Farming has been in Shumway resident Emil Lagerhausen's blood since he was just 8 years old.
As a teenager, Lagerhausen got his first taste of conservation farming as he worked with local farmers as they designed and built 60 acres of parallel tile outlet terraces. PTO terraces help store water runoff so sediment collected in it does not damage crops.
That first glimpse of conservation farming drove his own farming efforts years later and earned him and his family the 2019 Effingham County Soil and Water Conservation District Conservation Farm Family of the Year award.
Lagerhausen said he really dug into the conservation side of agriculture while attending Lake Land College two years after witnessing to construction of the PTO terraces.
"Two years later, I was in a soils class at Lake Land College doing soil profiles with a posthole digger. It was at Lake Land that I learned a lot about the moraine and the three periods of glaciation that Illinois had experienced and the dark soils to the north and the loess soils to the south, Lagerhausen said.
"I purchased my first farm at age 19 in 1982. From then on, I was paying all of my own bills. I put myself through Lake Land College and majored in Ag Production and graduated in 1981 with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Agriculture."
Ten years after Lagerhausen purchased his own farm, his brother, Dave, started farming with him after their father retired from farming.
Now, Lagerhausen farms approximately 1,800 acres in the Shumway area, called Lagerhausen Farms. Grown on Lagerhausen Farms is corn, soybeans and wheat followed by double crop beans.
In almost every corner of the Lagerhausen farmland is a conservation practice Lagerhausen has adopted over the years.
Lagerhausen currently implements a rotation utilizing cereal rye as a cover crop. Following up his rotation of wheat and no-till double crop beans, he plants cereal rye as a cover crop ahead of the next year’s no-till bean crop; then, he can either continue with the same rotation or switch to corn.
Lagerhausen said that conservation practices have changed since his college years, and he is adding new conservation terms to his vocabulary all the time.
"I have learned so much since then about vertical tillage, cover crops and carbon sequestration. New terms added to my vocabulary (include) soil health, microbes and mycorrhizal fungi," Lagerhausen said. "Here I am wondering what will the next generation implement."
Lagerhausen also no-tills all his wheat and soybean acreage and has close to 4 miles worth of waterways, 1.5 miles of field border berms with 20 risers and 100 acres of PTO terraces consisting of close to 5 miles worth of terraces with 45 risers.
Some other conservation practices include 11 WASCOBS, or Water and Sediment Control Basins, 10 dry dams, six toe walls, 25 rock chutes, six ponds, two quail conservation reserve program areas, two riparian conservation reserve program areas and other projects currently being installed.
Lagerhausen said despite all of the conservation efforts currently on his farm, he is constantly searching for more ways to make his farmland environmentally friendly.
"I want to better utilize cover crops in the future. Which ones? Where do I place them? I’m still wondering if any of the native winter annuals provide any benefits. I probably never will know that answer," Lagerhausen said. "I am always learning and asking questions due to my curiosity in what the best practices are for soil conservation."
Lagerhausen has been married to his wife, Melissa, since 1986, and the couple has three sons, Jeremy, Daniel and Andrew. All three children were active in 4H, as was Emil, and are still involved in agriculture.
Jeremy and his wife, Jessica, live in Atlanta, Georgia, where they work for Nestle Purina. The couple owns 10 acres of farmland, some of which serves as quail conservation reserve program areas. The couple is also in the process of installing terraces.
Daniel, an agronomist, owns Farmers First Agronomy LLC in Faulkton, South Dakota, where he also farms. Lagerhausen said his son often assists him with an agronomy questions.
Andrew currently works for John Deere in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He owns farmland back home and stays involved with Lagerhausen farms.
Emil and Melissa are members of the Faith Lutheran Church in Shumway and volunteer at Enduring Freedom Ministries. Lagerhausen said his family purchased the old Shumway Grade School 10 years ago and just last year donated the building to Enduring Freedom Ministries for their food pantry.
The two are also members of the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Wheat Association and the Effingham County Farm Bureau.
Emil previously served as the treasurer, chairman and elder at their church, on the Effingham County Soil and Water Board, the Illinois State Soil and Water Board, the local Farm Service Co-Op and the Unit 20 school board.
Melissa was on the Illinois Wheat Association board, the Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts Auxiliary and has volunteered as their pastor's secretary, taught Sunday school and volunteered at her children's schools.