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Charting a course for the future

  • 1

    One glance at the 1861 map of Morgan and Scott Counties in its 5x7-foot frame on the living room wall tells you that the Hadden family knows and appreciates their place in Illinois history. But a visit to the four-generation Jacksonville farm clearly demonstrates that this family doesn’t live in the past.

    Gary Hadden (right) and his cousin, Luke Goodey, move fencing to create new paddocks for the cattle.

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    Bob Hadden’s dad, Bill, pioneered soil terraces in Morgan County in the 1960s, and Bob blazed a no-till trail in the 1970s. Today, sons Dale and Gary are charting a course with strip-till, variable rate, GPS autosteer, and embryo transfer. Sustaining the land takes precedence on the Haddens’ 5,000 acres of wheat, soybeans, corn and forage.


    Bob Hadden (lower left), his wife, Carolyn, and son Gary feed cattle.

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    Conservation practices paid off last spring in saturated soils. “We see benefits in a wet spring when we’re looking for a dry piece to plant,” Dale says. In stark contrast to 2009, their combine was off its starting blocks on September 6 this year, as the Haddens hustled to harvest corn dried down to 14.5 moisture by scorching August heat.


    Dale Hadden cleans the combine air filter as harvest gets under way.

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    Bob’s dad added a Pioneer dealership in the early 1970s. Dale took it over in 1987 when he returned after earning an ag economics degree from the University of Illinois. Gary also majored in ag economics, returning to farm in 1998, after working at grain elevators and software companies. Today, they have 250 head, mostly Angus.


    Gary Hadden is in charge of the cattle.

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    Dale relies on rotational grazing to stretch pasture, promote regrowth and reduce erosion. He uses Microsoft Access for breeding, weaning and calving data. The Haddens adopted variable-rate application in the 1990s. “We see benefits of placing P and K and limestone where it’s needed,” Dale says. “Most of our soil tests are balanced and uniform.”


    Luke and Bob gather grain samples to test for quality and moisture.

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    Autosteer is integral to the operation. “We use RTK to place anhydrous in the fall and come back in the spring and plant in the strips. It costs more, but it’s more precise. And it pays off because we can stay on strips 90% of the time,” Dale says. The Haddens pattern-tile most of their fields.


    Harvest was off to a September 6 start this year due to an extremely hot August.

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    “We can see gains on the yield map from pattern-tiling,” Dale says. “We can show landlords the benefits from before-and-after yield maps.” A proximity to markets remains a plus. “We deliver to three spots on the Illinois River and two rail loaders,” Dale says. “We truck to processing plants in Decatur and Quincy.”


    Gary’s wife, Lisa, and their son, Cody, lead show calves in preparation for the county and state fair.

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    The Haddens employ cost-cutting tools, but they focus on maximizing income. “Our goal is to sell in the top one third of the market, and we use crop insurance as part of our risk-management plan,” Dale says. Bob and Carolyn’s son, Ken, is an ADM regional manager in Taylorville. “We often bounce off marketing decisions with him,” Dale says.


    Granddaughters Paige and Meghan Hadden help Bob pick tomatoes.

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