Larry Magnuson checks on his crossbred cow herd that is part of his farming operation in Bureau County. The herd is mostly Angus and Simmental with small portion of Limousin. For the past four years, the cattleman has marketed the calves from the herd in the fall through a Certified Angus Beef sale at the Fairview Sale Barn.
Larry Magnuson checks on his crossbred cow herd that is part of his farming operation in Bureau County. The herd is mostly Angus and Simmental with small portion of Limousin. For the past four years, the cattleman has marketed the calves from the herd in the fall through a Certified Angus Beef sale at the Fairview Sale Barn.
TISKILWA, Ill. — River grain terminals, interstate highways, ethanol plants and railroad access give farmers in Bureau County many options to market their products.

“This farm is the beginning and the end of the story,” said Larry Magnuson, who farms near Tiskilwa. “It started in 1949 with my uncle, d it has been pretty much continuous since then that Magnuson has farmed Murphy ground.”

Magnuson farms about 400 tillable acres, where he grows corn, soybeans and hay. He also manages 140 acres of timber pasture and a small crossbred cowherd.

“My dad farmed this land on a 50-50 share basis, and when I was 12 or 13, we moved to a farm near La Moille,” he recalled. “Twenty years exactly on the same weekend, I moved back and took over what my dad and uncle farmed.”

The cattleman started his farming career in 1975 near La Moille, the same year he both graduated from college and was married.

“We were about three miles from dad, and we farmed there 11 years before we moved back here when my uncle retired,” he said.

That occurred in 1986 during the middle of the “awful ‘80s,” Magnuson noted.

“And in 1988, we were hit with the third drought in five years, but we made it,” he said.

Over the entire time he has farmed, Magnuson has never owned farmland.

“I’ve always farmed 50-50, which is unheard of,” he said.

Jim Rapp’s family started farming in the Princeton area after emigrating to the U.S. from Sweden.

“My grandfather started farming here in the ‘20s, my dad took the farm over and built a foundation for me and now I am building a foundation for my sons,” he said. “I farm around 3,000 acres with my sons, Nick and Ben.”

The Rapps grow corn and soybeans.

“My sister owns my grandparents’ farm, I own the farm my parents had and we have expanded the operation by renting ground and doing some custom farming,” Jim Rapp explained.

Markets Abound

During the 2013 growing season, Bureau County farmers harvested 289,500 acres of corn that produced an average of 185.9 bushels per acre. Soybean acres last year in this county totaled 133,000 acres with an average production of 55.2 bushels per acre.

“We’re in a dynamic area for climate, and we have very productive soils,” Rapp said.

“And with the Illinois River and now our position in relation to ethanol plants on either side of Bureau County and rail terminals in Mendota and Galva, that all enters into better basis for our corn,” he noted. “We are in a pretty decent place to raise corn and soybeans because we have a lot of places to sell our products.”

“The strength of our county in one word is siting,” Magnuson agreed. “Way back when I started farming, my dad said that we cannot be in a better area to be farming because we’ve got markets close to us with the river, rail and interstate.”

He markets most of his grain through his local grain elevator in Putnam County.

“Most of it goes to either the river terminal or the ethanol plant in Hennepin,” he said.

“Over the past 10 years, this part of Illinois is very blessed with the added markets for grain that compete with each other,” said Bill Naffziger, who farms near Walnut. “It is good for this area and for Main Street, as well.”

The addition of ethanol plants and rail terminals for shuttle trains not only means more markets for farmers, but also more jobs for the communities.

“When farmers make money, we support our local merchants, car dealers and all the trades like carpentry — we definitely reinvest,” said Naffziger, who currently serves as president of the Bureau County Farm Bureau and raises corn and soybeans on the farm that has been in his family for multiple generations.

“We have a long history in Bureau County,” he said.

The Naffziger family also has been active in the county Farm Bureau group, as both Bill’s father and grandfather served as president of the organization.

“I’ve been active in the Farm Bureau for a long time because I think it is important to put something back into the community,” he said.

“It is also important to make our voice heard on the issues,” he added. “And you always get back more than you put in from the interactions with other groups and farmers along with being able to identify upcoming trends.”

Ag Changes

Although the trend has been ongoing for quite some time, Rapp noted, the loss of livestock in Bureau County has been noticeable.

“I’ve been to different parts of the county, and it is so sad to go down roads I drove as a high school kid, college kid and young farmer and see a silo alone with no houses or fences,” Magnuson agreed. “It’s about the saddest thing you can see.”

Changing tillage practices and applications of inputs for crop production are occurring on the Rapp farm.

“We are going to have to look at how we divide up the way we put on our fertilizer and other inputs, as well as more soil conservation-based on some of the news I hear coming from the EPA,” he said.

“We’ve been putting the nutrients on in two to three different operations,” said Rapp, who currently is the District 4 director on the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. “And we do more strip tilling every year.”

In addition to the corn board, he also served as a director on the board of the Illinois Corn Growers Association.

“I got involved because I saw an opportunity to be a part of a board with a lot of really good people, and I thought I could learn a lot,” he said. “The people I’ve met and the things I’ve learned — I could never be paid an equal amount for that.”

“The future of our industry will depend on federal and state regulations because we have markets, transportation and opportunities if we are not shut down because of insidious regulatory rules due to lack of understanding about agriculture by the consumer,” Magnuson said.

The cattleman sees this as not only a challenge, but also an opportunity.

“If we continue to take advantage of what the Farm Bureau offers us to be educators to the consumer, that’s an upside,” said Magnuson about programs such as Ag in the Classroom, Adopt a Legislator and Field Moms. “If we do not take advantage of those programs, then we have shot ourselves in the foot.”

He stressed the importance for farmers to talk to consumers.

“We cannot be afraid to invite people to our farms and tell our story,” said the 10-year member of the board of the Bureau County Farm Bureau and a past member of the Illinois Beef Association board.

Magnuson also completed the Agricultural Leaders of Tomorrow program.

“That program offered me the chance to realize people want to learn if you are willing to talk to them — not at them,” he said.

“This continues to be a great industry that is solid,” Naffziger said.

“The most recent trend is more interest in young people coming back into production agriculture,” the Farm Bureau president said. “In other sectors, the jobs aren’t as plentiful as they once were, and the economics are there to support young people coming back to agriculture.”