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,”
“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
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
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.