FREEPORT, Ill. — Work has started in Stephenson County to
help young people get involved and thrive in the agricultural industry.
“Right now we’re making an emphasis to rebuild our young
leaders program,” said Steve Fricke, president of the Stephenson County Farm
Bureau. “We are starting with a kickoff for young leaders in our county.”
The county has a core group of young farmers who have been
involved at the state level in activities such as the discussion meet.
“We want to make sure we keep that group fresh and growing,”
“One of the things we’ve been working on with our
development group is trying to convince the education areas that we need strong,
young people understanding there are great careers in agriculture, not just on
the farm,” said Fricke who is serving his second year as president of the farm
Prior to becoming president, Fricke served as
secretary-treasurer for six years, and he has been a board member for 17 years.
“I became active in Farm Bureau because I wanted to be more
involved in some of the things going on, and it is also a way you give back to
your community,” he explained.
Fricke operates a small farm where he grows corn, soybeans,
wheat and alfalfa and manages a cowherd. He also taught agriculture at Freeport
High School for 19 years, and he is a Realtor.
“I just went to a presentation by David Kohl, (professor
emeritus at Virginia Tech), and he said you put young men into a spray rig and
they almost need the skills of a fighter pilot to run it,” he said. “That’s why
we’re focused on our young leaders. We need to make sure we have capable
employees for our agricultural industry.”
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service,
there are 1,075 farms in Stephenson County and about 324,000 tillable acres
where corn, soybeans, wheat and forage crops are grown. In 2013, farmers grew
371,000 bushels of wheat and 71,100 bushels of oats.
Corn production in the county totaled 17,222,000 bushels in
2012, and soybean production that year hit 2,706,000 bushels.
Along with grain production, Fricke said, “we also have
poultry here, several beef feedlots and dairy operations with some of them
Generation To Generation
Hunter Haven Farms Inc. near Pearl City is operated by the
Doug and Tom Block families.
“My dad farmed with my grandfather, and in 1950 our dad
bought the farm Tom and I grew up on from a man named Hunter,” said Doug Block,
a fifth-generation farmer. “The farm has rolling hills and a lot of timber, and
we grew up enjoying hunting squirrels with our grandfather, so Hunter Haven Farm
seemed like an appropriate name.”
After completing degrees from the University of Illinois,
the brothers returned to the family operation in the early 1970s.
“Dad gave us the opportunity to buy in on the farm,” Block
said. “We had a 70-cow Holstein herd with dad.”
After their father’s retirement, the Blocks increased the
herd to 450 cows.
“About nine years ago, we installed an anaerobic digester on
our farm,” the dairyman said. “We received a federal grant and a grant from the
Illinois Department of Commerce that paid for about half of the project.”
Without these grants, Block said, it would have taken about
20 years to pay the project back.
“With the grants it turned into a nice project,” he said.
In addition to producing electricity for the farm and
selling electricity back to the grid, the digester also produces bedding for the
“Our previous bedding was sawdust, and with the problems in
the housing industry and the cost of fuel increasing, the cost of sawdust
bedding has gone up significantly,” Block said. “We also sell about 10 percent
of the bedding to other local livestock producers.”
“About six years ago, when we went from 450 cows to 750
cows, we put in another generator,” he said.
Although there are some empty livestock buildings in the
county where families once milked 15 to 20 cows or 40 to 50 cows, Block said,
over the last five to 10 years he has seen a trend where several family members
now are farming together.
“I’m seeing operations with fathers and sons or brothers
farming together, and some of them include five or six families,” the dairyman
said. “The farms have gotten larger, but they are still really strong family
The challenge for some operations, including Hunter Haven
Farms, is transferring the business to the next generation.
“Nobody can do what my grandfather and dad did and start on
120 acres and raise a family,” Block said. “That is not reality today, so we in
agriculture have to provide an avenue for young people who are interested to be
able to get ownership.”
For the dairy industry, Block said, he is encouraged by the
evolution of the robotic milkers.
“There are a few robotic milkers being installed in our
area, and I’m excited about that,” he said. “They appear to be quite functional
for a 150- to 200-cow herd.”
Adkins Energy LLC, near Lena, is a 50 million-gallon ethanol
plant that has been in operation since 2002.
“We are also fortunate to have Adkins Energy here, which
provides a market for our corn,” Fricke said.
In addition to ethanol, the plant also produces wet and dry
“We use about 17 million bushels of corn a year,” said Ray
Baker, general manager of Adkins Energy. “In a typical year, we produce about
100,000 tons of dried distillers grains and 125,000 tons of wet distillers
Construction has begun to add a 2 million-gallon biodiesel
plant at Adkins.
“For the past four to five years, we’ve been separating corn
oil out of our process and selling it to feed markets and biodiesel markets,”
Baker said. “We’ve been looking for the right technology, and when we found it,
we started construction last fall.”
Adkins separates about 1.7 million gallons of corn oil each
year, which will be used as the primary feedstock for the biodiesel production.
“One of the major reasons we decided to add the biodiesel
production is to help our plant become more efficient,” Baker explained. “This
is the first of its kind that will be fully integrated into an ethanol
The ethanol and biodiesel plants will share in the
“We will use the infrastructure in place to help both
processes become more efficient and produce two renewable fuels from the same
kernel of corn,” Baker said.
Biodiesel production is expected to begin in mid- to
Baker stressed the importance of maintaining the renewable
fuels standard. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the renewable
fuel mandate in the RFS be lowered, as well as the advanced fuel mandate, which
“Agriculture and renewable fuels are important to rural
economies like Stephenson County because they create jobs and economic
opportunity not just for the people at the plant or farmers,” Baker said. “When
farmers have been able to improve their profitability, they have money to spend
in their community. So we hope the RFS is maintained, so we can continue to
bring new technologies and opportunities to the area.”
“The future of agriculture in our county is strong — we have
a great farmer base that’s young, and we have a fantastic support group of
agricultural industry,” Fricke said.
“I just went to an Envision Tomorrow seminar that included
guest speakers that talked to us about what’s happening in our industry,” the
Farm Bureau president said. “It was put together by a group of more than 25
local banks and agricultural businesses to help us improve our bottom lines.”