WATERWAYS WORK FOR AMERICA

Modernizing the nation’s marine transportation system can do more than help farmers get their grain to the rest of the world.  It can also create American jobs, increase exports, and inject billions of dollars into the U.S. economy.

On average, investment in the marinewaterways-77-years transportation system infrastructure returns more than 10 times to the nation’s economy what is spent.

Did you know, $81 billion of manufactured goods, including computers and electronic products, appliances, and machinery, electrical equipment and clothing are shipped to and from IL through waterways and ports?

Did you know that together, waterways and ports support 48,195 jobs?

Did you know that the average lock system in Illinois carried over 10 million tons of cargo along the Mississippi River every year, and that over 90% of those locks and dams are operating beyond their maximum suggested lifespan.

Waterways and ports help drive Illinois’s economy.

(And in case you don’t watch the news, Illinois needs a boost to their economy BADLY!)

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Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

TRUE LIFE: I CONVERTED TO AG

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” That is what my high school advisor told me when she recommended the course “Introduction to Agriculture.” This class allowed me to join The National FFA Organization. Since my high school did not have a competitive public speaking team, FFA was the only way I was going to be able to get involved in public speaking. This opportunity was very important to me since my passion is speaking in front of crowds. At first, I was really nervous to take this class. I didn’t know any of the “ag kids,” I didn’t grow up on a farm, and to be quite honest, I didn’t even know the difference between corn and soybeans. It felt like I was about to operate a space shuttle blindfolded because my agriculture background was non-existent. Little did my fifteen-year-old-self know, my entire future was about to change. My sophomore year of high school, I converted to agriculture.

2-27-17-i-converted-to-ag2Soon after joining this class, I didn’t fear it, I embraced it. I had heard so many myths about Genetically Modified Organisms and other farming practices. I came to realize that I was afraid of agriculture because I knew little to nothing about it. Joining FFA and taking “Introduction to Agriculture” allowed me to gain knowledge and skills. Participating in activities like career development events such as soil judging and dairy judging, helped me learn about the agriculture industry as a whole. Soon, I ran for an office in my FFA chapter and began to get more professional experience networking with farmers and other professionals in the industry. It helped me see a side of agriculture that is not portrayed correctly in the public eye. Often times we see ads falsely portraying the industry as people just trying to make a lot of money and poison our food system. I quickly learned that was not true. Courses on biotechnology and animal science allowed me to better understand the science behind current farming practices. One of the most fascinating parts is to see how the industry has changed and evolved to better the way our food is produced. Agriculture is constantly making advancements in order to be more productive and more efficient, ultimately bettering the world we live in.

2-27-17-i-converted-to-ag1Since high school, agriculture has not only been a part of my life because of what I consume on a daily, but it has become my passion. I am currently a junior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale studying Agricultural Communication. My goal is to communicate to non-ag audiences and bridge the gap between the consumer and producer. From livestock to row crops, agriculture is what I advocate. From scholarship opportunities to job opportunities, the agriculture industry has so much to offer, even if you weren’t born and raised on a farm. What if I hadn’t pushed through what I was afraid of? If I never took the opportunity to become educated about one of the largest industries in the United States, I would not have had the amazing opportunities that agriculture has to offer and learned to appreciate the work that farmers and producers do day in and day out. Because of agriculture, I have found a way to bring my passion for communicating with others to life. The best part is, I get to advocate for an industry that is diverse, evolving, and has so much to offer. My hope is that I can someday give back to the agriculture industry what it has given to me. I will forever be grateful that I converted to agriculture.
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Alicia Sunderlage
Southern Illinois University

HOW HEALTHY IS YOUR SOIL?

Have you ever wondered why Illinois and the Midwest are huge agriculture producers?  What makes Illinois so special?  The answer come down to soil!  Productive soil is why agriculture does better in certain areas such as the Midwest.  This blog post is going to discuss the Soil Health Partnership as well as the importance of healthy soil.

soil-health-partnershipThe Soil Health Partnership is an organization dedicated to educating the public, specifically the farmers, about the benefits of soil management strategies.  They have four main methods of accomplishing their goal.  These strategies are setting examples, proper research, publishing finding, and support and assistance in decision making.  The Soil Health Partnership will take farms that have changed their soil management practices and seen improvement in nutrients and let other farmers see the good results.  They also do thorough research to see what types of soil management practices work best and what their impact is.  Any results found by this research will be published.  The Soil Health Partnership will be available to growers to answer questions and provide advice about soil management practices that would work best in their unique situation.

