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At an age when many of his friends are already involved in serious relationships, the year-old corn, soybean and cattle farmer is one of many single people in rural America struggling to overcome their remote locations and unpredictable work schedules on the farm or ranch to meet Mister or Miss Right.

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In Iowa, For Tillman, the nearest place is Essex, a town of people that lacks a stoplight and has one bar, and where it doesn't take long for a single person on the dating scene to bump into the same people. Omaha, the nearest major city, is an hour's drive away — not an insurmountable distance, but few women want to date a guy who is that far away when they can meet someone closer, he said.

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One night a woman he was talking to encouraged him to meet a nice, spunky friend of hers she thought would be perfect for him: turns out it was his cousin. His family and married friends rarely pass on the opportunity to tease him — especially with Valentine's Day approaching — about being single. It used to be free beer and food were enough to draw him to an event. Now his friends joke that if women will be there so will Tillman.

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Agriculture producers such as Tillman, by their nature, go beyond the traditional 9-to-5 job in a cubicle. For a corn, soybean or other row crop farmer in the middle of a prosperous fall harvest, or a livestock owner having to feed animals or milk cows every day, abandoning the job to go out for a late night on the town with a date means abandoning his or her livelihood and sometimes only source of income.

Farmers face challenges finding love in rural america

When you're dating and getting pretty serious, you want to see that person as much as you can, but that just doesn't happen unless you go ride with someone in a tractor," said Nicole Yoder, 21, who married her husband, Andrew, in June after dating for two years. This is our way of life.

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Yoder, who first met her husband at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, remembers when they were dating and Andrew had to cancel plans because his job on the farm kept him working late. One weekend he was going to accompany her to a wedding, but the tractor broke down and he couldn't go.

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Another night the weather was ideal, so he grabbed the opportunity to rake hay. Ansgar in northern Iowa, allowing her to know firsthand the rigors and unpredictability of farm life.

The Internet has been a boon to people living in rural America, with its abundance of online niche dating sites, some devoted to farmers, including farmersdatingsite. Jerry Miller, who founded the popular farmersonly. Miller started the company in almost by accident. While working at an advertising agency in Ohio, he met a recently divorced farmer who worried she was working 90 hours a week on her farm and would never get to meet somebody new who understood or appreciated what she did for a living.

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Others told him similar stories. Today, he estimates farmersonly. The dating site now allows anyone toas long as they understand and respect the lifestyle and demands of farm life.

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Everybody tried to talk me out of it," said Miller, who married his wife 36 years ago. It does move you," he said.

Laurie Davis, the founder of eFlirt, an online dating company in New York, estimated about 10 percent of her clients are in rural areas, including one person in California who has to drive two hours to the nearest populated town. Rural folks, she said, tend to buy more expensive packages that demand more of her time because they understand the unique challenges they face and the extra work that will likely be involved.

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Those customers also tend to be more open to feedback and learning about the peculiarities of online dating because they've struggled in the past and their options are finite. Davis, who founded her matchmaking service insaid she doesn't believe residents away from the city are at a disadvantage. Her advice: Be patient during the arduous process, talk on the phone a few more times if necessary before committing to a long drive to meet someone and scour multiple dating sites that attract different types of people.

For crop farmers, Davis suggests they start building up potential contacts a month before the growing season ends so that when work slows down they have a couple people they could start dating.

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For Tillman, he is going out on sometimes two or three dates each month, but so far there's nothing serious. He's tried online dating, but with limited success. Still, despite the fact that some of Tillman's friends he used to go out with to have fun and meet women are getting serious or even married, he remains upbeat. Contact Christopher Doering at cdoering gannett.

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