Honoring Our Farmland Legacy

Honoring Our Farmland Legacy

Sep 21
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

Land, one of the earth’s most precious resources, is sacred to a farmer. Its soils tell the history of generations of family members who tended it with great care, determination and dedication, producing food and feedstuffs year after year over the course of decades. Farming families consider land to be part of their legacy; parting with it is not a trivial decision. Over the years, the university has been the grateful beneficiary of donations of land from numerous families. Today, the University of Illinois owns over 10,000 acres of farmland, all donated by folks who share our commitment to preservation, expanding research, providing educational opportunities and strengthening Extension. 

A majority of this land remains in crop production through operating agreements that most recently were awarded through a cash bidding process. Soon after stepping into the role of Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), I learned of the concerns of many within the agricultural industry about the operator selection process for University farms. We investigated the situation, and I was delighted to learn that a review committee was in place and a recommendation had been made to transition the process to a “best candidate” approach, an approach also supported by Chancellor Jones and President Killeen. In this revised selection process, applicants will be considered based on a wide range of factors such as farming experience, demonstrated land stewardship, educational background, and utilization of best management practices including access to modern agricultural technology. The most qualified applicant will be offered an operating agreement at a predetermined rate based on local market conditions, and as long as farms are meeting the U of I’s objectives, the farms typically will only be opened up based on retirements or other  natural “transitions” in management.

By focusing on selecting the most qualified operator instead of the highest bidder, we will better align our processes with current farm management practices, as well as traditions within farming communities throughout the state. This change also will align the University operator selection criteria with the long-held practices of the University of Illinois Foundation.   

Although maintaining a profit is essential for long-term success of any agricultural production system, farming also is deeply rooted in relationships within the local communities where the land is located. To be good stewards of the land, we also must be good stewards of our agricultural relationships. The revised operator selection process will allow the University to ensure sustainability as well as the long-term value of the endowment, manage the land responsibly, and support our local farming communities while continuing to honor the intentions of donors’ gifts of farmland to advance University of Illinois’ land-grant mission. For more information on University of Illinois Foundation farmland gifts, click here.


Warren Endowment Farm
Soybean field on the Warren Endowment Farm, in Piatt County, Illinois – for support of Illinois 4-H.