MCLEANSBORO, Ill. — It should not come as a surprise that
with a population of less than 9,000, Hamilton County’s main industry is
agriculture. But like most places, the scope of farming has changed.
Livestock production has diminished while row-crop farms
have expanded. And there are a number of specialty operations, including Organ
Owner Gary Organ has lived on the land he farms since 1946.
He no longer grows corn and soybeans, instead setting aside the bulk of his
acreage for cash rents. He now focuses on production of hay, including
“We produce various types of hay such as orchard grass,” he
said. “People who need medium-quality hay are our customers. We bring in
top-quality alfalfa from the west and north.”
Like most of southern Illinois, land in Hamilton County
lacks the fertility of that in the state’s prairie soils. But tiling has made
headway and has greatly improved yields on a number of farms.
McLeansboro-based Prairie Tile Systems supplies tiling used
across the county and beyond.
“Years ago when I was growing up, people didn’t think tiling
would work in this area” Organ said. “But now it’s not uncommon for us to be
pretty competitive with central and northern Illinois.”
The Organ farm also has an agritourism component. The
seasonal business includes a small pumpkin patch, corn maze and an extensive
play area for children. Hayrides are offered in the fall.
While there are one or two dairies in the county, livestock
production consists mainly of hog farms, cow-calf operations and — to a lesser
extent — goats and lambs. Organ supplies hay for some of those farms, as well as
for trail-riding horse businesses.
“Most of the people nowadays don’t have livestock,” he said.
“It’s in very few hands.”
Ron Hamsen of Hamsen Ag Inc. also has seen a shift in
livestock production in the county.
“Hog production has changed. Most of the hog production in
the county is on confinement. Before, every farmer had a few hogs,” he said.
“Now a few farmers have a lot of hogs. There are no big cattle farms that I know
of. There is less cattle than 30 years ago. As far as I know, there’s one dairy
in Hamilton County.”
A coal mine has been sunk in the northwestern part of the
county, and that could impact agriculture, at least marginally.
“It’s probably going to affect employees two ways. Normally,
their pay is higher, so it’s going to be harder to get employees,” Hamsen said.
“It’s probably affected some of our land prices. It’s taken a few acres out of
production — not a great amount of acres, but it has taken some out. And it may
affect the quality of our land as it subsides.”
A number of landowners in the northern part of the county
have signed leases with oil companies speculating on hydraulic fracturing, a
process that removes oil from shale deep underground.
A grain elevator in McLeansboro — recently acquired by
Omaha, Neb.,-based Gavilon — takes corn, soybeans and wheat. Most of the
commodities are railed to nearby Mt Vernon, Ind.