#TBT: WHY I CAN’T LEAVE ILLINOIS

I live in a town where almost everyone is employed by one of two companies.

And actually, now that I think about it, we also have other large employers, but still, when I meet someone new and ask where they work, they work at one of two places most often.

corn twilightOne of those two places is shipping a lot of employees to other states.  And no, this blog post is not about the state of affair in Illinois or our lack of budget or our plethora of debt.

When one of my friends returned to my town from her new state, new house, and new job, she was telling us how much fun it has been to be out of Illinois.  How the taxes are lower.  How the schools are better.  How the political commercials hit you a little less square in the gut.  And she wondered, why would I want to stay in Illinois?

So, I thought about it.  And even after I gave her my answer, I thought about it some more.  What’s holding me here?  Why is Illinois important?  Why have I lived within a very small triangle of space my entire 38 years on this earth?!

The answer, after much debate and internal soul-searching, is exactly the same answer that came to my gut when she posed the question.

Because I’m a farm girl.

Because that dirt gets under your skin.

Because the rest of your family – even your extended family – lives near.

Because the culture, the mindset, the psyche of a farmer is to stay in one place.  To be rooted to the earth.  To know –  like a deep in your being sort of knowing – the land that you’re a steward of.

Farmers can’t pick up and move the earth that provides their living.  Even the skill set that they’ve developed, this internal intuition about how to handle every single set back that mother nature dishes out, doesn’t necessarily apply to other regions of the country.  Every bit of dirt is different, unique, and a farmer is a bit attached to his or her specific piece.

So no, I can’t imagine leaving here.  I will be a citizen of Illinois – and all the “stuff” that entails – for the rest of my life.

Lindsay Mitchell 11/14Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

APRIL SHOWERS BRING UNIQUE FARMER SUPERPOWERS

April showers bring May flowers – a saying we have all heard at least once in our lives. This spring we have certainly had plenty of showers, both rain, and snow! With all this spring rain, it is important to consider the impact all this excess water may have on our fields. Let’s chat about some of the best management practices farmers use to counteract the spring rain overload.

First up, we’ve got nutrient loss prevention. Just like our bodies require certain nutrients to grow and thrive, soil also has specific needs in order to best support our crops.

There are three main nutrients found in soil: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. A unique combination of all three creates a recipe for success to have a fruitful harvest. Too much rain causes these nutrients to become depleted from the soil, and often times can run into bodies of water. To prevent nutrient loss and water contamination, farmers utilize strategies such as monitoring critical bodies of water, as well as using research and improved technology advancements to minimize the impact. In Illinois specifically, we mainly work to reduce the loss of nitrogen and phosphorus from our fields.

Another management strategy our farmers use is reduced tillage for erosion control. Let’s start by defining soil erosion: it is the natural degrading of the physical top layer of soil, which can happen from wind, water, etc. Why is this bad? Because as we discussed earlier, the soil has a very specific balance of nutrients. By removing the top layer of soil, it has a large impact on the quality of soil and results in decreased yields per acre. Some techniques farmers utilize include various machinery that moves less soil and results in less chance of soil erosion. Using less invasive equipment while still properly caring for the fields helps farmers avoid soil erosion.

Finally, let’s talk about cover crops. What exactly is a cover crop? It is an off-season planting of a different type of crop. For example, in the summer we typically see corn and soybeans grown in Illinois. After fall harvest, many farmers may plant crops such as oats or wheat. Why plant more after just finishing a tedious summer harvest? Because planting different species in the same field will help return those vital nutrients to the soil, and help the field prepare for the next spring planting.

These management practices are just some of many that agriculturalists use all over the world. The next time we have an April shower, as we put on our rain boots, let’s remember how it impacts our fields, and what our farmers are doing to best manage our land.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

THE LIVESTOCK LIFECYCLE

In our fast-paced society where options are plentiful, time is sparse, and the day-to-day grind can really wear a person out, there’s one daily constant that brings me some amount of joy — or at very least, satisfaction… Food. Luckily for me, life on the farm, in conjunction with my career in corn/agriculture advocacy surrounds me with opportunities to think about where food comes from and what we can do with it. Follow along throughout the spring, summer, and fall as I share my food-related thoughts here on Corn Corps.

