American agriculture is unmatched around the world. Yet with this success comes an even greater challenge: Who will replace the half-million farmers and ranchers who plan to retire over the next two decades? Look no further than our next class of America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers. They are among the best of their generation. They embrace the future of agriculture and are developing the technical and managerial skills to build their own successful businesses.
By local acclaim Arenzville is home to the world's best burgoo. It's a spicy and slow-cooked stew containing any number of meats and vegetables prepared by townspeople as they commemorate the town's founding in 1839. Adam and Breanna Winkelman often venture into the small west central Illinois community for bowls of burgoo ladled from a line of steaming iron pots. "We like it," Breanna allows, a schoolteacher, raised on a farm not three miles from Adam, her husband of eight years and a fifth generation farmer.
Adam is engaging, quick to smile, a man of good humor who declares his delight with a hearty laugh. "I enjoy waking up each morning and being able to farm," he says. "Being progressive, while holding onto traditional values is what inspires me." His management concept of farming also is a mix, slow-cooked.
Adam is building income streams from a blend of livestock, grain and trucking enterprises. "When done correctly, [they] compliment each other," he says. "There is nothing more sustainable than feeding the grain we raise to livestock, and using their manure to raise the next crop."
Winkelman Farms is 700 acres of soybeans and 200-bushel corn drained by the Illinois River that forms the western boundary of Adam's home in Cass County. Supplementing 39 inches of annual precipitation, center pivots draw water from wells gushing forth at 1,000 gallons per minute, to irrigate 260 acres of sandy knobs. Adam's corn is fertilized by 1.8 million gallons of manure from the 11,000 market hogs and 12,000 feeder pigs he raises annually. He applies another million gallons to neighboring fields. Adam custom farms 160 acres–plant, spray and harvest. Adam's beef feedlot produces 100 head of market cattle a year. It's an enterprise he plans to grow by two or three times over.
"There's not a lot of cattle still being finished in west central Illinois," he says. "But with the ethanol plants coming on line in the past few years, there are more readily available feedstuffs we can use to be more competitive." Large, local supplies of gluten from those plants cut Adam's feed costs by $30 a head.
The Winkelman operation owns a fleet of seven, semi-trucks. Drivers haul hogs from Adam's two hog barns to the processor in nearby Beardstown. The trucks bring gluten to his feedlot from ethanol plants in Decatur and Peoria, Illinois. Finished cattle go to a Tyson plant in Joslin, Illinois. Adam cuts his cattle transportation costs by $10 a head when his trucks return from Joslin with hogs bound for Beardstown.
"[I] continue to be amazed at how strategically Adam spends his money on his operation," says a neighbor. Adam carefully husbands his money, he says, noting Adam's truck lacks power windows. "I guarantee the money he saved went to a part of his operation where he knew it would provide him with a return."
For example, Adam purchased a Case-IH 305 Magnum last year. He'll use it to expand his custom manure handling business. The business expansion will pay for the tractor. The tractor became affordable because "the weakened ag economy has softened values on late model equipment," Adam says.
A few years ago, Adam thought hard about adding two finishing buildings to his hog operation. Now, he thinks the better decision was to postpone construction.
"I was 25. Now I'm 32 and I don't know if that [hog expansion] makes sense [today]," he says. "Farms of all sizes can be successful, however I want to be hands on in every aspect of the operation as it grows. No one will ever do the job as good as you can do it yourself."
Farming across several soils–prairie, upland and sand–is demanding. "Growing corn in sand can be [especially] challenging in a continuous corn operation," he says. Yields vary up to 30 bushels within 100 yards, even in irrigated ground. Adam employs leaf tissue analysis–it has helped him identify a need for boron in corn, for example. Side by side yield comparisons help him gauge the benefit of varying nutrient levels.
Adam plants a cereal rye cover crop to protect soils prone to erosion. The crop reduces wind erosion on the sandy fields and it reduces soil erosion on hillier ground. "With the use of cover crops and a minimum disturbance injector on my manure wagon, I'm able to control the soil in the fields," he explains.
The large supply of hog manure has eliminated Adam's need for commercial sources of phosphorus and potassium. He supplements the corn crop's nitrogen needs by sidedressing ammonia at a rate of 100 pounds per acre. Adam credits the manure for giving him a 10 to 15% yield bump in sand.
"With the manure and irrigation we can raise as good of corn on sand as on our heavier, non-irrigated ground," he says. Yields typically hit 190 to 220 bushels per acre.
Adam's banker is an admirer of her client. "Adam responds to his [farming challenges] with extraordinary gusto, and delivers while sustaining a sensible and intelligent demeanor," says Noelle Flesner, agricultural loan officer form CNB Bank & Trust in Pittsfield, Illinois. "He has the ability to recognize and communicate his current and future needs which assist in maintaining a direct sightline to this goals. Producers such as Adam are what strengthens and enriches a rural community."