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 ninth 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.


—Depending on the year— Harvest is likely getting underway this month! For many farmers, this is their favorite time of the year — It can also be the most stressful! Many farmers work long hours and are managing multiple pieces of expensive equipment. There’s little time for anything else during the heat of harvest! To begin, let’s talk about Early Harvest:general-harvest-above-this-years-crop

This year’s crop:

  • Begin Harvest! – Once the corn dries down enough, it’s time to start picking! But let’s back up a minute and talk about “dry enough”… and other hiccups along the way.
    • corn-dentingWhen to Begin – The reason farmers let the corn stand out in the field until is turns brown and dies is because they’re waiting for the kernels to dry out before harvesting. (This is how that signature dent gets into field corn). Leading up to harvest, a farmer might pick a few ears of corn out of his various fields, shell it into a bucket (take all the kernels off the cob) and take it to the local elevator to test is moisture content. The ideal moisture is 15-17%. If it gets drier than that it will be lighter and will take more kernels to equal 1 bushel (56 pounds) of corn. It also has a higher likelihood of cracking and the farmer could get docked some money for cracked corn. If it’s wetter than the elevator wants it, it will need to be dried down to the appropriate moisture to keep it from rotting in the storage bins. Drying corn requires a grain dryer, bins, and fuel (propane or natural gas) to heat the corn and evaporate the moisture out of it. Since this set-up costs money, the wetter the corn, the more the farmer will have to pay to dry it. So as you can see, there’s a slim time-frame for ideal picking. I would venture to say that most farmers begin harvest when the corn is around 25% moisture. They’re antsy to get started as it is, plus, depending on the number of acres they farm, they can’t wait too long or they might be dealing with overly dry corn later in the fall.
    • calibrating-machineryEquipment calibration – Last month the farmer spent some time calibrating his combine and performing maintenance inspections on his semis, grain trucks, and other equipment, but the beginning of harvest can be a slow start. You can’t always get things adjusted quite right until you’re actually in the field to see what you’re dealing with. Sometimes this takes a lot of adjustments. Other times you get it right from the get-go.

Farm Maintenance:

  • managing-breakdownsManage Break-Downs – With all those moving parts there are bound to be breakdowns during harvest. Often times, farmers will bring the parts and tools right out to the field to repair the machine. In extreme cases, a repair guy from the local implement dealership will need to come out to do the repair, but this will almost certainly result in additional lost time and of course an added expense. Another frustrating scenario is when the dealership doesn’t have the part you need in stock. Sometimes they can get ahold of one in a matter of hours, but other times, ordering it in from another store can take a day or two to arrive. As a farm-wife, something I find oddly nostalgic and unique to the farming way of life, is that my husband can “call in” the part he needs from the implement dealership, they’ll put it on his tab and have it ready (hopefully), so I can run to town to pick it up and deliver it out to the field. Just like ordering groceries from Nels on Little House on the Prairie!

Let’s talk about farm wives and family a minute…

First and foremost, just as every farm operates differently, every farm wife takes on a different role during harvest. I think it’s safe to say that every spouse, child, or sibling to the Principal Operator – who has a vested interest in the farm – knows their place during the busiest time of the year. Level of involvement highly depends on age, ability, and availability of each individual.

  • Some wives operate the combine while the farmer runs trucks to the bins.
  • Some run the grain cart, which drives alongside the combine so the combine can empty its grain. When the cart’s full, she drives it over to the semi, empties, and drives back out alongside the combine so it never has to stop picking.
  • Some wives prefer to stay out of the fields and will keep on top of book work, bills and household responsibilities.
  • Meals are an important part of harvest. A lot of farmers wouldn’t eat a hot meal for weeks if it weren’t for their wife driving it out to the field for them.
  • They’re often at the beck and call for parts runs and rides when it’s time to shuffle machinery from one field to an another.
  • Farm kids can do many of these jobs as well – including operating heavy farm machinery – even on public property.

Point being, harvest is a crucial time of the year and the way the farm family bans together to “git-r-dun” is not something that every American family can attest to.



Ashley Deal
Membership Administrative Assistant
IL Corn


Your chance to virtually visit a corn farm is finally here!

One of our farmer leaders, Justin Durdan, invited IL Corn, WGN Radio personality Patti Vasquez, and a host of video techies to his farm where we’ve already filmed TWO new videos for you to check out.

They are 360° videos – you can see a full 360° around the farm and check out all sorts of farm goings-on for yourself.

Have you wondered about how farmers apply fertilizer?  You can come along and watch Justin do it.

Been curious about how farmers apply pesticides and why?  Justin lets you literally watch the drops mist out of the sprayer.

Maybe you don’t understand how tractors plant using GPS?  Come into the cab while Justin is planting!

Seriously, this is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.  You can find the videos housed at


Note: If viewing video on desktop, click and drag your mouse. If viewing video on mobile, open the video in the YouTube app to experience the full 360° view.



Join Illinois Farm Families they show Chicago moms how food gets to their table by visiting two different poultry farms in Illinois – all from the comfort of your couch! At 9AM tomorrow morning, tune into to IFF’s Facebook page and follow along. Make sure to “Like” their page so you can get a notification once they go live.