Let me start by saying: I love GOOD food. Specifically: fresh, flavorful, home-grown, made-with-love, not-always-healthy, much-anticipated, home-cookin’! Though I grew up surrounded by farming in Northwest Illinois, I’ve only lived on a farm for about 7 years. In that time, I’ve come to understand why March is a love-hate time of year for My Farmer. Depending on the weather (a phrase that’s thrown around A LOT at my house) there are a plethora of things that could go on in March. If the fields are still frozen, cow manure can be spread. If the frost is out, you can think about applying ammonia. We’re likely still expecting the last few baby calves to be born, and in just a few weeks we’ll begin artificially inseminating next year’s calf herd. The numerous babies that have already been born will be exploring the area between their barns and pretty soon they’ll be turned out to pasture for the first time. For me, it’s a genuine springtime feeling of new beginnings! For My Farmer, it’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants work schedule.

For my kids, between afternoon visits to the barn to see the new babies, and suppertime around the table, we have some pretty frank conversations. Our four-year-old understands that the meat we’re eating is beef. Beef comes from cattle. The cattle right outside. Every so often we load a couple cattle into our trailer and take them to the butcher. (–Insert gray area here–) …And the beef comes back home and we cook it and eat it for supper. So far, there haven’t been any questions about what exactly happens at the butcher – but when he asks, I’ll explain it to him. We have similar conversations about vegetables. I’m no gardener, but we have a few vegetable plants outside. He watches those grow over the summer and helps harvest the produce. My little guy understands that what we buy in the store comes from a farmer somewhere. Last week I asked my little guy “where did this potato come from?” to which he shrugged and responded, “a farmer market – like both a farmer and a store”. Technically, he was right, despite the fact that I bought it at Walmart. He actually grasps the idea that numerous people worked hard for those mashed potatoes to end up on his plate. I like to think that this framework we’ve laid will result in a lifelong appreciation of both food and the effort it takes to produce it.

The lifecycle of our livestock truly makes a full circle, and that’s one of the coolest parts of farming. We grow corn, in part, to feed our livestock. We breed our livestock to have more livestock. We care for them by keeping them fed, doctored, safe both in the pasture and the barns, and then use their manure to fertilize the fields which will grow to feed them later. At some point along the way, some of them leave us only to return a few weeks later wrapped in white paper, ready to feed our family, which allows us to keep doin’ what we do!

This spring, as you feel the days grow longer and observe life coming back to the land, I hope you enjoy some fresh fruit and vegetables, along with a big, juicy, well-marbled, steak, and feel gratitude for the numerous hands it took to prepare it!

Ashley Deal
IL Corn Membership Assistant

THE IMPACT OF NAFTA ON FARMERS

For the past decade, the United States has had a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that has helped shape our economy today. A lot of people are reading the word NAFTA and wonder what does this even mean? Will it affect me?  NAFTA stands for North American Free Trade Agreement and was implemented on January 1, 1994, between Mexico, Canada, and the United States. NAFTA’s purpose is to encourage economic activity between the three major economic powers of North America. Let’s break down what exactly is a part of this trade deal and why it matters. About one-fourth of all U.S imports, such as crude oil, vehicles, fresh produce, livestock and processed foods, originate from Canada and Mexico. The U.S exports about one-third of products in machinery, vehicle parts and plastics, which are destined for Canada and Mexico. See the trend of our partnerships together with these Countries?

Recently our President has had some concerns with the current trade deal of NAFTA and would like to renegotiate in May on them. With this possibility, it would change not only the current economy but also prices on products involved in this deal. We currently have had a successful trade agreement with Canada and Mexico and many are afraid this negotiation might jeopardize that. We are currently a part of the world’s largest free trade agreement, which is something other countries would like to be a part of. This has given our farmers a way to sell their products on their terms, which keeps the cost of the goods reasonable for consumers.