Ever notice how on sandy beaches there are few plants.  That is because the soil, in this case, sand, is poor quality for plant production.  A healthy soil will produce a healthy crop.  Proper soil maintenance is necessary for sustaining a healthy soil.  Soil stores and supplies crops or plants with nutrients for growth and basic plant functions.  If you have ever planted a seed, you usually follow these procedures: filling your pot with soil, placing the seed in the soil, covering the seed with soil, and watering it.   This is because soil is the foundation for roots to develop.  The soil keeps the seeds anchored and standing strong.  Soil hold water molecules between the soil particles, the plant roots will absorb these molecules to assist in photosynthesis. Soil is important for root development and water and nutrient absorbance in plants.

As I established in the previous paragraph poor soil is not going to produce the high-quality crops that we want.  In poor soil, the nutrient concentration will be extremely low, that fertilizers such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium will need to be added, so the crop can obtain the proper amount of nutrients.  Soil erosion affects soil health, but it can happen with good soil as well as poor soil.  Different soil management practices can be used to reduce soil erosion, and keep our topsoil, or nutrient-full layer of soil, intact.

With the help of the Soil Health Partnership, the IL Corn has had the opportunity to host different field days discussing the importance of soil health as well as present the different soil management practices.  These field days will help our farmers make educated decisions on how to manage their soil.  IL Corn is working hard to improve agriculture across the state of Illinois. If you are interested in learning more about this subject, please explore the Soil Health Partnership.

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Mary Marsh
University of Illinois

FROM A COLLEGE STUDENT DURING FFA WEEK

High school is truly the time to find who you are, believe it or not.  Many accomplish that by joining clubs and other activities.  For me, I found myself in FFA.  It was an organization in which I instantly felt at home and loved the people that shared that home with me.  This post is for every FFA kid out there celebrating FFA week right now, and believe me, I am so excited to watch you celebrate and celebrate with you!  FFA week holds some of my most treasured memories in high school.  While I’m writing this about the organization I’m a part of and love, it can still be applied to every other club there may be in high school as well.  Art club members, you have a skill that many don’t have, be proud to show off your work at art shows.  Theater members, be proud of the shows you put on.  It takes a lot of talent and guts to go on stage and perform.  Athletes, you practice so hard and play your heart out, always be proud of the game you just played. Whoever you are, whatever club you belong to, be proud.  Do the work, put in the extra hours, trade in a night of Netflix for a night planning and preparing something great for your organization.  Wear the funny outfit for dress up days, and don’t be embarrassed.  Find your home and find your people and always, always own who you are and represent what you love proudly.

So to you FFA kids, I know from experience that FFA week can be the single greatest week of the whole year, but also seem like a hassle at times too.  I know, I get it.  You’re in high school and don’t want to wear out of style camouflage and risk embarrassing yourself in front of your crush.  You don’t want to get up 2 hours early and cook pancakes for the teachers at school.  You think that having late meetings to plan it all is time you could spend lying in bed. But I’m telling you, dress up, stay up late, and get up early if that’s what it takes to make the week perfect. Promise me you will.

boot-picMake every second of this week memorable.  Participate in the dress up days so you have pictures to add to the chapter scrapbook.  Plan a day and invite your alumni to come into your ag classes, and listen. They have some of the best advice to give you. Do something nice for your ag advisor.  Ag teachers would literally walk through hell if it meant their students were gaining something, don’t take advantage of their help and wisdom.  FFA week is theirs too and they want to celebrate it with you.  Wear your official dress to school one day.  It’s a uniform you should always feel proud putting on, and one day you won’t get to anymore. Find ways to share your love of agriculture with the entire school. Hand out ice cream sandwiches with a fact about dairy.  Have a school-wide ag trivia challenge each day.  You are the future of agriculture, do your part now by educating those who don’t know where their food really comes from.

