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Serving: IA

What it takes to be a Master Farmer

Farm Progress, nantonov/Getty Images Master Farmer medalion
INVOLVEMENT RECOGNIZED: The Master Farmer program is focused more on the business of the farm operation, but the program also values the important off-farm work all Master Farmers do in support of agriculture.
Another Voice: When you hear someone is recognized as a Master Farmer, it goes beyond running a great business.

I'm enjoying my time working as interim editor of Wallaces Farmer. It's gotten me back to the ol' "reporting roots" where I started, and it's been fun. And while I don't want to give too much away, my days in the role are numbered. But before I end my mini-tenure here, I did get to do something I've never done in 25 years at Farm Progress — be involved directly with a Master Farmer program.

And by directly, I mean doing the stories, spending time with the honorees and working on the programming for our event — though the Wallaces Foundation is a longtime partner and takes on a big part of the responsibilities for making the event happen. For me, the "direct" part of this process was trekking across Iowa to visit the farms and talk with the honorees to learn their stories.

Having been editorial director at Farm Progress since 2004, I've read many a Master Farmer story and attended my share of luncheons to meet a lot of folks. But to be right in the thick of it has been rewarding. Why?

Beyond business

For many who see my byline, you may be more likely to associate me with equipment, trends, technology and farm business. And I do enjoy covering the business of agriculture: understanding managerial accounting (sort of), benchmarking and analysis to provide content aimed at helping make a farm business more sound.

While a solid business base is the backbone of a Master Farmer honoree's history, we want to reach beyond the day-to-day farm operation. The honorees selected to be recognized are as likely to be working on a community project; guiding farm policy in Washington, D.C., or piloting a school board through a debate as driving a tractor.

To be a Master Farmer means running the farm and more. It's the "more" that sets them apart. I travel to my share of national meetings and have run into folks I know are Master Farmers from their respective states. This decades-long program is designed to recognize their "whole farm," including the family that becomes the foundation for their business.

This commentary runs online before I'm willing to reveal the honorees for March. We'll share their stories online the week the print version of Wallaces Farmer hits your mailbox — and you can read about them then.

On- and off-farm

Catching a Master Farmer at the farm is not always an easy task. Trade missions, trips to D.C. to talk policy, evening meetings and other off-farm travel is necessary to support agriculture. And each honoree this year talked about their off-farm role and its importance to them.

Farming is becoming a more public business, where nonfarm consumers will have a greater impact on your farm — even a corn and soybean operation — than you might be ready for. It's these folks that are out telling your story, sharing key ag concerns with thought leaders and others.

Thanks to this year's honorees, but also a big thanks to every Master Farmer recognized in Iowa since the program began. We thank you for your service.

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