The current United States Economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, almost 30 percent. When we started this deal in 1994 from then to 2007 US exports grew 156 percent, which is a great thing for us. Products like corn have no tariff currently in this trade deal. An example of the use of a tariff is in cars, which is 10 percent of the levied based value on an item. Having a tariff on products such as corn can hurt domestic consumers since the lack of competition tends to push up prices. This opened a way of an increase in income for families to have a wider range of places to sell. Only so many farmers can sell to supply places such as Walmart and Aldi, this opened a market for all farmers. Thinking of the impact of NAFTA today we have seen a rise in the economic growth in all countries involved in this deal, also an increase in higher wages to people in the industries affected by this.

If you live in a state that a majority of your economy is from agriculture, it will be hurting you the most. Over 13 million jobs depend on NAFTA in the U.S currently which means this could put a lot of people out of work and would hurt many families across the U.S.

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University

A GUIDE TO FOOD APPS

MyFitnessPal: A free app that tracks diet, exercise, micros, and macros, charts your own personal data, and utilizes your own personal goals to motivate you. You can type in food manually and it breaks it down for you, or you can simply take a picture of the barcode!

MyPlate: An app that helps consumers improve their diets by providing tools for dietary assessment, nutrition education, and more. It focuses on variety, amount, and nutrition, and it provides the ultimate food options such as food and beverages with less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. On top of it all, it allows consumers start with small, comfortable changes and lets them set the pace.

Dirty Dozen: This app will let you know which products are the lowest in pesticides, as well as which ones are the highest. It helps you decide on the best time to look for an organic option (food that does not have any antibiotics or growth hormones) for a certain food.

Good Guide: This app uses science to help find the best products out there. It provides ratings of the highest rated products on the market, ranging from a wide variety of products. 

 

HowGood: Similar to Good Guide, HowGood assesses products for environmental, health, and trade impacts, and it provides ratings to help shoppers gauge which option is best.

 

Farmstand: This app makes it easier for you to eat local! Eating local is better for the environment, economy, and your health. It lists more than 8,700 farmer’s markets, and lets users post pictures of markets and vendors, share good finds, and browse valuable information posted by others who shop at markets as well!

Locavore: Locavore makes finding local, in-season food easy! It shows nearby farmer’s markets and farms, and it also has loads of great seasonal recipes! It also allows users to tag local sellers, share reviews, and post new findings.

 

HarvestMark Food Traceability: This app allows shoppers to scan the code on their food, obtain detailed harvest information, and provide feedback. It allows food producers to connect with their customers, and it exposes consumers to the process of food production on a much more in-depth level.

Seasons: Seasons provides data on natural growing seasons and local availability of many different products. When a product is in season, that means the harvest or the flavor of that product is at its peak! It features data on fruits, vegetables, lettuce, herbs, fungi, and nuts, and all entries have a photo, short description, and seasonal data.

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois

#TBT: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A FARMER: MARCH

[Originally published March 15, 2016]

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 third 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 into what versatile businessman farmers are.

3-15-16Ayear2

Bookkeeping

March 1st was the deadline for farm taxes to be filed. That chore is a load-off… Quite possibly LITERALLY. Also, a lot of Ag lenders also expect their prior year’s input loans (think 2015’s crop) to be paid in full by now.

Next THIS year’s crop

What we previously considered “next year’s crop” can now be called “This year’s crop”. The 2016 crop year is officially underway! There is lots of prep work to get done before the first seed can be placed in the ground – but nearly every task is weather permitting.

  • 3-15-16Ayear3The seed corn that was selected last December or January will likely be delivered to the farm by the end of the month. Better clean out a corner of the shed to store it for a bit.
  • Get machinery cleaned up and prepped for planting. Wash, wax, check tires, make sure the engine’s running smoothly, re-calibrate settings for depth and spacing, vacuum out the cab, etc.
  • There might be drainage or other “dirt work” to do before crops are put into the fields. The freeze-thaw of winter might have slightly shifted the lay of the land and new, or worse, wet spots may now be visible. It would also be a good idea to make sure tile line exists are free of debris and able to drain the fields properly.
  • Depending on how wet the fields are, there’s a possibility of working ground for seedbed preparation and fertilizer application.

