This week I had a chance to sit in on the Indiana Master Farmer banquet, sponsored by our sister publication Indiana Prairie Farmer, along with the Purdue Ag Alumni Association.
Since my earlier days as editor of Prairie Farmer in Illinois, I have loved this annual event. Master Farmers are nominated by their peers and embody the things we love most about agriculture. They are not only successful operators, but they have the respect and admiration of their neighbors and farmer colleagues. They are usually the folks who were first to try something new in their neighborhood. And they are almost always the folks who show up to help at the Church or school, or to host an FFA event.
This year's Indiana winners are cut from the same cloth. Kerry, Kent and Kim Ames, of Fillmore, Ind., were unique in that the three brothers earned the award as a team.
"When the three of us came back to farm together, we learned you can put skills together and make something bigger than what we could do individually," says Kerry. "We each have something we like to do. Mine is marketing; Kent does the machinery and Kerry does the books. We can fit together and we don't have to be all experts on everything, and that's making it easier as we try to bring in the next generation."
Ed Carmichael, Jr., of Sullivan, Ind., has traveled the world and says we need to appreciate how good we have it in this country. He's also met a lot of folks who don't understand agriculture. "Most city people think farmers just complain, and that farm subsidies cause problems with their taxes," he says. "Everybody needs to do their best to educate city people on what it's about out on the farm."
Gene Schmidt, Hanna, Ind., agrees. He is a savvy seed corn grower and leader of the National Association of Conservation Districts. "If we want to be truly successful in farming we have to do a better job in telling our story," he says.
"You don't teach somebody how to work out of a textbook. We need to have the opportunity to let the young folks work along side the older generation. That's going to make a difference in the future."
Bill Schroeder, Reynolds, Ind., raises 32,000 pigs per year from wean to finish, and does a great job using manure as a nutrient for crops. He believes farmers need to treat everyone on the farm like they were a part owner.
"We don't want people to just feel like hired hands," he says. "They need to feel ownership in the farm. That way we have everyone onboard with what we're doing on the farm. "
These farmers have had many successes in life. What advice would they give young people?
"They need to follow their heart," says Schroeder. "I love to go out and do what I'm doing. I love to get up every day on the farm."
Hanna agrees. "If you dread every morning, it's a long life. Look for the positive side. The only person who isn't making a mistake is someone who is not doing anything."
Just remember there's a lot of risk in agriculture, added Carmichael. "There's a lot of really good jobs in ag, but not that many farmers," he says. "The farmers who are out there are going to have to manage risk the best they can. It's something you have to love because there's no business I know anywhere that risks as much as we do every year to gain such a little amount of profit."