Rob Sharkey

Rob Sharkey, a Stark County corn and soybean farmer, developed a podcast called Shark Farmer that intrigued many farmers and agribusiness people. Among his social media followers was Donnaire Hales, a marketing communications specialist with BASF. They embarked on a Dirt Road Tour, sponsored by her company, to meet farmers and hear their stories.


DECATUR, Ill. — Rob Sharkey raises corn, soybeans and some wheat in northwest Illinois’ Stark County, but he has made a name for himself through social media. He started a podcast called “Shark Farmer” that immediately hit a chord with others in agriculture.

Through the podcast, Sharkey is expanding the idea of a “rural community.”

Sharkey interviews U.S. farmers who share their business and rural life stories. The podcast posts weekly episodes at One of the latest episodes profiles a Texas farm family struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

While not all are farmers, they are all linked by a passion for agriculture. But conversations go beyond that: Sharkey’s podcast doesn’t shy away from topics such as rural mental health or homosexuality that might be taboo in some places, he said.

The 43-year-old family farmer from Bradford, Ill., raised his celebrity this summer when he teamed up with Donnaire Hales, a fellow podcaster, for “The Dirt Road Tour.” They visited other farmers they met on social media and shared their stories. The tour was sponsored by BASF, where Hales works as a marketing and communications specialist.

Sharkey and Hales visited nine states since June, starting in Louisiana and Oklahoma and ending in Iowa and Illinois. He said he especially liked visiting farmers who grew different crops than those in the Midwest. He had never talked to rice or tobacco farmers about their challenges.


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