WATCH A YEAR’S WORTH OF FARMING IN FOUR VIDEOS

360_durdan_shootIllinois corn farmer and current Illinois Corn Growers Association President Justin Durdan understands how consumers view farming with caution and skepticism. He understands that because of fear-based marketing, people want to know what’s in their food. Using cutting-edge 360-degree video technology, Justin gives us an all-access view of his farm and the work he does over the course of a farming season.

Illinois Corn Marketing board partnered with Illinois Farm Families to create four videos that show unique periods in farming from planning and planting to growing and harvesting. To give the videos a consumer perspective, Justin teams up with Chicago-area radio personality Patti Vasquez who asks the questions that consumers might want to know.

You find all the videos and more information here.

UNDERSTANDING SOIL EROSION

1-30-17il-jan-blogIn this video, you will see that the soil sample on the left starts to crumble and wash away with the water.  This is because the soil has been tilled, or the lower soil is being mixed with the visible soil.  The soil on the right is from a no-till field, which is where the soil is left as it is, and the bottom and visible soil isn’t mixed.

Many factors go into the decision.  Let us first start by explaining why farmer till their land.  Some of the reasons that a farmer may decide to till their land are to mix the soil, create a flat surface, control weeds, and aerate the soil, or creating air space in previously compacted soil so water can penetrate it.  Aerating the soil would be when the soil becomes compact, and people will create space so air and water can penetrate.

1-30-17notillplanterTillage has been used since around the 17th century, and no-till has been used on a small scale starting in the 1940s. This means that today, many farmers today are accustomed to tillage.  No-till also requires more herbicide because as stated before tilling the soil is used as a weed control. No-till requires special planting equipment that many farmers don’t have and can cost over $100,000, but no-till also reduces production cost they don’t have to pay for the labor or fuel for plowing.

1-30-17soil-texture-triangleAlso, no-till not only reduces soil erosion, but it also can help with conserving water and increases soil microbes.  This could reduce chemical runoff because fewer chemicals are being applied and the leftover plant material helps water absorb into the ground, but this doesn’t happen the first year it is implemented it take a long time.  Every farm is different too.  This is a photo of the soil texture triangle which has all the different types of soils.  You can tell from this photo that there are many varieties of soil, and not every variety works best with no-till.

If you have further interest in the subject, this video by Matt Helmers with the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University which demonstrates the difference in soil erosion between no-till, conservation tillage, and intense tillage during a heavy rainstorm would be of use.  Conservation tillage would be when the farmers only till the area that they are planting.  This video is very intriguing because it not only shows surface run-off, but surface drainage as well.

Every farm and farmer are different, and no-till is a great option to help reduce soil erosion, but every farmer needs to evaluate the positive and consequences of no-till for their particular piece of land.  Because if we compare a farm in California with a farm in Illinois it would be like comparing a Red Delicious apple with a Granny Smith- there are similarities but also very different.

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Mary Marsh
University of Illinois

#TBT: CO(R)NTEST

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We’re holding a social media contest! 5 people who answer this question correctly will be chosen to receive a prize pack from the IL Corn office. The rules are written for Twitter but apply to Facebook as well. We’ll pick 5 on Twitter and 5 on Facebook.

The contest will end at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, January 26th. Winners will be announced in the following days. Good luck!

TRUE LIFE: I LIVE ON A FARM

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1-24-17deal-family-%ef%80%a7-family-session-56Let me tell you a bit about our quaint little farm… We live about a quarter mile off a narrow, but paved, country road. Generally, the only traffic we having going by our house are our neighbors, to whom we always give a “country wave” when we pass. It’s quiet – aside from the cows mooing at dinnertime and birds chirping at 4 a.m. Our house, barns, and shop sit atop a slight hill which allows us to see for miles around. We are surrounded on all sides by green pasture followed by corn and bean fields. Our dog can run freely, our farm cats come and go as they please, and my kids have ample spaces to play and explore. It’s peaceful, it’s picturesque, and it’s perf—– Actually, no. It is FAR from perfect…

Growing up in a town of 850 people, I thought I understood country living. But no. There are many, MANY aspects of living on a farm which I had no idea of. Let me enlighten you to a few:

