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Chicago Area Farmers Struggle to Keep Land

January 9, 2013
 
Hayden Family
The Hayden family of Lake County, Ind., works to keep their farm and raise ag awareness in the area.  
 
 

Family’s biggest fear drives success

Many know the Hayden family of Lake County, Ind., for their involvement in Farm Bureau and 4-H and for helping host Ag Awareness Days. Susie Hayden, who has never lived more than five miles from where she does now, farms with her husband, Jerry, and two of her sons, Matt (40) and Bobby (26). They are the faces behind Eagle Rock Farm and together they farm 4,000 acres on the outskirts of Chicago, Ill.

The Haydens own 500 of the 4,000 acres and run a primarily corn-soybean rotation with some wheat. In making it all happen year after year, they work with more than 20 different landlords in a 10-mile radius.

Farmland in the area is assessed at $1,630 per acre, according to the Lake County Assessor’s Office. Farmland in the county gives way to development as more people move to or need quick access to the Chicago market. Getting and keeping ground is really competitive, Jerry notes. "Some of our landlords track the markets and have a good idea of what’s going on, while others take a more hands-off approach," he says. "You have to learn to manage both styles and keep everyone happy. There’s no book for that."

"You have to learn to
manage both styles and
keep everyone happy.
There’s no book for that."


The Haydens go out of their way to keep landlords pleased by mowing the roadsides, investing in the fields by making sure soil nutrient levels are replenished, and being good stewards. Jerry explains that some tenants, knowing it’s a competitive market, come in for a short run but don’t make the investments to keep fields in good condition.

Chicago now stands as the third largest urban agglomeration in the world in land area, trailing only New York and Tokyo. The Chicago urban area covers more land than Los Angeles, Calif. The 2010 census shows Chicago’s population has grown at an annual rate of 3.9% since 2000, which is below average. However, Chicago’s outer suburbs grew at an annual rate of 16.5%. The suburbs continue to sprawl and eat up acres of farmland.

Development Not All Bad. Many businesses and service-oriented companies are located on the perimeter of Chicago. This allows them access not only to customers and a strong work force, but many modes of transportation. They can move goods in and out by water, rail and interstate. One of these businesses, Cargill, operates several facilities in the region.

The Haydens have contracted with Cargill for nearly 20 years, growing high-starch, food-grade corn. "It yields about the same as dent corn," Jerry says. As part of the contract, they store and deliver the corn throughout the week to a Hammond, Ind., plant, where it is ground for cornstarch and syrup. They recently switched to a schedule where they deliver Monday through Friday from 7 to 10 a.m. In return, they receive a nice premium.

Located right off Interstate 65 and 30 miles from the plant, they can easily make the trek. "Even with transportation and storage costs, it just makes sense for us," Jerry says. They own four semis to haul grain year-round. In 1999, they purchased a 60,000-bu.-capacity grain storage  facility and have since added three new bins for a total capacity of 220,000 bu.

Most recently, the family added a new truck scale and scale room for the 2012 growing season. "This makes it really easy to track grain, manage inventory, print out tickets and keep records," says Bobby, who lives on-site and has been farming fulltime for seven years.

"Each truck has a bar code. When a truck pulls on the scales, we scan its bar code and the software keeps track of the loads moving in and out," he says. Everything is synchronized; when a grain sample is provided, the system stores test weight, moisture and the appropriate field. The new setup helps the family better manage its 20 landlords.

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - January 2013

 
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