Jim Droege, Mount Vernon, Ind., became involved in farming at an early age. “I was driving tractors by the time I was 12 or so,” he recalls. “That was the early 1960s, and my parents, Edmund and Clara Marie, had a general farming operation, which included sheep, hogs and chickens. I helped take care of all of them.”
Three other things influenced Jim in his early years. “I was active in the North Posey FFA, giving speeches and being in contests, and my dad supported me in FFA all the way,” he says. “I was president of the chapter during my senior year.”
Then came two years of military service. Jim’s dad and his younger brother, Paul, kept the farm operating until he returned. He began actively farming in 1971 and formed a formal partnership with his dad and brother in 1975.
What was the third key event? He married Carol Jo in 1977. While she worked off the farm as an accountant until retiring in 2014, she’s supported Jim in everything he has done, both on and off the farm, since they were married.
Much of the Droeges’ rolling land in southern Posey County is subject to soil erosion, so they have taken steps to prevent it.
“We’ve installed lots of water and sediment control basins on rolling soils over the years, and we also utilize grass waterways where they’re needed,” Jim says.
His first experience with no-till was borrowing an Allis-Chalmers planter on 20-inch rows from a neighbor to double-crop soybeans after wheat. “After we saw it worked, my dad modified a John Deere planter to 20-inch rows, and we used it for years,” Jim recalls.
Later, they borrowed a Kinze planter with Rawson coulters to no-till corn into hairy vetch. In more recent years, the Droeges concentrated on minimum tillage for corn, with some no-till corn, and no-till for first-crop and double-crop beans, striving to maintain at least 30% residue cover after planting corn.
They’ve used wheat to protect soils during the winter on the most rolling fields, and they’ve also experimented with cover crops.
Paul died in 2018. Today, Jim and Carol Jo rent most of their land to neighboring farmers, who continue to do their best to prevent as much soil erosion as possible.
Jim’s interest in soil conservation led him to become a supervisor with the Posey County Soil and Water Conservation District in 1990. He worked through the leadership ranks and served as president of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in 2007 and 2008.
“I was active when the IASWCD convinced the Legislature to transform T by 2000 into Clean Water Indiana, and that was a big accomplishment,” Jim says. “It was a pleasure to serve others in various capacities in that organization.”
That’s not the only way that Jim and Carol Jo serve people. Both are active in their local church. In the early 2000s, Jim was one of four individuals who took on the task of developing a communitywide effort to raise money to buy and process hogs and cattle for donation to local food pantries. Called Partners in Food, this undertaking continues today. The organization raises money and delivers food to those in need through many food pantries in southwest Indiana.
In 2016, Jim survived a grain bin entrapment accident. Soon afterward, he saw an opportunity to use his experience to spread the message about safety to others. Both he and Carol Jo participated in a video that reenacted the near tragedy. Thanks to work by the Posey County Farm Bureau and ag safety specialist Bill Field at Purdue University, the video has made its way across the country, encouraging others to practice safety when handling grain.
Tom J. Bechman
PUT SAFETY FIRST: After Jim Droege survived a grain bin entrapment, he and wife Carol Jo participated in a video reenactment to tell others about the potential dangers of grain handling.
Protectors of the soil, farmers at heart and great friends to anyone in need — that’s a good way to describe Jim and Carol Jo Droege, deserving members of the 2020 class of Indiana Master Farmers.