IS YOUR HALLOWEEN COSTUME A ‘GOOD’ OR ‘BAD’ FARMER?

Have you heard the kids talking about morphsuits? These stretchy garments are one-piece and cover the wearer completely from head to toe, taking away all distinguishing characteristics, leaving just a human form. They’re all the rage this year for Halloween costumes. With intentions unseen, morphsuit-wearing trick or treaters can ring doorbells and engage in Halloween hijinks with little worry about seeming odd.

Dressing as a farmer for Halloween? Well, you might as well put on a morphsuit. The characteristics that make you and your work what you are really have nothing to do with how you look. Or does it have everything to do with how you look? That’s more likely the case, as farmer attributes are being bestowed on anyone who wears a farmer-suit, which might as well be a morphsuit.

This type of insanity hit me full in the face last week at a conference I attended in Springfield, IL, called “Healthy Farms, Healthy People.” The room was full of more than a hundred public health and environmental health professionals, gathered together to listen to presentations about how better farmers grow better food which makes people who eat the better farmers’ better food, better people, apparently. Those professionals there actually received professional continuing education credits.

Here are a couple highlights from the conference that really ought to scare you:

  • Those guys that grow corn and soybeans all up and down Illinois. They’re not real farmers. They don’t grow food. They don’t even call themselves farmers. Just ask them. They call themselves producers. (From Dave Cleverdon, Organic Farmer, Kinnikinnick Farm; Board Member, Chicago Green City Market)
  • The way that we farm in Illinois drains hundreds of millions of dollars from the Illinois economy. Where could we, if not in Central Illinois, grow real food for local communities? (From Ken Meter, MA, MPA, President, Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis)
  • Farmers were better off in 1929 than in 2011, making more money and growing real food for their families and their communities. (Ken Meter)
  • October is now the official “Farm to School” month in Illinois, a signed Proclamation from Governor Quinn.
  • Locally grown, organic, fresh produce, is the only way to cure obesity and diabetes. (From a moderator in the discussion)

Now, on the outside quick glance, the bullet points above might not scare you, but they should. You should have a pretty decent Halloween-style creepy feeling crawling up your neck right now. That ominous feeling is public pressure, coming about from publicly-funded ‘public health’ professionals listening to scare tactics from other ‘professionals’ who are selling speaking gigs, research projects, and books.

Oh, but I’m saving the best part for last. To register for this event, you actually had to describe what kind of farmer you are. Apparently, there are good and bad farmers who either grow real food or they don’t, and that real food is only good food if it’s locally grown, fresh, and organic. It really has nothing to do with say, nutrition, or anything like that. That’s just a detail.

Good farmers (knighted as such by the ‘professionals’) grow real, good food (determined as such as long as it’s locally grown, fresh, and organic.)

All the rest of you? Well, you might as well just put on a morphsuit and go trick or treating tomorrow with the rest of the charlatans.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

ELECTION PREDICTIONS

With eight days to go, the Presidential election could not be closer.  Both campaigns are fighting hard to reach the magic number of 270 on November 6, that is, the 270 electoral votes that are required to win the Presidency.  The national polls have tightened and depending on which ones you look at, President Obama or Mitt Romney is ahead by one or two points, all within the margin of error. For example, on October 29, Real Clear Politics, which is a website that aggregates and then averages all of the national polls they can find on the race, has Mitt Romney ahead 47.9 to President Obama’s 47.0 percent.  While it is always possible that one of the campaigns could make a major gaffe or mistake or there could be some other last minute “October surprise,” it seems increasingly unlikely that there will be anything like that at this point, having now gotten past all of the debates.

Thus, since the national polls are effectively tied, the race will be decided by a number of battleground swing states.  Those swing states number as high as eleven, depending on how pollsters count them and they could include Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.  However, polling in a number of those states shows that several of them are leaning more towards one candidate than the other.  Governor Romney, as it stands right now, in our opinion, is likely to win Florida and North Carolina and President Obama is likely to win Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The remaining states of Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia is where the election will probably be decided.  Voter turnout will be critical in these states and may end up deciding the winner.  Both campaigns argue that they have excellent Get Out the Vote efforts, also called the “field campaign,” but the Obama campaign effectively never stopped this part of their campaign following the 2008 election and may have an advantage in this respect.  There are a number of conservative groups who have built strong voter turnout programs to assist the Romney campaign, so it is possible that these could offset the perceived advantage the Obama campaign has.  Several of these swing states have early voting which complicates the picture further.  It is the general consensus that the Obama campaign has an advantage with early voters, but probably not as great as his advantage with that group was in 2008.