  • Farm Smells – Sure, everyone knows farms can be kind of stinky. However, the level of stench drastically depends on both the type of farm and the time of year. We have cattle. So we deal with the smell of cow poop daily. The surprising thing is that the smell changes depending on what the cows eat. The direction of the wind also impacts the level of stink you have coming at you. Some days it is so stinky that it’s actually counterproductive to open up the windows to air out the house! Other bad farm smells make it inside on my farmer’s clothing. Smells like diesel fuel, welding, chemicals, and old rotting silage all plague my laundry room.
  • Garbage – While garbage pickup is an option where I live, it’s pricey. Country folks who don’t have the luxury of regular garbage pickup have other options such as a dumpster, burning their garbage on the farm, or transporting it to the city dump themselves. Household garbage is handled a bit differently from when I lived in town though. Instead of just putting any old thing in the trash, it’s divided out a bit better. Lots of farm families I know will collect their compostable kitchen waste and either put it in their compost pile that they’ll later use for gardening or just dump it in the corn field. Recycling is collected and transported to a recycling center in town.
  • Well Water – Being without city water might be the most life-changing aspect of farm life I face. Some family and neighbors have to be conscious of the amount of water they use based on the depth of their well and recent amounts of precipitation — sometimes your well CAN. RUN. DRY. And that’s a scary thing! Luckily for us, we have a very deep well that’s on the Mohomet Aquafer (ie: big underground river that will virtually never run dry) and I don’t have to keep track of the amount of laundry I’m doing or make my kids bathe together in 2 inches of water. I should mention that even though we have plenty of water, and it’s safe to drink, we have very hard water with high sulfur and rust contents. We spend a lot of money on softener salt.
  • Septic Tank – We have a septic tank. Sometimes it gets full. Enough said.
  • Power Outages – In my experience with country living, the power outages always seem to happen in the dead of winter. City people deal with power outages too, but in the country when there’s a power outage, it is much more difficult for the power company to come repair the lines during an ice storm on slick, unsalted country roads than in town, meaning our power can be out for days instead of hours. This is when our scenic hill and drafty old farmhouse don’t get along. Without power, our propane furnace is unable to ignite and the cold winter wind whips through our home. I’m talking a breeze through our power outlets kind of draft. And let me tell you! It only takes one (freezing) time to realize that your generator is insufficient and can’t keep up with the amount of power needed. I should mention, though, that some of our generator’s power is allocated to our cattle – can’t having the automatic waterer freezing up!
  • Liquid Propane – Since we’re not on a natural gas line, like in town, we have to purchase liquid propane (aka LP) to heat our home and run some appliances. LP is delivered by a gas truck which drags a hose through your yard to fill a big ugly tank sitting in your kids’ play area. The tank usually holds approx. 500-1000 gal. of propane. The price fluctuates similarly to the way gasoline or corn prices change. Time of year also affects the price, making it cheaper in the summer and more expensive in the winter. Propane is definitely more costly than natural gas but it is essential for heating our home. Some people also use propane for their stove, clothes dryer, and water heater.

1-24-17deal-family-%ef%80%a7-family-session-54Sometimes it really feels like I’m totally living off the grid in central IL, but as much of an inconvenience some of these things are, I truly wouldn’t trade it in for a city life any day of the week! I take a little pride in knowing that should there be a zombie apocalypse, we could survive on our own power, water, food, tools, and toilet!

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Ashley Deal
ICGA/ICMB Membership Assistant

SIGMA ALPHA: SISTERS IN AGRICULTURE

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In January of 1978, five women at The Ohio State University founded an organization that would one day change the lives of thousands of women in the agriculture industry. These women wanted an alternative to the traditional social Greek system, so Sigma Alpha, the professional sorority for women pursuing careers in agriculture, was born.  Since 1978, Sigma Alpha has grown into a national organization with more than 80 chapters and more than 11,000 members initiated to date.sigma-alpha-crest

Built around the pillars of scholarship, leadership, fellowship, and service, Sigma Alpha has provided numerous opportunities for growth in its members.  When I joined Sigma Alpha in 2015, I had no idea how large of an impact this organization would have on my life.  Not only have I been able to meet lifelong friends in my own chapter, but I have also been able to meet sisters from all over the country.

