In an otherwise unassuming community lies the legacy of dozens of innovators who helped changed the way farmers and livestock owners operate. DeKalb County Illinois is home to Dekalb corn products, poultry innovation and even the original patent for barbed wire.
Earlier this week the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association (DAAHA) recognized the DeKalb Agricultural Association with a historical landmark in honor of the innovations completed by its employees. The landmark was sponsored by DAAHA and the Illinois State Historical Society.
Before Dekalb became the iconic seed brand it is today, it had humble beginnings in Dekalb County, Illinois. Started by a few idealist in 1912, it began as the Soil Improvement Association, and later evolved to include seed and animal genetic research.
“They [the DeKalb Agricultural Association] were founded from the Soil Improvement Association intent on improving the quality of seed corn in 1912,” says Donna Langford, manager of operations for DAAHA. She says the seed research came at a time when Illinois was flush with poor quality seed, resulting in lower-than potential yields.
Seed research began in 1917 and evolved quickly. The company was using hybridization practices in 1925 (just one year after the founders of Pioneer Hi-Bred introduced the first commercial corn hybrid) and was the biggest corn genetic research engine globally by 1940 with more than 12 production facilities across the U.S. That same year, the company was recognized for accomplishing a new yield achievement at 105 bu. per acre.
“That breeding engine has continued, and actually grown since the purchase of Dekalb,” says Pete Uitenbroek, Dekalb brand lead. In 1998 Monsanto bought Dekalb Genetics Corporation in its entirety. With its purchase of Monsanto, Bayer now owns the historic Dekalb brand.
“They had a long legacy of industry leadership and breeding, which was what attracted the attention of Monsanto back when they purchased them,” Uitenbroek adds. “As we look forward to Dekalb’s future as part of Bayer Crop Science we’re excited about the innovation that can bring and the commitment to Dekalb brands.”
The former Dekalb Agricultural Association building is now used by Northern Illinois University where it hosts classes for students, as well as literacy projects and other community outreach efforts.
The historical society has 29 historical markers throughout DeKalb County, Illinois. They range from passageways and safehouses in the underground railroad, to schoolhouses, to hybrid corn plots and many other agriculture and non-agriculture related mementos.