The Master Farmer Award was started by former Prairie Farmer editor Clifford Gregory in 1925 as a way to recognize the finest farmers in both Illinois and Indiana. Other states soon followed. Henry A. Wallace, editor of Wallaces Farmer, initiated the program in Iowa in 1926; Kansas Farmer brought it online in 1927 and so on.
Farm Progress Publications currently sponsors Master Farmer awards programs in North and South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin and the northeastern states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia.
Most of the recipients are honored this time of year. Michigan Farmer's program was in January, for example. Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa programs are this month.
In the early years when there were quadruple more farmers in each state than now, as many as two dozen recipients were named. As time passed and number of farmers decreased, number of recipients each year now averages around four. That also has lent prestige to the program – not just anyone can be named a Master Farmer. In Iowa, for example, only 441 Iowa farm families have received the award since 1926.
What is a Master Farmer?
So, what is a Master Farmer and how are they selected? Master Farmers exhibit outstanding farm management skills, provide exceptional leadership to their community and to agriculture and show devotion to God, family and country.
Judges consider operation and management of the farm -- how the nominee got started, how they’ve grown the operation while demonstrating sound financial management. Those who are good stewards of the land and give proper care to livestock receive high marks.
An interest in farm organizations – not only in membership, but leadership as well – is part of the makeup of a Master Farmer. Church activities aren’t required, but you’ll rarely find a Master Farmer who isn’t an active supporter of some church.
Note that this is a family award. Farming is a true partnership between husband and wife. All members of the family contribute to the success of the operation.
Anyone can nominate a Master Farmer – father, spouse, neighbor, children, Extension, etc. Letters of support from community leaders, pastors, co-op managers, etc., help strengthen a nomination.
A number of states also Master Farm Homemaker award programs. In Kansas, Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker awards were combined in 1953. Master Farm Homemakers also become part of national Master Farm Homemaker Guild.
If you are interested in nominating a Master Farmer in your state, go to www.farmprogress.com, click on magazines, find your Farm Progress magazine, and under "More Farm Progress", click on Master Farmer.