EUGENE, Oreg. – Hard work and a passion for farming have earned Terry Wilkerson the right to call himself one of the nation’s most outstanding young farmers of 2009.
Wilkerson and his wife, Julie, were among 10 families considered for the National Outstanding Young Farmers Award by the Outstanding Farmers of America Fraternity at their 53rd Annual Awards Congress, Feb. 12-15, in Oregon. They were the only nominees from Illinois.
The Wilkersons are a farming family from Dahlgren. They operate a 1,137-acre farm of corn, soybeans and wheat. That’s a nearly 30-fold growth from the first 40 acres he bought back in 1993. It is a testament to the family philosophy of owning the land they farm in order to truly appreciate the hard work and long days in and out of the fields. He thanks his parents for passing that mind-set and work ethic down to him.
After graduating valedictorian of the McLeansboro High School Class of 1990, Wilkerson moved on to earn an associate’s degree from the agriculture program at RLC – the same program he would eventually become a full-time instructor of in 1997. He holds dual master’s degrees from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, graduating summa cum laude in both. In October, he was selected by college officials as the Interim Chair of the Applied Science and Technology Division at RLC.
Sponsored by John Deere, the Outstanding Farmers of America Fraternity is made up of past nominees of the Outstanding Young Farmer Program. The purpose of the program is to bring about a greater interest in the farmer, to foster better urban-rural relationships through the understanding of farmers’ problems, to develop an appreciation for their contributions and achievements, and to inform the agribusiness community of the growing urban awareness of farmers’ importance and impact on the American economy. National winners are determined based on progress in agricultural careers, extent of soil and water conservation practices, and contributions to the well-being of the community, state and nation.
A true class act both in and out of the classroom, Wilkerson’s knowledge and progressive practices are interchangeable as a member of the faculty at RLC and a face in the local farming community. He is quick to adopt new technologies as they come online, such as GMO technology which he was one of the first in the region to incorporate into his cropping practices. He offers his land to University and extension representatives for research in analyzing zinc in high-yield corn, manganese in soybeans, magnesium in wheat, and nitrogen and sulfur in double-crop soybeans.
Soil and water conservation is a cornerstone to their operation. Waterways and filter strips are used to manage water flow through fields, effectively minimizing soil loss and protecting water sources. Nearly 20 years of continuous no-till farming have conserved fuel consumption and planting time as well as preserving moisture and limiting erosion.
With site’s once set on expansion, Wilkerson now sees himself farming past retirement and preserving their farm for future generations. His career at the college has presented opportunities for Wilkerson to reach out and connect the college with farming organizations and leaders in the area. RLC serves as the annual site for the District 5 FFA Science Fair and 4-H facilities are located just southwest of the campus. Wilkerson has presented at local high schools about career opportunities in agriculture, serves as a 4-H judge, is active on the FSA county committee and Farm Bureau, and holds a position on the county coal association board.
His wife operates her own production company in communications and media, helps keep crop and financial records for the farm, and participates in major decision making.