A farmer keeps his roots, while looking towards the future.
Much has changed since his great-great-grandfather first broke sod in 1849. On their 12,000-acre farm between Danville, IL, and Ambia, IN, Randy W. uses technology, machinery and a team of five people to help plant corn that goes into Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
“We can plant 500 acres in a day with one planter…and we have two. My father used to plant 500 acres for an entire season,” Randy says. “It takes patience and precision.”
Randy points to precision as one key to sustainable agriculture. “With high-tech mapping of our fields we know what areas carry more moisture or which need fertilizer or herbicides. Then we spoon on as little as is needed. It is better for the environment that way.”
He is quick to add with a smile, “and it saves money”
Doing more with less is a common theme among farmers today both for sustainability and economics.
“[A lot of the younger generation] go to school, and sometimes they don’t come back to the farm. So you have to continue to do more with fewer people, and that’s where technology plays a part.
Most people assume running a farm requires following some basic agricultural practices. But, as Randy explains, it involves much more – from staying up on the newest technology, to lessons in sustainability, to knowledge from family history.
While Randy appreciates the efficiencies and support that machinery brings to his farm – his planters can plant 500 acres in a day and his 60,000-pound combine helps harvest the corn quickly – nothing, he says, beats having boots on the ground to simply walk the farm and monitor things, like moisture levels during the growing season.
This hands-on approach is a good example of how some things on the farm go unchanged. Randy explains that even with the implementation of new machinery and technology, the basic process and methods of planting and growing corn remain the same as when his great-grandfather was his age.
“Corn is grass crop. It works well on the prairie. A few hundred years ago, every once in a while, the buffalo would run through, and when they came through their hooves kind of tilled everything up. They’d also fertilize while they were there…so we’re really not far off in the process itself.”
Whether they’re using new technologies or longstanding methods, Randy says the mentality is the same – leave the land in better shape after harvest than when they started.
“As we maximize production and grow more corn, we’re also helping to protect the soil through methods like crop rotation and no-till farming.”
It’s the soil itself, the Midwest climate and temperature that provide the perfect conditions for growing the best corn. Because of these elements, the corn grown for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes is primarily grown in the Midwest – Kansas, Nebraska, and in Randy’s case, Illinois and Indiana.
Randy jokes it’s all his family knows and loves to do.
“In a lifetime you only get 30 or 40 seasons to grow corn so you better have corn on the brain and put your all into it.”