FRIDAY FARM PHOTO

The storms that continue to pound Illinois fields added yet another chapter on Wednesday night. Here are the skies over one central Illinois farm, and the rain gauge on Thursday morning.

As the country song says, rain is a good thing, but too much rain literally drowns crops. Farmers are struggling to drain water from the land, as the soil has already soaked up more than it can handle and fertilizer or crop protection applications continue to be delayed because fields are too muddy to drive in.

Three weeks without rain would be a welcome change, giving the fields time to dry out, farmers a chance to work, and a very happy change in mood around the IL Corn office!

FAMILY FARMERS ARE THE FACE OF AGRICULTURE

Recent research and focus groups tell us that the average Joe on the street in Illinois believes that more than half of his food is grown by corporations. Of course, that prompted Illinois Corn and other state corn associations to come up with messaging like this that focuses on the fact of this matter:

Still, this doesn’t prevent critics from simply not believing what is true.

 

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley

This weekend, while at a graduation party in a friend’s garage, I had an interesting conversation about corn. It’s the sort of conversation that I know is happening all over our state, at graduation parties and little league games and the local watering hole. The highly educated, extremely intelligent man that I was chatting with, someone that I look up to and listen to, doesn’t really like corn all that much.

He doesn’t like corn-based ethanol because he believes we’re taking food out of people’s mouths to make it. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. He didn’t believe me when I said that 95% of all corn farms in America are family owned.

His own experience has taught him otherwise. He works for a university who has increasing interest in agriculture because more and more of their endowments are coming via crop land. He sees the farms owned by the University and wrongfully assumes that corporate owned farms are the new face of agriculture.

To him and to anyone else that questions the family farm facts Illinois Corn provides, I say this: even the farms owned by the University are farmed, operated, and managed by family farmers.

Let me make this more clear. The University owns the farm, but they rent it to a family farmer who makes a payment for use of the land and then tries to make a living growing a crop on it. The University doesn’t decide to put more or less chemicals on the ground regardless of environmental impact. The University isn’t dictating tillage methodology that would cause increasing soil erosion. The University isn’t asking that only GMO seed be used on this land to increase profits. The University is only interested in receiving the rent and the farmer is making every decision to raise the best crop he can, to conserve the natural resources that will allow him to raise a crop next year and the next on that land, without corporate oversight.

To say that the University was managing that land poorly with only profit in mind would be similar to saying that the landlord that owns your apartment is managing your household and telling you what groceries to buy or what cleaners to use.

My point? Even land that is not owned by a family farmer, like University endowment land, is still FARMED AND MANAGED by a family farmer. And the family farmers that rent this sort of land are still living nearby, drinking the water and raising their families off that land. They are good stewards of land that they farm, even if it doesn’t belong to them.

Family farms are the face of corn production in America. They are trustworthy men and women who do their very best every day to provide food and fuel for our country in a sustainable manner.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

ORGANIC, FREE RANGE, LOCALLY GROWN AND OTHER HYPE

Although it comes as no surprise to anyone that knows me personally, I tend to be fairly opinionated.

I enjoy a good debate, especially when I’m armed with the knowledge that will enable me to win. I love the feeling of always having the retort that completely derails my competitor’s argument, of having the last word. And, of course, I feel so completely over-educated about the organic and locally grown movements, that I will argue which is better (organic vs. conventional) all day, every day and never tire.

In fact, I have. Maybe “argue” is too strong a word here, but the folks at my church probably steer a conversation away from these topics at all costs. My Facebook friends are likely sick to death of me providing links and other information about organic vs. conventional produce. Now, I must air my thoughts here.

While I always start a conversation with the fact that consumers have a choice and should be able to purchase whatever sort of food they want, I quickly turn it to the fact that I want them to really UNDERSTAND their choices. Because I believe they are being jaded by the media and popular journalists (ie, Michael Pollan) into an emotional response to their food choices instead of a scientific one.

This article by Tamar Haspel really drives the point home and I couldn’t have been happier to read it.

Haspel and her husband raise chickens and really wanted to believe that their fresh, locally grown, free range eggs taste better. They went the scientific route – engaged their friends to come over for a taste test – and came up with some interesting results. Read for yourself because I really don’t want to ruin her lovely experiment and wonderful writing by telling you what happens.

While this likely won’t change their purchasing decisions (Why would Haspel buy eggs when she has free eggs in her backyard!?) the information she’s discovered will likely put her decision in context. Does she eat home grown eggs? Yes. Does she think they are the ONLY eggs? Nope.

This is what I wish for the elite in America (the ones that can afford these high priced options) that believe organic and locally grown foods are the ONLY choices for better health and taste. Context to your choices is so important. Is a locally grown tomato from your neighbor’s garden better in your salad? Probably. Is it the ONLY choice? Nope.

Should it be the only choice? Not by a long shot.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director