Western Alum brings efficiency to African farming methods

Todd Steinacher, Alpha Gamma Rho and Western alum, travels to Africa to teach
modern day farming methods.


Todd Steinacher, Alpha Gamma Rho and Western alum, travels to Africa to teach modern day farming methods.

Steven Barnum , News editor

A graduate of Western Illinois University’s agriculture department is in the process of bringing more efficiency to farming communities in Africa.

Todd Steinacher left Western in 2006 with the passion to work in the agricultural industry. He held jobs in sales and marketing before making himself at home at AgriGold, where he is the Regional Agronomist. Agri- Gold is a seed company based in central Illinois, where Steinacher has lived his entire life. He believes that Western’s agricultural program helped shape his perspective.

“It opens your mind up to different cultures and how they farm and reproduce,” Steinacher said. “It got me thinking about agriculture on a world level and not just in my state or my county.”

In November, Steinacher and a team of agricultural leaders brought their skillsets to villages in Zambia, Africa. Once the group arrived in Africa, they hosted a grower meeting in order to share helpful tips about planting methods and plant development with area farmers. He knows that once they have a better understanding of a plant’s roots and nutrients, they will see a large-scale impact on their crops. Their primary goals were to increase yields and food stability.

One of the purposes of the trip was to help farmers build allies in the industry, which was something that Steinacher thought was lacking.

“We spent a lot of time trying to establish those relationships so that when we’re all gone, those farmers will know who to go to for help,” Steinacher said.

Specifically, he thought that the networking opportunities were non-existent between farmers and input suppliers, which could be due to the fact that they work with small amounts of acreage.

He explained the benefits that farmers have in the United States since they typically buy their own inputs and are able to use them more effectively.

A key observation for the AgriGold group was that farmers in these villages still do most of their farming by hand, an outdated practice in the United States. With a focus on increasing efficiency anywhere they can, the group introduced the farmers to planters, which improves the consistency in the seeding depth and planting methods. Planters will also ensure that they can plant the appropriate amount of seed in each acre. These farming communities did not have access to tractors either.

“The majority of farmers there still do everything by hand. That was a major limiting factor for them,” he said, “so the planters should help.”

Financially, growing white corn doesn’t have the market potential that exists in the United States, which Steinaicher says is because their families are the primary consumers of that crop.

“On average, they only have enough bushels to feed their family for about 10 or 11 months, so they’re still coming up short based on their current production,” he said.

With intent on expanding their financial opportunities, Steinacher and his team also spoke to the farming communities about sales and profitability. An increase in efficiency could lead to additional sales, which could also lead to additional income. Modern farming methods may be costlier than the traditional ways, but there’s the potential for a much larger return on investment, according to Steinacher.

Soy beans may now play a role in these farming communities thanks to this trip. There’s always been a much stronger market for corn in Africa, but with evolving dietary habits, the gap is closing. Steinacher explained how many citizens are moving to a diet that’s heavy in protein, which could create a larger need for a more diverse food system.

“I’m excited to see how that new crop is looking and to help them generate some additional revenue,” he said.

Farmers did one acre the new way and the rest of their crops the old way in order to see the differences in performance. When he returns for a pre-harvest evaluation, Steinacher expects to see that his work made a significant impact in areas like crop consistency and health, as well as an improvement in fertility. In addition to his judgment, a financial group will also visit the village to calculate the changes in yield and efficiency.

Steinacher reflects on the elements that are changing in the agricultural industry. He think that the industry is quickly becoming more efficient.

“In a very short amount of time, there’s been a lot more focus in agriculture in general. Things are changing at a rapid pace and the technology and culture of farming has changed dramatically,” he said.

Next month, Steinacher will return to the same villages in Africa to further evaluate the impact his team had on their crops. When it comes to the opportunity, he is thankful for his time in Macomb.

“If it wasn’t for wanting to pursue this or for my educational knowledge from Western, I probably wouldn’t have went on the trip,” Steinacher said. “They gave me a good foundation.”