SAINT LOUIS, MISSOURI - The National Corn Growers Association today launches Field Notes, a series that will follow a handful of corn farmers from across the country from winter planting preparations through harvest. While these growers come from diverse geographic areas and run unique operations, they share a common love for U.S. agriculture and the basic values that underpin life in farming communities.

In this first installment, Off the Cob speaks with Tom Martin, a fifth-generation farmer in Mount Pulaski, Ill. In 1982, he joined his father and brother in growing mainly corn and soybeans. Living with his wife and children in the house where both he and his father grew up, Martin still works the family farm - a fact that is not surprising when one considers that more than 90 percent of all U.S. corn is grown on family farms.

Martin enjoys the sense of rootedness, history and culture that living in a smaller town offers but also benefits from his operations close proximity to larger towns, like Peoria and Decatur, Ill. He notes that many farmers in his area find such a situation ideal as it allows a spouse to take a job off of the farm should they choose while allowing them to carry-on what is often a multi-generation family legacy of farming.

Not only is Martin following in his father and grandfather's footsteps as a farmer, he upholds the value of volunteerism and community involvement to others that they instilled in him. Currently, he is Chairman of his town 175-year anniversary celebration which will feature a variety events being held throughout 2011.
"I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that valued a community and felt that giving back to it is important," said Martin. "I have found that the strong majority of people from rural areas feel the same way."

Martin also speaks about the amazing changes that have revitalized farming communities over the past two decades and of how he, and many like him, are banding together to help make the dream of coming home to work the family farm a reality for today's youth.

"Many of the young men and women who want to come back to the farm face serious financial challenges when trying to pass on the family farm from one generation to the next," Martin explained. "These obstacles have grown increasingly restrictive. In our area, like those in many others, we are collaborating across the industry to develop ways to mentor youth and make farming an attainable goal."

While commemorating a farming past and fostering its future, Martin, like all family farmers, tends to his operation year-round. Currently, he is preparing the ground for the 2011 corn crop, marketing what remains from 2010 and analyzing soil samples and other data to make the best possible seed selections. These decisions are vital as farmers face a sometimes volatile commodities market.

"Most people earn a steady salary and can budget accordingly. In my grandfather's day, corn prices might fluctuate 15 cents throughout the year. The reality is that today's market moves in dollars. These dollars are the only thing that keeps growers profitable or adds to our bottom line," said Martin. "In this environment, you really have to stay on top of every aspect of your operation, but I think that the potential reward is great for those who run a good business."

Additionally, Martin spoke on policy issues, such as environmental regulations, that impact growers, and on other issues and opportunities on the horizon for corn farmers.

Learn about winter agriculture and meet Martin by clicking here for the full Off the Cob interview.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks as Field Notes introduces the growers who will open their farms, families and communities up this year and meet the true faces of modern American agriculture.

SOURCE: National Corn Growers Association