CITY PRODUCE PROJECT – ROUND TWO

With the help of valued industry partners including Syngenta and Monsanto, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board participated in the inaugural year of the City Produce Project in 2010. Now we’re back with nearly two dozen more Illinois farmers that will be growing sweet corn on their farms to donate to underprivileged families around the state.

The City Produce Project worked to positively impact the growing problem of poor eating habits, food insecurity, obesity, and diabetes by providing fresh, locally grown vegetables and nutrition education to low income communities. As an extension, Illinois corn farmers also used sweet corn seed generously provided through partner seed companies to support their local food pantries, soup kitchens, or other food outreach organizations.

In its 2010 pilot year, approximately 75,000 pounds of produce, including several tons of sweet corn, were distributed to inner city sites in urban food deserts where recipients accessed the produce through local pantries and enrolled in nutrition education programs to learn how to effectively use the fresh vegetables in their diets. It was a very successful beginning.

Specifically regarding the sweet corn component, 22 corn farmers received and planted the sweet corn seed donated by the partnering seed companies. A few of the crops were devastated by the early season rains, but the majority yielded a very successful harvest. The participating farmers reported great personal satisfaction in their experience, relaying stories about gaining a new understanding of the food needs in their communities. The sweet corn harvest also allowed for several facets of the local area to work together, introducing agriculture and corn to their conversations.

Recipients of the Chicago-area fresh produce overwhelming reported that the sweet corn component was the most valuable contribution to their family.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

FALL INTERNSHIP DEADLINE APPROACHING

Deadline for fall 2011 social media and video intern applications is this Friday, July 15.  If you are a college student looking for a paid growth opportunity, consider the Illinois Corn Marketing Board!

The social media internship is an independent project, focusing on either Twitter, Facebook, or blogs. If you love agriculture and want to promote it – or even just want to learn more about how your food is grown – join us!

The video intern will be provided with specific projects that could vary by semester or by month as new issues/needs arise.  Success will be defined by completion of the projects within the given timeframe and by accomplishing the desired outcome for each individual video/project. 

Questions?  Contact Lindsay Mitchell at lmitchell@ilcorn.org.

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: ANTIQUE TRACTORS

If you haven’t been following along this summer for our ongoing photo contest on the IL Corn Facebook page, you have been missing out on some great agricultural pictures!  This week’s theme was “Antique Tractors” and David Peters walked away with the most votes for his photo of a 1926 15-30 McCormick Deering that he restored 26 years ago.  Congratulations David!

Stay tuned all summer long for more contests and great pictures!

FLASHBACK: 1997 SEED INDUSTRY

So fun to come over from Prairie Farmer to guest blog today at the Corn Corps! Thank you, Illinois Corn Growers, for having me over.

I was cleaning out some old files in our basement the other day, much to the delight of my husband. (Part of the downside of working from home: file storage. Part of the downside of being a packrat working from home: lots of file storage. Enough said.)

Anyway, I came across a red file folder that held the notes and a rough draft of the very first story I ever wrote for Prairie Farmer, when I was but a college student. (See? Pack rat.) In fact, it was a test story given to me by then-editor Mike Wilson and used by him to decide whether to hire me. The story was on the independent seedsmen of the day, and it was published in December of 1997 as part of a larger package of stories on the Midwest seed industry.

I stood there in front of the file cabinet, reading this little story in 2011, and HOLY COW. There are, in this story, companies that no longer exist, people who are no longer in the business, a giant who’s but one among four, and a entire industry that’s changed. (How’s that for a massive understatement?)

Thirteen years ago, it was all about the chemistries. When I graduated from college, the “good jobs” were those as chemical reps, and they came with high salaries and Jeep Grand Cherokees. Roundup Ready changed all that. Now it’s all about the traits. The very year after this story was published, Monsanto bought DeKalb, and this industry began a consolidation of historic proportions. A couple years ago, I saw a presentation where a seed industry leader showed a graphic charting all the consolidations, mergers and buyouts. It looked like an organized version of a toddler’s crazy coloring page. To think, in 1997 there were 300 seed companies? Monsanto alone has bought 100 of them, rolling them into Channel Bio.

