Agriculture Runs Deep in Iowa Family Farms

Thursday, April 6, 2017
By: Kris Norwood, Communications
Randy Madden - 4th generation Iowa Farmer

Randy Madden, 4th generation Iowa farmer and brother-in-law to the President & CEO for Crop Science, a Division of Bayer, Jim Blome, has grown up surrounded by agriculture and continues to give back to the community through farming. His family farm in north central Iowa produces about 2,500 acres each year, mostly of continuous corn. In his county, demand for corn is so great, he estimates that there are between two and three bushels of corn used (for livestock feed and ethanol) for every one bushel of corn produced.

A 100-Year Commitment

Randy considers farming to be as much a family tradition as a business, which offers a glimpse into their passion for agriculture. Madden’s great-grandfather purchased the farm in 1925, so in 2025, it will have been in the family for 100 years. “In Iowa, they recognize 100 years of continuous ownership of farms; they call it Century Farms,” Randy says. “So we’re looking forward to that achievement in a few more years. We feel very fortunate to continue that tradition as well as the family business.”

And the family business doesn’t stop with Randy and his wife Connie. Their oldest son moved onto the farm with his wife and three sons, becoming the fifth and sixth generations to live on the farm.

“He is walking the field that my great grandfather walked,” Randy says.

“My grandfather harvested corn by hand and hauled it with horses in this same field,” Randy says. “What will technological developments allow my grandsons to do in their farming career?”

Studying Seed

Before following the family tradition of working on the farm, Randy became the first in his family to receive a Bachelor’s degree. After graduating with a Farm Operation degree from Iowa State, he worked in soybean breeding at the University to gain experience before coming home to farm.

Later, Randy got his Ph. D. in plant physiology and molecular biology, with a focus in seed. “They have a Seed Science Center at Iowa State, so it was fairly unique graduate work specifically in seed quality and seed physiology – how you produce the seed, store it and evaluate it for germination quality – so everything from the time it’s produced on the plant to when it’s stored and then replanted. That whole piece of the life cycle was my expertise.” In 2000, Randy made the decision to come back to the family farm full-time, rather than continuing his career in the corporate ag industry.

Randy’s background provides him with a unique perspective that puts him in a league of his own. “At the time that I got my Ph.D., there were several similar graduate programs around the Midwest. Most, if not all of those, have since disappeared, and there’s probably fewer than 10 people with my kind of training still walking the face of the globe.”

Modern Ag Supporter

And as he looks forward to planting his 41st corn crop in the upcoming year, Randy has a vision for the future where modern technology helps farmers stay competitive in the world market, while providing healthier, more plentiful crops and improving the quality of life in a rapidly growing world.

“Modern technologies, such as digital farming, have the potential to change farming significantly,” Randy says, “but just like the early days of biotechnology, the complexity of the digital world can be overwhelming, and the systems needed to manage the huge amounts of data currently generated by digital tools are not quite there yet.”

“That’s always been, to this point of time, a real show-stopper because there have not been in my opinion sufficient systems for people to manage the data in a way that was meaningful,” Randy explains. “You can visually look at the data map, or you can go to the raw data if you have a specific question on historical perspectives, but we have never had the systems that could help us analyze the data in a structured way that adds value from a statistical point of view.”

“My grandfather harvested corn by hand and hauled it with horses in this same field,” Randy says. “What will technological developments allow my grandsons to do in their farming career?”

Randy is eager to contribute, using his background and his experience from 40 years of farming to provide input into the data-driven decision-making process. In 2017, he and his sons are planning for digital projects that they can set up on their farm.

“I just feel like we’re standing at the threshold of some exciting new developments that will allow us to stay competitive on a world production stage as we innovate,” he says. “I think we can grow a bushel of corn more efficiently with fewer resources than we’re doing today. And then the other half of the opportunity, I think we can grow more bushels of corn on those acres. But I’m almost more excited short-term about the ability to produce food more efficiently with incredible benefits to our environment.”

We’d love to hear about your family farm – leave a comment below and share your photos with us on Twitter @Bayer4CropsUS.


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