Household and farm odd-jobs / repairs

As mentioned last month, in March the weather dictates your schedule. If the ground’s still too cold or wet, you might have some spare time to spend working on indoor projects. Then again… don’t count on it. If something needs doin’… Do it now!

Deal_Ashley

Ashley Deal
ICGA/ICMB Membership Assistant

WHY AG EDUCATION SHOULD BE A GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENT

Each of us has taken (or is in the process of taking) general education classes at school, whether it be at a middle school, high school, community college or a university. These classes vary by institution but usually include a combination of English, fine arts, math, science and Global Studies. I think it is fair to assume not everyone is extremely passionate about all of those basic general education courses. I can say from personal experience, I was not exactly the most excited about my Introduction to Theatre course. I’m not a fine arts major, so I did not receive many benefits for my future career from that class.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have required general education courses that we actually utilize in the real world? Not that things like the Pythagorean Theorem aren’t useful; however, theories like that one aren’t useful outside the walls of math class. That’s where agriculture education comes in. The agriculture industry offers many lessons to be taught to those who desire to learn. For example, many FFA members have projects and must keep accurate records of all transactions that occur each year. This teaches students how to balance a checkbook, budget accordingly and plan for the future – all of which are real-world skills.

At many universities, introductory agriculture courses offer many ways to help students grow professionally, for both agriculture and non-ag majors. For example, at my university, a class titled, “Introduction to the Agriculture Industry” (also known as AGR 109) requires students to create a resume, cover letter, and participate in a mock interview with real employers, all for a grade. Many students enrolled in this course, from college freshmen all the way to seniors, did not have a resume created for themselves. This class creates an opportunity for those students to make a resume and receive feedback as well. On top of that, the mock interviews allow for students to network with actual recruiters from many different companies. This basic agriculture class helps students prepare for the professional world, far more than my Introduction to Theatre class ever did.

General Education courses are important; they are considered a foundation for student education. However, when courses like AGR 109 offer professional development skills and put students in real-life scenarios, this helps prepare for life after graduation. Those classes are solidifying the foundation they will use for the rest of their lives. This is why everyone should take at least one agriculture education course as a student, from middle school all the way through college. The skills learned, knowledge gained and networking opportunities provided are very applicable to the working world – all the more reason to add agriculture as a general education requirement.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

ORGANIC VS CONVENTIONAL FARMING – WHAT’S THE SAME, WHAT’S DIFFERENT?

[Republished from Illinois Farm Families]

Organic versus conventional – it’s a highly debated topic. As a farmer who has employed both methods, perhaps I can offer a valuable point of view to help you make the best choice for you and your family.

What’s the same?

  • Pesticides – There are pesticides approved for use in both types of farming. Farmers use these to protect their crops from bugs and disease.
  • Soil health – Farmers use a variety of tools and practices to maintain soil and water health on farms of every shape and size.
  • Sustainability – All farmers think about sustainability. The tools farmers can use vary slightly between conventional and organic, but the desired result is the same.
  • Farmers care – We all care about growing safe food for our families and preserving our land for years to come.
  • Safety – Whether or not you’re reaching for an “organic” label at the store, the food you’re eating is safe. Furthermore, research shows very little difference between the nutritional value of organic and conventionally grown foods.

What’s different?

  • Pesticides – While there are approved pesticides for use in both types of farming, pesticides used on organic farms must be naturally derived whereas conventional farms can use synthetic pesticides.
  • GMOs – Genetically modified crops are not allowed in organic farming. GMOs can be grown in our conventional fields and help us avoid using pesticides among other benefits.
  • Cost – But you already knew that. Generally speaking, certified organic food costs more.
  • So, yes, there are some differences between conventional and organic farming, but there isn’t necessarily a “right” and a “wrong” way to farm. It all comes down to what is best for each individual farmer and their land. In my case, I’m comfortable growing both and I feed both to my family. I’m making what I believe are the best choices and I encourage you to do the same..

TRENT SANDERSON

Trent farms with his family in northern Illinois. He also enjoys learning and educating other farmers about the environmental benefits of cover crops. He lives on the farm with his wife, Elizabeth, and their son Owen.