Wilken Named Sustainable Farmer Of The Year | WGLT

Wilken Named Sustainable Farmer Of The Year

Jan 4, 2016

Harold Wilken and his son Ross during a 2013 field day at his farm
Credit The Land Connection

A central Illinois farmer is this year's Sustainable Agriculture Award winner in Illinois. Harold Wilken farms more than 2,000 acres near Danforth in Iroquois County.

He started as a conventional farmer but has been farming organically for eleven years now. Wilken says he still rotates corn, beans, and wheat or oats. But, he mixes it up. Some years the corn is popcorn. The beans may be black turtle beans or clear-hilum beans for tofu.

"We use small grains, legumes, and corn. We confuse the pests. Because in a corn and soybean rotation or corn on corn, they pretty well know what the pattern is."

Wheat may go in the spring or the fall. He also uses pumpkins and ancient grains to fill out the mix of crops.

He says it takes more marketing and business work to farm organic and find outlets for his crops, but it's also less expensive to produce the raw crop than it is for conventional farmers.

"They're talkin about 400 to 500 dollars an acre just in the input costs like the nitrogen, herbicide, and insecticide, those kinds of things that we don't use. We're somewhere between a third to a half on input costs."

And he says prices for some of his crops exceed those of corn and feed beans. His fuel costs are higher than conventional farmers though, because he's making more trips through the fields.
     
He says the non-monetary benefits of organic farming are the most important to him. More eyes and hands are needed on a diverse, organic operation and Wilken says he has brought in his son and nephew in, who would not be farming if he had a conventional operation.