DEKALB, Ill. — Quality soils, proximity to markets and active farmer leadership are just a few of the factors that contribute to the strong agricultural industry in DeKalb County.

A significant portion of the county is devoted to some type of agricultural production.

“In this county, 88 percent of the land is involved in agriculture,” said Greg Millburg, manager of the DeKalb County Farm Bureau. “That hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last 20-some years.”

And, Millburg said, 98 percent of the land has prime soils.

“Our strength is the soils in this county and the climate of northern Illinois, which has been very beneficial to agriculture over the years,” he said.

Policy decisions made by DeKalb County government officials have been supportive of the county’s ag industry.

“The DeKalb County Board understands the economic engine that agriculture is for this county, and the support dates back into the ‘70s,” Millburg said.

“In order to build a house in an agriculture-zoned area, you need 40 acres.”

The rule is designed to keep growth in the county close to municipalities.

“That is not only good for the municipalities as far as providing services to the residents, but also good for agriculture by keeping growth from occurring in the middle of a rural area,” Millburg said.

“We have access to several markets through the Illinois River, rail facilities, good roads and our close proximity to Chicago,” said Mark Tuttle, a Somonauk farmer who has served as the president of DeKalb County Farm Bureau since March 2012. “This county is a major producer of hogs and cattle, which is rooted to Chicago, which at one time was a major market for cattle and hogs.”

A Top Producer

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2012, DeKalb County farmers planted 233,500 acres of corn that produced more than 36 million bushels of corn and 92,000 acres of soybeans that resulted in more than 4.7 million bushels of soybeans during a growing season that was hurt by drought.

As of Dec. 1, 2012, the service reported, livestock producers in the county raised 235,000 head of hogs and pigs and 29,000 head of cattle and calves.

“Corn and soybeans are the top grain commodities in the county, and we are very strong in livestock production, as well,” Millburg said. “For pork production, we are usually the top one or two counties in the state, and for beef production, we are around the top 10 county in the state.”

“There is a unique and strong history of DeKalb County that dates back to prior to our organization, including some yearly inventions,” he added.

One example is Joseph F. Glidden, who received a patent for barbed wire in 1874. Another example is the development of DeKalb hybrid corn that began with breeding work in the 1910s.

The DeKalb company experienced several name changes until the late 1990s, when it was purchased by Monsanto Co.

“These are the types of innovations that have reached far outside our boundaries,” Millburg said. “Over 100 years ago, a group of farmers and community members saw a need to support agriculture and farming practices, the economic benefit of this industry and how it would help communities in the future. That group included a variety of people like bankers and newspaper people, not just farmers who saw the benefit of an organization.”

On March 27, 1912, the DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association was incorporated with the state of Illinois. The group officially changed its name to the DeKalb County Farm Bureau in 1926.

“Now we have county Farm Bureaus throughout Illinois, state associations through the country and the American Farm Bureau Federation, and it all started with the grassroots movement of a membership organization in the early 1900s,” said Millburg, who grew up on a grain and livestock farm in the central part of Illinois.

“One of our strengths is the high-quality leadership of our farmers who have worked with our organization and other commodity organizations in the state and country, such as the corn growers, soybean association, pork producers and the cattlemen’s association,” he said.

“There is a lot of leadership by people who have a true desire to better this industry we call agriculture,” Millburg said. “And they have contributed to not just agriculture but to the communities and growth of DeKalb County.”

“Our farmers are active on the county board, hospital boards, school boards, church boards and lots of other groups,” Tuttle said. “We have knowledgeable people willing to serve on our Farm Bureau board that represent business, livestock, grain and organic operations.”

A Farming Life

Tuttle raises corn, soybeans, wheat, sweet corn and peas on the family farm operation near Somonauk.

“We also have a trucking business that is mostly involves transporting ag commodities,” he said. “I grew up raising hogs, and we had a small cow-calf operation, but for about the last 20 years, we’ve focused on grain production. I have lived within a quarter mile of here — I’ve never left this farm.”

Tuttle attended Joliet Junior College and completed his bachelor’s degree in agronomy at Iowa State University. Mark and Christina Tuttle are the parents of Katherine, Elaine, Paula, Nelsen and Erik.

The large consumer market of Chicago provides opportunities for DeKalb County farmers.

“The key for us in agriculture is to provide information and educate them about farming and farming practices,” Millburg said. “It is critical we have an Ag in the Classroom program in the county and throughout the state of Illinois to reach youth and develop their understanding of agriculture.”

In addition, Millburg said, adult agriculture literacy is just as important.

“We need to reach out to the consumer and explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” he said.

This work to provide agricultural information to consumers will continue to expand in future years as fewer and fewer people are directly involved in production agriculture.

Consumers who are one or two generations removed from a farm have some understanding about the agricultural and food industry.

“But when you are three or four generations removed, you really lose the understanding of farming and the whole food supply system,” Millburg said. ‘Our job is to make sure we educate the consumers, and as an organization we need to be that voice for agriculture.”

“Our young farmers are a smart bunch, and I’m looking forward to the next generation of farmers,” Tuttle said. “We lost a bunch of kids that went to other jobs during the ‘80s when the farm economy was struggling.”

Now, he said, there is a really good group of young farmers who want to be involved in the industry.

“We got to get them involved in farming and keep them involved,” he said.