Spirit Farms in North-Central Illinois is not satisfied with being just another farm.
The diverse, family-run, full-service farming operation grows Illinois’ top crops, corn and soybeans, in 10 Illinois counties, incorporating some of the latest technology into its practices. It also offers custom farming solutions to landowners in the area while committing to sustainable agronomy practices and respectful land stewardship.
Michelle Stewart and her husband, John, own the operation, located in Sheridan. The company began as a manure-spreading business, and as it grew, Stewart says the couple found they were able to use the same equipment and staff to begin farming on a small scale. The business took off from there.
“Vertical integration has enabled us to branch out into many geographical areas surrounding our home base,” Stewart says. “Currently, we’re focusing on providing progressive solutions to the needs of landowners, stewardship of the environment, and using our circle of influence to educate people about modern agriculture and how food is produced while also being a light to surrounding areas, especially the children in the community.”
The farm’s use of vertical integration, which means it is self-sufficient as a business, is ideal for reducing operating costs. This type of strategy, plus the use of modern technology, is helping Spirit Farms make more economical and environmentally friendly decisions for its row crops.
“We use precision planting technology on our farm that is available in the John Deere fleet we use,” Stewart says. The tractors are also equipped with GPS mapping and smart devices, which not only allow the farm to be extremely efficient, but also to respond quickly to changing weather conditions.
The farm is completing a new grain storage facility that will hold two million bushels. The facility will be outfitted with the latest measurement and grain quality features, resulting in very accurate reporting and quality crops in every stage from field to market.
Along with these impressive technological advances on the farm, Stewart praises the highly motivated staff for true innovation.
“We have created an in-house program to track grain inventories and logistics in real time for improved immediate accountability,” she says. “We are working on time-tracking systems to more effectively analyze costs right now.”
As for the high-tech equipment Spirit Farms uses, Stewart says their fleet is mainly John Deere, but they are open to using whatever makes sense to ensure the highest crop quality along with the care and health of the land, their top priority. She explains that their next technological advance will be improving data analysis for the vast amount of information they use in decision-making, tying that to the farm’s financial performance.
In 2012, Spirit Farms was chosen as a stop on the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s grain tour, which invites international grain leaders to participate in an educational and informative buyer’s tour of Illinois’ grain industry. Stewart says the experience was an eye-opener.
“Grain buyers from around the globe walked around the farm and asked many questions. It was a perspective shift for us on the farm because we started thinking about who our ‘customer’ really is,” she says.
No doubt their willingness to embrace the latest technological advances, which allow them to produce more with less, landed the Stewarts their spot on the tour. And they found it beneficial for their own operation as well.
“We are competing with growers from around the world,” Stewart says. “We need to work as a team with our neighbors to make our geographical area attractive to the global marketplace.”