DEBUNKING THE MYTH OF FAMILY FARMS

Have you ever heard that “There’s no such thing as family farms? “ I say we think again! A lot of people think that most farms are run by enterprises, but in all reality, family farms make up more than 95% of all farms!

These family farms are so important to not only the regions they are serving, but to more global regions as well. Family run farms are more conscious of what they are doing in the long run. While corporations and bigger farming enterprises have the economic goals in mind, more small farms and families are aware of other issues at hand such as; preserving surrounding environments from harmful chemicals and preserving green space untouched by development.

Small family farms also aid in their local economies; providing employment, services and food to their friends and neighbors. Looking outside of the local perspective, it is important to note that, contrary to popular belief, family farms represent 78% of all farm sales. This is a HUGE percentage, especially when comparing with corporate farming and industrial agriculture. In doing a little research myself, I find that the family farms have surged ahead, always increasing sales, while the corporate farms aren’t doing as hot, lacking more in the sales department.

Overall, the vast majority of farms are still family owned and operated; they are just shielded by the common misconceptions of today’s economy and corporate farming images. It doesn’t take a whole lot to debunk this myth, but to continue keeping people aware is the challenge.

Kayla Portwood
Illinois State University

THE FUTURE OF CORN

With National Agriculture Week underway, today marks National Agriculture Day.  No matter which day of the week it is, stories about the future of corn are common.  Being from a Chicago suburb, listening to news about how there is not enough corn seems plausible.  However, as I drive down to school at the University of Illinois, the highway is lined with corn for most of the trip.  This makes it hard to believe that we can be running out of corn.

For both 2008 and 2009, corn carry-out numbers were around 1.7 million bushels.  Not having an agricultural background, I was unaware how crop marketing worked.  The carry-out number represents how much corn is left after the crop’s sale and will be added to next year’s crops.  It is like playing a game but starting out with 1.7 million points.  So, as corn production reaches record numbers, there’s still more corn to utilize. The USDA predicted 2012’s carry-out number to reach 865 million bushels.  Although this may be a slight dip from previous years, by no means are we running out of corn. 

Lately, it’s been nearly impossible to read about corn without ethanol entering the picture.  Many who believe that the future of corn is in jeopardy attribute some of the blame to corn ethanol.  However, in 2008, with the second largest crop in history, ethanol only amounted to 30% of the demand for corn. Also, corn used for ethanol still remains in use for the feed market, amounting to some transfer of the percentage of corn used.  There is even considerable questioning of whether corn will remain the crop of choice in the ethanol market. As new technologies and innovations develop, biogas derived from prairie switch grass is expected to become the new face of ethanol production, further freeing up corn for market. 

Have no fear, corn is here for good.  As summer quickly approaches, we can all look forward to some delicious corn on the cob at our barbeques.

Sources: National Corn Growers Association, Michigan Corn, Reuters “U.S. crop boom not enough to rebuild thin supplies”

Ashley Lavela
U of I Student

SUSTAINABILITY: THE FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE

Kicking off National Ag Week and on the eve of 2011’s National Ag Day, I have an opportunity to discuss a topic that draws plenty of attention, yet defines the future of agriculture. In today’s society, there is a big misconception concerning production agriculture. This misconception is that farmers don’t care about the environment; they only look at making a profit. If I were to mention the word sustainability, what comes into your mind? Since only two percent of our population live on farms, that leaves about ninety-eight percent of the population that may associate the term sustainability solely with the organic food movement. Although organic farming does incorporate sustainable practices, conventional farming operations are becoming more sustainable. For me to present this topic and dispel a few myths I need to give us a base definition.

Referencing the USDA’s website, “Congress defines sustainable agriculture as ‘… an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long-term—(A) satisfy human food and fiber needs; (B) enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends; (C) make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; (D) sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and (E) enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.’” In simple terms sustainability is the capacity to endure. It is my goal to break down this definition, dispel a few myths and convey information concerning the agriculture industry as it moves forward in the 21st century.

Intrigued by this definition, let me start with the first portion of the definition. Sustainable agriculture is an integrated system of practices and it is site-specific, meaning that each farm will have sustainable practices unique to that operation. For example, a grain farmer in the south may not be able to access swine manure for fertilizer as easily as a grain farm in the Midwest due to the concentration of swine operations in that area. Some examples of practices that may be integrated are tillage practices such as no-till and strip till, use of hybrids, biotechnology, and/or manure handling in livestock operations.

