Ronnie Yeast combines

Ronnie Yeast combines during his last season farming. At age 83, he is set to retire after this harvest. As he cut the soybeans, he was still contemplating if he planted at the right row width or what he could have done for higher yields this year with the challenging conditions this spring.

ATLANTA, Ill. — This harvest season will be memorable for a lot of farmers for various reasons, but especially for Central Illinois farmer Ronnie Yeast. At age 83, he has decided that like it or not, it is time to retire.

“The family has been after me to hang it up,” he said, and he finally decided to listen.

The McLean County farmer said his most profitable years were in 2011 and 2012, when the prices were high, which helped him pay things off. He even bought the 2011 combine he is driving now, harvesting soybeans planted May 17.

“They came up early and never got any height. The yield won’t be what it should be,” he said, looking at the monitors and wondering out loud if the crop would have done better at a different row width.

Yeast grew up on a farm, but worked at Firestone in nearby Bloomington while he and his wife raised their four daughters. While always active in agriculture, he started farming full-time in 1978 after his career at Firestone.

He had a cattle feedlot and cow herd until about 2002, and over time expanded to 1,350 acres of ground. He reduced the number of acres he farms over the years. His brother also farmed.

“He’s three years younger than me and he’s already retired,” Yeast said.

None of Yeast’s daughters or grandchildren are interested in farming, so he will be renting out the land next year.

“But this is my crop,” he said, looking across the soybean field.

When Yeast retires, his hired man, Richard Bicknell, will retire as well.

“I’ve worked for this family since I was a kid,” Bicknell said. His full-time career was as a teacher, but he always made time to work on the farm.

As for advice to farmers starting out, Yeast said it is a good idea to have an off-farm job that pays health insurance. He suggests getting at least 10 years of experience working on the farm before going full time. It takes time to learn things like how to sell grain, he said.

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.