tractor-ffa-picBecause here’s what you don’t know right now–when you’re no longer a high school FFA member, you’re going to miss those times.  Take it from somebody who knows, you’re going to miss them bad.  One day you’ll see pictures of traditions from your high school FFA chapter and wish so badly you were back.  You’ll hear they had a record turnout for drive your tractor to school day and wish you were out there taking pictures in front of them.  You’ll see pictures of students dressed up to match their friends like you used to, and miss seeing those friends every single day. Right now you may just be concerned with getting through the day just to come back and do it all again tomorrow.  But slow down, enjoy every single day of this week.  Because whether it’s FFA week, or art shows, or the playoff game, or opening night of the play, I promise you that they will be some of your most treasured memories of high school.

ffa-senior-picWhen you’re out of high school and onto college, you’re thrown into a whole other world.  If you choose to pursue agriculture in college, then luckily you’ll always be around those that celebrate FFA week in their own way too.  But if you choose a different path, you may not get the chance to really celebrate FFA.  What I’m saying, is don’t just shrug off FFA week like it’s just another day.  This week is the time to celebrate the organization that you love and that has done so much for you.  This week is the time to be funny with your friends.  This week is the time to come together as an FFA family and spend time together.  Make FFA week the biggest, most exciting week for your chapter and school. Celebrating FFA week in high school is truly a treasure. As a college student, I’m jealous I can’t be back in high school celebrating with my chapter. But, I have my FFA week memories, it’s time for all of you to go make yours. Don’t waste this week, because one day you’ll look back and wish you could go celebrate FFA week with your chapter just one more time.

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Jacey Wickenhauser
Illinois State University

FIVE COWS I KNOW BETTER THAN MY FRIENDS

2-20-17loveableIt’s easy to say that I have learned more from being around cattle for 15 years than I have from being around people for the past 18. Now I know how weird that may sound to those of you that do not have an agricultural background, but it’s true. Cattle teach us valuable skills such as hard work and generosity. Every animal has their own distinct personality and when you spend every day around these animals, you begin to notice what makes them tick. You might even start to realize you know these cows better than your own friends. These are the five cows that I know better than my friends.

1. The Loveable Cow:

The bond between a showman and their animal is unbreakable. While these animals may be big, they also have big hearts. These animals mean the world to us. That’s why we work so hard keep them happy and healthy.

2-20-17show2. The Show Cow:

Here’s to the cow that’s so special to my heart, the show cow. These are the cows that know exactly what they’re doing and why. You can’t ever catch them off guard. You will always be able to point out the old show heifers of the herd. You could practically call them models.

2-20-17goofy23. The Goofy Cow:

There is always a certain cow in the herd that just makes you go “What in tarnation”. Sometimes you peer out into the pasture and see a cow standing on a rock or even a cow sitting.  It is usually this cow and they just happen to be my favorite.

2-20-17hungry4. The Always Hungry Cow

Order’s up. This is the cow that knows exactly when feeding time is. Rain or shine this cow is always up the feed bunk to eat as soon as they see the bucket!

5. The Lazy Cow:

2-20-17lazyNo matter the time of day this cows ready to take a nap.  Lazy really is the only way to describe them. They have even been known to fall asleep in their feed troughs eating! I think we all can relate to having a friend just like this.

If I have learned anything from cow personalities, it would be to take a different outlook on life and gain a carefree attitude. Today, we are all about going a million miles a minute. Maybe we should slow down. Maybe we should be more like cows. Slow down, be gentle, relax, and enjoy life more. Also, we should make sure to give love to those around us. While we don’t feed people like cows do, there is definitely something that each of us can do to show more generosity.

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Leslie Walker
Lake Land College

IF YOU HAVE THESE 5 STRUGGLES, YOU MIGHT BE A FARMER

I know that sometimes it can be hard to understand what it is to be a farmer.  Especially if you live in a very urban area, its incomprehensible to be a steward of acres and acres of land.  You probably wouldn’t know the first thing to do with it!  And where’s the fuel tank for a tractor anyway?

But – you have more in common with farmers than you think.  If you’ve ever had any of these 6 struggles, you’re definitely in the same boat.

1. FRUSTRATION WITH THE WEATHER

For a farmer, it seems Murphy’s Law always applies here.  If the soil needs to be wet, there’s no rain in the forecast.  If the plants need hot and humid, we get cool and breezy.  It seems as though there’s rarely a year when Mother Nature cooperates 100%.

If you’ve ever wanted a jaunt to the park and its pouring down rain, or you’ve planned a lovely fall photoshoot and a winter storm arrives just in time, you’ve got this struggle in common with a farmer.