In our opinion, this election could come down to one state, Ohio.  No Republican has ever won without Ohio.  Following the 2010 census, Ohio went from 20 to 18 electoral votes.  These 18 electoral votes could push one of the campaigns to or past the magic number of 270.  Most recent polls there show Obama with a slight lead, but it is still clearly in play. Both campaigns are also preparing for the possibility of recounts in close states and the smaller likelihood that there could be an electoral college tie of 269-269.  A tie would almost certainly go to Romney, as the newly elected House of Representatives decides the winner in the event of a tie.

As for the House and Senate, our expectation is not different from that of most pundits, we expect the House to stay in Republican hands, with the Democrats perhaps picking up 6-10 House seats and the Senate probably will stay in Democratic hands, with a breakdown of 51-49 or 52-48 looking increasingly likely.  In Illinois, we think that perhaps two or three House seats will change party control on November 6.  As you can gather, much is up in the air at this point, but election night is almost certain to be an exciting, late night.

David Beaudreau
DC Legislative and Regulatory Services

ANNUAL ILLINOIS COMMODITY CONFERENCE ENCOURAGES PRODUCERS TO WORK TOGETHER

Agricultural commodity producers from across the state will gather for the 2012 Illinois Commodity Conference on Tuesday, November 20 at the DoubleTree Hotel and Conference Center in Bloomington, Ill. The one-day event – centered on the theme “Working Together Everyone Achieves More” ­– begins with registration at 7:30 a.m., which is followed by networking at 9:00 a.m. The first speaker, Jody Lawrence will share his marketing advice starting at 10:00 a.m., and the entire program will wrap up at 2:00 with an ice cream social.

Six Illinois commodity groups are hosting the conference, including the Illinois Beef Association (IBA), Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA), Illinois Milk Producers Association (IMPA), Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA), Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) and Illinois Wheat Association (IWA). In addition, three agricultural companies – Monsanto, Syngenta and Pioneer – are serving as major sponsors of the event. Developed to promote leadership and cooperation among these commodity groups, it also serves as a venue for educating producers and enhancing market opportunities.

This year’s schedule will look slightly different than previous years with two breakout sessions that producers can choose to attend.  Speakers include Nic Anderson, business developer at Illinois Livestock Group, Jean Payne, president of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, Dan Schaefer, director of nutrient stewardship for CBMP, Kevin Daugherty, Ag in the Classroom coordinator, Mike and Lynn Martz of Larson Family Farms and Coach Herman Boone, who will share his inspirational story that was captured in the Disney film Remember the Titans.

Producers interested in attending the 2012 Illinois Commodity Conference may register in advance or at the door. The fee, which includes lunch, is $45 before November 8 and $60 thereafter. Students are eligible to register at a discounted rate of $20. More information, including a complete agenda, is available online at www.ilcommodityconf.org or by calling (309) 557-3703.

LEARN ABOUT YOUR FOOD WITH THE U.S. FARMERS AND RANCHERS ALLIANCE

Click the link below for a great piece from Anderson Live where a real mom gets to visit with real farmers to find out more about where her food comes from. Here’s a shout out to the Mike and Lynn Martz family, superstars of the Illinois Farm Families efforts. They are great folks, farmers opening ‘our’ doors, to engage in meaningful conversation and dialogue, without all the spin. 

http://www.andersoncooper.com/page/usfra/

You can submit your questions for your chance to be part of the conversation too!

THE IMPORTANCE OF FARMER/CONSUMER DISCUSSION

There is no doubt that in recent years, consumers have become more and more concerned about how their food is produced, and why shouldn’t they be? Everyone wants to make sure that they are providing themselves and their families with safe, nutritious food that was produced in a way that they deem fit. I personally believe that one of the biggest contributing factors to this concern is the modern-day “gap” between the farmer who grows the food and the urban mom/dad who makes the purchasing decisions regarding food for their family. Many modern-day farming practices are simply misunderstood by many urban consumers because they have little or no experience with food production or farming.

