The Carney family of Macoupin County was honored as the 2011 Illinois Farm Family of the Year at the University of Illinois Salute to Agriculture. The award is presented by Burrus Hybrids and Illinois AgriNews. Pictured (from left) are Tom Burrus, president of Burrus Hybrids; James Henry, executive editor of Illinois AgriNews; Jane Lee and Gerald Carney; Reid Rhodes; Kim Carney Rhodes; and Riley and Lonny Rhodes.
The Carney family of Macoupin County was honored as the 2011 Illinois Farm Family of the Year at the University of Illinois Salute to Agriculture. The award is presented by Burrus Hybrids and Illinois AgriNews. Pictured (from left) are Tom Burrus, president of Burrus Hybrids; James Henry, executive editor of Illinois AgriNews; Jane Lee and Gerald Carney; Reid Rhodes; Kim Carney Rhodes; and Riley and Lonny Rhodes.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Carney family now is the Illinois Farm Family of the Year. The Macoupin County family was honored during the Salute to Agriculture at the University of Illinois.

Gerald and Jane Lee Carney received the award along with their daughter, Kim Carney Rhodes, her husband, Lonny Rhodes, and their children, Grant, Reid and Riley.

The annual award has been presented by Burrus Hybrids and Illinois AgriNews for 13 years. It honors an outstanding Illinois family for contributions on and off the farm and is aimed at increasing awareness of the important contributions farm families make to everyone’s daily life.

The Carneys own 1,200 acres and raise a small beef cattle herd in southwestern Illinois. They are known for their integrity, compassion for others and dedication to agriculture.

“We are proud to recognize the Carneys as an outstanding family, who have contributed to their local community, state and national organizations. They have generously given of their time and talent providing leadership to many organizations,” said Tom Burrus, president of Burrus Hybrids. “They are truly the best of the best in promoting agriculture.”

Gerald and Jane Lee married in 1966. They retired from farming at the end of the 2004 crop season, but their decades of hard work have inspired the next generation to continue in their bootsteps.

“Thanks to dad and mom’s love and hard work for more than 30 years, I today along with my husband – who had a successful farm prior to adding our acres in – and family have the opportunity to continue this family tradition,” Kim said.

“For many years, mom and dad worked side by side hauling grain with two matching two-ton trucks,” the daughter added. “I remember learning from my mom how to load the truck from the combine ‘on the go’ in the field before we had a grain cart.

“One of dad’s proudest moments is the fall that mom and him hauled 18,000 bushels to the elevator in one day with just those two trucks.”

Kim noted her father’s love for agriculture continues today, even as he battles Parkinson’s disease.

“My parents are very involved in helping us as we move to fields, bring us meals and providing their expert advice and keeping a watchful eye,” she said.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t want to go to the farm, know what the markets are, how many bushels he has to sell or how ‘the kids’ – that’s what he calls Lonny and I – are getting along with harvest.”

Gerald previously served as chairman of the National Corn Development Foundation, board member of the U.S. Feed Grains Council, chairman of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, treasurer of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, president of Macoupin County Farm Bureau, member of the Macoupin County Fair Board, vice president of Farmers Elevator in Lowder and president of Oak Grove Cemetery.

Jane Lee has been active with the Farm Bureau Women’s Committee and the Methodist Church. She focused her efforts as a 4-H leader when their son, Greg, was old enough to join the organization and still volunteers with the group today.

“Mom has never held a job off the farm, but she held many jobs on the farm — from bookkeeper to equipment operator and an amazing cook, she has done it all,” Kim said.

They are conscientious environmental stewards. A big goal for Gerald – who farmed with his older brother, Warren, for 30 years — has been to leave the land in a higher state of fertility and with better conservation practices than when it was rented or purchased by the family.

He was recognized by the National Corn Development Foundation for his contributions to agriculture, received the Southern Illinois University College of Agriculture’s Outstanding Alumnus Award and was named Master Farmer by the Prairie Farmer magazine.

“Not only did our parents do a lot to be active in the community, but they created an environment where that was an important part of our time growing up, doing community service and teaching others about agriculture,” Kim said.

Greg and Kim both graduated from the University of Illinois’ College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

The family created the Greg Carney Memorial Scholarship through the IAA Foundation, a group established by Illinois Farm Bureau to fund education, research and charitable activities that benefit Illinois farm families and agriculture.

Eligible recipients must be a U of I student, actively involved in production agriculture in a family farm operation, have a track record of active 4-H membership and major in agriculture.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today with my hard working values and my knowledge of the farming industry without my parents and my dad,” Kim said.

“He has put his heart, soul and life into farming, and I’m proud to be carrying on his legacy.”

As the 2011 Illinois Farm Family of the Year, the Carney were presented with a plaque and yard sign, as well as tickets and hotel accommodations to attend the U of I Salute to Agriculture tailgate celebration and football game between the Fighting Illini and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers.

They also will receive a vacation package based on their personal interests.