MOROA, Illinois — At age 35, Cody White, a corn and soybean farmer in central Illinois who played in the National Football League, is already inspiring the next generation of farmers and athletes.
White was named one of the 2023 Illinois Soybean Association’s 20 under 40 young leaders.
While the Under 40 competition is led by ISA, other young farmers recognized excelled in involvement in the beef, corn and pork industries, Illinois Farm Bureau, conservation, and community efforts.
“It’s always nice to be recognized, hopefully for doing new things,” White says.
Like most young leaders, his motivation is not for the recognition, but for excelling at his passion and inspiring others in the process.
White was nominated by Clinton, Illinois, farmer Jered Hooker, who is active in ISA and a long-time member of the American Soybean Association board of directors. Hooker works land his family has owned since 1875. He strives to improve sustainable production through a combination of conservation, soil and plant health, and water quality — habits that influence White’s approach to farming as well.
That said, they didn’t meet because of farming. Hooker first met White through a shared passion for football at Illinois State University. Hooker was the specialty teams coach while White played offense (2007-11). They knew of each other but didn’t work closely together.
“Then in 2016 when my professional football career was over, I saw Coach Hooker in a field with my father-in-law,” White said.
It turns out he farmed with White’s father-in-law, Verneil Leggett, for years.
This was six years after White and Hooker first met on a football field.
“We had no idea we’d meet again in a different field,” White says of the coach who has become a mentor.
White himself is now a youth coach and motivational speaker to young athletes.
“Cody has been successful in everything he sets his mind to as in athletics and now in farming. Because of that, I see his leadership potential,” Hooker says. “He’s a hard worker, dedicated and developing leadership skills for the future in front of him.”
An injury limited his football career but brought him back to central Illinois to farm with his wife’s family and make use of the solid education he received with his ISU degree.
White says it has been a huge advantage to be able to work alongside his father-in-law.
“We each have our own operation but work together. It has helped me as a young guy to build equity,” he says of the chance to share equipment in a business that has huge startup costs.
White also shares some of his up-to-date skills and education to help Leggett Farms.
He looks to the future of his farm in Maroa where he and his family moved earlier in July. He and his wife Mallory are building roots for their three children ages 2 to 7. In contrast, White, whose dad worked for State Farm Insurance, never lived anywhere long when White was growing up.
White was born in Ohio in 1988 and moved seven times, including to Arizona, Colorado and Indiana with his family before fourth grade, which likely helped him build social skills, he says.
The community where he ended up also sparked his idea to major in agriculture. He saw there were a lot of different agriculture-related job opportunities.
Like the experienced farmers he admires, White uses reduced tillage, variable rate nitrogen for side-dress application, and variable rate phosphorous.
In coaching and supporting youth, he tells them that sports teach us how to handle failure. He talks about the habits that helped him find success in farming and sports.
Start with little things and build on them each day, he encourages.