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Locks and dams progress big win for corn growers

From the Q&As with influential people in agriculture. series

Marty Marr calls it a privilege to be president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association as it celebrates its 50th birthday this year. He has been a director for nine years, a member of several committees and worked his way up through leadership. He is active with national issues including fuel and transportation.

Marr is part of MDM Farms in Sangamon, Morgan and Logan counties in west central Illinois with his brother Dave, his wife Sheila and sons Martin Jr. and Evan Marr. MDM Farms was named after his father Milburn, his brother Dave and himself. The family grows corn, soybeans and has a custom hay business, as well as running a trucking business and raising some cattle.

Marr is also an active member of state organizations for soybeans and beef as well as the Illinois Farm Bureau.

IFT: Please tell us a little more about your farm philosophy.

MARR: I love grooming our farmstead. We want our farms to look the best they can. It’s our way of saying thank you for the opportunity. We try to grow the best crops we can for our landlords and ourselves. It’s our autograph for the farms to looks extra good.

Conservation is part of our operation. We use no-till and strip till and have a little more cover crops every year. We strive hard to be good stewards for the land — it’s a big thing for us. We’re members of the Precision Conservation Management (PCM) program. It helps us see how our practices measure up in our area and we get data to track our progress and plan for profitability.

IFT: How is your farm evolving?

MARR: These days, technology is used in every facet of farming, from planter to sprayer to combine. I’m glad we were exposed to new technology in late ’80s and early ’90s with yield monitors at first. With guidance systems or whatever it might be for various equipment, we try to be as efficient as we can. My sons have precision training, which is a big asset. On the cattle side, we had a cow-calf operation in the past and do more backgrounding calves. We make sure we use some land for pasture. It’s our way of using the acreage and diversifying.

IFT: What are some of the main issues Illinois Corn is dealing with today? What are some of the recent wins?

MARR: One high-priority item is passing of the Next Generation Fuel Act, which was introduced by Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and is getting bipartisan support. The momentum is there to gain a lot more support for passage of it. People are really starting to see the value ethanol and biofuels are bringing to this nation. It’s a clean energy source that is here right now, and I think it will take some time to switch to EV. More research is also being done on sustainable aviation and other research which gives us a chance to reduce greenhouse emission and have fuel security in this nation. In light of what is going on in the world right now, agriculture’s contribution is giving us clean choices for consumers.

Year-round E-15 would be a great contribution to the corn market and ethanol industry.

Getting ready for the 2023 Farm Bill is also a priority as it includes crop insurance which is a safety net for farmers. Food security and export issues also so important now.

As for recent wins, this includes progress on the river system locks and dams. Getting funding is something we’ve been working towards for 20 years or more. It’s one of our biggest wins. The river improvements get a lot of people into the workforce and keep the U.S. competitive around the world.

IFT: What kinds of things should farmers be thinking about when they go to the voting booth this year?

MARR: Farmers need to think long-term. Do what they think is right for themselves and their families, but also think of this country and future generations. It all make a difference. We need politicians who don’t get hung up on partisanship and who make a real effort to do what’s right for the nation to create policy to help America live up to its potential.

IFT: How are high input costs affecting you now and into the future?

MARR: We are doing business a little different than in the past. We had to prepay a lot of fertilizer to make sure of availability, but everything seems to be available so far. This is the earliest I’ve prepaid for fertilizer. We still need these nutrients to make the most of resources for the crop. Practicing the 4Rs of nutrient use — right source, right rate, right time and right place — remain top of mind going forward.

Because of the Ukraine-Russia situation, energy, fertilizer and other ag inputs are going to be challenging to get to make sure we can keep raising crops as we are accustomed to. As much as we can be energy independent in these times, the better off we are.

IFT: How is high inflation and all the talk of potential recession affecting day-to-day or long-term planning on your farm?

MARR: When I look back at my career as a farmer and I think of different challenges, political, weather or whatever it might have been, including high inflation in the 1980s and a grain embargo that affected trade relations and took agriculture a long time to get over, I know we had to weather those storms. During such times, you have to be very conscious and careful how you manage your resources. Inflation and interest rates can affect everybody. The new generation hasn’t see double-digit rates. Don’t get over extended. Hopefully there will be opportunities.

IFT: Any other thoughts about being involved in farm organizations?

MARR: I’ve been an Illinois Farm Bureau member since 1975 and an active member of the Illinois Soybean Association and Illinois Beef Association, but the most engaged with corn. All organizations collaborate and do a lot together to magnify the voice of agriculture. You get to be around a lot of great leaders and get exposed to a lot of great ideas. When I was on the Illinois Livestock Development Group, I got to work with people from pork, beef and dairy. We’re all part of that. I met great people from all those organizations and it has been an honor and pleasure for me. I’m a people person and like working with others. Being able to advocate for agriculture is a real privilege to me. I’d like to thank the directors and my family for being a good support system so I was to be able to be a director. Sheila and my sons keep the home fire burning.

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

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