Bees have a very big role to play in agriculture. Farmers must have them to pollinate plants.
Experts estimate that honey bees are worth $15 billion to the U.S. economy because of their role in pollinating agricultural crops!
The good news is that despite what you may have heard, honey bee populations are at a 20 year high! Read more about that here.
The buzz you’ve heard about bees about started in 2006 when Colony Collapse Disorder hit and reduced bee populations considerably. This is a complicated issue that includes mites that attack the bees and inadequate nutrition that kills them, along with other factors we probably haven’t even figured out yet.
EPA et al recognize the bee populations may be challenged by a number of factors including pests and parasites, microbial disease, inadequate diet and loss of genetic diversity, as explained by Paul Driessen, a senior policy analyst and author, in this post.
When scientists and beekeepers first started studying this issue, many worried that GMO crops were among the causes to blame. GMO crops include a protein that is indigestible for many insects, but after further research, the protein does not impact honey bees.
Paul explains that “the proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences indicated that bees may be dying not from a single toxin or disease, but rather from a variety of factors.”
Concerns have also been raised that a type of insecticide called neonicotinoids — or “neonics” – could be negatively impacting honey bee health. Sometimes the use of neonics are linked with GMO crops, but neonics are used on both GMO and non-GM varieties of crops, like corn, soybeans and canola.
So far, research shows that neonics do not have a significant impact to honey bees and that climate change has among the largest impacts on the bees, including narrowing the range of locations where bees can safely live and pollinate and thus magnifying the impact of the varroa mite.
Bee Ambassador for Bayer Chris Sansone, who has more than 30 years of experience as a professor and extension specialist at Texas A&M University, points to several scientific studies indicating this is not the case. He notes that “genetically modified plants and their impact on honey bees have been widely studied, and the results indicate that GM plants are not harmful to bees.”
When I was growing up, I was told I could be anything I wanted to be. A doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, an astronaut… But only a few kids ever mentioned being a farmer.
Prior to 1990, most farmers and ranchers were under the age of 45. As the years go on, most farmer and ranchers are OVER the age of 45, with less and less new blood coming in. The problem we are facing is we have an aging farming population. If left unchecked, this could threaten our ability to produce the food we need.
So why is it that the younger generations are not wanting to come back to the farm?
- Youth want to be better educated to get good jobs.
- Farming is mentally and physically exhausting.
- Changing norms.
- “It’s too expensive and risky.”
Farming has become a very risky business. There are many costs a farmer has to pay before receiving a check. The price of land has gone up, equipment prices are always on the rise, input prices have gone up, and commodity prices have been seeing ups and downs. Not to mention there is always that chance of droughts or floods. It is hard work being a farmer.
The ups and downs of farming are nothing new. Young people just do not want to gamble all of their time and money into something that involves such great risk.
Like President John F. Kennedy once said, “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything retail, sells everything wholesale, and pays freight both ways.” It was a true statement then, and it certainly is a true statement still today.
Right now we are facing a growing population around the world. The current population of 7.3 billion is expected to hit 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050. We need more young men and women coming back to the farm more now than ever. Small farms are what grows America!
- What if a college graduate comes back to the farm, with student loans and can’t make enough money to pay them back?
- What if a young farmer loses his farm because he cannot afford to pay his bills?
- What if young people quit coming back to farm?
- What if we don’t have enough food to feed the growing population?
Western Illinois University
Corn husks and dust flying around in the air, the fresh smell of soil being turned over, and farm machinery is being spotted on every highway and backroad. If you haven’t guessed already, harvest time is in full swing. Sometimes it is quite easy for us to overlook what a day in the life of a farmer is like, especially during this time of year. As an individual that is not involved in the agriculture industry, it may be easy to not see how much a farmer’s life can vary compared to the average business person’s, particularly throughout the fall.
The average business person spends their eight hour work day sitting in a cubicle working on their computer. Mounds of paperwork lay on their desk just waiting to be completed. They eat lunch with their boss and wear office clothes all day long. The typical business person also talks on a phone throughout the day. After work, they may head home to their own spouse and kids to sit down for a family dinner. A non-farmer may even sit down with their kids and help them with their homework at the kitchen table. They may also go to different recreational events, such as a pumpkin patch or a football game, on the weekends and enjoy their time off of work.
