At The Farm GateWe are the 96% Families dominate Illinois Farms
My mental pauses on the farm often arrive at sunrise, sunset and the moments when family is most accentuated on the farm. Harvest brings those experiences together: My dad and brother run the combines. My son and I operate the tractors with grain auger carts. A long-time employee who watched me grow up on the farm hauls grain, as does his son, a cousin and a local truck driver, all who now watch my kids grow up on the farm.
My daughter takes turns with our cousin’s wife to weigh grain trucks at our storage facility. My nephew replaces me in the tractor after football practice, and my mom manages the bills and delivers meals around sunset to keep our farm running and bodies fueled.
Family defines the farm. Family members make the decisions that care for the land and animals. They carry out the work, uphold the commitment to community and plan for the next generation.
We are the 96%. Families like ours operate 96% of farms in the state, and Illinois agriculture groups have designated 2023 the “Year of the Farmer” to proclaim this statistic. The celebration intends to debunk a disconcerting myth: A consumer survey indicates that people believe corporations run most farms and that families only run 47% of the Illinois farms they see.
To the contrary, I see Matt grow grain and beef with his brother and nephews, Kevin farm with his brother and their wives, and Alan with his dad and sister. Lori farms with her husband, Ron with his daughter and brothers, and Jay with his mom, wife, brother and teenage kids.
Families dominate farm ownership across Illinois, home to more than 70,000 family farms of all sizes. Some farms support small families; some big families. Regardless of size, most will tell you that welcoming the next generation requires careful planning and often profitable expansion to provide a livelihood for another household.
Family farms look different than decades ago. Our tractors are bigger. Adoption of technology has evolved. Metal-sided buildings replace wood barns. But families still run farms and carry the wisdom and spirit of generations that worked the land before them to grow our food.
When people visit the grocery store in 2023, we want at least 96% of them to shop confidently, knowing that families operate almost every farm in Illinois.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, hay and cover crops and raise beef cattle and backyard chickens