Morgan County farmers Jim and Mary Burrus have been named the 2014 Sustainable Agriculture Farmers of the Year by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The couple, who operate Indian Creek Farm in rural Jacksonville, received the award during the Agriculture Day Luncheon during the Illinois State Fair.
The Burruses live on the farm where Jim was born and raised. His grandfather purchased the original 192 acres in 1946. Jim bought the adjoining 128 acres in 1998, and they also rent an additional 340 acres nearby. About half of the farm is pasture, the other half tillable cropland on which Jim grows conventional corn and soybeans using no-till farming. The remaining cropland is devoted to the production of organic alfalfa, which is used as supplemental feed for the 130 certified-organic, grass-fed Angus and Red Angus cattle they raise.
“We direct market about 40 head of certified-organic, grass-fed beef to our customers each year,” Jim said. “We also direct market 250 Cornish cross chickens that are raised organically, but can’t be certified because there is no certified processing facility anymore in Illinois to take them to.”
Jim’s interest in raising grass-fed cattle began in 1994 when he attended a Pasture Improvement Seminar on Management Intensive Grazing. After attending a grazing school in 1995, he decided to convert his operation. Their first grass-fed beef was sold in 1999 and the herd was certified organic in 2006. Since then, he has installed over 12,000 feet of water lines with partial funding through the NRCS EQIP program to provide water to the 13 paddocks on the farm. Fescue grass not eaten during the summer as the cows are rotated through the paddock system is harvested and stockpiled to use for winter feed.
Jim and Mary have hosted several field days, farm walks and sustainable agriculture tours on their farm and Jim has shared his expertise with others while speaking at the Illinois Specialty Growers Agritourism and Organic Conference, the Missouri Forage and Grassland Conference and at Western Illinois University.
“We went to direct marketing grass fed organic cattle under a management intensive grazing system and pastured poultry as a way to better utilize our existing farm resources and generate added value without having to expand our acreage,” Jim said. “By going organic with our livestock and staying more conventional with our cropping system using no-till, we are able to find a balance that works for our farm and helps us sustain our resources. That is the key.”
Indian Creek Farm is located at 2095 Arcadia Road, Jacksonville. Jim and Mary also are vendors at the Department of Agriculture’s Thursday night farmer’s market on the State Fairgrounds. They also sell from their farm by appointment.