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2017 Prairie Farmer Master Farmers
BAND OF BROTHERS? Getting four farmers together who’ve reached the pinnacle of their careers makes for both good camaraderie and high-level conversation. Here are 2017 Prairie Farmer Master Farmers Kent Kleinschmidt, Joel Kooistra, Allen Entwistle and Tracy Jones.

Masters at change — and attitude

Here’s a look at how we gather each year’s Master Farmers together for a photograph, and what we all learn in the process.

Every year, we gather our Master Farmers together to shoot a cover photograph. It’s a tradition here at Prairie Farmer. For some, it’s the first time they’ve met. For others, it’s a reunion: Once upon a time, they were FFA section presidents or county Farm Bureau presidents together.

They meet. They shake hands. They exchange ideas. I sit in awe of it, every single year.

We always aim for a central location, often one Master’s farm. This year, Kent and Sara Kleinschmidt opened their home to us — and they served homemade ice cream, which may be no finer hospitality for a bunch of farmers.

The Kleinschmidts’ backyard gives way to a pasture, which gives way to a sweeping view of Logan County farmland, where cattle come when called, and where creeks meander off in the distance and patchwork fields await planters.

It was an ideal spot for photographs, especially for four Master Farmers who raise cattle. There was a time when that wouldn’t have been so unique — when every Illinois farmer had livestock. 

Both Kleinschmidt and Allen Entwistle have cow-calf operations. Tracy Jones operates a feedlot, and Joel Kooistra has spent his entire life in the dairy business. These men love their cows.

The Kooistras made some history this year, as well: Joel’s wife, Linnea, earned the Master Farmer award in 2011, the first woman to do so. Now, they’ll have two plaques in their home, one for each of their remarkable achievements. That makes me incredibly happy, and proud to know them.

The more things change
Most of us aren’t big on change in this life. But as associate editor Jill Loehr pointed out, these Master Farmers have looked for ways to change.

The Kooistras jumped into BST testing with their hearts and minds wide open. Then they adjusted again when they could no longer use it.

Jones recently changed his entire marketing strategy, putting hedging to work.

Entwistle is planting at 11.5 miles per hour, and he’s dealing with every physical challenge his Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder throws at him.

Kleinschmidt has been elected president of every county, state and corn marketing board available to him in Illinois.

It was Maya Angelou who said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” I don’t know what Angelou knows about production agriculture, but those words ring absolutely true in our business and of our Master Farmers. Perhaps it is what makes a farmer a Master Farmer.

Year after year, I’ve written about Master Farmers who’ve changed their farm. They got into or out of livestock, they got into or out of specialty crops, they got into or out of technology. They’ve gone out and changed their communities — school boards, Farm Bureaus, taking ag to classrooms. Conservation boards, nutrient management committees, county boards.

And when they couldn’t change a situation, they changed their attitude. Take Allen Entwistle, for example. He sure can’t change his disorder. But he can change his attitude toward it. He rigged up a skid steer and a lift into the combine, and an SUV with a scooter lift. He chooses to keep going and flat-out refuses to let it stop him.

The same could be said of an estate plan you didn’t choose or a family decision that changes your farm.

It all reminds me of a conversation with Colleen Callahan a few years ago, when she said something that changed the way I thought about life. “Life is about choices, not circumstances,” she told me. You may not choose your circumstance — low corn prices, low beef prices, degenerative diseases — but you can absolutely choose how you respond.

I hope as you read the profiles of the 2017 Master Farmers, you’ll see that in them. The right choices, the right response. The right attitude.

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