WHAT IF YOUNG PEOPLE QUIT COMING BACK TO FARM?

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?

Sara Pieper
Western Illinois University

10 WORDS ABOUT AGRICULTURE THAT MAY HAVE CONFUSED YOU

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.

  1. 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”.
  2.  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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University

GROWERS’ GRATITUDE

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.

Maddi Lindstrom
University of Illinois

#TBT: MAKE SCIENCE MORE FUN WITH AG!

[Originally published: October 6, 2015]

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:

Growing Seeds in a Jar Seed-Germination-Activity1

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

baby chickThis 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

kids visiting farmThis 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

soybean crayonsThis 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.

michelle nickrent

Michelle Nickrent
University of Illinois student

 

 

IF YOU GIVE A FARMER A REQUEST

If you give a farmer a request, he is going to follow through. In 1985, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff was published and detailed the endless track of chores that might occur if you gave a needy mouse a cookie. This trouble is not quite what ensues when you give a farmer a request, but you can almost guarantee your requests might become endless of him. Here are a few requests we all have asked of farmers over the years.

  1. If you ask a farmer for a tow, he is going to pull you out. Whether is it getting pulled out of snowy road bank or a muddy road, a farmer will be quick to lend a hand with his truck or tractor. Last time I got my dad’s jeep stuck on the dirt road, I had a list of people I was ready to call before my dad ever had to know.
  2. If you ask a farmer for a for a ride, he is going to give you a lift. To the next town, down the road, or the field to pick up your truck, a farmer will do what he can to help you out. The only stipulation is that he might expect you to return the favor. I know I have had a neighbor or two knocks on my door and ask if I have time to take him to his truck in the field down the road.
  3. If you ask a farmer for advice, he is going to give you a wise word. Whether you need advice on what crops to plant in a field or how to make up with a friend over a conflict, a farmer will always lend his wisdom. Farmers are often wiser than their years because they have been caring for other animals and plants that depend on them for life. In my life, rarely have the wise words of a farmer led me astray.
  4. If you ask a farmer for a hand, he is going to lend on. Farming is not only an industry that revolves around family but community. Whether it’s finishing up harvest in time or volunteering to cook at a school fundraiser, a farmer will always lend a hand. In anything I am doing, I know my farmer support system is just a phone call away.
  5. If you ask a farmer to feed you, he already is. Farming feeds the world. Farmers produce that feed with all the energy and love that they put into feeding their own family. I have watched these men and women work their days and nights away doing what they love and I know there is no job more underappreciated but more rewarding than a farmer.

Shelby Carlson
IL Corn Communications Intern

SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW

If you’re interested in ag and you’d like to have real news and updates delivered to your Facebook or Twitter feed, then these are the social media accounts to follow!

 

Farm Babe

Farm Babe works on the family farm and uses social media to bridge the gap between Farmers & consumers. She is a writer and public speaker for agriculture.

Michelle Miller was once a big city girl and moved to rural Iowa for love. Once there, she learned that her original thoughts of Modern agriculture were very inaccurate (based on mainstream Hollywood media and marketing) and now enjoys debunking myths and spreading facts about REAL Farms from REAL farmers.

CropLife America

If you’re interested in more information about chemicals, why farmers use them, and a more balanced viewpoint, CropLife America is your stop.  CLA’s member companies produce, sell and distribute virtually all the crop protection and biotechnology products used by American farmers.

CLA is dedicated to supporting responsible stewardship of our products to promote the health and well-being of people and the environment, and to promote increasingly responsible, science-driven legislation and regulation of pesticides.

The Pollinator Partnership

We protect the habitats of managed and native pollinating animals vital to our incredibly vibrant North American ecosystems and agriculture. (Pollinating animals are responsible for an estimated one out of every third bite of food and over 75% of all flowering plants.) 

Dairy Carrie

I never thought I’d be a dairy farmer. I grew up in Madison, WI with no real ties to agriculture. I WAS the average American, generations removed from the farm. Then one day when I was 15 I met a guy…and started dating his friend. Fast forward several years and more questionable dating choices and I married the guy I met all those years ago. He wasn’t a dairy farmer (at the time) but his parents were.

My background was in sales and marketing, but my love of animals drew me to trying out farm life shortly after we got married. It stuck and I found out that I was born to be a caretaker of cows and the land.

