Corn Farmers Coalition

Caring for the Land Must Come First With Corn Farmers

Rob Elliot (Warren County, Illinois)

Rob Elliott has grown yellow corn in Warren County, Illinois - across the state from Chicago in the rolling river country of western Illinois - since 1976.

Like the vast majority of corn farmers, he is a family farmer: Two brothers, his 86-year-old father and now a nephew all work the farm and a growing seed business.

Rob has a degree in business administration from Illinois State University in Normal, not far down Interstate 74. He makes good use of the degree because farming is an increasingly complicated business; these days you have to understand the complexities of both international markets and federal farm policy; you have to keep up with the latest in biotechnology; you need to know marketing and finance.

Rob uses a global positioning system, or GPS (the same technology that leads drivers to their destinations), to automatically steer his tractor so it doesn’t veer from the rows of corn. That allows extremely precise targeting of fertilizer and herbicide on each row so less is needed and little is wasted. The GPS can also mark exactly the parts of the fields that need more water or nutrients or the like.

It’s called precision agriculture, and it’s a major reason American corn farmers are the most productive in the world.

Biotechnology also is important to Rob. Eighty percent of the corn he grows is from so-called “triple-stack” seeds, which make the plants resistant to potentially devastating corn borers, rootworm and herbicide.

Thanks to all these innovations, Elliott Farms has averaged an impressive 200 bushels per acre over the last decade. (The national average is about 153.8, which is 20 percent higher than anywhere else in the world.)

These advances aren’t just about trimming costs and fattening profits, either. They also use the land more gently.

“If you are a true farmer,” says Rob, “and have put your sweat equity into a piece of land over time, you become the ultimate steward of the land.”

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