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The first issue of FarmWeek rolls off the press at Tazewell Publishing Co. in Morton in 1974. (FarmWeek file photo)

By Daniel Grant, FarmWeek

Illinois Farm Bureau rolled out its inaugural edition of FarmWeek 50 years ago this week with a front-page aerial photo, snapped manually from a rented airplane, of a tractor and disk mired in the middle of a huge field pond.

And that type of dedication to go the extra step to bring IFB members useful news and information remains a hallmark of the now half-century-old publication.

"Investing the time and money to hire a plane to get that (first) photo probably wasn't in the plan, but it showed the priority that the brand new publication would get," said Randy Bridson, who was hired in 1973 to be a writer/editor for the weekly farm publication and worked at IFB for 31 years.

"Organizationally, the introduction of FarmWeek was a really big deal," he said. "It represented a whole new approach to communicating with farmer-members and a major investment of money (for printing, mailing and personnel). It was kind of ground-breaking for a state Farm Bureau to do back then."

The newspaper replaced the 51-year-old IAA Record monthly magazine as IFB's primary membership publication and has always maintained a member-focused mission.

"Farm Bureau decided to launch a new service to farmers that would provide all kinds of information, not an organizational promotional piece, but a useful farm business information medium for our farmer-members," the late Don Phillips, FarmWeek's first editor, said in recognition of the paper's 30th anniversary back in 2004.

"We prided ourselves on the fact it was all staff written and was interpreted for our readers -- the Illinois farmer," he added.

Roger Tornow, who served as art director at IFB for 50 years prior to his recent retirement, designed the first issue and recalled how much of the work was done by hand. Messengers picked up and delivered typed stories to Tazewell Printing in Morton throughout the week.

"When I got the data (for commodity charts) I would plot out the chart with pencil and paper then draw them with pen and ink," Tornow said. "Making a correction was a big deal. The text was saved on a piece of paper that had wax on the backside. I cut each data point out with an X-Acto knife and pasted into place. The good old days."

Readers saw a major overhaul of the publication in September 1987 when full-color capability was added. That same year FarmWeek started accepting outside advertising.

The CropWatchers section later debuted in 1992 and quickly became the most popular feature of the publication, according to Dave McClelland, the longest-tenured FarmWeek editor who was hired by IFB in 1979.

The personalized, firsthand reports on crop conditions and other farm activities are featured throughout the entirety of the growing season.

"I started getting calls as early as February, wanting to know when CropWatchers will begin," McClelland noted in the 30th anniversary edition. "We've had people literally from all over the world telling us how they keep track of crop conditions through CropWatchers."

FarmWeek staff continued to freshen the look of the publication over the years and added new features, such as the Perspectives page, to provide a forum for opinions and member feedback, and View from the Cab to spotlight members during the growing season.

The website was overhauled as well and was launched in 2009. not only provides up-to-date market, weather and ag news, but it's also home to the e-edition of FarmWeek, which is posted online every Monday.

In more recent years the production of FarmWeek was switched to a digital-based system. Pages are sent directly to longtime printer P&P Press in Peoria each week and the publication is printed and mailed to nearly 70,000 IFB members and subscribers.

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