Looking at point A, satisfying human food and fiber needs, I strongly feel that biotechnology is critical here. Through hybridization and plant breeding strategies, many of our food and fiber crops are increasing yields and are more efficient when it comes to nutrient requirements. Despite the current debate over food vs. fuel, there is plenty of corn being produced to satisfy our needs and increased technology is resulting in higher yielding hybrids. Other crops are seeing similar results. In livestock production, farmers are using production data for breeding selections that maximize production of our meat proteins. Also, many livestock feed rations are now including more forage based ingredients, reducing the demand on our grains.

Point B, enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends, really points to where the future of agriculture is moving to. The use of transgenic crops has reduced the need for herbicides and insecticides, keeping those chemicals out of the equation when it comes to reaching our water system. More and more farmers are using modern tillage practices, reducing soil erosion, and preserving the medium in which our crops grow in. The use of cover crops to further reduce erosion and build the soil’s nutrient levels and organic matter is increasing in popularity. Using tillage radishes or turnips as “bio-drilling” tools to reduce compaction in the soil, reduces the power needed to work the soil, thus saving fuel and reducing carbon emissions from farm machinery. Personally, I am very interested in the use of cover crops and am working to encourage more use of them in my area. Using natural means to build soil nutrient levels reduces the amount of additional fertilizers needed, thus reducing the potential for runoff. Farmers are applying improved techniques for nutrient delivery such as variable-rate applicators and banding to reduce the total amounts of fertilizers needed.

Point C, make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls, looks at improving the performance of our farm power machinery to make them more fuel efficient and preserve the nonrenewable resource we know as oil. Many farmers are using on-farm resources, such as animal manure for fertilizer as opposed to synthetic fertilizers, maximizing the production from each animal unit as well as reducing input costs for crops. Farmers using conservation practices such as terracing and contouring are further reducing soil loss and controlling erosion. These are just a couple of examples of using natural controls in agriculture.

Parts D, sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and E, enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole, go together nicely. Through sustainable practices like I mentioned earlier, input costs are reduced, increasing the potential for profit and self-sufficiency in farming operations. In addition, sustainable practices, keep the land going to support future generations of farming on the same land. Efficiency in farming operations through sustainable practices improves family life because more time is spent with the family instead of the fields or barns. And, properly managing nutrients, farmers are working to keep our soils healthy and our water safe, thus enhancing the quality of life for the people of this nation.

Looking at the definition of sustainability in each of the components, it is easy to see that farmers are concerned about the environment. They are working to reduce soil loss, reduce energy needed for farming, and reduce inputs, and protect our water systems. With more and more farmers adopting more and more sustainable practices, I am confident that moving into the future, that in the long term, our farming system will be sustainable.

David Taylor
Joliet Junior Student & Part-Time Farmer

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO

This is a drainage ditch in a drainage district near the Mississippi River bottoms. The operator of this excavator is assisting in the “pump dredge” process of the drainage ditch. The ditch’s role is to drain excess water from more than 15,000 acres of crop land in this particular drainage district. In the last few years due to excessive flooding, the ditch has filled with silt. In anticipation of high waters again this spring, the drainage district and farmers in the area are preparing for the advent of new flood waters.

Thanks to Joe Zumwalt for sharing this photo!

IT’S TIME FOR ISATS AGAIN!

The countdown is on—-10 days until spring.  You know what spring brings….baseball, planting…..and ISATs. 

ISATs?  Yes the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.   This test has been given to Illinois students grades 3-8 since 1999 to measure student progress in Language, Math, Social Studies, Science and writing.   Although the ISAT testing window closing, all students across the state will be tested between February 28 and March 25.

 For many districts there is a lot riding on these tests.  Although you don’t want to blow it out of proportion, test scores are a measurement that many examine to carefully monitor the success of a school.  Schools want to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and have positive press in the paper.  Many concerned parents, teachers, administrator and school boards wonder about teaching ‘to the test’.  

Ironically, the test, as is any test, is a snapshot of the progress of a student at any given time….for this test it happens to be right before spring hits!  As farmers, you kind of know the feeling–your corn can look great in one spot, but not so hot in another.  Depending on if the rain came, or not, or the temperature or when you got it planted.  You probably even notice these variances on the yield monitor at harvest.  Unfortunately, for students (and schools) the snapshot is that one shot you get.  At Illinois AITC, we heard that call—and responded. 

