Four Illinois farmers have been selected as 2012 Master Farmers by Prairie Farmer magazine. The four will be honored for their exceptional community service and farming abilities at a ceremony in Bloomington on Wednesday, March 7.
Award recipients are Scott Bidner, Champaign (Champaign County); Tim Lenz, Strasburg (Shelby County); Tim Seifert, Auburn (Sangamon County); and Mel Von Bergen, Hebron (McHenry County).
Candidates are nominated by farmers, agribusiness leaders and agricultural extension specialists from throughout the state.
Judges for the awards were Mike Gray, professor and assistant dean of Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension at the University of Illinois; Bryan Young, professor of plant, soil and agricultural systems at Southern Illinois University; Bill Olthoff, 2000 Master Farmer, Bourbonnais, Dave Owens, president and CEO of Farm Credit Services of Illinois, Josh Flint, editor of Prairie Farmer and Holly Spangler, associate editor of Prairie Farmer.
Prairie Farmer first offered the award in 1925, when editor Clifford Gregory established it as a way to recognize Illinois farmers for something more than just farming skills. Gregory felt the award would help give farm people a greater sense of “pride and permanence.”
Flint says Prairie Farmer continues to present the awards annually because of the important contributions farmers make to Illinois agriculture and their local communities.
“Prairie Farmer sponsors the Master Farmer awards program to recognize farmers who excel not only in farming but also in community service, family commitment and leadership,” he adds. “The farmers we’ve honored over the years represent a gallery of the greatest in Illinois agriculture.”
Some Master Farmers serve in state and national farm leadership positions. Others chair prestigious boards or serve with honor at the highest levels of government. Still others build their farms or businesses to regional or national prominence.
However, the vast majority merely serve their communities – building churches, chairing little-known but important committees, organizing harvest for a stricken neighbor – and continue the service-minded commitment that earned them the Master Farmer distinction in the first place.
Between 1925 and 1937 the magazine named 97 Master Farmers. The program was discontinued in the ‘30s due to the Depression, but Prairie Farmer revived it in 1968. All together, more than 300 Illinois people have been named Master Farmer or Honorary Master Farmer, including the four named this year.
Prairie Farmer is published 12 times a year for Illinois farm families. Established in 1841, it is the oldest continuously published farm periodical in the United States.
GROWMARK, Inc., serves as financial sponsor of the award. Like the Master Farmer award, the GROWMARK system was born during the 1920s, when farmer cooperatives first organized the Illinois Farm Supply Co. Today, the brand is known as FS.