad’s banker and borrowed $1,800 — to buy six cows and six calves.
“I didn’t tell my dad until that night at dinner!” he says, laughing. “I always loved cows, even then. And I paid ‘em off in a year and a half.”
It was the start of a lifelong endeavor for the 2017 Master Farmer from Riverton, who operates J&W Farms in partnership with his son, Jayson, farming land across Logan, Menard and Sangamon counties. Allen grew up on a farm near Middleton, attended Lincoln Land College and started as a salesman for Lincoln Land FS. He met Sharon, a high school senior, and four years (and one teaching degree) later, they were married in 1970.
Sharon spent her career in education, and today is a director for Funshop, an early childhood program with the Springfield Park District.
After his wife and family, Allen has three great loves: land, cattle and the Illinois State Fair.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Allen raised polled and horned Herefords, winning champion banners all over the country. He helped bring a Hereford junior national show to Illinois in 1999 and secured a $50,000 grant from the state of Illinois, which was disbursed in scholarships to class winners.
Even today, Allen loves a good livestock show. “I love to go watch the grandkids exhibit their animals at different events.”
And while Allen recently bought a Hereford bull, the red cattle have mostly given way to black. He and Jayson operate an 80-head cow-calf herd, with half calving in the fall and half in the spring.
Allen doesn’t mince words: “I like to buy farms. I like to buy farms that need fixed ‑— tile, waterway, dry dams. I document with pictures to see the accomplishment over a two- to three-year period.
“It’s the idea of taking something and making it better,” he says.
Indeed, he and his son have done a lot of that. Allen says when he buys a piece of ground, the first thing he does is assess necessary conservation practices and work with his local soil and water conservation district to develop a plan.
“I’m the caretaker for the land, and it’s my sole responsibility to ensure its continued health and fertility,” he adds. “The public has the right to have safe water, and I’m doing my part to provide it. It’s not a matter to take lightly.”
Allen was an early adopter of spoon-feeding nutrients to crops, having spent 36 years working in feed and crops at Lincoln Land FS. He farmed part time during those years and retired from FS 17 years ago to farm full time with his son.
He and Jayson apply 80 units of anhydrous in the fall and another 80 units in the spring, both with stabilizer. Last year, they tested a plastic-coated, time-released urea on part of the farm where additional nitrogen was needed. In continuous corn, they chisel stalks in the fall with precision chisel points from 360 Yield Center.
Most of their rented ground is secured with variable cash leases, which lets them avoid excessive rent in poor economic periods and lets the landowner share risks and rewards during better periods.
The Entwistles employ part-time labor in the fall, mostly as truck drivers. Allen says finding skilled labor is a challenge.
The Entwistles are early adopters of technology. Allen laughs as he describes the things they’ve tried that didn’t work, and credits his son with their technology successes. Among them: a high-speed John Deere planter that plants at 11.5 mph. “It’s the most accurate planter we’ve ever had,” he says.
Ag is back
Allen does all of this with a little more effort than the average farmer. From his father, he inherited Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that damages the nerves in the arms and legs. He’s dealt with the effects of CMT since his mid-40s, and in recent years gets around on scooters ‑— one for inside and one for outside. A forklift gets him into the combine.
Says friend and banker John Slayton, US Bank, “I have spent hundreds of hours with Allen, and not once have I heard him complain about his health issues. This disorder on occasion might slow him down, but it does not stop Allen Entwistle!”
Allen is quick to share how the Illinois State Fairgrounds has always been a big part of his life. And indeed, he was a big part of the efforts to reintroduce agriculture to the Illinois State Fair in 2015. He helped secure more than a hundred pieces of equipment to display throughout the grounds. “That way the public can see each piece of machinery needed to farm, the cost of the equipment, and be reminded that it’s not just some big machine slowing them down on the road,” he adds.
Allen joined the ISF Advisory Board in 2015, and he’s helped secure bidders for the Sale of Champions for decades. In 2014, he was named to the Lincoln Land Purebred Livestock Association Hall of Fame.
For Allen, the real prize for all of that work is singular: It’s in the people he’s met and the friends he’s made. “Like-minded people who want to make agriculture better,” he says.
People like Kendall County farmer Philip Nelson, who in nominating Allen said, “He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy! He gets the job done. He makes sure things get done, and he doesn’t worry about who gets the credit for it! Allen is a strong man, and agriculture in the state of Illinois is better because of him.”
CATTLEMAN: While Allen’s Hereford roots run deep, the red cattle have mostly given way to black. He and son Jayson operate an 80-head cow-calf herd, with half calving in the fall and half in the spring.
Making the phones ring
Sen. Dick Durbin once told Allen Entwistle, “I only got a thousand calls from you, but I got 10,000 from someone else.” His takeaway: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
That conversation triggered something in Allen, who set out to increase the number of constituent phone calls placed by Sangamon County Farm Bureau members in favor of agricultural interests. If someone said they needed 10 more calls to an elected official about an ag position prior to a vote? Allen dropped everything and got 20 calls, just to make sure.
In short order, Sangamon County led Illinois in the number of contacts with elected officials. But he didn’t stop there. “Allen focused on several issues he felt were so important that we should impact the issue relentlessly,” says Sangamon County Farm Bureau Manager Jim Birge. “The result? We held the rank of No. 1 in the nation in Farm Bureau contacts, going so far as to have more contacts than many state Farm Bureaus.”
MASTER AT A GLANCE
Children: Amy Entwistle, Jayson Entwistle
Operation: 4,300 acres of corn and soybeans, 80-head cow-calf herd
Leadership: Sangamon County Farm Bureau president, Sangamon County Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs Committee chairman, Illinois State Fair Advisory Board, Illinois Polled Hereford Association youth adviser, Illinois Beef Association director, Illinois Department of Agriculture Livestock Advisory Committee, Riverton School Board, First United Methodist Church Board, Illinois State Fair Illinoisan of the Day, Lincoln Land Purebred Livestock Association Hall of Fame
Nominator: Philip Nelson, Master Farmer Class of 2001