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Illinois Class of 2019 Master Farmers recognized

Agriculture’s lifetime achievement award was presented to four new Master Farmers in Springfield this week.

Four new Illinois Master Farmers were recognized this week at the 2019 Master Farmer Awards at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield, Ill.

The 2019 Master Farmers include Martin Marr, Jacksonville; Jim Robbins, Peotone; Bill Sahs, Lincoln; and Boyd Schaufelberger, Greenville.

With an award that dates to 1925, the four farmers were honored for their efforts in production agriculture and community service. Each was nominated for the award through grassroots efforts, by their neighbors, children and past Master Farmers.

“My fellow honorees have demonstrated that they’re not only good stewards of the farms they operate, but also good stewards of the communities that they live in,” said Marr, reflecting on the nature of the award. “I will always strive to preserve the integrity of this honor.”

Robbins agreed, pointing to the family that makes it all possible. “The definition of master is, ‘showing very great skill and proficiency.’ For us to do that, we need family, faith and community, and that lets us do what we love: farming,” he said.

Schaufelberger, a renowned dairyman, pointed to the necessary genetics of their operations. “Genetics and environment are important, and Sandy and I have been blessed with both good parents and great children,” he said.

John Sullivan, Illinois Director of Agriculture, also stopped by to offer an update on the department and congratulate the Master Farmers. “You all are truly outstanding,” he said.

The Master Farmer program is a grassroots program, and nominations come from neighbors, friends, family and farm organizations. This year’s nominators included 2015 Master Farmer John Werries (Martin Marr); neighbor Jeff Elsas (Bill Sahs); neighbor John Kiefner (Jim Robbins); and Amy Schaufelberger Hoover, who nominated her dad, Boyd.

Judges for the 2019 Master Farmer award included Karen Corrigan, McGillicuddy Corrigan Agronomics; Linnea Kooistra, 2011 Master Farmer; Robert Easter, University of Illinois president emeritus; Steve Myers, Busey Ag; Dwight Raab, Illinois FBFM; and Holly Spangler, editor at Prairie Farmer.

In his speech, Sahs reflected on the deep appreciation the class feels for its profession.

“It is quite an honor to get an award for doing things that you love,” Sahs said.

Excellence on campus

Kim Kidwell, University of Illinois College of ACES dean, delivered the keynote address for the ceremony, imploring attendees to keep their best asset — their children — in Illinois by sending them to an in-state ag college.

Kidwell joined the college a little more than two years ago as its dean and has made it her mission to slow the flow of students to out-of-state ag colleges. She shared how the University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University, Western Illinois University and Illinois State University have collaborated on a pathways program to help students find the right agricultural pathway for them in the state of Illinois.

The good news: USDA predicts by 2020, there will be more than 55,000 job openings for ag graduates, and only 35,000 graduates available to fill the positions.

Kidwell also talked about the college’s new Center for Digital Agriculture, a program designed to offer graduates expertise in both computer science and crop science, and to strengthen the Illinois ag industry through research and training.

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