BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — McLean County is best known as the state’s top corn producer and the home of several leading agricultural organizations, but it also has unique distinctions of global significance.

The corn king also is ground zero for the no-till movement, the site where a then-groundbreaking swine sanitation system was developed and the home of disgruntled farmer who started his own insurance company that would become an industry giant.

State Farm’s roots go back to an idea developed by McLean County farmer George Jacob Mecherle.

Mecherle quit farming in 1919, and he and his wife moved to Florida in hopes of improving his wife’s health. They moved back to central Illinois two years later, and he began selling insurance for a Bloomington firm.

He became dissatisfied with insurance rates charged to farmers as those rates included the risks of city drivers, as well, and that idea was turned into action. On June 8, 1922, Mecherle started State Farm Automobile Insurance Co.

State Farm’s main office remains in Bloomington, and the company is the largest provider of car insurance in the U.S. and also the leading insurer in Canada. The company is ranked 43rd on the Fortune 500 list.

No-Till Pioneer

Jim Kinsella of Lexington has been practicing continuous no-till since the late 1970s when the moldboard plow was the tillage tool of choice for most, and this then-unique conservation tillage gained an international reputation.

“He kind of led the whole no-till movement from the county,” said Don Meyer, Illinois State University Department of Agriculture lecturer and longtime McLean County Extension director.

It has been estimated that 90,000 to 100,000 people from around the world visited Kinsella’s farm in the 1980s and 1990s to learn about no-till.

“When I was in Extension work, people would come to visit the county and were here because they wanted to visit Jim’s farm, and while they were here they wanted to see what else was going on in the county,” Meyer said.

“I have a collection of business cards from all over the world — farmers from almost every continent who visited McLean County.”

Conservation tillage is now common practice among Midwestern farmers.

Improving Swine Sanitation

A swine sanitation system was developed by the Bureau of Animal Industry researchers in McLean County in the early 1900s.

The system that would be named for McLean County was developed to combat roundworm infestations that plagued hog farms and was the focus of research that began in 1919 by H.B. Raffensperger.

The Farm Bureau also stepped in with both cooperation and financial assistance for the research.

By 1920, more than a dozen McLean County farmers were involved with the project that was aimed at disrupting the life cycle of the deadly roundworm parasites.

Steps in the system included disinfecting the farrowing house and thoroughly washing the sow before she was readied for farrowing. After a period of confinement, the sow and young pigs were transferred to a clean pasture.

“Even though it was developed in 1919, some parts of the world are still looking at that as a viable way to raise free-range livestock, and if you look it up, it’s still called the McLean County System of Swine Sanitation,” Meyer said.