And I think, it’s largely been to the farmer’s benefit. Think of the options we have available now. Stacked traits, insect resistance, weed protection, refuges in a bag – we hardly knew what a refuge was in 1997. Today, we’re disappointed if we don’t average over 200 bushels. In 13 years, the bar has been, effectively, raised.

I’ve copied that original story below, which first appeared in the December 1997 Prairie Farmer. I’d link to it, but it was so long ago, it was pre-digital. Shoot, we barely had the wheel then.

Take a minute or two and give it a read. Think it over and let me know what you think. It’s always useful to reflect on where we’ve been.

Competitive edge for the little guys is no fairy tale
By Holly Hinderliter

Think of it as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One great big company – Pioneer Hi-Bred International – and several smaller, independent companies competing for seed industry market share.

That comparison was drawn by Frank Thorp, past president of Thorp Seed Co., who estimates that those eight companies fight for approximately 75% of the market share. He adds that more than 300 other companies struggle for the remaining 25%. Compound those figures with the amount of money it takes to develop a seed variety with the biotechnology and genetics that producers demand, and you are looking at a pretty tough arena for the little guy to compete in.

So how do the smaller companies survive and thrive in an industry driven by being first with the best technology? The leaders at Thorp Seed Co. believe in alliances to help offset the costs of technology. Frank Thorp, the third generation in the 61-year-old family company, calculates that approximately 10 alliances currently exist within the seed industry.

“Independents just can’t afford it. It’s easy to breed – you can breed seed corn in your back yard. It’s testing and sorting that’s costly,” he says.

To become competitive in the technology arena, Thorp See Co. joined forces with four other companies to form Golden Harvest. Thorp’s company benefits by creating a national name and obtaining a proprietary breeding program.

Chan Sieben, executive director of the Independent Professional Seedsmen Association (IPS), observes that smaller companies have competed with multi-national very well in the past. They’ve done so by selecting varieties that are highly adapted to their localized market and producing a high quality product that is supported by direct and personal service.

Munson Hybrids resident Bud Davis agrees. He believes personal contact is what can give the smaller companies the competitive edge.

“By and large, a lot of these companies are solidly entrenched in their regions and have a strong sense of loyalty built up,” he says. Munson’s strategy has been to increase germination from the 95% industry norm to 98%, a goal that they have reached in many areas.

Being open to change, rather than being fiercely independent, also is important to success for smaller companies, according to Thorp. Independents must look at their assets and see how they want to develop them, he contends.

Another family-owned and operated company, Burrus Power Hybrids, has chosen to develop its assets and meet the competition in a slightly different way. To provide an alternative to Bt corn, Burrus will launch a new program in 1998 called “Scout and Save.” The program’s aim is to provide an alternative to paying up-front technology fees for insect control.

According to Tom Burrus, farmers will receive a $3 per bag refund if they us an integrated pest management approach, provided that the farmer purchased either 100 units or 100% Burrus seed corn. Producers will then use that money to hire a crop scouting service or to scout the field themselves. If necessary, the farmer can treat the field with a rescue insecticide, if infestations are above economic thresholds.

Burrus envisions the new program as a way for his company to compete while continuing to test the Bt technology. With its regional testing plots, the company hopes to produce varieties that will perform best for the Illinois and Missouri service areas.

“We may not be the first with a particular technology, but we have proven performers,” Burrus says.

Burrus sees his company’s future success lying in two main areas: satisfying the farmer and providing value-added products.

Though “value-added” may seem to be the latest buzzword in the industry, Wyffels Hybrids sees it as far more than that. Bob Wyffels, who owns the company with his brother, is very optimistic about the future of value-added products, especially the high-oil corn that their company has marketed for the past five years.

According to Wyffels, some 1 million acres were planted to high-oil corn this year, the most widely planted value-added product. He predicts that acreage count will double in 1998.

Why the popularity? Wyffels calculates that high-oil premiums will make $30-40 more per acre for farmers. Because high-oil corn makes such good animal feed, it is very popular among large swine and poultry integrators. Since Pioneer has yet to sell DuPont’s TopCross high-oil corn, and DeKalb only began to do so last year, it would appear that Wyffels has already beaten the competition to the punch.

The continuing challenge, Sieben feels, will be to select the right technologies for each company’s market and to deliver them through superior performance varieties.

“The ability to focus in on customer needs and to match those needs with a seed company’s ability will be critical,” Sieben says.