Waterways Council Inc

Because we talk about needing upgraded locks and dams A LOT and these guys are the authority on what exactly farmers need, why they need it, and how we’re going to get it.

Waterways Council represents agriculture, the barge industry, and even the conservation community who are all working together to restore our river system to its former commerce and habitat glory.

 GMO Answers

Many of you are interested in GMOs in your food and what impact they might have for you and for the environment.

The goal of GMOAnswers is to make information about GMOs in food and agriculture easier to access and understand. GMOAnswers is committed to answering questions about GMOs — no matter what they are.

 

YES, WE JUDGE

Last weekend I went home for our annual 4-H fair. I cannot begin to tell you how much I looked forward to this week as a kid. Now, I have been out of the 4-H program for three years, but I have yet to miss a fair. I served as a secretary for the general project show, helped weigh in animals, and helped keep the cattle and pig shows running smoothly just as I have done since I had aged out of the 4-H program.

Early Saturday morning, I arrived caffeine in-hand, to wait for the judge I had worked with in years past. I have already confirmed I would be working with him again and was pleased. Our project area was one I enjoyed and made for interesting conversation. The retired agriculture teacher and I would be judging the 4-Hers on small engines, tractors, and crops.

We quickly set up our table and didn’t have to wait long before a line of kids holding posters formed. This was a typical sight for the fair and resembled a classroom science fair. Nothing was that unusual. Then came the corn. 4-Hers carried five-gallon buckets with corn sticking out of the top into the school hallway we were using as our fairgrounds this year. What a sight these makeshift vases made with their collection proudly displayed made leaning against the wall.

4-H members sat one at a time and answered the judge’s questions about what type of seed the corn plants came from when they planted their crop when they would harvest if they had experienced as problems with bugs or disease, ideal weather for the corn, and anything else. Some of the younger members answered with questioning hesitation while older ones rattled off the answers. All the while I noted that these were the producers of the tomorrow.

Yes, we judged these kids. They were at the fair not only to learn but to compete for the top corn crop. It is important to the future or agriculture that tough questions continued to be asked of the industry. Things can’t always be done “the way our parents did it” because technology is changing as quickly as the weather.  Yes, we judged. All the kids received acknowledgment for their effort. A top few will go on to the state fair. The 4-Hers were asked questions they should be asking themselves, questions consumers want and deserve the answer to. The 4-Hers did not let me down. I don’t worry about the future of agriculture as long as we have youth stepping up to be judged. We will be fine.

Shelby Carlson
IL Corn Communication Intern

REGARDLESS OF THE LABEL, DAIRY IS LOCAL

[Originally published from Illinois Farm Families]

Our family has been farming in central Illinois for more than 150 years and shipping our milk to local bottling plants for distribution in surrounding communities. We’re just one of many dairy farms across the country – in fact there are dairy farms in all 50 states shipping milk to neighborhood stores and markets, making dairy a true local food!

So what does it take to bring you some local goodness? Well, every day, regardless of birthdays, weddings, graduations or weather, our alarm sounds long before the sun comes up. We milk our cows twice a day and on average, each cow spends about eight minutes in the milking parlor – five of those minutes with the milking units attached. Our milk is cooled down to 38 degrees until the milk hauler comes to the farm. Then our milk is transported to the Prairie Farms bottling plant in Peoria, Ill. Testing is done for quality and safety before the milk is pasteurized, homogenized and bottled. Milk offers great nutrition with a lean source of protein, Vitamins A, D and calcium, just to name a few.

About 48 hours after the milk leaves our farm, it arrives on your store shelves and then on your dinner table!

We all want to sit around the dinner table and feed our family fresh food grown and raised by local farmers. It’s a concept that has recently been rebranded as “farm to table” but has actually been around for a very long time. On my family’s dairy farm, we are proud to say that with our without a “local” label, we have been providing the highest quality milk for our community for more than five generations. So, pour yourself a cold glass of milk or enjoy a heaping bowl of ice cream and know it came from a local farmer just a few days earlier.

MARY FABER

Mary raises dairy cattle and grain with her husband, Jesse, and two children in central Illinois. Mary’s great-grandfather started the dairy farm over 150 years ago with just a handful of cows. Today, her family continues to live and farm on those original acres. Farming is a history and a passion for Mary and her family!