MY SUMMER AS AN AG INTERN

My name is Nicole York and I’m the Issues Management and Social Media Intern this summer. I was on the fence over what I wanted to do with my life. Then one day I realized that I wanted to help feed the world. That is work I can be proud of. My major is Agricultural Communications and I’m minoring in Public Relations from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

When I got to IL Corn, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was in a city I’d never been to before, living with a stranger I found on Craig’s list, and a new job. It was an adjustment to say the least. I knew the basics about corn and not much else before I started here. My background was in beef and pork. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and learn something new.

This has been a busy summer at IL Corn between Waters of the US (WOTUS) and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). It has been awesome to see all the work that happens behind the scenes to protect the livelihood of IL farmers. I was also shocked to learn about how much misinformation there is in regards to agriculture. I am in charge of several social media pages so I have been able to interact with people from all walks of life. Here are a few common things people have said:

“Where did all the family farms go? These are all factory farms ruled by corporations.”

  • 95% of farms are family owned.
  • The average farm is 413 acres.

“GMO crops are going to destroy our health.”

  • There has not been a single documented case where GMO foods have harmed or killed people. (This is coming from over 1,200 scientific studies.) There are only eight GMO crops available to the public: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, canola, cotton, and squash.

“All farmers care about is making money. Look at how expensive food is.”

  • Yes, farming is a business. The farmer is trying to make a profit, just like every other business in existence. But farming is very risky. You have to have passion for it otherwise you wouldn’t put up with all the lows and highs that come along with it. On average farmers make between 16 cents and 24 cents for every dollar spent on food. That small amount has to cover all production costs and you don’t have much control on how much it will sell for.

“Why are animals given hormones and antibiotics?”

  • It is illegal to give pigs and chickens growth hormones. Don’t pay extra for a marketing ploy.
  • Antibiotics are only given when necessary and prescribed by a veterinarian. There is a standard set in place for drugs to be out of the animal’s system before it returns to the production line.

The voice of American farmers are not being heard. That has to change. This is where I’d like to focus as a career. I also hope to help establish programs that limit food waste, increase regulation on food labeling (particularly removing misleading language), and to increase public awareness, understanding, and the benefits of GMO crops.

I’d like to thank IL Corn for giving me this opportunity to work here this summer. (Special shout out to Shannon- the other intern. You made all of our projects fun to work on.) I can use the skills and information I learned here throughout my future career, wherever that may be.

nicole yorkNicole York
Southern Illinois University student

 

 

HOW FARMERS ARE PROTECTING ILLINOIS WATER

The IL Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy was released last week.  It was a big deal for farmers.  But maybe (probably?) you have no idea what it is or what it means.  If so, this post is for you.

Farmers apply nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients to their fields to help crops grow and maximize yields.  This is pretty much like you applying Miracle-Gro to your potted houseplants or your garden, but on a huge scale.

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In a perfect world, farmers apply the nutrients, the plants grow enormously big, strong, and prolific because they are “eating” the nutrients, and everyone is happy.  But what happens when the nutrients are applied at the wrong time?  In the wrong amount?  Or the plants don’t grow and don’t use the nutrients like what happened to farmers during the drought?

In each of those cases, the nutrients are left in the field.  And when the spring rains come, the nutrients hitch a ride with the running water to the nearest ditch, then a creek, then a stream, a river, and end up exactly where we don’t want them.

This is bad for clean water, but also bad for farmers.  They paid for those nutrients (and nutrients are VERY expensive!) and they really want the plants to use them instead of watching them escape the field.

So the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy is basically exactly what it says – its a list of ways that farmers can help minimize nutrient loss from their fields.  The EPA has written the list, and now they leave it to ag associations and agribusiness to help farmers understand and implement the strategies on their own fields.

Of course, IL Corn is doing just that – along with Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Council on Best Management Practices, Illinois Pork Producers Association, GROWMARK, Syngenta, and others.

What are some of the things farmers are being asked to do?

1. Change the timing of their nitrogen applications.  It makes a lot of sense for farmers to apply nutrients when the plant needs them most to grow.  The problem is that equipment and availability doesn’t always make it possible for every farmer to apply their nitrogen at the exact same time of year … but we’re working on helping farmers through that.