Meanwhile, the average farmer watches the sun rise and set every day from the seat of a combine, tractor or semi. During a twelve or more hour work day, a farmer uses a computer in the cab of his or her farm machinery while wearing jeans and a shirt that are meant to get covered in dirt and grease. Lunch for a farmer is usually simple and easy to eat while continuing on with harvest. The most common type of communication used by a farmer throughout the day is a CB radio that allows them to easily talk to other people that are helping harvest the crop. As the day gets closer to the end, a farmer will enjoy a nice meal with his or her family on a tailgate. A farmer’s child may even climb up in the cab and ask to drive or simply just ride in the “buddy” seat. A farmer may also take their child for a ride in the semi as another load of grain gets taken into the grain elevator. There are no weekends off for a farmer during harvest unless Mother Nature calls for a rain delay, but even then a farmer will still find something that needs to be done.
Although their days may fulfill similar tasks as the average business person, a farmer makes several sacrifices to assure that the job of feeding the world is being accomplished. So, as you are driving to work or running errands make sure to wave and share the roads with every farmer that you see. Being involved in production agriculture isn’t an easy task and a lot of behind the scenes actions get overlooked. As you sit on the couch and watch TV tonight, remember that 2% of the population is just clocking out and getting ready to do it all again tomorrow.
Lake Land College
When hearing agriculture words sometimes we sit back and think “what is that exactly? How is that used?” Some terms are very confusing and without using them yourself they wouldn’t make sense. Here are some common agriculture terms I am used to hearing from my family and being surrounded by others in agriculture.
- Tagging. When a new calf is born most farmers choose to tag the ear on them. The purpose of this is to keep an identification on the calf in relation to the mother and the year they were born. You might hear your friends say “going to spend my night tagging tonight”.
- Harvest. During the fall months of the year, farms spend countless hours out harvesting crops. This is the process of collecting plants that were planted in the spring. One of the prettiest times of the year is during harvest seeing all the bright plants of summer change to yellow and brown are so fitting with fall.
- Irrigation. Luck enough in the Midwest we usually do not have to use irrigation systems but in southern Illinois, it is a very common thing. With clay soil and not very much water this season it is important to have a controlled water source for our crops. This is why as farmers we are always praying for rain!
- Bushel. If you have ever come across your local farm report on the radio you have heard this term many of times. Such as price per bushel this week has gone up or has went down. This is used as a measurement for dry crops, usually 1 peck (which is what we use for apples so imagine 1 bushel equals 42 pounds of apples).
- Combine. One of the most important pieces of equipment in agriculture. Used to harvest and thresh crops which is very important. Growing up as a farm kid spending hours in the combine with your dad is something we look forward to.
- Steer. No not in that direction! We’re talking cattle not directions this time. A male calf that has been castrated, which is important if you want to eat the meat. This keeps the taste very fresh and not very tough!
- Cover Crop. Blankets are optional when planting these crops! When it is off season for our main crops to grow (such as corn and soybeans) we grow cover crops! This helps with keeping the soil exactly how we would like it till we can plant our main crops again.
- Acre. I always tell people that an acre is very close to the size of a football field. This is the measurement we use in farming to describe an amount of land that we are using. Around 44,000 square foot is the total distance, imagine having to walk that!
- Compost. Most of us could actually start composting in our yards very easily too! We use waste matter (leaves, egg shells and old food) which is very easy to find. This is a very nutritious fertilizer for plants and something fruit and vegetable farms use often.
- Specialty Crop. Some of my favorite snacks are specialty crops! This is all the fruits, vegetables, and nursery crops we grow. With more difficulties growing locations and seasons this why they get the name that they have, but they do make the best treats.
Southern Illinois University
GMOs are one of the best tools farmers have to protect the environment. Learn more by watching this video!
Harvest is upon us and that means that the farmers have begun their endless days of work. You have probably been spotting the floating lights in the fields from the combines running hours after dark. You will see the once towering corn fields cut down to reveal the soil they’ve been growing in for months with only a short nub of a stalk left to show that something grew there.
What you won’t be seeing is the families back at home running meals out to those fields for the farmers. You won’t see the missed birthdays, missed sports games, and lack of family dinners. You won’t see the broken-hearted farmer that had to finish early for the night because a piece of machinery broke and they don’t have the part to fix it.