2. WORRY ABOUT WHAT THE NEIGHBORS THINK

This really falls into the category of “the human condition,” doesn’t it?  Farmers get rattled about what their neighbors will think all the time!  What will the neighbor say if I’m not the first one out working in the spring?  I hope the neighbors didn’t notice that we haven’t mowed the roadsides in a month.  The neighbors probably think I’m nuts to try this farm practice on this type of soil … but here goes.

I know you’ve done it.  You’ve worried about what your neighbor might think about your unmowed lawn, your unwashed car, your children running around the yard at 8 am on a Saturday.  You’ve got this struggle in common with a farmer.

3. HARD TIME WITH PATIENCE2-16-17-patience

There are some farmers who are patient beyond all belief.  Life has taught them that.  But there are some who still struggle to be patient.  And on the farm, there’s a TON to be patient about.

Nurturing plants and animals flat out requires patience – patience waiting for that cow to calve, patience waiting to see your seedlings sprout, patience waiting to get into the field in the spring or get the harvest out in the fall, even patience waiting for prices to increase before you can sell.

I will not believe there’s one single person reading this that hasn’t struggled with patience.  If you’re a parent, you’ve had to be patient with your child.  If you hold down a job, you’ve got to have patience with your boss and co-workers.  If you volunteer, I know there are folks you’re helping that require patience!  You’ve got this in common with a farmer!

4. FRUSTRATION WITH THE GOVERNMENT

This is a hard one to bring up, without dividing people, but frustration with the local, state, and federal government is a struggle for farmers.

The topics change.  The frustrations change.  But the core of it is the same – when you’re a farmer, you want people to trust your knowledge and trust the gut instinct you’ve honed over your 30 years farming (and the 20 before that watching your dad and granddad), and just let you do your job.  When the government gets in the way of that, it’s a struggle.

Tax time is coming up, and maybe some of you are struggling with your tax obligation.  Maybe some of you need government assistance like farmers do with crop insurance, and you just aren’t sure if it will come through.  Maybe you’re fed up with politics in general and you’d like to build a bunker somewhere and hide away.  If you nodded your head to any of this, you’ve got this in common with a farmer.

5. STRUGGLING WITH UNKNOWN FINANCES

There’s not a farmer alive that doesn’t stress out about an unknown financial situation.  This is why farmers are lovingly called cheap, tight, and frugal by their family and friends.  They never know what’s around the corner so they are always trying to save up for the crisis lurking on the horizon.

Similarly, I believe there are VERY FEW AMERICANS who haven’t struggled with an unknown financial future at some point in their lives.  In fact, many of you might even be living paycheck to paycheck.

Farmers operate on a yearly basis, so they are most often living year to year, but they get you!  If you’ve ever struggled with your financial situation, you have this in common with a farmer.  And read this if you don’t believe me.

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

FARMING FOR DUMMIES: LAND GRANTS

In the college decision process, most agriculture majors have an easy choice compared to those who are not interested in agriculture: which land grant school do I want to go to? During that process four years ago, I did not know what attracted me to a land grant university, but I knew I wanted to go to one. So, what exactly is a land grant school? What makes them so different from a normal college or a university? And why do many agriculture students want to attend them?

2-14-17isulandgranticmbLand grant universities were created under the First Morrill Act of 1862, in which President Lincoln gave US government land to states to sell to fund and establish colleges for students to study agriculture and mechanic arts, which we now refer to as engineering. States took advantage of the act to establish new colleges founded on agriculture and science. These colleges were first used to educate the masses on science, technology, and agriculture; however, now they have been transformed into universities with world-leading research on cutting-edge issues in science, technology, and most importantly agriculture.

The state of Iowa in 1862 voted to accept the provisions of the Morrill Act, making Iowa Agricultural College, now Iowa State University in Ames, IA, the first land-grant university in the nation.

Land grant universities differ from other college and universities because they are usually affiliated with some type of state funding and the cooperative extension in the state. Schools such as University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and Purdue University receive partial funding from their state legislature for programs. What makes them different from other universities and colleges? Often these other colleges and universities do not receive state funds and are funded through private donations.

2-14-17morrow-plots
The rich tradition of agriculture on the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana campus is seen right in the middle of campus. The Morrow plots on the campus are home to the oldest research trials of crops in the United States.