Along with meeting new people around every corner, I have had the opportunity to lead and to become more confident in myself. Currently, I am serving as the 1st Vice President of the Beta Xi chapter at Illinois State University. This position allows me to use my interest in communications by taking care of any public relations needs that our chapter may have. I have been in this position for just over a month now and have already been able to create multiple graphics for our social media accounts.

12115623_1018507408195350_2379498410110607665_nWhile all of my experiences with Sigma Alpha have been amazing, the one that I hold closest to my heart is our partnership with Ag in the Classroom (AITC). AITC is an organization that works to promote agricultural literacy in the K-12 school system. For myself, AITC is the organization that helped me realize that I wanted to major in Agriculture Communications. I truly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn about agriculture and this organization makes sure that teachers have the resources and materials to make this possible. The Beta Xi chapter hosts a basket auction each year to raise money for Illinois Ag in the Classroom. Last year, we raised a record $4,400 to donate to the organization.
12063532_939779466068145_7224088700977134592_n-2Another unique opportunity that I have had as a member of Sigma Alpha was being able to plan our chapter’s rush last fall. We were able to plan four rush events and conduct interviews for potential new members. It was a huge undertaking but it was so rewarding in the end. We were able to activate 16 new members in November and our chapter continues to grow!

Sigma Alpha is different than any other organization that I have ever been a part of. The craziest thing is that if you would have asked me three years ago if I had an interest in joining the Greek System, I probably would have given you a flat-out “no”.  I always tell people that Sigma Alpha isn’t just a “normal sorority” and they never believe it. But what I mean when I say that is that it isn’t a normal sorority, it is so much more than that. Sigma Alpha is… Sisterhood. Growth. Opportunity. Professionalism. Love. Agriculture. Leadership. Family. Sigma Alpha is home.

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Amanda Diesburg
Illinois State University

AG CAREER PROFILES: WHAT DOES A BUSINESS DEVELOPER DO?

Nic Anderson is the Business Developer for the Illinois Livestock Development Group. He travels across the state of Illinois helping livestock farmers expand their farms or build new ones.  In my conversation with Nic, we believe that he might be the only person in Illinois with a job like his!

In Illinois, a piece of legislation called the Livestock Management Facilities Act (LMFA) gives farmers the guidelines they must follow to build a new livestock barn or expand an already existing farm.  Nic works with farmers to help them understand and follow the LMFA, and generally helps the entire ag industry by attempting to make raising livestock in Illinois an accomplishable feat.

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Lindsay: What are your primary responsibilities?

Nic: I work directly with livestock farmers across to help livestock farmers grow and improve their farms. Sometimes we have situations where farmers are completely new to raising livestock and so we do whatever we can to help with the learning curve and to also help make sure the farm flourishes. However, I also work with livestock farmers who are decades into their operations or a young person continuing a family tradition.

Lindsay: What made you decide to pursue a career in this field?

Nic: I’ve always identified with livestock farmers because I’ve always been involved in livestock production. I love every part of the livestock sector and so naturally I know the ins and outs of the industry. The job description certainly matched my skillset to say the least. So I asked myself, “why not use that knowledge and experience to help farmers across the state?”

Lindsay: What three things stand out to you as skills that are vital for a career in this area?

ag_careers_business_developerNic: You absolutely have to understand the issues that livestock farmers are facing. You’ll see a general trendline among livestock farmers, but not every farm is the same. So you have to understand the issue on a deep and personal level. It’s not just their livelihood; it’s their passion.

Beyond knowing the issues, you must understand and educate yourself on other aspects like current trends, innovation in the sector, or solutions that farmers might not have heard about. However, it’s not just about being informed. It’s being able to synthesize all the information to help the farmer. You must learn to speak two “languages” in a sense.

There’s a requirement of willingness as well. You must be dedicated to this industry and lifestyle and do what’s necessary, even if it’s out of the schedule that you’d rather have. Agriculture is not a 9 to 5 job. You must be willing to be in the marketplace ( at the farm gate ) at all times. It’s the extra stuff that can make or break your operation.

Lindsay: What’s a typical day like in your job?

Nic: That’s the great part of my job – there is no typical day on the farm. That’s what appealed to me about the job. One day I might travel 600 miles and work a 14-hour day. The next day will only be phone conversations and collecting data that helps the farm. Then the next could be totally different such as a meeting to gain insight into an issue relevant to livestock farmers. It can get tiresome but the reward is well worth it! My wife might disagree with me, though!