2. Change the amount of nutrients they apply.  Farmers like this one because applying fewer nutrients means paying less money.  We’re encouraging farmers to do soil testing throughout their field, determine which areas of the field need a boost and which do not, and then apply nutrients only where needed.  New GPS technology helps with this and makes the process very efficient.

3. Grow cover crops.  We’ve figured out that for some farmers, applying nutrients in the fall, but also planting a crop that will grow a bit in the fall, hold the nitrogen within the plant through the winter, and then kill that crop before planting corn in the spring can work very well.  The techniques will be different for every farmer in Illinois because of our diverse weather from north to south.

These are just a couple of the options, but each can make a big difference for individual farmers and for the water supply!

Maybe hearing from a real farmer will help!  This is Garry Niemeyer, Illinois farmer, talking about what his conservation plan is for one of his fields near the Springfield watershed.

Do you have more questions about clean water, nutrient loss, or the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy?  I’d love to answer them!

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

 

THE PLIGHT OF ALL MOMS IS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME …

Bill Christ calf under fence

This photo by former board member Bill Christ shows that the plight of all mamas – whether of human or other species – is pretty much the same.  The kids crawl under the fence (or up a tree or even just across the living room), out of grasp, and we are left to do nothing but frantically call to them!

Poor Mama cow is mooing after her new baby to get back on the right side of the fence!

PHOTO: RALLY FOR RURAL AMERICA

This past week, most of our staff was in Washington, D.C. for Corn Congress.

Some Illinois farmers as well as farmers from all over the U.S. had the change to “Rally for Rural America” and to advocate on current issues that effect the agriculture industry.

Our staff was able to capture a few great moments!

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Congresswoman and veteran Tammy Duckworth delivered a moving and motivating speech at the Rally for Rural America. She reminded these farmers that they are not only fighting for their own families, neighbors, and communities, but also every serviceman and woman protecting our country overseas or laying in a hospital bed right now. American bushels, not foreign barrels.

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Even Captain Cornelius was in D.C. to show support. He also took a moment to pose for a picture with a few of our board members.

 

THE STORY OF THE BIRDS AND THE BEES… AND CORN.

When learning about where babies come from, we were all told the famous “Birds and the Bees” story to help understand the complicated truth about how babies are made.

Like other things in nature, corn also has a story about how its “babies” are made. Only this story is much easier to explain and much easier to understand.

Just to clarify, corn’s “babies” are the kernels. In sweet corn, kernels are the part you eat.

Every corn plant has both male and female parts.

7-14-15 TasselsThe male part is the tassel. The tassel is the part of the plant that emerges from the top. The tassel usually consists of several branches which have many small flowers on them.

The female part is the ear. The ear develops on the corn stalk, in which, can produce several ears but the uppermost ear becomes the largest. Before the female ear has been fertilized by the male tassel, the ear consists of a cob, eggs (that will become kernels after pollination) and silks. From each egg, a silk grows and emerges from the tip of the husk. (The husk is the group of leaves that cover the entire ear.)

(Here is where things start to heat up.)

7-14-15 Silks

Each male flower releases a large number of pollen grains, each of which contain the male sex cell.

Pollination occurs when pollen falls on the exposed silks. After pollination, a male sex cell grows down each silk to a single egg and then fertilization starts to take place.

(BOW-CHICKA-BOW-WOW.)

Fertilization is the joining of the male and female corn sex cells.

The fertilized egg develops into a kernel and inside each kernel is a single embryo (corn baby.)

A single ear of corn can produce hundreds of kernels.

That is how corn is made. Now go tell all your friends!

 

Hannah ZellerHannah Zeller
Communications Assistant

GMO LABELING: INFOGRAPHIC

7-10-15 GMO LABELINGWe want consumers to know what is in their food and to understand what it means. But what we don’t want is consumers to fear food based on poor marketing tactics. The safety of GMOs is firmly established by the scientific community and health organizations, therefore people should not fear them.

Chuck Spencer of GROWMARK, was quoted in AgWired yesterday. Spencer says GROWMARK is supporting the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act in the House that would create a uniform national food labeling standard for products made with genetically modified organisms. “We understand that consumers want to know more about their food and we need to be increasingly transparent,” explains Spencer. “The National Organic Standard administered by the USDA is a wonderful example of a voluntary program that is nationally consistent and recognized. We feel it could be put to use in that same framework, that USDA could have a non-GMO standard, and it would be a voluntary framework just like the organic standard.”