So what do we, the agriculture industry, do about bridging this gap between farmer and urban consumer? Well, this is where the Illinois Farm Families program comes in. The Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Beef Association, Illinois Pork Association, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, and Illinois Soybean Association work together in this program to bring mom’s from Chicago, IL (called “Field Mom’s”) out to farms throughout Illinois to speak directly with the farmers who produce their food. This gives those urban moms an opportunity to ask their questions and voice their concerns about food production. It also gives the farmers an opportunity to explain not only how food is produced, but WHY we use different farming practices.

I think this program sets a good example of what should be happening in today’s society of food production concern. Consumers with questions should be asking FARMERS about the concerns they have! And as farmers, we should be happy to take their questions and answer them as honestly as possible. As a “real farm girl” I have often had friends ask me questions about food production and things they are concerned about, and more often than not, they leave the conversation with a better understanding and more positive opinion about their concern.

So, consumers with concerns: Ask a farmer! We are probably a much more reliable source than TV shows or news stories that are often biased one way or the other.

And farmers: Welcome those consumer questions! If urban consumers can’t ask the people who grow their food, who do you expect them to ask?

I love having these discussions with people, and I think it is discussions like these that will really make a difference in consumers having a better understanding of food production and modern farming practices.

To keep up with the IL Farm Families program, “like” them on Facebook or follow them on twitter!

Rosalie Sanderson

ICGA/ICMB Membership Administrative Assistant

CHECK THESE OUT!

Great articles from others in the industry on some interesting topics … check them out!

 

Support for California GMO-labeling Proposition Plummets

As the election draws closer, more and more California voters oppose Proposition 37, commonly referred to as the GMO-labeling law. A sharp decline in support, 19 percent in two weeks, shows that Californians understand the regulation increases opportunities for frivolous lawsuits and redefines simple terms like “natural” in a confusing way without actually providing useful information that benefits consumers.

Lifting the Mask on HSUS’s Veganism

The Humane Society of the United States (not to be confused with your local pet shelter) doesn’t often come out and openly demand that you “go vegan” like its comrades at PETA do. Shoot, HSUS even let a boutique meat producer sign on to one of its recent op-eds. So is HSUS really on the side of the 99 percent of Americans who aren’t vegan? Is HSUS just a bunch of misunderstood animal activists instead of anti-meat zealots?

Beyond the Spin

The election is drawing closer and so are the polls. Fresh off the last
debate the major news organizations have released their new polling numbers.
CNN’s poll, pictured here, surprised me the most because of Governor Romney
appears to have taken a slight lead over President Obama among likely voters in
Florida

THE HISTORY BEHIND ETHANOL

There has been a lot of discussion these days regarding ethanol as an alternative fuel. I’m not too familiar with the topic, but I know ethanol can come from corn, and I love agriculture. So what is the truth about ethanol? I decided to find out the basics.

I’m not going to lecture you on my beliefs or opinions. Instead, I invite you to consider the research I have done in order to be a better-educated citizen. (It is voting season, after all).  Here’s the deal on what it is:

Ethanol is a clear, colorless chemical compound made from sugars that are found in crops such as corn, sugar beets and sugar cane. The key element is fermentation (defined as the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms). I recommend checking out this video for a better explanation of the process.

One of the cool things about ethanol is that it biodegrades fairly quickly. It’s a non-toxic (harmless), renewable fuel. In fact, by adding just a little bit to gasoline, carbon monoxide emissions are reduced and the engine runs more smoothly.

So if ethanol is so great, why haven’t we been using it since day one? Let’s look at the historical background:

Back in the 1400’s, ethanol existed for use as Moonshine Whiskey. People used it to fuel lamps in the mid 1800’s. However, people switched over to kerosene and methane when Congress started taxing it to cover Civil War funding.

