Bill Wheelhouse

Reporter, Harvest Public Media

Bill Wheelhouse is a former Harvest Public Media’s reporter in Springfield, Ill. He came to Harvest with a background of covering state government and rural issues. 

Ways To Connect

Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

On a hot day in late August, Kevin Bien stood amid the shade of a large gray piece of farm equipment.  The brand marketing manager for Gleaner Combines gave his best spiel to a group of farmers attending the Farm progress Show  in Decatur, Ill. Torque, efficiency and new technology were among his key points for the prospective buyers of the large machines that can run anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000.

And farmers are buying. Frequently.

Harvest Public Media

Farmer Doug Wilson has been buying crop insurance since 1980. 

“You carry home insurance, hoping your house doesn’t burn down. We carry crop insurance, hoping our crops don’t burn down,” Wilson said on a sweltering day in mid-August as he walked among the healthy 8-foot corn stalks in one his fields in central Illinois. “But last year, they burned down — kind of literally.”

Hot weather has been greeting visitors to this year’s Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill., one of the country’s largest agriculture trade shows. It’s a fitting reminder of a rough year for farmers.

Hot weather is no surprise during the late-August exhibition of all things farming. But the recent dry spell in the Midwest is causing some worries.

Pam Johnson, a Northern Iowa farmer who is president of the National Corn Growers association says that's been the number one concern she's heard from show visitors.

Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

Americans consume a lot of sweets. Even discounting all the high fructose corn syrup you find in soft drinks, the average consumer takes in about 40 pounds of refined sugar in a year, according to the USDA.

That means food companies from Nestle to Hostess and small neighborhood candy stores have to buy sugar. Lots of it.  And those bakers and snack food makers say the government gives too much support to sugar growers and consumers are footing the bill. 

Creative Commons

It’s hard not to use the phrase “quintessential small town” when you describe Pittsfield, Ill. 

The western Illinois community of 4,500 people has a picturesque downtown square with an historic courthouse sitting in the center.  The small city is the county seat of Pike County and for many years has called itself the Pork Capital of the World in homage to an important sector of farming in this region.   Every year the town holds a two day festival known as “Pig Days,” which, true to its name, features pig tail and hog calling contests.

Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

Jackie Dougan Jackson keeps a pretty thorough log of her life. The 85-year-old retired college professor lives in Springfield, Ill., and has lived there for more than 40 years. However, she has devoted a lot of time to her first 22 years, when she lived on a family farm near Beloit, Wisc.

Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

In the small town of Staunton, Ill., the new $9 million water plant is a welcome addition. After all, when the 80-year-old facility it replaces seized up last year, the community’s 5,000 residents were without water for five days.

But for Staunton’s part-time mayor Craig Neuhaus, the plant represents more than water security. He expects the water system upgrade to help bring business to this town about 40 miles north of St. Louis.

Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

The window in Tom Burrus’ office gives him a good look at the wide expanse of Illinois River bottomland where his company produces seed corn for farmers across Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin. Hanging on his wall are sketches of his grandfather and others who’ve had a part in the Burrus Seed Co. since it was founded 1935. The 63-year-old company president knows he is a rare independent in a land of giants.