Editor’s note: AgriNews celebrates its anniversary by reviewing some of the major agricultural issues of the past 45 years.
KIRKWOOD, Ill. “Whatever part of Illinois agriculture you mention, Wendell Shauman has been there and done it.
“If you follow corn yield from the early 1900s, it was reasonably flat until about the early 1970s when it just went up and kept going up with a pretty nice increase. I pointed out to my old classmates that it was around the time I got into maize farming,” Shauman said, tongue in cheek.
He worked for Funk’s Seeds as a corn breeder, starting with the company while still in graduate school and continuing with them after earning his doctorate.
Livestock? This too.
“We raised pigs. We gave birth to them in A houses in an open pasture. In the winter you were out there trying to thaw the pig waterers when it was cold as hell,” Shauman said.
“I got rid of my last cow in September last year. We had brought cows out a month or two before and they were five miles away before we found them. There were no fences in their path,” Shauman said.
He also understands what it’s like to be a farm kid and wants to get back into farming. A 1967 graduate of Monmouth College and the recipient of the college’s Distinguished Alumnus Award last year, Shauman worked for Funk’s Seeds as a corn breeder.
“I was working as a corn breeder and I went to Iowa to look at some plots. My wife stayed with my parents. My dad asked him, ‘Do you think Wendell would ever want to come back?’ My wife said, “Yes,” and that’s all it took. It was a done deal and I was back on the farm the following spring,” he said.
Shauman also knows what it’s like to endure hard times.
“We bought our first farm in 1978. I remember my grandmother, she just shook her head and said, ‘I sure hope you can afford it.’ My wife went back to work as a high school math teacher and kept us going until then. It took everything you had and we managed to make the mortgage payments, but, boy, was it lousy, income-wise,” he said.
His vast experience also extends to the political and legislative side. Shauman has held leadership positions at the grassroots level, beginning as a member of the Warren County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, Illinois Farm Bureau Board of Directors, Illinois Soybean Association Board of Directors and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. He was president of the US Grains Council.
His work with these different organizations has taken him around the world.
“On my first trip, they said, ‘You’re new to the board and we’re working with this group called the US Grains Council. We are taking a trip to Russia. We think you should leave. I said, ‘OK, but what is the US Grains Council? I want to go to Russia?’ What an experience it was,” he said.
When he’s not running the farm with his wife Janet, with whom he will celebrate 55 years of marriage in August, Shauman continues to promote, speak out and support American agriculture. He and Janet have three children and six grandchildren.
Speaking from the 2022 Commodity Classic in New Orleans, Shauman spoke to AgriNews about some of his experiences and some of the issues, challenges and opportunities he sees in the industry he has dedicated his life to.
“I think American agriculture has every reason to be proud of what it does and to promote the message that ‘Hey, we’re doing a really good job,'” he said.