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Geneseo farmer shares the message of agriculture
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Photo: John Greenwood
Todd VerHeecke is a part-time farmer who also works for Deere and Co. He farms west of Geneseo.
GENESEO -- If he had any spare time, Todd VerHeecke said he wouldn't know what to do with it. Working two jobs and volunteering is not only a way of life, but he also enjoys it.

The 29-year-old Geneseo farmer divides his time between farming and his job as training project manager for Deere & Co.'s global training organization. In what spare time he does have, he talks about his job and farming to anyone who will listen.

"There are times when it is a little overwhelming, but it's something I've always done," he said. "It's a work ethic I learned while growing up. I enjoy it all."

His father, Rich VerHeecke, also works off the farm, and the two men fall right into the norm statistically. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, of the 2.2 million principal farm operators in the United States, 1.2 million report something other than farming as their primary occupation. Almost 900,000 principal farm operators report working off the farm more than 200 days a year. The share of farmers working off-farm grew from 55 percent in 2002 to 65 percent in 2007.

Mr. VerHeecke said he helps his father farm his 1,000 acres in addition to working the 40 acres he owns and the 100 acres he leases. The men also have about 300 head of cattle, 40 cows and a few hogs.

"This time of year, it's a little more routine," he said. "Farm work consists of planning the spring crop, checking the livestock's feed and water. In the spring, it's a little more hectic. It's up early to get to work by 6, then home to farm … Seventeen- or 18-hour days are not uncommon in the spring or the fall."

Mr. VerHeecke said he's fortunate because his job allows him the flexibility to work from home, making it convenient, but most of his vacation time is used for farming.

"It's close to a 365-day-a-year job," he said.

While the farm and his job at Deere keep him busy, Mr. VerHeecke manages to find time to volunteer. According to Henry County Farm Bureau manager Katie Boruff, he is "one of many terrific leaders in the Henry County Farm Bureau."

Mr. VerHeecke has served as chairman of the Young Leaders for the past five years and also represents the district on the State Young Leader Committee. He was instrumental in the development of the "Bushels for Hunger" grain drive, which generated more than $24,000 this year for the River Bend Foodbank in Moline.

"Today it is more important than ever to share the message of agriculture and be an advocate for our industry," Ms. Boruff said. "Todd has joined other Young Leaders and farmers in speaking to elementary students in both Henry and Rock Island counties through our Agriculture in the Classroom programs."

Being with people and explaining the role farmers play are important to Mr. VerHeecke and mesh well with his job of working with customers and dealers. While being a farmer was always his goal, he admits that, as a boy, he was naïve to the finer points of farming.

"In junior high, I thought it might be a possibility to have farming as my only profession," he said. "But by high school, I had learned the costs of inputs and machinery and knew college had to be included in my plans."

Mr. VerHeecke graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in agronomy and ag systems technology. He now is working toward his master's degree in agronomy. Agronomy and ag systems technology are a good mix, beneficial on and off the farm, he said.

"Farming is a lot different than it was 40 or 50 years ago," he said. "There are more regulations, and a farmer has to know what nutrients are being placed where. You also have more precision in planting. Costs for everything have gone up."

Rising costs of land, seed and other inputs are challenging to a farming newcomer, but the cost of implements is nearly prohibitive. Mr. VerHeecke has his own tractor but shares combines, planters and other equipment with his father.

"What helps a young farmer is having a family member or someone else to rent equipment from," he said. "It would be difficult to buy all the equipment needed to start. It is a large capital investment. I'm fortunate to be able to do what I love."




Living the dream

Who: Part-time farmer Todd VerHeecke
Quote: “In junior high I thought it might be a possibility to have farming as my only profession. But by high school, I had learned the costs of inputs and machinery and knew college had to be included in my plans.”



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(More History)