Three Illinois farmers recently discussed their family farms and shared the challenges they face with a live audience on SiriusXM radio with host Michael Smerconish.
A first for Smerconish’s program, agriculture was the topic of discussion for an hour on the POTUS (president of the United States) channel.
Cheryl Walsh of Peoria County shared her experiences as a fourth-generation grain and livestock producer. Her family raises corn, soybeans and hay as well as 35 cow-calf pairs and about 2,200 sows.
“It’s (farming) a way we can provide food for our family and other families,” explained Walsh. The family operation includes five Cowser family members, plus Walsh.
Issues Walsh discussed included labor, tariffs and biosecurity.
“We’re always trying to find labor that is dependable, hardworking and can pass a drug test,” explained Walsh.
Regarding effects from the trade war, Walsh said that President Donald Trump went to bat for farmers, but not without repercussions.
“With six of us owners, it was a struggle the first year (of the tariff war), and they’re (markets) getting better, but they’re not where they were,” Walsh said.
Biosecurity is a must on the sow operation, and strict protocols are set in place. Individuals must shower before entering or leaving the hog facilities and wear special clothing in the facilities, Walsh noted.
T.J. Shambaugh of Piatt County discussed the diversity of his family farm which began in 1855. Crops grown include corn, white corn, soybeans, non-GMO soybeans, wheat, hemp and alfalfa, in addition to a beef cattle herd. Almost half of the farm’s acres are grown organically.
Shambaugh explained the difference between growing hemp for oil versus growing hemp for fiber, which is what his farm grows. “The fiber side is more like growing wheat, and it can be used for products such as paper or clothing,” said Shambaugh.
Regarding trade, Shambaugh noted that Trump had the “guts to step in and do it” when he negotiated better trade deals.
Jared Kunkle of Warren County talked about the challenges of being a first-generation grain farmer. Besides taking on lots of debt to get started, Kunkle said weather has also been a big challenge.
“We’ve had to diversify so we can continue this dream,” noted Kunkle. That includes co-owning a farm management business and an independent insurance agency where his wife works.
Reflecting on the experience, Walsh, Shambaugh and Kunkle hoped they corrected some misconceptions about who farmers are and what farmers do.
“We are for the environment,” added Kunkle. “What we’re doing is safe, and we want our families to continue our farms.”
The interview occurred during the Illinois Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs Leadership Conference in Springfield.