You can count on Kent Kleinschmidt. On the farm, in the statehouse, at a meeting, as a leader, in his community. Kent is reliable. Kent shows up.
Over and over, those were the words of the people who know him best, and qualities that helped earn him the 2017 Prairie Farmer Master Farmer award.
“Kent always shows up anytime he is called, and he understands the value of showing up,” says Rod Weinzierl, IL Corn. “He’s an incredible leader who can always be counted on, and he’s a farmer-leader that you can put into almost any situation, and he will handle it intelligently and effectively.”
Back home, his neighbors concur.
“I know I speak for the local farmers in our area when I say that Kent is well respected and the kind of guy that gets stuff done,” says Tazewell County farmer Keith Walker.
No farming question
Kent graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1974 and soon married his high school sweetheart, Sara, herself a farm girl. To come home to Logan County and farm with his father was never a question for them.
“I grew up on a farm. It’s all I’ve ever known and all I’ve ever wanted to do,” Kent says. “There was no question to do something else.”
So he and Sara built a life and a farm near Emden, which has grown from 175 acres to nearly 1,300 acres, spread out 20 miles east to west and 6 miles north to south. Geographic distance and soil type variety spread risk and help Kent manage his least favorite part of farming: uncertainty. “Weather and markets — things I don’t have control over,” he says. “In 2015, when we had way too much rain, our best corn was on lighter dirt where the water could roll off.”
Kent sells seed for Burrus Hybrids, and he custom plants and harvests for neighbors to spread equipment costs over additional acres. He raises seed beans and some non-GMO beans. He and his father were early soil conservationists, testing out ridge till and ultimately settling into a combination of strip till for corn and no-till for soybeans. Some of his farms haven’t seen a tillage tool since the 1980s.
“Some guys are afraid to try this conservation practice, but I have been using it in my operation for over 25 years, and I’m confident other farmers can use it, too,” Kent says.
Long term, Kent says his biggest challenge is nutrient management. “Rates, timing, products, trips over the field — and balancing each of these with a good financial plan,” he adds. To that end, he soil tests and applies fertilizer based on crop removal, and he’s built waterway structures, filter strips and three different types of terraces. He’s also begun testing cover crops.
Backyard, back pasture
Just out Kent and Sara’s back door, across the yard and down near the barn, begins the pasture, where they graze a small Angus and Red Angus-cross cow-calf herd. Kent can approach and call, and they’ll come running. He enjoys his cows and Sara does, too, having grown up with cattle herself. Their home sits on a high spot in Logan County, where pastures and creeks roll off in the distance, and wind turbines turn nearby.
Kent and Sara have two sons; Craig is a corn breeder for AgReliant, and Chad works for a local ag preventative maintenance company and helps on the farm part time. Retired today, Sara spent her career teaching high school math, including advanced calculus and other high-level classes. Today, Kent and Sara enjoy their four grandchildren, too.
The Kleinschmidts like to travel throughout the U.S. and internationally. The walls in their home are visual testament to the places they’ve been: Notre Dame, London Bridge, windmills in Holland, the Jefferson Memorial and even the home farm of Kent’s ancestors in Germany. An avid runner and marathoner, Sara often accompanies Kent on trips with farm organizations, biking throughout the city while he’s in meetings. She has a bucket-list trip planned, too: bicycling through the tulips in Holland.
Back home, the couple serves in their church, Zion Lutheran Church in Lincoln. Kent traveled to Louisiana several times to help with post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding, and they’ve donated more than 10,000 pounds of sweet corn to the Peoria Area Food Bank. They’ve also hosted key legislative leaders on their farm, including Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, the previous Illinois Senate Agriculture Committee chairman. Kent has worked closely over the years with legislators, including former congressman and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former senator Carol Mosely Braun and former congressman Aaron Schock. The couple even hosted Rep. Darin LaHood’s first fundraiser, right on their farm.
Kent is credited with starting the Tazewell County Corn Growers Association 27 years ago. Since then, he’s served as president of both the Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, and he was chairman of the first Commodity Classic, held 21 years ago. He’s also been named to several committees within the National Corn Growers Association, and is currently president of Tazewell County Farm Bureau.
Has it all paid off? Wapella farmer Vic Riddle has worked with Kent for 25 years and says yes. “In any discussion, Kent is asked for his opinion because it is always valued. There is no doubt that Illinois agriculture is a lot better today because of Kent’s longtime service and commitment.”
FAMILIARITY: Kent’s cattle graze in a pasture behind the house, where creeks and hills meander off in the distance. He is concerned about regulations that, while designed to prevent nutrient loss, could keep his cattle from drinking from creeks.
What’s he learned?
As Kent Kleinschmidt has traveled the world for state and national commodity organizations, he’s learned a thing or two along the way. Like when IL Corn hosted a public speaker training session and taught him to use props or visuals when speaking.
“A couple of years later, I was in a meeting with then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, talking about proposed trucking regulations,” Kent recalls. “I had taken pictures of my 1962 JD 3010 tractor hooked to a 200-bushel wagon — the total weight would have triggered the regulations similar to an 80,000-pound semi.”
He passed the pictures around the table and LaHood asked to keep them. In the end? The regulations were scrapped.
“I thought, ‘Aha, they worked!’ Maybe my pictures made a difference in current-day regulations,” he says.
MASTER AT A GLANCE
Children: Craig Kleinschmidt, Chad Kleinschmidt
Operation: 1,300 acres of corn and soybeans, 20 head of beef cows
Leadership: Illinois Corn Growers Association president, Illinois Corn Marketing Board chairman, National Corn Growers Association board, Commodity Classic co-chairman, Logan County Soil and Water Conservation District board, Tazewell County Farm Bureau president, trade mission host for Taiwan and Malaysia, international trade mission participant, Illinois Ag Leadership Foundation, A LOT, Zion Lutheran Church in Lincoln
Nominator: IL Corn