By RICK A. RICHARDS
LA PORTE, Ind. — Joe and Cheryl Tuholski are plenty busy. They have 6,000 acres to farm, two boys – ages 7 and 8 – to get off to school every day and they’re about to move into a new home. So why would they take on the challenge of being the Indiana representatives for the 2013 American Soybean Assoc. (ASA)/DuPont Young Leader program?
They like the opportunity to meet other people and to learn more about agriculture. “In the last year, we retired off the state Young Farmer Committee for the Indiana Farm Bureau,” said Joe. “We were sure we’d be okay with the time and travel, because we’d been doing it.
“Networking is the biggest part of it. When you go to these conferences and conventions you see people from all over the state, all over the country and around the world. You get to find out about the different kinds of agriculture in your state. This has been a great opportunity for us.”
Cheryl nodded in agreement and said, “This has really taught us communication skills. This helps us every day to move forward in every area of our life.”
The ASA/DuPont Young Leader program identifies soybean farmers who are innovative, assertive and looking to make their mark in agriculture. Kevin Wilson, president of the Indiana Soybean Alliance, said, “The Young Leader program is an exciting opportunity for farmers to learn more about the soybean industry and to develop skills that can help them grow as leaders in their communities and within the agricultural industry.
“We are excited to have Joe and Cheryl participate in this program, representing Indiana, and look forward to seeing them grow and develop their leadership skills even more through this experience.”
Already, the Tuholskis have completed the first part of the program – they traveled to Pioneer’s headquarters in Johnstown, Iowa, last fall to participate in a communications program, study soybean market trends and the farm economy and learn about soybean trait development.
From Feb. 22-March 2, they will be in Kissimmee, Fla., to take part in more training with the ASA’s annual meeting.
Joe grew up on the family farm, a few miles east of La Porte, which was purchased by his grandfather in the 1940s. He not only raises soybeans, he also plants seed beans, corn, popcorn, seed corn, seed wheat and alfalfa.
Cheryl grew up in the small town of Westville, where the family had a small plot of land, “a horse, a couple of pigs, a cow, cats and dogs,” but she never experienced farm life until she met Joe.
Even though the two grew up only about 15 miles from each other, it wasn’t until they went separately to DC’s County Junction, a country dance lounge in Lowell – about 50 miles away – that they met.
“We both like line dancing, and we met there,” said Cheryl.
Even though farming was a relatively new experience for her, Cheryl grew up learning how to operate the heavy machinery owned by her dad. Getting behind the wheel of a tractor or other farm equipment wasn’t intimidating, but she prefers to leave the farming to Joe.
“If I didn’t like what I was doing, I wouldn’t still be doing it,” said Joe. “The pay, in relationship to the hours you put in – you have to like it in order to do it.”
Cheryl said she’s amazed by how hard farmers work. “People just don’t know how many hours farmers put in,” she pointed out.
Joe is excited by the opportunity to represent Indiana with the ASA. “This is a bit of extra motivation to tell people what you do. It’s becoming more important to communicate in farming and how to talk to people who are many generations removed from agriculture,” he said.
“Education is the key, and that’s because most people don’t understand what’s going on in farming and what something like ‘genetically modified’ means. I honestly don’t know what people think we’re doing out here. It lets us grow with less chemicals, gives us higher yield potential and provides benefit after benefit. People hear genetically modified and they get scared.”
Cheryl said getting involved with the Young Farmer program has taught her much. “Farmers are hard, hard workers and very underappreciated.
When people say they can’t believe my husband uses chemicals and that he’s hurting their kids, I tell them that we feed our kids that food, and if we thought it was dangerous we wouldn’t.”
The Tuholskis have opened up their farm in recent years, hosting tours and visitors to show off what they do. “We’ve had foreign exchange groups, we sponsored the Row Crop Association annual dinner. We’ve sponsored quite a few things out here over many, many years,” said Joe.
“In any organization we’ve been involved in, they’ve taught good stewardship. If you don’t take care of the land it won’t take care of you. We want to make money off it, so we take care of it.”
The Tuholskis are anxious to start the second phase of the Young Farmer program in Florida. Besides getting away from the cold and snow of northern Indiana, they want to take advantage of the learning opportunities the program has to offer. “I believe it is vital for our industry to work together and continue to research and develop new uses for soybeans and soybean products, to ensure long-term growth for our country’s soybean industry,” said Joe.