TUSCOLA, Ill. — The methodic sound of horse hoofs drifts over the fertile land only to be slowed by the hum of a tractor pulling a planter.

Fieldwork in Douglas County takes on a unique perspective where Amish and “English” farmers have shared this fertile soil for nearly 150 years.

This east-central Illinois county, formed in 1859 out of Coles County, was named in honor of then-U.S. Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, the “Little Giant” of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates.

However, there is no debate here as the county’s farmers utilizing modern and bygone era “horsepower” to provide food, feed and fuel as a team.

Corn and soybeans dominate the Douglas County landscape, with 120,300 acres of corn and 102,800 acres of soybeans in 2013. The county includes about 4,534 acres of forage crops, 1,593 acres of oats and 1,229 acres of corn for silage.

Poultry production is big in Douglas County as its 37,529 broilers and other meat-type chickens rank first among the state’s counties. Pullets for laying flock replacement total 16,020 for fourth highest in Illinois. Douglas has 19,694 layers, ranked 12th, according to the 2012 U.S. Ag Census.

Farm Sizes Contrast

Of the county’s 735 farms, 295 have incomes of more than $100,000, including 103 with $500,000 or more. There are 308 farms with income less than $20,000, including 131 with less than $1,000

About 90 percent of the county features a gently sloped topography interrupted by the Kaskaskia River that flows west toward the Mississippi River and the Embarras River with its eastern flow toward the Wabash and Ohio rivers.

“We have heavily drained soils. We rely on our field tiles in the county. With this silty clay loam, field tiles are very important,” said Tyler Harvey, Douglas County Farm Bureau manager.

“We’re very blessed here to have top soil with good, deep organic matter covering primarily the whole county. There are wooded areas along the rivers, but if you’re in production agriculture you’re on a drummer soil.”

There has been an increase in using cover crops in the area, and no-till also is used.

“(Soil conservation practices) just kind of depend on where you are in the county for the most part. It kind of depends on what prescription the farmers use but conservation is heavy here,” Harvey said.

A crop yield tour in early August estimated the county’s average corn yield at about 206 bushels per acre after a yield of 187.1 bushels per acre in 2013.

“Compared to the last five years, it looks like this corn crop is going to be much higher than it has been in a long time. Soybeans are looking good, as well,” Harvey said.

Typical Amish Farm

The Amish population has grown to more than 4,500 members, primarily concentrated around Arthur.

An average Amish farm consists of approximately 80 acres, with their main crops being wheat, oats, clover, and corn. The Amish farm with teams of six to eight horses.

Until a few years ago, farming was the only way of life for the Amish. With ground for expansion no longer plentiful, some of them are leaving farming for other ways of life such as woodworking, canning, watch repair, and several now are employed at various manufacturing jobs in the Arthur area.


Harvey noted the Amish’s entrepreneurship and the number of Amish-operated businesses throughout the area.

“You’d be surprised what some of the Amish machine shops can make if you’re looking for a specialty part or good food at their restaurants,” he said.

They also bolster the economy along with their modern farming counterparts by purchasing crop inputs locally.

“We do have a lot of unique shops around here. Illinois is the No. 1 producer of pumpkins, and we do have The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur. That’s a very popular place,” Harvey said. “And also you have many Amish places that have small businesses and make their own foods for sale.”

This unique contrast in agricultural production practices is evident in the county and the rapport between the “old” and the “new” are a constant.

“We’ve always made sure to be aware of the carriage lanes. We’ve always made it work, and it’s worked out well between everybody,” Harvey said.