Going to the grocery store can be an overwhelming experience, especially when it seems like new labels are appearing on products all the time. It is nearly impossible for a consumer to keep up with meanings of food labels. Wading through the Internet for an accurate answer is often a daunting task that quickly results in a headache and confusion. The Ultimate Guide to Food Label’s goal is to take the frustration out of deciphering food labels by presenting information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in an understandable format.

Quick Guide to Common Food Labels

Organic: If only it were just that simple! There are multiple organic labels, and they all have a different meaning. Key information from the USDA is highlighted below, but check out this link for more information!

  •  100% Organic: All ingredients must be certified organic, any processing aids must be organic, and product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel. These products may include the USDA organic seal and/or 100% organic claim.
  • 9-8-16organic-food-labelsOrganic: All agricultural ingredients must be certified organic, except those specified on the National List. Non-organic ingredients from the National List can only make up 5% of the non-organic content, excluding salt and water. Product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel. These products may include USDA organic seal and/or organic claim and organic ingredients must be identified.
  • Made with Organic: 70% of the product must be made with certified organic ingredients. Remaining agricultural products are not required to be organically produced, but they cannot be produced using methods that have not been approved. As mentioned above, non-agricultural products must be allowed on the National List. The certifying agent must be named on the information panel of the product label. These products may state “made with organic (insert up to three ingredients),” but they cannot include the USDA organic seal, represent the final product as organic or state “made with organic ingredients.” The organic ingredients must be identified with an asterisk or other mark.

Natural: According the USDA, for food to be labeled as natural it cannot contain artificial ingredients or preservatives. The ingredients can only be minimally processed. Foods labeled as natural can contain antibiotics and growth hormones. An application must be submitted for foods labeled, as natural, however no inspections occur and producers do not have to be certified.

Free Range/Cage Free: Applications and certification are not required for products to be labeled as Free Range. However, producers must be able to “demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” More meat and poultry labeling terms are defined by the USDA here.

Grass Fed: The USDA no longer defines this term. However, grass-fed animals are typically raised in pastures or on ranges where they are allowed to graze, instead of in feedlots. Read more about the USDA’s recent decision to get rid of their grass-fed definition here.

9-8-16glutenGluten Free: The FDA has this to say about products labeled as gluten-free:  “Gluten-free” is a voluntary claim that manufacturers may elect to use in the labeling of their foods. However, manufacturers that label their foods “gluten-free” are accountable for using the claim in a truthful and non-misleading manner and for complying with all requirements established by the regulation and enforced by FDA. Gluten is a protein that naturally occurs in wheat, rye, and barley.  Read more about gluten and the labeling of gluten-free products here.

Antibiotic Free: According to the USDA, this term may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if “sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.” All chickens are antibiotic free because no antibiotic residue is present due to withdrawal periods and other closely monitored requirements.

No Hormones Added:

  • 9-8-16no-hormones-addedPork and Poultry: No artificial or added hormones are used in any poultry or hogs in the United States because of regulations from the FDA prohibiting such actions. According to the USDA, “The claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
  • Beef:  “No hormones administered” may be approved for use on the labeling of beef products if “sufficient documentation is provided to the Agency by the producer showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals.”

Other Resources

For comprehensive information on everything from additives in meat and poultry products to allergies and food safety, check out the USDA’s Food Labeling Fact Sheets.

Ever wonder what the difference between health claims, nutrient content claims, and structure/function claims are? Check out the FDA’s in depth explanation here.

We’ve all seen nutrition labels on countless products, and while it is great to have access to the numbers, they are relatively useless without an understanding of what those numbers and percentages actually mean. The FDA breaks down nutrition labels here.

christy_allenChristy Allen
University of Illinois


Farmers need inspiration too!

Although they are spending every day outside, close to creation and nature, being their own boss (and it sounds heavenly!), there are also huge risks and worries and stressors too.  What quotes and sayings inspire farmers to keep their heads up and do their best work?

success without hard work

This is a good one to remind us all that no one is successful without hard work.  Yes, the things a farmer worries about are often out of their control – like weather and commodity prices – but often the pressures of a day job are out of our control too.  This is a good reminder that you have to wake up every day and work hard for the success you’re hoping for.

dream a new dream

Many farmers dream of implementing new technologies on their farm or maybe fun little niche market opportunities like growing a different crop (pumpkins anyone?) or opening a farm animal petting zoo tourism opportunity.  Keep dreaming farmers … we support you and we all agree with C.S. Lewis that you can do it!

do your best

What you plant now, you will harvest later.  Truer words have never been spoken.

Yes, this speaks to a farmer’s innate understanding of the land, seeds, and growing things, but it’s so applicable to the word around us.  Treat people fairly and with respect and you will reap the harvest of those relationships in the future.

preparing to fail

Farmers stress about their financial situations.