Furthermore, most land grant universities have some type of Cooperative Extension system attached to them. The Cooperative Extension system was established by the 1914 Smith-Leverson Act and works to educate all people, not just students, about knowledge and research conducted at universities. Originally, it was thought that the Cooperative Extension system was used to communicate agricultural research to farmers. Today, Cooperative Extension programs focus on educating both urban and rural people about all aspects of life including health, nutrition, and financial planning. One example of this outreach educational programs is 4-H, which is facilitated through the Extension programs of universities.

So, what attracts so many agriculture students like myself to land grant universities? For me, it was the rich tradition of agriculture built into a land grant school. It was the pride I could take knowing that I attended a school that was a national leader in agricultural research. It was the fact that I could take the knowledge and skills learned at that school and go out and help the world. A land grant school was the right fit for me and millions of other agriculture students across the nation.

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Cameron Jodlowski
Iowa State University

 

AG IN THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH: AG COMMITTEES

capitolIn Congress, there are two committees on Agriculture, one in the House and one in the Senate. The House committee is comprised of six subcommittees and forty-five members. The Senate Committee is called the committee on “Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry,” with five subcommittees and twenty members.  There is currently a Republican chairman and majority, as the Republican party currently holds the House and Senate majority. Many of the members of this committee have an agriculture background, but it is not a necessary qualification to be on an Ag Committee, as they have advisors and other resources.

To help us understand Agriculture committees a little more, I asked Jonathan Coppess, University of Illinois professor of Agricultural Law and Policy, about his knowledge and experiences with Agriculture Committees in Washington DC:

Kylie: What is the purpose of an agriculture committee?

coppessJonathan: The Ag Committees are permanent or standing committees of Congress. They have jurisdiction over all legislation that involves agriculture or agricultural-related issues (such as food assistance, rural development, research and some environmental and energy issues). They write bills on these topics and review bills introduced by other members. For example, the Ag Committees periodically reauthorize the laws, programs, and policies pertaining to farming, rural development, and food assistance in what is commonly known as the Farm Bill. The committees will hold hearings on topics covered by the bill, negotiate the bill’s provisions amongst themselves and then other members or Senators on the House and Senate floors.  Finally, the committees have oversight responsibilities for USDA and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.

Kylie: How much does an agriculture committee work with the United States Department of Agriculture?

Jonathan: In many ways, the committees write legislation that USDA must implement (e.g., farm bill). In doing so, they also work closely with USDA subject matter experts to get information, data, and feedback on existing programs to determine what should be revised or eliminated, or what new programs are needed.  Finally, the committees have oversight responsibilities of USDA, so they will investigate any problems or issues and review spending and operations.

Kylie: Can you explain what your job was in Washington DC?

Jonathan: I had three great jobs in DC. First, I was a legislative assistant to then-Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE). I worked on agriculture issues including the 2008 Farm Bill, as well as energy, environment, trade, and immigration. This involved advising the Senator on those issues, developing bills and meeting with constituents, interest groups and USDA officials. I prepared him for hearings, business meetings, speeches, etc.  My second job was Administrator of the Farm Service Agency at USDA. I was appointed to this position by the Secretary of Agriculture at the time, Tom Vilsack.  My responsibilities included managing the agency, giving direction on program implementation and operation (2008 farm bill programs), budget and personnel matters, working with other agencies and a few times I testified before Congressional committees.  Finally, my third job was as Chief Counsel to the Senate Ag Committee when Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was chairwoman.  This job consisted mostly of helping and advising her as chair on the writing of what became the 2014 farm bill, which involved meetings and hearings, negotiating and drafting legislation, helping to manage the process (committee votes and votes on the floor, negotiations with other Senators, etc.).

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Kylie Bohman
University of Illinois

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: UNPREDICTABLE

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I took this photo somewhere in rural Arkansas, many years ago, on my way to Missouri to visit my grandparents. While this picture might not be significant to others, it is to me. When I took this picture, I was still in high school and I never would have thought that I would end up in agriculture. I came from a suburban town in Alabama. I didn’t know much about farming. After a year at IL Corn, that’s not true anymore. I recently discovered this picture and it stands as a testament that sometimes you unknowingly encounter things in your life that will have a significant impact on your life in the future.

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Taylor McDonald
Communications Assistant
IL Corn