March 04, 2024

45 years of AgriNews: Illinois farmer’s career, experience cover wide swath

Editor’s Note: AgriNews is celebrating its anniversary by reviewing some of the top agricultural issues over the past 45 years.

KIRKWOOD, Ill. — No matter what part of Illinois agriculture you mention, Wendell Shauman has been there and done that.

Growing corn?

“If you track the yield of corn from the early 1900s, it was reasonably flat until about the early 1970s, when it just turned upward and has continued upward on a pretty nice increase. I pointed out to my old classmates that was about the time I got into the business of corn breeding,” said Shauman, tongue firmly in cheek.

He worked for Funk’s Seeds as a corn breeder, starting with the company while still in graduate school and continuing with them after he received his Ph.D.

Livestock? That, too.

“We raised pigs. We farrowed them in A houses out in an open pasture. In winter, you were out there trying to thaw out hog waterers when it was cold as the devil,” Shauman said.

Cattle, as well.

“I got rid of my last cow in September last year. We had cows get out a month or two before that and they were five miles away before we found them. There were no fences in their way,” Shauman said.

He also understands what it’s like to be a farm kid and want to return to farming. A 1967 graduate of Monmouth College and a recipient of the college’s Distinguished Alumnus award last year, Shauman was working for Funk’s Seeds as a corn breeder.

“I was working as a corn breeder and I went to Iowa to look at some plots. My wife stayed with my parents. My dad asked her, ‘Do you think Wendell would ever want to come back?’ My wife said, ‘Yes,’ and that was all it took. It was a done deal and I was back on the farm the next spring,” he said.

Shauman also knows what it is like to endure hard times.

“We bought our first farm in 1978. I remember my grandmother, she just shook her head and said, ‘I sure hope you can pay for it.’ My wife went back to work as a high school math teacher and kept us going through there. It took everything you had and we managed to make the mortgage payments, but, boy, it was ugly, income-wise,” he said.

His vast experience also extends to the policy and legislature side. Shauman has been involved in leadership positions at the local level, starting as a member of the Warren County Farm Bureau board, the Illinois Farm Bureau board, the Illinois Soybean Association board and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. He served as chairman of the U.S. Grains Council.

His work with those different organizations has taken him around the world.

“My first trip, they said, ‘You’re new on the board and we work with this group called the U.S. Grains Council. We’re doing a trip to Russia. We think you ought to go.’ I said, ‘OK, but what is the U.S. Grains Council? I want to go to Russia?’ What an experience that was,” he said.

When he isn’t running the farm with wife Janet, with whom he will celebrate 55 years of marriage in August, Shauman continues to promote and speak about and cheerlead for U.S. agriculture. He and Janet have three children and six grandchildren.

Speaking from the 2022 Commodity Classic in New Orleans, Shauman talked to AgriNews about some of his experiences and some of the issues, challenges and opportunities he sees in the industry to which he has devoted his life.

“I think U.S. agriculture has every reason to be proud of what it does and to promote the message that, ‘Hey, we really do a good job,’” he said.

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor