A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A FARMER: APRIL

Some people think that the only busy times of the year are planting and harvest and the rest of the year farmers spend their glorious amounts of free time vacationing or tinkering with antique tractors. This may be true for some, but not the majority. Today is the fourth post in my one-year series which will give you an idea of a farmer’s workload throughout the year. Keep in mind that all farms operate differently and I am just providing one example of a year in the life of a grain farmer. There are several factors that contribute to the seasonality of the farm such as size and scale of the operation, crops grown, location, livestock, management style and general upbringing or personal work ethic! I hope this provides some insight to what versatile businessman farmers are.

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4-12-16 April

Bookkeeping

There’s probably not a lot of bookkeeping getting done this month – not with springtime and planting on the brain. A farmer is constantly watching the commodity markets, though. There may be some old crop left in the bins or maybe he’s pricing some of this year’s crop ahead of time. Either way, it’s always good to follow the markets.

This year’s crop

If you see a farmer in April, an appropriate conversation starter would be, “How’s it goin’ at your place – are you anxious to get in the field?” To which you will receive either an overly-optimistic, rosy outlook, or a stressed and grumbly, get-off-my-back kind of response. It’s truly a crap shoot – Much like the weather which is likely dictating their mood. Some major prep work that may be on a farmer’s mind:

  • 4-12-16 20160321_171030 editedApply anhydrous ammonia (NH3), if used, and not applied last fall
  • Apply fertilizer, either organic (manure) or synthetic, if not done last fall
  • “Work Ground” which basically means chop up, mix, or turn the dirt for seed bed preparation. There are a variety of “tools” a farmer could pull behind his tractor to do this, but a disc and/or cultivator are most common.

Finally, once the threat of frost decreases, ground temperature reaches near 50 °F, and the soil dries out enough to drive the equipment through it without making ruts or risk getting stuck… PLANTING can begin! Planting requires quite a bit stop and go:

  • 4-12-16 April 1Tweaks need to be made to the planter
  • Depending on your equipment it can take some time to fill the seed buckets (and refill, and refill again!)
  • Farmers try to be very precise on their field pattern and make their rows nice and straight (especially on busier roads!)
  • And sometimes they’ll have to stop to get a huge rock, branch, or garbage out of their path so they don’t wreck their machinery.
  • Of course, there’s also more major setbacks like a mechanical break-down or a flat tire

Household and farm odd-jobs / repairs

The only time for odd-jobs and repairs is if it’s too cold or wet to be in the field!

4-12-16 Slow moving vehicleSince planting season is beginning to gear up here in Illinois, as you drive, PLEASE keep in mind that there may be a slow moving vehicle or wide load up ahead as you pop over that hill or come around a curve. They may be pulling an awkward or heavy load so keep a safe following distance behind them and allow enough time for safe passing. And a friendly steering wheel wave is always appreciated by a farmer!

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Ashley Deal
ICGA/ICMB Membership Assistant

A LETTER TO MY FUTURE DAUGHTER

Have you ever thought about what you would tell your daughter if you haven’t had the chance to meet her yet?  You expect that she will be great and take after you, but have you made any mistakes that you definitely do not want her making?  What scares you for your children’s futures?  I could go on for days thinking and writing what I would want her to know.  Women’s roles in society have changed so much in the last century.  Just think how much it will continue to change and evolve into something that today’s moms are not even expecting.

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Dear Daughter,

In your lifetime you will experience many new things.  Societal, agricultural, technological, and many other advances will be made.  Sometimes it will be cool and other times it will be scary.  The best advice I can give you is to try to keep up with the advances, but do not let them consume you.  People will always grow, change, and develop.  I wish for you to follow your heart, chase your dreams, no matter how cliché that may sound.

When it comes to agricultural advances, there will be fads, practices, and trends.  Traditions that will all change during your lifetime as it did mine.  I encourage you to become well-educated in areas that may concern you.  Articles published through different media outlets may not be the most reliable.  Check multiple reliable sources and take away your own ideas from your research.

Technology: isn’t it a great thing?  What has changed since you were a little girl?  Keeping up with technology is a job within itself.  Some words for the wise: technology consumes you if you let it.  You are only as advanced as you allow yourself to become.  Sometimes technology can make life easier but sometimes it makes life 10 times more difficult.  Social media are great for keeping up with friends who you do not see very often, yet it takes away from those you are with on a daily basis.  Find a way to balance your life and don’t let one piece consume you.

In conclusion, have fun with life. After all, you never know how long you have to live.  You are the youngest you will ever be right now and the oldest you have yet to be.  As many people say, “live well, laugh often, love much” quoted by Bessie Anderson Stanley.  This quote within itself means a great deal because it reminds us to live life to its fullest, while still having time to laugh, and always love like there is no tomorrow.  I challenge you to set extreme goals and even if you do not accomplish them they will take you to great places.

With much love,

Mom

I encourage all moms who have read this, write a letter every so often to your daughter and then give them to her when she moves out.  These letters can be whatever you choose to make them.  You can talk about things that have happened since the last letter you wrote or they could write them on big occasions.  The task is up to you, let me know what you think of this.

Lewis_Elizabeth

Elizabeth Lewis
Southern Illinois University

AG ECONOMICS 101

Have you ever wondered how the products you purchase in grocery stores are priced? Here’s a hint – it is not an arbitrary number made up by your local producers. In fact, farmers have essentially no say when it comes to product pricing. There are many different variables that can influence the cost of your fuel, food, business operations, etc.

4-7-16baconTo explain, let’s talk about pork bacon (because everyone loves bacon). If China, the world’s largest pork producing country, increases the amount of bacon/pork it exports to other counties, the world price of bacon would decrease. The price of bacon in America, then, also decreases. This is due to excess supply, or a higher quantity of bacon than is actually desired. Consumers now have more options when it comes to purchasing bacon, so competitors will lower their prices to attract them. In comparison, if China experiences a significant loss in its swine population due to disease, less pork will be exported. This means there is less bacon available on the global market, increasing the overall price (demand is higher than supply).

4-7-16supplydemandIf US farmers charge a high price for pork products while China exports a high quantity of bacon into the world market, domestic producers will lose profit. This is because they are unable to compete with the lower Chinese prices. Think of it this way: the more of something you have, the less it is worth. The opposite is true when you have less of something – it is worth more.

To explain in more detail, let’s say you live in a town with a few hundred apple trees called Smithville. There are a handful stores that sell apples from these trees. Apples are at an average price until a new trader also decides to start selling apples in Smithville. This trader brings new apples to sell from a neighboring town. This means that there is now a higher quantity and variety of apples in your town. Has the price of apples in Smithville increased or decreased? It has decreased. Consumers now have many options to choose from, so the stores have to offer lower prices to get customers to buy their apples. This is what happens when China sells their products (pork) on the global and US markets. There are more options, so prices decrease.

4-7-16pigsOn the other hand, US farmers make larger profits when China decreases pork production and trade. Domestic producers are not immediately able to make up for that loss in supply. With less Chinese pork products flooding American markets, the competition is much thinner and prices rise. Think of it as an apple trader ending business in Smithville. The shortage of apples causes prices to increase.

If prices did not increase, other farmers would not be encouraged to join the pork industry to make up for the supply loss. We might also see a significant reduction in domestic supply, as consumers would still be purchasing their regular amounts of bacon, as opposed to less if prices were higher. With this in mind, one might expect the prices of agriculture commodities to fluctuate much more severely and frequently. While prices do change, legislative policies help keep them relatively stable. The Farm Bill, for example, has various price support programs to regulate the quantity of agriculture products on the market. These support programs include crop insurance, subsidies, conservation methods, etc.

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Austin Fee
University of Illinois

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR FUEL

When I pull into the gas station I am normally rolling in on fumes just hoping I don’t run out of gas. I pull into the nearest possible pump and begin fueling. Normally I am in such of a hurry that I don’t take time to stop and look at what I am actually putting into my vehicle. Turns out, it may be more than just fuel. It is a fuel blend that may be doing more than you think… ethanol. Here are five things you may not have known about ethanol in your fuel.

  1. High Octane

4-5-16Ethanol_Photo_1You may be asking yourself, what does high octane mean? I myself was unsure of what it meant until I researched it in further detail! According to the Federal Trade Commission, octane ratings are a measurement of the ability of gasoline to repel engine knock, which is a rattling noise resulting from a premature ignition of a condensed fuel-air blend in one or more cylinders. Ethanol happens to be considered an octane-enhancing additive. E10, which is a ten percent ethanol blend in gasoline, happens to be offered in all grades of gas and has the ability to be used in most models of vehicles regularly.

  1. Low Cost

Ethanol is not the only high-octane enhancer that has been used. Aromatics have similar high-octane enhancers compared to ethanol and have been used in many blends of gas in the past. Although, aromatics are a more expensive commodity as compared to ethanol. In 2013 an aromatic called benzene was the highest prices aromatic, but has since disappeared in early 2015. According to AgFax, a study was done that showed that purchasing ethanol, as a high-octane blend, was cheaper than the average price of three high-octane aromatic enhancers.

  1. Renewable

Ethanol is considered a renewable fuel. It is made from a wide array of plant materials commonly known as biomass. One industry that specifically benefits from ethanol is corn production because corn has high starch content. Nearly 40% of the U.S corn production is being used for the ethanol industry. Utilizing these ethanol blends in today’s gasoline is a successful way to oxygenate gasoline and reduce air pollution.

  1. American Made

4-5-16maxresdefaultMany ethanol production plants are located in the Midwest because there is a large majority of corn production in the Midwest. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture about 90% of ethanol is transported by train or truck while the remaining 10% is traditionally transported by barge. Therefore, a large majority American Made ethanol remains within the United States for gasoline blends such E10 or E85.

  1. No wars

Because Saudi Arabia and the Middle East is a large producer in the production of petroleum, this causes great conflict with buying and importing into the United States. Often prices are extremely high. The advantage of American made ethanol is knowing where it is coming from. We are extremely independent in the production of ethanol, which gives us advantages both from an economic and environmental standpoint.

Next time you stop to fuel up… consider that you are putting more than just regular fuel in the tank. You are putting in a blend that is so much more.

Nicole Chance

 

Nicole Chance
University of Illinois

WHY OUR CURRENT GMO LABELING COURSE JUST WON’T WORK

I understand that there are certain Americans that want to know if their foods contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  I understand that they are scared of GMOs (even though there is not scientifically valid reason.)  I understand that they believe a label will help them avoid the scary GMOs (even though most drafted labeling laws so far have many exceptions so that they actually still don’t allow someone to avoid ingesting GMOs.)

But this post isn’t about any of that.

GMO labelingIn this article, I’m not questioning the whether or not GMO labeling proponents have a point or even whether or not their thinking is valid.  I’m not saying that GMOs are good for you or bad for you or even that there is absolutely no difference between the two.

I am saying that our current course on GMO labeling is going to throw us WAY off track.

America has put herself in a position to allow Vermont to make the rules for everyone.

Vermont’s GMO labeling law goes into effect in July.  At that time, most food manufacturers will have changed or updated packaging to reflect GMO contents or will have reformulated their ingredients to not include GMOs at all (costly for everyone!) in order to comply with Vermont’s law.  Every state will likely get these new packages and formulations (and increased prices) because it’s too cumbersome to prepare some product for Vermont and the rest of the product for the rest of the U.S.

But there are big problems and here is one.

Under California law, the State requires that all labels used in connection with advertising and consumer sales of milk, milk products, frozen desserts, cheeses, and products resembling milk products must receive prior approval.  The Vermont GMO labeling requirement exempts certain dairy products to protect Vermont interests, but it did not exempt items such as flavored milk or desserts, putting them on a collision course with out-of-state regulators.

California’s rejection of the Vermont label leaves U.S. food manufacturers in an impossible situation.  Companies will face a $1,000 per product, per day fine if they don’t comply with a misleading GMO warning label.  But the label would likely be rejected in California (and Pennsylvania who has similar pre-approval provisions) as misleading.

To make it even better, the Vermont Attorney General, who is in charge of food labeling, is no longer taking direct questions or providing answers.

This is one small example of the ridiculousness of the current GMO labeling path.

No matter which side of the fence you are on, surely you can see the need for a national GMO standard, a label that means something (like the non-GMO certified label included in the House bill) and a means for food companies to be able to comply with all laws.

Call your U.S. Senator today and ask them to take action!  We’ve already got a GMO labeling bill through the House of Representatives so we’re halfway to a reasonable solution!

Lindsay Mitchell 11/14Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director