Farming today is challenging and expensive. Here’s what these farmers had to say about their profession.

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on Friday, July 12, 2019. photo by Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Claire Hettinger is the 2019 Illinois Humanities Engagement Fellow for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.  Have a story idea, question or tip? Reach her at claire.hettinger@investigatemidwest.org

For Illinois farmer Harold Lareau, farming can be unpredictable.

“Every year is different and that’s what makes it so fascinating to be a farmer. You either love it or you hate it,” said the Sidell-Illinois based farmer.

Lareau was one of dozens of attendees at the annual Historic Farm Days event, hosted in Penfield, Illinois, July 11 through July 14 by the I&I Antique Tractor & Gas Engine Club.

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting set up a booth with the goals to meet more farmers and discuss changes in the agriculture industry.

Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting booth at Penfield on July 12. Photo by Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

And farming has changed dramatically.

Today’s farmers are faced with prices driven low by the trade war between the Chinese and United States.

Farmers are also facing unpredictable weather patterns as climate change begins to make an impact across the Midwest.

More so, farming supplies such as weedkillers and seeds are now controlled by fewer companies.  According to Farm Journal, just five companies now make up 80% of planted corn and soybean acres.

Agribusiness company Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, bought 15 seed companies since 1997 and retired 15 seed company brands during the same time period. And Corteva Agriscience, now its own independently traded company, was the agriculture arm of Dow Dupont until 2019.

This company acquired 18 competitors starting in 1998 and retired 10 seed brands.

The cost of farming has greatly increased as well.

Farm debt in the United States is expected to reach $427 billion this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When adjusting for inflation, these debt levels rival the 1980s farm crisis, according to the USDA.

Historic Farm Days show-goers look at antique farm equipment on July 12 in Penfield. Photo by Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

With the challenges facing farmers today, visitors to our booth had various opinions on the best time to be a farmer:

“1947 to 1948. They were good money making years. Things really took off after the war.” - Dale Fleming, Villagrove, Illinois

“1962 until 1975 or 1980. The equipment was really good in those years” - Earl Crane - Clifton, Illinois

“Best year for us was 2009 to 2017 or 2018. We had a few better years. My husband is good at marketing. We farmed for 35 years and never gave up.”  - Carolyn Hardesty[2] , Kentucky

“All years are a new challenge always glad to see new crops coming out of the ground. I still like to pick corn on a warm sunny fall day,” - Robert Geddes, Hoopeston, Illinois [3] 

“1956. I was 16 that was the best time of your life. Nobody got in trouble. I liked them old days. You didn’t have the craziness like you do now. And you could count on the weather,” - Russell C. Mitchell, Argenta, Illinois

Best time early 1940s. “It amazes me how much equipment costs. I mean $100,000 - that’s unreal,”- Wanda Kocher, Newton, Illinois

The five to ten years before 1914 are often referred to as the Golden Age of Farming.

These years were prosperous for farmers and are used as the Doctrine of Parity used by the United States Government to regulate agriculture prices.

Prices were high and there was little to zero government interference.

This period came to an end when WWI started and the government started commandeering food for the cause.

An overview of Historic Farm Days on July 12 in Penfield. Photo by Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Have a thought on this issue?

Please email me at claire.hettinger@investigatemidwest.org or catch us at the Half Century of Progress Show August 22 - 25 in Rantoul, Illinois. Hope to see you there.

Claire Hettinger is the 2019 Illinois Humanities Engagement Fellow for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.  Have a story idea, question or tip? Reach her at claire.hettinger@investigatemidwest.org