In order to help prepare students for the ISAT and familiarize them with the test, IAITC developed “ISATs: 10 Minutes a Day the AITC Way”.  These short sample tests are designed in the same format of the ISAT test, and utilize our existing Ag Mags.   In theory a sample ISAT review would look like this:

          Day 1: Distribute the Ag Mag

          Day 2: Sample Vocabulary Test (based on the Ag Mag)

          Day 3: Sample Math Test (based on the Ag Mag)

          Day 4: Sample Reading Test (based on a reading sample related to the Ag Mag)

          Day 5: Sample Writing Test (based on the Ag Mag).

Teachers are using the practice exams across the state.  They like t because it is an ‘easy’ way to get student to think about the test.  We developed 20 different units to go with the 20 or so Ag Mags we have in stock or on line.  We like it because it is an easy way for us to get agriculture in front of the students one more time!

Speaking of Ag Mags, our re-designed Corn Ag Mag (generously sponsored by the Illinois Corn Marketing Board) has just been released.  They are available by contacting your county AITC Coordinator or check out our new on-line version.  You’ll notice a new theme that ties food, fuel and feed in with baseball–and the Corn Crib!

There is agriculture everywhere, even in baseball–and we drive that point home with our ‘baseball charm’. From the wood in the bats to the cotton in the uniform to the grass seed used on the field, agriculture is everywhere.  We find corn in dextrin in the tape and bandages, and HFCS in the soda and gum and even corn flour in the nachos!  The new theme, the corn and baseball trivia will certainly hit a homerun with teachers and students!

Coming soon, this ag mag will be interactive–with links and videos that teacher can use on SmartBoards in their classrooms to dive deeper into the subject.  Links will include video of corn plastic, games and readings from Illinois Corn and other state organizations as well as research related materials and some great clips that are played at the Corn Crib!.   Keep checking back–it should go up anytime!  When it is up, you’ll notice the links are highlighted with a light green leaf.  Just look for the leaf!

It is a busy time of year at AITC, ISATs promoting new materials at various conferences and events.  We will continue our work showing what the Illinois Farmer does with our FACEBOOK  page, including videos and photos of planting!

So as you get ready to plant–think of spring, baseball, ISATs and Ag in the Classroom!

Kevin Daugherty
Education Director
Illinois AITC

WEAR GREEN IN SUPPORT OF AG DAY

Originally posted on Dust on the Dashboard by Glenn Brunkow

It’s March and I am looking through my closet for green. No, its not what you think. I am not putting on the green for St. Patty’s Day. Rather I am putting on my green for the 2nd Annual Wear Green in Support of Ag Day. My friend Barrett Smith came up with this great idea last year. I encourage you to wear green also and here is why.

Those of us living in the United States have the incredible blessing of living in a nation with the safest, most wholesome, most abundant food supply in the world. We live in a nation with a system of farms and ranches that produce more food than we consume. We live in a nation where one farmer feeds themselves and 159 others. We truly feed the world.

The network of farmers and ranchers who produce the food and fiber we all need, do so in a manner that is both safe and sustainable. We protect the environment, the soil we live on is preserved, our air is cleaner and the water is purer than ever. This is all because we employ the most technologically advanced methods to produce the nourishment we all need while protecting the world around us.

I will wear green to honor my fellow farmers and ranchers, many whom are four and five generations on the same piece of land and most of whom are family farms and ranches. The men and women who produce your food do so out of a love of what they do. I promise you they do not farm and ranch to get rich. We chose our career paths because it is our calling.

That is why I am asking you to wear green this Wednesday. I am also asking you to pass this on to all of your friends, it would be my wish that everyone I see on Wednesday would be wearing green. After all I am a proud producer of the food we all eat.

Glenn Brunkow
5th Generation Flint Hills Rancher

CORN CHANGES DIRECTIONS ON KEY ISSUES

Last week when Julie and Suzie were holding down the fort here in IL Corn’s home office (thanks Julie and Suzie!), the rest of us were in Tampa, Florida for the Commodity Classic.