In 1906, after the tax had been lifted, Henry Ford declared ethanol would be the “fuel of the future.” For the rest of the century, production varied a lot due to war supplies needed by government. Foreign oil was also relatively cheap at the time, so farmers mostly exported their grain to feed other countries – instead of  using the corn to make ethanol.

As time has progressed, and oil prices are rising (incase you haven’t noticed), corn ethanol has received more attention. Many people see it as a way for our country to be less dependent on foreign oil.  Confidence has been so high that in the past decade that United States ethanol production was up $9 billion between 2000 and 2009.

Farmers have shifted crop acreage to allow for a greater ratio of corn over soybeans. The increase in demand for corn has partly been a response to bioenergy policies. As you can see, opportunities for ethanol are so great that farmers have adjusted cropping patterns.

Opposition to the ethanol fuel alternative will argue it takes just as much energy to produce the ethanol as it does to directly import oil from other countries. My response is that 1) ethanol production creates jobs – locally, and 2) we are better off to create something ourselves than be as dependent on others as we are currently.

Ethanol production will only become more efficient. I compare it to the famous quote by former IBM chairman Thomas Watson in 1941:  “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Obviously, that prediction proved completely wrong. Had computers never improved, Watson may have been correct. Computers wouldn’t be nearly as common if they still weighed 1.5 tons. This could be the optimist in me speaking, but with all the technological advances happening I only predict ethanol production to make more and more sense with time.

Henry Ford thought it was a good idea. What about you?

Natalie Edwards
Illinois State University student

 

 

 

AG HISTORY: A LITTLE ON GMOs

I have a very limited background in agriculture and I am always learning more because it is a complex topic to understand completely. I mean, I can barely wrap my head around what has changed in the last few decades, let along everything has occurred since its instigation over 10,000 years ago. Things are a whole lot more complicated these days, more people to feed, less natural resources and more advanced technology, so I am only going to talk about one topic today… GMOs.

For those of you that don’t know, GMOs, also known as genetically modified organisms, have caused quite a controversy and are an interesting topic to look into. Some argue that this development is a symbol of progress while others argue that they have harmful effects on the environment and people.

Biotechnology, the larger concept that encompasses GMOs, in theory, has been around as long as agriculture has been. Very basically, it is the changes made in the processes for growing plants and animals, of which people have been adapting over time. One of the newer developments, GMOs, is a process where engineers combine DNA from different species to create new organisms with particular genes. This modification of genetics has allowed for the development of crops that can tolerate herbicides or insecticides (controls for weeds or pests, respectively) making the growth of the crop more efficient. This efficiency either makes weed control easier or makes it less necessary to use synthetic pesticides to control for pests. In addition, the development of drought resistant crops have allowed for a more secure survival of crops, especially during recent drought conditions. Since crops do not need to be monitored as often, their use has increased over time, to about 46% of corn, 76% of cotton, and 85% for soybeans as of results in 2004. The apparent success of these items has lead to further development of GMOs.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulators of GMOs, there are a few benefits and safety concerns of biotechnology used for the purposes of agriculture. Biotechnology in the form of these GMOs has allowed researchers to increase their knowledge of the biology of living organisms, improve efficiencies (mentioned earlier) which has made agriculture a more lucrative business, and it is also argued they help solve issues of food security or hunger.

Safety concerns include the posed risk to the environment and to consumers. For example, it has been noticed that bugs have become more resistant to pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, as a result of the prominence of these GMOs. This, in theory, would require more pesticide use. Furthermore, it is argued that high levels of pesticide use as the result of application on conventionally grown and GMO crops have been known to cause harm to human health and the environment. At the same time, these pesticide levels are monitored by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for human safety, all pesticides are regulated and are only applied at approved levels by professionals. Therefore, concerns can be difficult to determine. Other safety concerns include ethics and labeling. The latter has been particularly controversial, labeling is required in a number of countries and increased labeling is being asked for in California.

From just this brief introduction, it may have become apparent that there are a number of benefits and potential risks with GMOs. Until anything is proven, their use will most likely continue to increase because of the perceived benefits for agriculture. Nevertheless, the push for accurate labeling shows that there is a resistance to this technology. I know I plan on keeping with current events and following what happens.

Jennifer Long
Illinois Wesleyian University student