CLARK COUNTY — Terry Vissing was just 15 when he started helping his father manage their family farm in Clark County. Now 50 years later, the farmer remains one with the earth.
Vissing grew up on Pleasant Grove Farms, the land off Ind. 403 where his father taught him the virtues of farming. All five Vissing children helped make up the farm's labor force, but it was Vissing, the oldest, who would find himself as a teen in the role of assistant manager to the farm.
"I was raised up on that dairy farm and learned how to work hard," he said. "Dad and I sat down and we managed the farm at the kitchen table over breakfast."
In 1976, the family moved to New Washington, finding more land available there. The father-son team would talk about future plans for the land. Vissing learning how to market the grain they grew and manage the day-to-day operations.
The other Vissing children hadn't expressed the same interest in the farm, and all went off to college and got jobs in other sectors. Vissing at first started to take that path — attending college at Vincennes University — but was inevitably drawn back to the land.
"I was calling every day asking Dad what happened on the farm," he said. "So after a year up there, I decided he needed me worse than I needed to go to college.
"I said to myself when I started farming, 'this might not be the right thing to do, but it's what I want to do.'"
A CHANGING LANDSCAPE
Vissing eventually took over the farm in earnest, buying out his father's share. He now has 331 acres — raising mostly corn and soybeans, and some beef cattle.
And though he's been farming half a century, he said it's been the last 20 years that have brought about big changes in practices.
He said farmers used to keep it pretty simple — plow and disc the ground, plant the seed, spray the crops for weeds, and harvest in October.
Now, they're using improved practices — farming parts of the land in no-till acres to prevent erosion, planting cover crops in fall to help keep the biological life within the soil rich and fertile.
"We're trying to improve our yields by doing different things than our forefathers did," he said. "There's been a lag in farmers improving stuff because they always just did what Dad did."
A FERTILE TESTING GROUND
Vissing has ramped up his farming in other ways, too. Since 2014, he's participated in an annual contest for corn yield and quality through the National Corn Growers Association. For this, he plants special crops, which he tends more often, fertilizing three to four times more than a regular crop, adding different fungicides. Last year, the yield he got from these crops was the third-highest in the state.
"It's like anything else, you give it a little extra care," he said.
Just over a month away from harvest, and the special corn crops Vissing has planted are already 12 feet high — 2 feet taller than regular crops. The farmer said some of the things he puts into the contest crops are too expensive to be able to use on his entire farm, but the space has become a testing ground for him.
"I'm using this as a stepping stone to products or systems that make the rest of my crops better," he said. "It's my research for doing better."
THREATS TO SUCCESS
Like farmers across the state, Vissing is experiencing the effects of wild weather patterns affecting crops this year. In spring, record rains kept farmers from getting some crops into the ground. The ones they did plant, in some cases, had roots that didn't penetrate the soil deep enough to get the proper nutrients because plants were feeding from water at the top level. The exposed roots can be more vulnerable to the recent spell of dry heat.
"Our corn crop is basically shrinking by the day," he said. "That is a very big concern. Our corn started out in the stress, and now it's had a double whammy from the heat an lack of moisture."
He said while there's been some federal aid to help farmers facing these weather plights, "We want our money to come from markets," he said. "We don't want handouts."
Many farmers also get help with these situations through insurance plans, where they can receive a percentage of benefits if crops aren't able to be planted by a certain time of year.
Vissing said the recent tariffs imposed by China could have a big impact; he estimates China buys about a third of soybeans grown in the United States.
To make up for the loss, he said U.S. farmers will have to "sell [soybeans] to every other person in the world."
But rather than lose his head over worrying, he puts his energy back into the farm, including focusing on the contest crops; the extra care he puts in there helps mitigate some of the stress from weather, he said.
"I'm in my field every week," he said. "We're watching for insects, we're watching for corn diseases, we're watching for mother nature," he said. "
And though the land can be fickle, and the weather unforgiving, at the end of the day, he wouldn't trade his profession — growing things that can help provide food to so many.
"That's the satisfying thing about being a farmer," he said. "Everybody wants to have a purpose in life and that's my purpose, to feed the world."