What is the Commodity Classic you ask?  Well, it’s a joint meeting of the National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, and the National Sorghum Producers.  The important part for us is, of course, the policy meeting of the National Corn Growers Association, where corn farmers from all over the country set the course of the organization for the next year.

And this year, we changed directions in a few key areas.  Significantly.

American corn farmers voted to support a transition away from the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit that we lobbied for last year, to a variable tax credit that will help ethanol plants only when they need help.  We will pursue more market access for ethanol, which we believe will allow ethanol to simply compete in the marketplace rather than be supported by the government.

In the same vein, delegates voted to investigate a transition away from direct payments in the current (and past) Farm Bill and to pursue other safety nets that protect farmers only when circumstances are beyond their control.  Weather and markets are two good examples of circumstances that could devastate agricultural production in our country and place our food security at risk.  But by bettering risk management tools, we believe family farmers can, and will, thrive outside of historical farm program options.

Although slightly different, the third key change is also very important.  Corn farmers voted to support changes to the Conservation Reserve Program that would better allow farm ground to move in and out of production.  We place a high priority on keeping certain lands in conservation because that’s the right thing to do for agriculture, for wildlife and for the environment.  But other lands should be allowed to flow in and out of the CRP as the market dictates and our policy changes reflect this need.

All in all, the Commodity Classic was a success.  Illinois Corn is excited at the policy changes and reinvigorated at the joint state efforts that made the changes possible.  We look forward to working on our new priorities with a new Congress that we will visit next week!

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

WOMEN CHANGING THE FACE OF AGRICULTURE A SUCCESS

The 2nd Annual Women Changing the Face of Agriculture conference was last Friday.  Unfortunately, most of us were out of the office for the Commodity Classic (check back later this week for an update on this), but we wanted to send a big thank you to previous intern, Kelsey Vance, for standing in for us! 

We know Kelsey did an amazing job talking to students about her experiences as a college student majoring in Ag at ISU as well as her time as an intern for Illinois Corn. 

For more coverage on this event check out:

The Pantagraph

Rural Route Review

Interested in our internships opportunities?  Click here!

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMBA Communications Assistant

AGRICULTURE: EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER

Agriculture is the numerous amount of hours spent harvesting corn in the September sunset, waking up at 5 a.m. to complete chores in the barn before getting ready for school, and bagging corn on that hot summer day. However, agriculture is not limited to these tasks. There are also agricultural careers related to agricultural communications, food scientists, crop scientists, and so on. When thinking of these jobs, what is the gender that comes to mind? Males.

I am a female studying Agricultural Communications at the University of Illinois. My courses talk about careers dealing with communications, marketing, and sales in the agriculture industry. Therefore, males are not alone in terms of agriculture. These office jobs contain many women (and men, but mostly women), who make it possible for the farmers to continue a successful season in the field. As I learn about the many career opportunities for women in agriculture, I am also reminded that because I am not the male in the family who will be taking over the family farm, I am still able to obtain a career within agriculture. However, is the office the only place for women?

The answer is no, and I was exposed to this firsthand as I was at dinner the other night with a friend of mine when the conversation struck about where our parents worked.

“What does your mom do again?” I asked Ellen.
“She’s a farmer” was her response.

I should not have been surprised as I heard these words, but somehow I was. It was a different response than I have ever heard. “She’s a farmer”….yes, you read that right. There is an ‘s’ before the ‘he’.

Although I was raised on a grain farm in Central Illinois, this was still uncommon for me to hear. Ellen’s mom, Janet Gillen, is a farmer in Western Illinois with her husband, Dick. Jan and Dick collaborated the two farms into the Reeder-Gillen Farms. Jan did not grow up in a family who relied exclusively on farming. She never had the experience of being in a combine for 12 hours a day, and Jan also never would have guessed that she would be farming in her future career.

Jan is not alone among the female population who operate a farm. Although the percentage of female owned farms is fairly small, it is not uncommon to see a woman helping in the field during planting and harvesting. Jan is a perfect example of the impact among women in agriculture.

As Jan is in the field planting corn to help feed the world, other women are communicating the importance of her job, developing a new types of seeds, and many other occupations to help Jan have a successful farming season. Every aspect of agriculture includes women. As a a female in agriculture, I do not see any limitations on what job is for females and what is for males. I have realized the importance of women in agriculture, and the impact that we make among the industry.

Abigail Coers
University of Illinois