On the surface, Indiana farms look a lot alike – but appearances can be deceiving. Making a living in agriculture, while giving the next generation a chance to farm, requires flexibility and resourcefulness.
The winners of two of Indiana Farm Bureau’s most prestigious awards for young farmers exemplify these characteristics. They share a love for agriculture, but they are accomplishing the goal of making it their life’s work in different ways.
Don and Jennifer Shoemaker’s route to farming could be considered traditional. Both grew up on farms and now farm with Don’s parents, Eugene and Barbara, producing corn, soybeans, seed soybeans and wheat, and “finishing” (that is, bringing to market) several hundred head of cattle annually.
The Jackson County farm has expanded since Don began farming full time after graduating from Purdue University in 2003, and it now consists of 1,350 acres, most which are rented.
Their land is a mix of “beach sand to river bottoms,” Don says.
While he and his father work together, they focus on different things.
“I joke that if a problem has roots or wheels, it’s my division, but if it has legs, it’s Dad’s,” he says. “Basically, I finance and manage the crops, Dad does the same with the cattle, but we both work for each other.” One of Don’s responsibilities is working with the USDA’s Environmental Quality Improvement Program, making sure the farm is environmentally friendly through the use of techniques such as careful management of fertilizer use on the farm.
A farm with both cattle and grain isn’t unusual. What is unusual is the way the Shoemakers blend the two by using the same fields for both cattle and grain, but not at the same time. They keep cattle on their sandy, rolling fields during the winter, and then they plant corn on those same fields in the spring. The cattle are fed from portable feeding units and graze off the corn residue, and they “fertilize” the field as they graze.
Jennifer spends most of her work hours teaching math at a local high school. But as a farmer’s daughter – her parents’ farm is about 3 miles away – she is familiar with what it takes to make a farm successful. She helps prepare equipment, runs for supplies and parts, helps out in the fields and generally makes herself useful.
The Shoemakers won the Indiana Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Achievement Award in December.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to farm and enjoy sharing the story of production agriculture with others,” Don says.
On-farm, Off-farm Excellence
Clinton and Julie Taylor of Boone County are taking a slightly different route to full-time farming. It’s fair to say they lead busy lives, because while both work with Clinton’s parents, Tom and Jan, on the family farm, they also have full-time off-farm careers. Clinton manages his family’s construction business, and Julie is a family and consumer science teacher at Western Boone Jr./Sr. High School.
The plan, Julie explains, is for Clinton to eventually take over the farm from his dad – “and I would love to stay home on the farm.” But for now, they work both on- and off-farm.
The family farm consists of nearly 4,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat. Clinton’s primary role, in addition to helping with planting and harvest, is incorporating and implementing the use of technology on the farm. Julie also assists as needed, and is, in her words, “slowly but surely learning to operate equipment.”
Their off-farm jobs have strong ag components. The general contracting business that Clinton manages specializes in construction for farmers and commercial ag businesses, and in her classroom, Julie fits agriculture into her lessons at every opportunity.
“With one of my primary subjects being food and nutrition, I incorporate agriculture in nearly every unit of study,” she says. “In other classes, I’m able to incorporate agriculture-related careers; explanation of food costs for budgeting; fabric and textile origins; and other topics related to current events.”
The Taylors are very involved in their community. Both are active members in their church, and both are active in Farm Bureau as well. Julie is the public relations coordinator for Boone County Farm Bureau while Clinton is the secretary/treasurer. He also serves on the local zoning appeals board, and Julie is the facilitator of the Kiwanis Leadership Academy. Their commitment to agriculture and their community was recognized in December when they were named the winners of the IFB Young Farmer Excellence in Agriculture Award, which honors young farmers who are involved in agriculture but who do not own a farm.