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Master Farmer Harold Steele

Family roots run deep in Bureau County soil

Published: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 12:54 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 1:00 p.m. CDT
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Harold Steele

DOVER— “Yes, I would” is the firm answer you’ll get when asking Harold Steele if he would relive his life as a farmer, if given the chance. Not a hint of doubt crosses his tone.

“You are your own boss. If you make a mistake, it’s your own mistake. There’s challenges around the clock every day of the year,” he explained. “You have to like challenges, appreciate machinery and enjoy looking into a banker’s eyes and asking for more money.”

Steele began farming for himself in Dover Township in 1950. His family roots run deep in the soils of Bureau County.

Steele’s resume in agriculture is an extensive one ... from being appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the National Commission of Agricultural Finance to serving as President of the Illinois Farm Bureau and Chairman of the Board of the Farm Credit Administration ... and so much more. He has received numerous distinguished service awards throughout the years for his leadership and advocacy in agriculture. In 1970, he was selected as a Prairie Farmer Master Farmer.

Looking back at his experiences in farming, he ponders upon economics as being one of his greatest challenges. He bases his answer on a conversation once held between his dad and uncle.

“Dad started grinning and said, ‘You know, I think our great-grandfather bought this piece of land for $4 an acre, and he said it’s too much,’” Steele laughed. “That’s been my experience through the years of farming myself. The land has always been too much. In reality, of course, in the last three or four years, it’s jumped clear out of the hoop when you see the figures of land selling for $14,000, $15,000 or $16,000 an acre.”

One of the most obvious changes Steele has witnessed throughout the years is the increasing amount of regulations for farmers.

“Organizations are popping up, and they have things they want to impress or depress people about, and the truth is not often used in communication,” he said. “Farmers today spend a lot more of their time in regulations and in many things they didn’t want to do. It’s a role we weren’t geared for in preparation and in some way has been a stumbling block.”

Talking about the technology advancements that continue to enhance the methods of farming everyday, Steele is reminded of the time he took 100 bushels from a field.

“I was talking to a friend and I must of been gloating with pride when I told him about the 100 bushels, and he looked at me and said, ‘No you didn’t; that field was bigger than you thought it was.’ One hundred bushels to him was impossible,” Steele said. “We’re now headed for 300 bushels. It’s the research and development. The researchers are doing things that were impossible in our minds just a few years ago.”

Steele further explained researchers have worked to overcome problems in a tremendous way.

“Researchers are to be most grateful for what they’ve done,” he said. “Soybeans are next. We’ll need more on planet Earth, and there’s no question in my mind they will do it.”

As for the future of farming, Steele sees it as a broad brush.

“We’re seeing things happen I never thought I’d see. We’re seeing new crops come into being and developments of people,” he said. “We’re now reading the world’s population is going to grow so fast; in another 10 years, we’re going to need another 50 percent more food … Researchers will uncork the problem, and we will have more bushels-per-acre.”

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