SUNMAN — Brent Ertel knows agriculture.
The South Decatur Jr./Sr. High School agriculture teacher has dedicated his life to farming and passing the lessons he’s learned to Decatur County students.
It all started when he was a boy.
“I grew up on a small grain farm and the love for farming and agriculture has been in my blood from birth,” Ertel said. “I spent most of my childhood helping on our corn/soybean farm, or working on my uncles' farms that, in addition to corn and soybeans, collectively raised tomatoes, peppers, tobacco, wheat and hay.”
Ertel said some of his favorite memories on the family farm were helping his dad work on equipment in the offseason, but he also reminisced on hearing the sounds of the tractor that signified his father’s return home.
“I learned a lot about farming and how to repair things by watching him work and helping him get the tools needed along with any other tasks a young boy can safely handle,” Ertel said. “Another favorite memory before I was old enough to operate equipment would be watching dad come down the road with our Oliver tractor and loaded wagons with either corn or soybeans. I would get so excited to hear the tractor coming down the road or listen to the grain dryer while waiting for him to return again.”
Ertel and his brother have started farming land together in the Sunman area in northern Ripley County. This year, they planted soybeans, but still help their father with his day to day farming operation.
“Agriculture is such a vital industry that has an impact on every single person on this earth,” Ertel said. “I love to watch a crop grow and see the potential that each crop year brings. It is a great feeling to be able to walk the fields during the growing season or look out from the seat of the tractor or combine and see the fruits of our toil. Each year brings a new challenge that keeps us humble, but somehow always ends up to be rewarding in its own way.”
In addition to farming, Ertel’s primary job is teaching. His interest in doing so started during his time at East Central High School where he was an active FFA member.
“My agriculture teachers, Vernon Konradi and Roy Johnson, provided me with countless opportunities to grow as an agriculturalist, leader and person,” Ertel said. “I wanted to pass that on to future generations, which inspired me to become an agricultural educator.”
Living in Sunman and teaching in Westport means there are a lot of early morning and late nights for Ertel. Each day there are nearly two hours of total drive time, and when he gets home from his job as a teacher he transitions to his job as a farmer.
“It is about a 45 minute drive each way from my home in Sunman to South Decatur High School,” Ertel said. “While some days the drive is a burden, most days it is a great opportunity for me to prepare myself for the day by thanking God for the opportunity to educate our future generations, and then decompress on the way home before working on farming tasks. The students truly are what motivate me to go back each day. I am blessed with great students that inspire and educate me daily.”
Ertel also spoke about the goals he has as an agricultural educator.
“One of my goals as a teacher would be to educate students from all backgrounds about the opportunities in agriculture today that stem far beyond production agriculture [farming],” Ertel said. “I hope that my students will leave my class with a clearer vision of modern agriculture's growth and innovation, along with the values and tradition of stewardship for the land, animals and environment that farmers have. Farmers are some of the most caring people you will ever meet.”
But he said another goal of his is that every student that leaves his class at the end of the year is able to walk away with something that they can take to their everyday life no matter what career path they choose.
“Anything from changing a tire, how to grow and care for household and garden plants, or leadership skills that will help them become gainfully employed in our community in the future,” Ertel said. “If a student walks away from my class having learned one thing that benefits them for the rest of their life, I count that as a blessing.”
For Ertel, the most rewarding part about being an agriculture teacher is watching students grow into responsible young adults in the community. He said he has had opportunity to talk to several past students and it brings him “great joy to hear about their success stories and where they sometimes root back to an FFA event or agriculture class experience.”
“Anytime a current or past student approaches me with a sign of appreciation I know that I have been able to make a difference,” Ertel said. “It is kind of like watching fields being harvested from the operator seat in the fall, you are able to finally see the fruits of your labor and reap what you sow.”
Ertel said several of his students have gone on to study agriculture at the college level and have entered the workforce for their family farm or other local farms. He said some students have even gone on to start their own agribusiness.
“I am honored to help educate the youth of Decatur County,” Ertel said. “I hope that my interaction with them helps enable them to grow as future agriculturalists and leaders in our local communities.”
Contact: Joshua Heath, 812-663-3111 x7401; email@example.com.