CLOSE TO FARM AND FAMILY
In many ways, Eric Wilkinson never left the farm.
COURTESY OF ASFMRA
The Kankakee, Illinois farm manager has fond memories of his childhood, working alongside his father, grandfather and siblings on the small family livestock and grain farm near Mazon, Illinois. The years instilled more than just strong work ethic and family values. There was always a lot to do, from the tedious after-school chores of cleaning out hog pens to taking on greater responsibilities when he got older. But for Wilkinson, there was something more.
Over the years, he developed an undeniable passion for the land. He knew that his life-long career would somehow be tied to the farm.
“They say that roots run deep on a farm and in a farming community, and I have definitely lived that,” Wilkinson says. “I’ve always been very much entrenched in the farm and rural life. I still have a strong connection, just in a different capacity as a farm manager.”
Wilkinson would leave the family farm to pursue an education, but would eventually return to live not too far away. After graduating from Iowa State University in May 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Business, he returned to Illinois and joined Hertz Farm Management, first as a farm manager and real estate sales representative in the company’s Monticello office. In 2011, he transferred to Hertz’s Kankakee office, where today he is the general office manager. Wilkinson personally manages 14,000 acres of farmland.
“It has been very rewarding. You could say that I am living my dream,” Wilkinson says. “I’m still connected to the farm in so many ways by working with farm owners and their operators and helping them make the decisions to achieve their goals.”
COMMITMENT TO CONSERVATION
Just as with farming, the business of farm management involves a myriad of professional services and knowledge of many aspects of rural land, from agronomics and conservation to financial and succession strategies. Wilkinson and the other professional staff in the Kankakee office work diligently to keep up with the trends that will affect their 200-plus clients; they recently added a rural appraiser to the team.
Wilkinson’s connection with the land is well-served as he sees more land owners looking to him for land conservation planning, with the goal of preserving properties for future generations. He credits his passion for stewarding the land to growing up on the farm and his father’s commitment to controlling soil erosion on the family farm. Today, his father, Dan, operates a farm drainage company in addition to managing the family farm.
“We are blessed in this area of northern Illinois with an abundance of rainfall for the crops, but that blessing is also something that needs to be managed when it comes to the soil,” Wilkinson says. “Erosion control projects such as pattern tile subsurface drainage systems are becoming more important for land owners who are committed to preserving the assets of the soil and the farmland.”
Wilkinson tells the story of one such land owner, a long-term client who inherited farmland.
“She took the approach that the land was a gift to her, and she wants to pass it on to future generations in even better condition than it is today,” Wilkinson says. “Together, we saw some significant drainage issues on the tracts that were affecting the crop production and the land itself.”
Wilkinson worked with soil conservation experts to come up with a management plan to help curb some of the soil erosion and runoff that they were seeing on the properties.
“It has been a great challenge and very rewarding to work with her and the farm operator to implement new production practices and drainage installations,” Wilkinson says, “They will help her not only increase financial returns from increased consistency of crop production, but also future generations will enjoy the properties for years to come. It’s very rewarding and gratifying.”
The experience validates two components for success in Wilkinson’s view—effectively communicating with land owners and stakeholders, and staying educated and current on trends and issues affecting agriculture and rural properties. He finds this in the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA), where he is currently president-elect of the Illinois chapter. He has also served nationally, on the accreditation and education committee and more recently as co-chairman of the Young Professional Network.
“ASFMRA has provided a great baseline for how we manage and communicate with clients more effectively,” he says. “Our goal through the association is to make our profession better and also help each other through networking and sharing experiences. When you can interact with professionals who are the best in the industry, then you become better in the process.”
Wilkinson has made a professional goal of fine-tuning his professional skillset, and partnering with his land owner clients for many more shared successes over the years. He looks forward to greater responsibilities at Hertz Farm Management and organizations such as ASFMRA to help him get there.
When asked about hobbies, Wilkinson says with a chuckle, “I guess you could say the farm has always been my staple hobby.”
At the top of his list is time spent back on the farm and with family, enjoying the outdoors and the country life. On the home front, Wilkinson and his wife, Amber, are improving their family farmstead and looking forward to putting in that new fence around the pasture for the hobby livestock.
The Wilkinsons are also busy raising their two children—Lyla, four, Grahm, two, and a third child is on the way, due this summer. And, Wilkinson tries to steal away to his father’s farm in Mazon as often as he can to help out and even swap a few soil conservation stories and tips.
“We’re surrounded by family and the farm. There’s the passion that goes along with being close to the farm, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”