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Do you know someone who should be named a Prairie Farmer Master Farmer next year? Here’s how you can nominate them.

Holly Spangler, Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer

March 5, 2024

3 Min Read
From left: Gerald Thompson, Chris Hausman, Lou Lamoreux, Malcolm and Susan Head
WINNERS: The 2024 Prairie Farmer Master Farmers were nominated by past Master Farmers, commodity groups and local supporters. They are (from left) Gerald Thompson, Colfax, Ill.; Chris Hausman, Pesotum, Ill.; Lou Lamoreux, Lanark, Ill.; and Malcolm and Susan Head, Blue Mound, Ill. Betty Haynes

Where did the Prairie Farmer Master Farmer awards program come from?

Prairie Farmer editor Clifford Gregory launched the Master Farmer program in 1925, holding its first Master Farmer awards in Chicago. The magazine presented gold medals to 23 Illinois and Indiana farmers. Gregory’s goal: Recognize hardworking, salt-of-the-earth farmers for doing what they do better than anyone else.

The program has become a hall of achievement for Illinois farmers like no other, because it honors farmers who do it all, combining top agricultural production skills with community service, grassroots achievement and dedication to their families. They are the folks who make our rural communities tick.

Editors paused the award in the 1930s due to economic hardship of the Great Depression, explaining, “Citation for excellence would have seemed ironic when the farmer’s principal concern was survival.”

Prairie Farmer relaunched the award in 1968, and since then, nearly 350 farmers have been named a Master Farmer, and still with the same credentials: outstanding agricultural production and outstanding community service.

How to nominate someone

As you’re reading these stories, you may think of someone who ought to be on these pages next year. Applications are available now for the 2025 award, and they’re due Aug. 26.

Related:Prairie Farmer names 2024 Master Farmers

The application includes a nomination form and requires eight to 12 letters of support, but no financial information. The judging panel focuses on growth of the operation over time, agricultural productivity and community involvement.

Who’s eligible? Here’s a look:

  • Candidates must farm in Illinois, deriving the majority of their income from agricultural production.

  • Candidates may be individuals, couples or siblings; judging is equally weighted.

  • Each nominee should be actively engaged in production agriculture.

Winning Master Farmers have successful farms with proven production records, and they’re leaders in their community. They’ve raised farms and families, and they’ve given back substantially to the community.

Here’s what makes a successful application:

Be thorough. Share how the individual(s) got started, and show how their operation has progressed over time. No detailed financial information is required.

Get letters. Gather eight to 12 recommendation letters, including at least one from a farmer in the neighborhood. These letters give insight to character and reputation in the community.

Think small. Don’t forget all the things done in the local community and state and national organizations. For spouses, list both individuals’ activities, noting who did what.

Start early. This application is not a quick process because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime award.

Check the mirror. You can nominate yourself. Many farmers do every year.

Email [email protected] if you have questions or want an application sent your way or download the 2025 application online.  

Judging thanks

Thank you to the 2024 panel of judges for evaluating and selecting this year’s Master Farmers.

  • Susan Adams, 2020 Master Farmer

  • Germán Bollero, University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences dean

  • Karen Corrigan, McGillicuddy Corrigan Agronomics

  • Mike Gunderson, chief credit officer, Farm Credit Illinois

  • Dwight Raab, Illinois Farm Business Farm Management

  • Holly Spangler, editor, Prairie Farmer

Master Farmer partner: Local FS companies

Prairie Farmer is grateful to the local FS companies for their continued financial support of the Master Farmer program. Since 2009, Growmark has provided financial assistance for the awards program.

“It’s an honor to sponsor this prestigious award on behalf of local FS companies. Individuals recognized as Master Farmers embody the qualities and competencies of this noble profession that we are so proud to serve,” says Mark Orr, Growmark CEO.

The local FS companies’ commitment to caring for the local ag community fits well with Prairie Farmer’s mission to maintain the heritage and honor of the Master Farmer awards.

Like the Master Farmer award, the Growmark system was born during the 1920s. In 1927, nine local co-ops formed the Illinois Farm Supply Co., which merged with Illinois Grain Corp. in 1980 to form Growmark. The FS brand was adopted in 1955 and remains Growmark’s flagship brand. 

Read more about:

Master Farmers

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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