Jim Mintert took advantage of more than 200 combined years of agricultural experience when he moderated a panel discussion of the 2020 Indiana Master Farmers. They gathered in Danville, Ind.
Mintert, Purdue University Extension agricultural economist and director of the Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture, posed questions that allowed the Master Farmers to look both back and ahead. The 2020 Master Farmers are Max Beer, Berne; Jim Droege, Mount Vernon; Jim Gillooly, Washington; and David Sommer, Berne.
Here are highlights from the panel discussion:
What are the biggest changes in agriculture during your career?
Sommer: It must be technology. We started out with a four-row corn planter with no gadgets. Today, I’m not sure I could jump in and start up the corn planter. Our son Lance gets it ready, and it is loaded with technology. The same thing applies with livestock. We use robotic milkers today.
Beer: David is exactly right — it’s technology. I started out doing lots of work around the barn with a wheelbarrow and shovel. Today, some hardly know what a wheelbarrow and shovel are. Our dads worked harder than we do physically, but not mentally. There is a different and higher stress level today.
Gillooly: My father-in-law, Arthur Colbert, sold seed corn from hybrids which won yield trials for $26 per bag in 1968. Today, you pay $270 to $325 per bag for seed corn. He raised 210 bushels per acre with that seed, too. We take a lot of risk when you farm today. We don’t have much room to make many mistakes.
Droege: My early memories at age 6 are of Dad planting with a Ford tractor and a two-row corn planter. GPS and precision technology changed everything. Today we can variable-rate-apply seed and fertilizer if we want to do so. I remember a presentation by Bob Nielsen, Purdue Extension corn specialist and 2020 Honorary Master Farmer. It was titled “Variable-rate Corn: You Can Do It — Do You Need To Do It?”
Yet some things haven’t changed. Since 2014, the trend has been toward lower corn and soybean prices. Today, the stress isn’t physical, but it’s mental.
Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to the next generation?
Beer: You need to give thanks to God, and you must have a good family around you for support. A good family working with you is hard to replace.
Sommer: We’re in difficult times, but you must believe things will get better. God truly must be No. 1. It must be about faith, family and farming. We try to use that as our slogan as we work through things. We have to have faith that things will get better, and pass it along to our young people who will take us into the future.
Gillooly: Change starts with us, one person at a time. We need to learn how to forgive, both ourselves and others. You are going to encounter frustrations in agriculture. You must step up and move forward. This is advice I hope I’m passing on to future generations.
Droege: We must let our kids and grandkids following us know we’re here for them. We must give them enough space to fail and learn, but yet let them know we’re here for them.