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Daily Journal
     August 31, 2022      #61-243 KDJ
Doug and Pam Anderson show off some ironweed, one of the many flowering plants on their Donovan farm that helps conserve the land by cutting erosion and providing a natural habitat for wildlife and pollinating insects.

Phil Angelo/Daily Journal

Conservation Reserve on the Anderson farm

By Phil Angelo

In a very conventional sense, Doug and Pam Anderson of Donovan farm 1,250 acres of corn and soybeans in Iroquois County.

Continuing in a very conventional sense, it’s a farm with deep family roots. The Andersons of generations ago began farming in Illinois in 1863 when great great grandfather Sven, who emigrated from Sweden, bought 40 acres for $500.

Doug worked on the farm as a youth. He was driving a tractor at age 12. He graduated from Donovan High in 1975 and majored in ag business at the University of Illinois.

Doug and Pam met at Donovan High. She was from Martinton. Her education was in horticulture. She holds a degree from Danville Junior College.

So while the couple grow conventional crops, they also grow a whole bunch of unconventional plants, black-eyed Susans, partridge pea, Illinois bundle flower, big blue stem grass and many others. Pam’s horticulture background plays an important role in the selection and identification of the conservation plants.

Some of those plants naturally occur. Others have to be planted. All are part of the Conservation Reserve Program, which is administered by the Farm Service Agency. It removes sensitive land from agricultural production, while improving water quality, limiting soil erosion and helping wildlife and insect habitats.

Altogether, the Andersons have 200 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program. Some of those acres are in filter strips along creeks. Some of it helps restore wetlands. Some provides homes for bees and butterflies.

“Farmers often get a bad name,” Doug said. “We are trying to be environmentally aware.” They hope to pass better land on to the next generation.

These plants often serve as a border between the corn and soy acreage and the road. Where other farms often seem to have crops for harvest right up to the roadway, the Anderson acreage is more scenic. It is a reminder of what the land might have looked like centuries ago.

The home for Illinois native plants also means more of a home for Illinois wildlife. The native flowers and grasses are loved by pheasants, turkeys and deer. Planted milkweed attracts monarch butterflies. Pam was once running a combine and had to stop to let a family of pheasants cross in front.

Although there’s a real cost on pulling back on the corn acreage, there is an economic reality that the land with the flowers and grasses is not the best land on the farm. It may be sandier soil. If you grew corn there, you would get some, but not as much as on prime land.

People, Pam said, often do not understand where the food comes from. Take a perfect apple. It is sprayed with pesticide because no one wants an apple with a worm in it. But the amounts of pesticide and herbicide used today are much safer than in the past.

The Andersons also have cut down on tilling. By not breaking up the soil so much, the bugs have more opportunity to work in nature’s way. The soil remains more moist and does not blow away. They plant no-till soybeans, installing the bean seeds on top of the corn stubble. They are also trying out “strip tilling,” meaning tilling only a narrow six-inch strip, leaving 80 percent of the land undisturbed.

The Andersons have also experimented with cover crops, rye grass, radishes and buckwheat to build up the soil and hold it in place.

The couple took over the family farm in 2010. Before that Doug had managed the grain elevator in Donovan. Doug’s dad, Larry, still helps. It was his mom, Janice, who was the 4-H leader.

Married 44 years, Pam and Doug are the parents of a son and a daughter, Mike and Laura. Son Mike, an aeronautical engineer, holds a doctorate and is married to Lynn. They are the parents of three daughters. Daughter Laura works in website design and is married to Jon Holmes. That couple has a son and a daughter.

Though neither Doug nor Pam was in 4-H as a child, both were leaders for several years when their children were young. Also when the children attended Donovan schools, Doug was a member of the school board.

Today, Doug is a director with the Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau. Pam is the elected Beaver Township supervisor. Both are active with the Donovan United Methodist Church, where he is the treasurer. She teaches in Vacation Bible School, where a lesson plan involved a seeded paper. From snapdragon to nasturtium and from foxglove to toadflax, children see nature in action. Pam also superintends the culinary, fine arts and floriculture Junior Open departments at the Iroquois County Fair.

For recreation, Pam gardens, mostly in vegetables, and both Doug and Pam head to Florida in the depth of the winter for some golf.

They’re optimistic about this year’s corn and bean crop. It was kind of dry and the planting was late, but the rains came and the crops look well. Prices are good, he said, but things can change quickly in farming.

“I like being my own boss,” Doug said. He used to manage several people at the elevator and had to punch a clock. No more. Farming also gives a sense of accomplishment, he said, knowing that you are providing food for hundreds of people.

Pam enjoys the sunsets and the quiet of the country. Deer will run through the yard.

It’s even awesome, she said, to watch a storm rolling across the field.

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