PRINCETON — A group of Australian farmers have gotten a first-hand look this week at farming, Bureau-County style.
Rural Princeton farmer Alan Madison, his family and staff hosted the group of 20 Australian farmers Thursday afternoon at his rural Princeton farm, located in Bureau Township. Also representing the local agriculture industry were AgView FS representatives Malcolm Stambaugh, Jim Stetson and Ron Pierson and the 2014 Fertilizer Institute’s 4R Grower Advocate Program winner Chris VonHolten of Walnut. (Madison was the 2013 winner of the 4R Grower Advocate program, which promotes the application of soil nutrients at the right rate, the right time, the right place and from the right source.)
The Australian group is in North America for about 10 days, heading first to Canada and then south into the United States with the Madison farm being the group’s first farm stop in the country. The Australians come from a variety of farming backgrounds. Some are grain farmers, raising crops like cotton, wheat, barley and sorghum, while others raise livestock, primarily sheep and cattle.
During the two-hour visit, Madison talked about a wide range of farm factors, including soil types and technology, rent agreements, land value and market options for Bureau County farmers.
Responding to questions from the visiting farmers, Madison said Bureau County has 78 different soil types. Some soil can be one type on the surface, but something different, like sand, further down. It’s important to know soil types because corn will grow differently depending on the type of soil in which it’s planted. For instance, corn planted in sandy soil will grow differently and can dry out quicker then corn planted in richer soil, he said.
The land in his area was primarily prairie/grass land, which didn’t have to be cleared for planting crops, Madison said. There is also some timber area, which could be cleared if it is not a natural wetland, or if it is a highly-erodible area, an erosion plan is in place, he said.
His family has owned and farmed the home place for more than 100 years, but he rents about 90 percent of the land he currently farms, Madison said. Typically, farms are about 80 acres in size with some farms being 160 acres. His rented farms are located bout 15 miles in all directions from the home place.
Regarding the renting process, Madison said he deals with five farm managers, who negotiate rent for the landowner, as well as some individual farm owners. In most cases, the farm buildings on the farm are included in the rental deal. It’s predominately a cash rent agreement nowadays, he said.
Madison said it’s important to have a good relationship with the farm managers and farm owners, as there is a lot of competition out there for farmland. There could be 50 interested farmers who want to rent that land. The deal typically goes to the highest bidder, but not always.
As far as the sale of farmland, the cost of good farm land was up to $14,000 to $15,000 an acre about a year or so ago in Bureau County, but that has decreased quite a bit in recent months, he said.
Madison also talked about the use of technology in his farm tractors, with tractors now having GPS, automatic steering, an automatic determination for things like different planting populations and nitrogen application, and the capability to tell how many bushels are coming from each section of field at harvest time. When not in use, the equipment is kept in sheds. With Bureau County’s winter and rainfall, it’s hard on equipment to be kept outside.
The Australians also wanted to know about the planting season in Bureau County, with Madison saying he likes to start planting corn in mid-April and be finished with corn by the first week of May, followed by soybeans.
Bureau County receives an average rainfall of about 36 inches a year, with most of that coming from April until November, followed by snow from December until March, Madison told the Australian farmers. In some fields, plastic drainage tiles are needed. Most of the time, the landowner pays for the tile but not in all cases. Typically, the installation of tile will pay for itself in five to seven years, he said.
As far as the marketing of the crops, Madison said Bureau County is fortunate with nearby ethanol plants and the Illinois River where crops are shipped out on barges.
Following the Bureau County stop, the Australian tour group boarded their bus and headed for their next stop to see agriculture in action in North America.
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