Lindsay:  Do you think young people today should be considering careers in agriculture?

 Nic: Definitely. YES. What other business sectors can you think of where your efforts provide such a direct impact to others? Your customer is your neighbor, your family, and your community. It’s not only a great challenge but it is an enormous responsibility and incredibly rewarding.

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Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

WHERE DOES THE CORN GO?

We just found out last week that farmers in the U.S. grew a record amount of corn in 2016.  In Illinois, we grew the second largest yield ever – 197 bushels per acre.

(For reference, that’s about 197 large dog food bags of corn per football field.  And in 1997, 20 years ago, we had a record high of 129 bushels per acre.)

The thing is, when farmers grow increasing amounts of corn, it has to go somewhere, right?

1-17-17-where-does-il-corn-goIn Illinois, just less than half of our corn is leaving the state.  We call this the export market.  Most of the corn that leaves the state of Illinois will be used to feed livestock in either Texas or in other countries.  Mexico and Japan are our top two international markets right now, with South Korea and Colombia close behind.

Another quarter of our corn is being used to feed ethanol production in Illinois.  Did you know that Illinois boasts the largest dry grind ethanol plant in the world?  It’s true!  And most of the ethanol created by that particular plant is leaving Illinois for overseas markets.

Illinois’s position on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers makes exports of corn in all forms (raw corn, ethanol, livestock) our top market by far.

The rest of the corn, just less than a fourth of our production, is being fed to livestock within Illinois, used for industrial uses (like making the insides of diapers and making suckers less drippy), and used for food and sweeteners.

But of this last grouping, corn industrial uses dominate.  Happily though, Illinois has seen growth in the livestock market recently, with hog numbers the highest they have been in the last 20 years!

Are you shocked to find that we aren’t really EATING the corn grown in Illinois?  Most are.

Want to learn more about corn farming in Illinois?  Click here!

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

WINTER ON THE FARM: A PHOTO ESSAY

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It doesn’t look like a winter wonderland, but this is what fields are like in the winter months. Barren unless there is a cover crop to protect the soil. In addition, there hasn’t been much significant snowfall this season… Just lots of ridiculously cold temperatures.

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Cold temperatures mean that the livestock tanks will be iced over, which doesn’t allow the animals to drink. To prevent this, we place tank heaters in the water tanks to make sure that the cattle have access to water at all times. It doesn’t make it hot, just warm enough not to ice up.

 

boots“Blame it all on my roots I showed up in boots…” Okay so maybe it isn’t the boots that Garth was talking about, but in the winter these are what keep us going through the mud, the wind, and the bitter cold. Also, once we finish our gloves go on top the fireplace to warm up. (Side note: the metal pans have water with cinnamon roll scented oil in them to keep the air from becoming too dry while also filling the house with the warm inviting scents of fresh-baked rolls)

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Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. This little rabbit, Champ, became frozen from water leaking into his nest when he was a baby. To warm him up, he stayed on a heating pad and was bottle-fed cat formula. He survived, but this resulted in him becoming a house pet. Because he was young, his body could not handle the cold temperatures after being in the house on a heating pad. Welcome to winter on the farm… Where your outside animals sometimes become inside pets. But we wouldn’t do it any other way.

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Winter means there isn’t really any pasture for animals to graze on, so they get hay that was baled during the summer months in between plant and harvest. Every weekend like clockwork, I see my dad setting out hay.

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My favorite thing about winter? Being able to be home over break from school and see the beautiful clear night sky. This picture doesn’t do justice to the expanse of beauty that fills the sky. Stars as far as the eye can see. Moon shining so bright you don’t need a light to illuminate your surroundings. Winter on the farm is beautiful. From morning to night.

 

 

 

 

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This is winter on my farm in south central Illinois. It’s beautiful yet busy. Filled with all the extra projects that are neglected during the crop season and all the holidays. Husbands finally getting to those to-do lists that grew as tall as the crops did.  It is hard at times, but in the next instant can take your breath away when you wake up to a fresh snowfall. This is my winter… Carharts. Orange hats. Wind-burnt cheeks. Snowballs. Tank heaters. Warm fire. Family time. Winter on my farm.