Kevin Brooks, who has the heart of a teacher and a farmer, has managed to make both part of his life, but not always the way he expected.
Brooks grew up on an Iowa farm in the late 1970s and thought he would likely farm, growing corn and soybeans and maybe raise hogs like his dad. But when he was in college, during the stress of the 1980s farm crisis, his dad decided to sell the farm near Iowa City.
“He didn’t want me to farm. He said there were a lot of easier things to do for better pay,” Brooks said.
Brooks received his Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture business from Truman State University and his master’s degree from the University of Missouri in agricultural education.
He earned teaching certificates in Illinois and Missouri and taught subjects including farm management, agribusiness management and crop science at high school and college levels.
In 2000, he got a dream job as a University of Illinois Extension educator focusing on farm business management and marketing in Effingham and Champaign counties. But when Extension was reorganized, eliminating most field staff, he lost his job in 2011.
It looked like for a second time, his desired career path would be re-routed. But he kept his roots in agriculture, working as a consultant and farm manager.
“I loved what I did. I still acted like I was an Extension educator when I had my own business,” he says.
He professionally managed and consulted on over 25,000 acres of farmland and marketed grain for farm management customers as a professional farm management and trust officer. He is also a licensed real estate broker.
Then, in December last year, he was hired as a farm management Extension educator for Fulton, Mason, Peoria and Tazewell counties. Now he uses skills he honed between his two Extension stints.
Over the years, he and his wife raised six kids including two adopted children who were older, so at one time they had children in grade school and law school at the same time.
Today they live in a farmhouse near Mahomet and Brooks is based in Havana in Mason County, Illinois.
When Brooks was running his own business, he jokes that sometimes he made the same grain marketing mistakes he warned his college students about. He says he too has watched the price go up and go back down again without pulling the trigger.
Helping farmers improve their field drainage is one area he is most proud of in his farm managing period.
“I was able to help neighbors work together, and land owners also cooperate with cost sharing. It pays for itself in a short time,” he says of drainage.
Information management is one of the biggest hurdles in farm management today, he says. Data needs to be collected for wills, the IRS, income verification, fertility records, soil tests, tile maps, GPS information and organic records.
“Farmers have a lot of information to manage,” he said, and it’s a challenge even for the bigger operations.
The commercially licensed drone pilot also helps farmers with that technology, assisting them with software and how to handle the imagery and information gathered. Brooks shows them how to use drones for practical purposes “and not just put it on a shelf for the grandkids to play with.”
He has also published many informational articles and created videos on farm management-related topics that farmers and landowners elsewhere can use.
Jeff Harris, who lives in New Mexico and owns family land near Clinton and Weldon in DeWitt County in Central Illinois, says Brooks helped him learn about agronomy and soil testing and other things he needed to know.
“My interest lies in maintaining fertility and integrity of the farm,” says Harris, who took Extension classes with Brooks about 15 years ago and still communicates with him when he needs to know something.
“I grew up being on my grandpa’s farm every weekend,” says Harris, who took over managing it after his father died. “I probably would have been a good farmer,” but he took a different path in working in real estate, appraising, building and being “a jack of all trades.”
He may have been a good farmer, but Brooks says Harris is one of the best landowners and farm managers he knows.