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Master Farmers single out biggest changes in their careers

Master Farmers single out biggest changes in their careers
Purdue ag economist asks Master Farmer panel to look back at most striking changes in their farming careers.

Suppose someone asked you this question: What is the biggest change you’ve seen during your career in farming? And suppose the person asked you this at the front of a room filled with farmers and ag business people. How would you answer it?

Jim Mintert posed that question to a panel of 2016 Master Farmers. The Master Farmer program is co-sponsored by Indiana Prairie Farmer and the Purdue University College of Agriculture. Mintert is director of Purdue’s Center for Commercial Agriculture.

TECHNOLOGY BIG DRIVER: These Master Farmers agree that advances in technology are the biggest changes they've seen while farming. Pictured are Tom and Karen McKinney (left) talking with Nan Nidlinger.

Panelists answering the question were Dan Gwin, Linden; John and Nan Nidlinger, Decatur; Don and Darci Zolman, Pierceton; Tom and Karen McKinney, Kempton; and Bret Marsh, Indiana state veterinarian, Indianapolis.

Jim Mintert: What is the biggest change you have seen during your farming career?

Dan Gwin: Change happens at a lot faster pace now than it did 30 years ago. We have to do the best we can to make sure we’re making the right moves today.

Bret Marsh: The livestock industry is much more proactive today than in the past. Producers are very aware that they need to pay attention to what the consuming public thinks about what they do.

Don Zolman: It’s technology, without a doubt. I remember the days of computer punch cards, and I remember paying $120 just to get a calculator that could find square roots of numbers. Today, we have GPS and yield monitors. Overall, I like change.

Darci Zolman: One of the biggest changes for me is the whole area of how much more knowledge we have about soil today. We’ve learned so much about soil health, and about how to implement practices that help the soil.  

John Nidlinger: We’ve certainly seen changes in technology, and we’ve definitely become more familiar with soils and how to handle them properly. This process takes time. But in the end, one of the big changes is that we’re becoming better managers than we were before.

Nan Nidlinger: Advances in accounting stand out to me. We have programs that help us do a much better job with balance sheets, and help us make better use of those tools today. What technology in this area has done has given us more time for various things, including more time to be efficient in farming, but more time for the family, too.  We need to embrace technology that helps us reap these kinds of rewards.

Karen McKinney: I didn’t grow up on a farm. When I first came to the farm, we had a detasseling business, employing 600 people, mostly teenagers. That meant there were 600 kids which had to be paid weekly, and then it was all done by hand. I helped my mother-in-law, and we used a typewriter then, too.

What we’ve done in adopting technology is acquire the ability to write 600 checks on the internet very quickly — although we don’t have that operation anymore.

Tom McKinney: Technology makes a big difference in human resources, too. We can spend more time finding the right person for a job today, and also spend time getting them into the right role. If you help someone find their niche and they like what they do, they will feel like they have never worked a single day!

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