June 25, 2008

Farming for the Future

By Aubrey Woods, The Tribune, Seymour, Ind.

Jun. 25--CORTLAND -- Ben Thompson knows when he completes his education in agricultural economics at Purdue University next spring that he has a full-time job waiting for him when he returns to the family farm.

And while no one can be certain of the changes facing farmers in the future, Thompson said he knows one thing for sure.

"I want to be a part of laying the foundation of agriculture for future generations," Thompson said Tuesday.

Thompson's father, Brian Thompson, and his grandfather, Allen Thompson, grow grain on about 2,400 acres near Cortland.

On Tuesday, the 76th annual Indiana Farm Management Tour kicked off its two-day run with a stop at the Thompson Farm.

Ben said it was an honor for his family's operation, B&A Thompson Grain Farm Inc., to be selected as one of five stops.

"It's been exciting and we're honored to have been chosen," he said.

He said he and his family have spent the past couple of days preparing for the tour and cleaning up around the farm.

"We took a couple of days out of the fields," Ben Thompson said. The effort was worth it, he added.

The tour is sponsored by Purdue Extension service, and participating farms are selected after a process that begins by being nominated by a county Extension Service educator.

Richard Beckort, an extension educator for Jackson County, said the Thompson farm was nominated because the Thompsons tend to be progressive in their approach to agriculture.

"That's what they (the tour organizers) are looking for," Beckort said. "They (the Thompsons) look toward the future, not just next year or the year after, but for years down the road."

Beckort, who's served the county for more than 20 years, said the decision to include the Thompson farm on the tour is the first time a Jackson County farm has been included.

"At least as far as I know," he said.

Allen Miller with Purdue Extension Service said when the organizers of the tour start putting it together, they narrow a list of nominations submitted by county extension educators. A group of Purdue ag professors help with that process. The tour's board then picks four or five farms to include each year.

"They try to look for farms that are close together," Miller said. The organizers also attempt to find farms with different agricultural interests.

This year, for instance, the tour left the Thompson farm and went to Brandt Farms, a small organic dairy farm located in the Jonesville area. Three operations, Elsberry Greenhouses near Hope, Gelfius Farms, a 4,000-acre operation in the Hartsville area that grows multiple crops, and Shane Meier Farms Inc., a Scipio area grain farm, are scheduled as stops on the tour today.

The stop at the Thompson farm began with a talk by Brian and Ben Thompson about their approach to farming and how they balance farming in a difficult year such as this one with a life of community service outside farming.

Brian Thompson said he relies heavily on technology to increase productivity.

"We use GPS a lot," Thompson said.

The family also relies on local suppliers for advice and no-till everything for efficiency, he said.

Thompson also said he scouts his fields to determine crops are growing.

"I try to fly once a week to get a broader perspective on my crops," the private pilot said.

Aerial surveillance off-ers a Thompson a chance to determine the overall health of his crops as well as finding weed problems, he said.

He also said he thinks it's important for farmers to have interests outside the farm.

"We live to farm, but we farm so we can live," Thompson said. Participating in church activities or serving on the county council, such as Thompson does, creates new opportunities and allows for thinking "outside the box," Thompson said.

After their talk, those in attendance could take part in sessions on subsurface drainage, flooding and crop insurance, crop monitoring and scouting and no-tilled fertility.

Jack Dunn, who farms in the Jonesville and White Creek areas, said he has never attended a farm management tour.

"This is new to me," Dunn said. He said he found a talk by Jackson County Farm Service Agency director Jeff Fisher especially interesting because Fisher talked about the government's response to flooding, crop insurance and decisions farmers will be confronted with this year because of the June 8 flooding and other planting problems caused by a wet spring.

"He talked about a couple of things I didn't know about," Dunn said.

Greg Preston and Jamie Price with National Agricultural Statistics Service at West Lafayette drove to Cortland to participate in the tour. The trip gave them a chance to get out and see the flooding damage in Jackson County.

"We came down early this morning and drove to Brownstown to see the damage," Preston said.

The service prepares a weekly crop report that includes flood damage. The June 22 report shows that 16 percent of both the corn and soybeans in Jackson County were still under water from the June 8 flood.

About B&A Thompson Grain Farm

Established: 1953

Where: Cortland

Crops: Corn, soybean, wheat and milo (grain sorghum)

Size: 2,400 acres


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