Weather, commodity prices, input prices, and more are expense and income variables that farmers cannot control.  But the name of the game in agriculture is “be prepared.”  Save from the good years to get you through the bad years.  Its a great lesson for all of us – not just those of is in ag!

angelou quote

As farmers work harder to get to know their urban neighbors and to be more transparent about the food they are growing, Maya Angelou hits it right on the head.  Non-farmers aren’t being disrespectful or ungrateful to ask questions about food production.  They are curious and concerned about their health!

On the same hand, farmers aren’t raping the land or over spraying chemicals.  They are raising food the best they can as science has dictated.

We are more alike than we are unalike.  We need to focus on that.


Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director




It’s a PERFECT day here in Central Illinois. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and a cool breeze is fighting against all the humidity we’ve had the past few weeks. We can feel fall coming and we are EXCITED. We’re crossing our fingers for the cooler weather to stay as we grill out, enjoy friends and family, and unwind during this long weekend. Have a safe and fun Labor Day weekend!


Mottaz_TedIllinois Corn is a strong supporter of conservation practices to ensure that farms can remain sustainable for generations to come. Ted Mottaz is a Peoria County farmer who has taken charge of the future of his farm by implementing conservation practices.

Ted even uses his position as District 8 Director for the Illinois Corn Growers Association and his position on the Illinois Nutrient Research & Education Council to promote the use of best management practices through grassroots campaigns and meetings with government leaders. Beyond that, Ted serves as a model for his community and gatekeeper of information about conservation practices.

Let’s take a closer look at the main four methods Ted uses on his farm: reduced tillage practices, drainage water management, nutrient management, and soil nutrient testing.

Reduced Tillage Practices

conservation tillageThe Mottaz family farm has used conservation tillage and no-till for a quarter of a century. Put simply, tillage is a way that farmers prepare land to grow crops (think about the classic image of the farmer with a horse-drawn plow. Instead, now, tillage machines and tractors do the work on a larger scale and more quickly). Tillage digs and stirs the soil to loosen it up and make it presumably easier to plant the crop. Yet, eliminating or decreasing the use of tillage prevents the likelihood of soil erosion, by which vital nutrients from last year’s crops are washed away. Additionally, reducing tillage helps protect water quality by reducing erosion. The remnants of the previous crop can provide nutrients and organic matter to the composition of the soil, improving its overall quality. Read up on some other benefits of conservation tillage.

Drainage Water Management

The Mottaz family uses drainage water management (DWM) to control the water on and below the surface of their farmland. Through an inexpensive structure using drainage pipes called tiles (think plumbing for farmland) and a simple control system, farmers can adjust how much water is on top of and within their farm’s soil. This system is beneficial in that it traps water to increase the yield (quantity and quality) of crops and maximizes the absorption of nutrients by the crop. As learned earlier, soil can retain many nutrients from last year’s crops as they slowly decompose. Also, the use of the nutrients by the crop decrease the risk of environmental impact by essentially “cleaning” the water of its nutrients before release. Learn more about DWM here.

Nutrient Management (The 4 R’s)

Credit: NutrientStewardship.com

Since the 1960s, the Mottaz farm has applied nutrients such as nitrogen based on the 4R system. The “4 R’s” is a pretty well-known abbreviation for the 4R System of Nutrient Stewardship. It’s an easy way to remember the four major parts of nutrient management: Right Rate, Right Source, Right Time, Right Place. Essentially the 4Rs argue that applying nutrients (e.g. think fertilizer) must be done in a way that will allow the crop to use a sufficient amount of the provided nutrients without being wasteful or doing damage to the health of the soil or crop.

A comparable but more basic example would be watering a plant. Every plant has an ideal amount of water it needs based on factors like size and type of plant (Rate).  There’s also a certain frequency at which it needs the water to be applied – It’s not ideal to water a plant again an hour after it was just watered (Time). Contaminated water or lemonade are not as effective as treated water (Source). It also doesn’t make sense to water just the leaves when we know nutrients are absorbed by the roots within the soil (Place). However, nutrient application for farmers needs to be more rigorous so that it protects the environment while increasing the health and yield of the crops and decreasing wasteful nutrient loss. Find out more about nutrient management here.

Soil Nutrient Testing

While the 4R system may give farmers an understanding of nutrient management’s importance, soil nutrient testing gives Ted a practical and effective way to determine if the 4Rs’s are being upheld. For instance, a farmer might apply a nutrient on Monday and on Tuesday morning, he or she might be met with an unexpected storm front that lasts until the following Monday. Soil nutrient testing after the storm system passes will give the farmer an idea whether enough of the nutrient remains to be sufficient for the crops or if a significant amount has been washed away and requires reapplication. This is an extremely basic example but it highlights why farmers need to test their soil. Testing helps make sure that farmers are not only being cost-effective but also minimizing the risk of over-saturating the soil which could negatively impact the environment and crops.

Ted’s elected conservation practices are just a few of the many choices available to a farmer. The Illinois Council on Best Management Practices (CBMP), in order to bolster the goal of the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, created an interactive conservation story map where Illinois farmers can advocate for conservation practices through storytelling. You can learn more about Ted’s story there and find out more about the numerous methods that farmers use to protect their land and, by extension, their neighbors and communities.


Taylor McDonald
Communications Assistant
IL Corn