Jacob Schmidt

Jacob Schmidt didn't have the advantage of parents who farm, but he dreamed of starting a beef operation. After a dozen years of hard work, he continues to grow his crop and beef farm in Camp Point, Ill., with his wife, Alicia, and their daughters Addiley and Alivia. 

CAMP POINT, Ill. — Jacob Schmidt’s father wasn’t a farmer, but that didn’t stop Jacob from dreaming about raising cattle and growing crops in western Illinois.

It’s common knowledge how tough it is for young people to break into farming today, especially if they don’t inherit land or have parents who farm.

But Schmidt knew early what he wanted to do. FFA and agriculture classes in high school confirmed that farming was for him. He started helping local farmers to get more experience and earn money.

“Do things that nobody else wants to do,” he said about getting started in agriculture. He did a lot of shoveling and put up a lot of fences, and he started raising calves for sale while he was in high school.

Now, at age 31, he has an expanding cattle and crop operation in Adams County near Camp Point, Ill, with his wife, Alicia, and two daughters. They are expecting their third child next month.

Setting roots

After high school, Schmidt attended John Wood Community College and Western Illinois University. He also worked at a lumber yard.

“When it was 5 o’clock, it was cattle time,” he said

Being willing to work hard while building relationships with other cattlemen and farmers has served Schmidt well as his farm grows.

Among his most treasured friendships is with Brent Obert, a cattle farmer who Jacob started working for in the beginning.

“I hired him to help me. He had a love of cattle. As my operation grew, I hired him more,” Obert said. They became partners in a cow-calf operation.

“Start small,” Schmidt said of advice he would give other beginning farmers.

He started small in cattle numbers, in machinery size and in acreage and continues to grow. He traded labor to use equipment initially, but now owns his own planter, combine and other equipment.

Now he farms about 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans and several hundred acres of hay. He has 30 landlords.

Most of the land he has purchased, he had previously farmed for the landowner; when the landowner wanted to sell Jacob was the first choice.

Prayers and pennies

Weather brought some challenges to the beginning farm couple. Schmidt and Alicia got married in 2012, during a serious drought. When he knelt to say his vows in church, the bottom of his shoe revealed the words “Pray for rain.” It didn’t rain.

To grow his business, Jacob focuses on marketing crops well.

“Every penny counts,” he said.

His focus also zooms in on input costs and return on investment. For example, he grew non-GMO crops when the premium was 50 to 60 cents, but now it is 20 cents. With the added pressure of disease and bugs, it’s not profitable for him to grow them now, he explained.

On his poorer soils, with cover crops, manure, soil testing and no-till, he can get yields as good as some much better ground. The cover crops also are a feed source for his cattle.

Last year, he built a 52-by-252-foot hoop building with help from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) through NRCS. It took more than two years to plan and build. He will be using it soon during weaning. It is also ideal for calving and helps manage manure, which saves on fertilizer costs. He gets enough manure to serve about 80 acres.

Helping hands

Schmidt said his progress wouldn’t be possible without the help of his friends and family. His dad helps in the fields, and his in-laws are also supportive, with Alicia’s dad coming three or four days at a time to help in the spring and the fall.

“We’re blessed with good family and good friends,” he said.

Alicia agrees.

“A young mom really needs to rely on community. His parents and my parents made it easier,” she said.

Schmidt would choose the same career again.

“It’s most rewarding just being out here,” he said.

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