So perhaps the fairy tale will end happily for the dwarf seedsmen after all.

Holly Spangler
My Generation – The Blog

A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

As the Communication Interns, part of our tasks includes creating videos that tell Agriculture’s story that slips through the seams of mainstream media and society. We recently attended Illinois’ FFA State Convention in Springfield and interviewed several bright individuals.

Lauren: I was never involved in FFA in high school, so this was a whole new experience for me. I quickly learned how dedicated and passionate these individuals are to their trade.

Jenna: Our FFA video has been my favorite video that we’ve put together. I was actively involved in FFA in high school and know what a big impact it had on my life as well as others. I felt that is was important to get the positive message about FFA out to everyone.

The Kernel video is our corny (okay, pun intended) imitation of “The Onion” satirical news spoof series.. We really enjoyed creating this video because it offers the message of corn’s importance in our economy and daily lives through humor.

Additionally, we’re running a weekly photo contest on Facebook to encourage IL Corn’s fans to share snapshots of their everyday lives with other Facebook users.  Each week has a various agriculture related topic, ranging from Farm Animals to Water.  

Lauren: Here is one of my favorite pictures that won the weekly photo contest for “Corn Farming”.

Jenna: Photography is a big part of my life so I thought it would be fun to have this contest so everyone could see agricultural related pictures through someone else’s ‘eye.’

They say a “picture is worth a thousand words,” and we wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Most people, even here in the heart of the Midwest, do not understand the daily tasks required to keep all cylinders running on the farm. It’s important for the farmers and those involved in that life to share their story in any way they can, and we feel that showcasing these photos and videos we created through social media applications tells their story… with and without words.

Jenna Richardson and Lauren Knapp 
Illinois Corn Communication Interns

2011 PLANTING SEASON A SHOWCASE FOR THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY AND THE TENACITY OF FAMILY FARMERS

Illinois Corn is a founding member of the Corn Farmers Coalition which continues today as an even larger coalition of corn growing states and the National Corn Growers Association.  Please enjoy this update on CFC, positioned within the framework of a partner corn growing state that has faced considerable adversity this crop year, Ohio.

This year’s planting estimate numbers released by the USDA on June 30 show the dynamic capabilities of the nation’s farmers.  And the rain delays in Ohio set the stage for a Herculean effort that makes the 2011 planting season one for the record books.

America’s family farmers are the best and this year puts an exclamation point on that statement, as Natalie Lehner, Communications Director for Ohio Corn Growers Association pointed out in a news release in the wake of the crop report. Growers are remarkably adept. This year’s effort demonstrates how good these family owned and operated business ventures have become at using modern farming practices to get crops planted and harvested in record time even while facing tremendous challenges.

Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association reports farmers were delayed in planting due to an extremely wet spring –  one of the wettest springs in history ­- and had the numbers of days they could plant compressed to a week in some cases.

Yet the USDA estimates family farmers across the nation planted MORE corn this year than last year, with figures showing farmers put 3.5 million acres of corn in the ground in 2011, up from last year’s 3.45 million planted corn acres.

The Corn Farmers Coalition project is about showcasing key facts from entities like the US Department of Agriculture and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The goal is to let these facts reflect the importance of having a crop production system that is constantly improving, focused on safety, growing more with less and doing so in an environmentally sustainable way. Facts aside, this spring provided a case study in how human grit and determination along with innovation have made us the most productive agricultural nation in history.

“Thirty years ago this would not have been an option,” said Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers (OCWGA) President and Henry County farmer Mark Wachtman. Technology such as using GPS to guide in planting, allows us to plant quickly and do it right the first time. Also, biotech seeds make it possible to have a shorter growing season under adverse weather conditions.”

But, OCWGA CEO Dwayne Siekman says keep in mind the figures are still estimates.

“These are rough estimates from the US Department of Agriculture,” said OCWGA CEO Dwayne Siekman. “But this year has shown the tenacity of Ohio farmers to work round the clock to get the job done to provide corn for food, feed and fuel.”

While more acres are estimated planted, Ohio farmers are counting on good Growing weather this summer to bring quality yields; Ohio yields are generally higher than the nation¹s overall average with 165 bushels per acre. Ideal growing weather this summer would be warm temperatures with an adequate amount of rain.

Mark Lambert
Coalition Director