What you won’t see are a farmer’s kids “corn swimming” in the back of the semi-trucks. What you won’t see is the bright smile of a wife welcoming her husband come home in the early hours of the morning. What you won’t see are the sleepy faces of a farmer’s kids after riding around in combines all day. What you won’t see are the laughs and smiles of farming families gathered around a table on Thanksgiving sharing good memories despite the hard work they’ve all been through the past weeks of harvest.
“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” –Gilbert K. Chesterton
When it comes to harvest, the whole family is involved in one way or another. They celebrate that extra acre they got done last night and they all get heavy hearts when the machinery breaks down. They do not take their time together during this season for granted. “Harvest is always an incredibly busy time of year for farm families. There are a lot of sacrifices made and not much free time but it all is worth it when you can see what comes from all the hard work” states Jennifer Lindstrom, a farmer’s wife from central Illinois. Growers put their hearts and souls into their farms. A farm is a farmer’s way of life rather than a job and the sacrifices that come with that are immense. There are no holidays or set vacation days. However, any farm family would tell you they would not give it up for the world.
Coming from a small farm, it gives me great hope and pride to see other family farms thrive as well as be appreciated. I have grown up experiencing all that goes into the growing seasons, year after year, and it has taught me how to be grateful for what we accomplish as well as how to adapt to the unexpected roadblocks. There is a lot of work that goes into maintaining your own farm. The long hours, the hard labor, and the mental toll that goes into it make growers nothing short of superheroes. I am grateful for the sacrifices each farm family makes during this time, as well as thankful for the memories that strengthen their family bond.
University of Illinois
Bringing agriculture into the classroom is a great idea to cultivate an assortment of topics and subjects into a theme around the school year. Agriculture and science coincide with each other, but agriculture is often overlooked in science. One unit about agriculture can crack abstract topics in chemistry, microbiology, biology, and environmental science. Here is a list of great ideas to utilize in your next science lesson:
This experiment is easy, cost-effective, and fun; a younger crowd would enjoy this compared to high school students. All you need are glass jars, seeds, and wet paper towels. Have the students wet the paper towels, put the towels in the glass jar, place the seeds inside the jar, and wait a few days to see germination! You can use this experiment for a biology lesson that talks about photosynthesis or the plant life cycle! Also, this experiment is a great segue into talking about how plants provide us resources we need to survive such as food and clothes.
Incubation and Embryonic Growth
This experiment is a bit more common than #1; I remember doing this project in 5th grade; it’s one of the things I can remember from long ago. With this, it’s simple: nurturing eggs into chicks allows students to visualize life and to learn the importance for our lives. Chickens play a huge role in agriculture because of what they do on a farm. My favorite memory of it was hearing the chicks chirp when they eventually made their way out of the shells.
Friendly Farm Visit
This past summer I interned with my county farm bureau with Agriculture in the Classroom; each day we took the kids to a local farm to learn about various topics from plant growth to DNA. The hands on experience offered the kids something they couldn’t learn from a textbook. They got to visualize how their clothes were made (shearing a sheep) to watching their food grow six feet in a few months (corn stalks) to learning how breeds of cows differ (natural selection).
Chemical and Physical Changes
This topic can be tricky in Chemistry. As we know, a chemical change is a change of a substance with a different composition than what it started off as. On the other hand, a physical change is the change in appearance with the composition staying the same. To easily demonstrate a chemical change to students, show a bowl of soybean seeds and then show a box of crayons. Why? Because soybeans are morphed into crayons (along with other substances). In the beginning, the seed is just a seed but it’s composition and appearance change when it’s used for crayons. For a physical change, show a bowl of corn seeds, a corn stalk, and an ear of corn. Why? Well, the corn seed is morphed into a plant that grows seeds (kernels) from itself. The seed that was planted had the same composition as the kernels on the ear of corn.
Composting for Kids
A great idea to teach environmental science with agriculture is to start composting! Sounds weird, right? It’s a great hands-on experience that teaches kids a great way to be sustainable. It also shows students how we can reuse our resources and not waste products. Compost is comprised of decayed organic matter such as manure, food scraps, grass clippings, and leaves. Manure comes from farm animals, and food scraps come from humans and animals. Composting also teaches about the life cycle. Compost can help the growth of plants which helps to feed us and animals who produce the manure and food scraps that turns into compost, repeat. No matter what grade you teach, composting is a great way to teach kids about environmental science!
If kids aren’t understanding a science concept, it’s always a great idea to step outside the box! Agriculture is a great way to spice up the science curriculum while teaching students about topics that still matter to education and to our lives.
University of Illinois student