I recently graduated from college with a Bachelor’s in Communication, but I never thought that my degree would take me into agriculture. The closest I ever got to “living country” was growing up with horses on a five-acre lot just outside of Peoria. However, I never really understood the importance of agriculture and how much it really plays a part in my life. It even excites me to say that there are incredible opportunities in the agriculture industry that aren’t directly related to working on a farm. The only downside I’d say about the industry is the fact that American Farmers are not appreciated for all of the hard work they do.

7-5-16progmoThere is a lot of misinformation flooding the media about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A lot of the misconception comes from luring mainstream audiences to believe that GMOs are filled with toxic chemicals that are harmful to the human body. They believe that these toxins are introduced to the plants through unsafe, laboratory experiments where a syringe is commonly seen injecting unquestionable poisons into said plant. This is not the case; in fact, the procedure to develop genetically modified organisms is a lot safer than many realize. What frustrates me about mainstream media in general is that people believe everything they see. They barely question the autonomy and authority of what they read, and they hardly go out of their way to research the claims being made.

There are countless studies and educational resources that any person can find to understand what a GMO is and how safe they are to eat. More than that, the technologies utilized in developing genetically modified organisms can benefit the growth of food for the projected population increase in 2050. It certainly wouldn’t be an end all cure, but with 9 billion coming so soon we definitely have a lot of work to do to feed those hungry mouths.

Another common misconception is that big agriculture companies that invest in the development of GMOs refuse to label genetically modified organisms because they have something to hide. This is simply not the case. The real reason that they do not label GMOs with a specific “this is a GMO” label is because of the fear that it would cause consumers. There is nothing dangerous about consuming GMOs, so there is no point to label them. There have been numerous studies done to prove that they are safe for consumption, and there hasn’t been a single reported death. If they labeled GMOs specifically, people would then think they are implying that GMOs are dangerous to eat. Instead, foods that do not contain GMOS are the ones being labeled. Labeling the foods that do not have GMOs helps consumers that want to avoid buying these products to avoid them. Using this method is sort of a “win win” for both sides.

I think people forget that when a company has a bad reputation, they lose money. More than that, most people don’t realize how much money is spent by organizations to maintain a positive public image. Big agricultureas no reason to hide what they are providing their consumers. I encourage anyone to take the time to educate themselves before deciding what foods they will choose to avoid because of health concerns.

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Deidra Sonnemaker
Graphic Design Intern
IL Corn


This summer as an intern for IL Corn, one thing I am tasked with doing is visiting farmers across the state and speaking with them about their conservation practices. In the end, I’m taking their stories and uploading them to the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices’ Conservation Story Map.

Hold up. What is this Council on Best Management Practices? For short, we call it the CBMP. The CBMP is a coalition of agricultural organizations from Illinois along with a few agribusinesses. These include the Illinois Corn Growers Association, and was founded in 1999. From their website, their mission reads “Working to assist and encourage adoption of best management practices (BMPs) to protect and enhance natural resources and the sustainability of agriculture in Illinois.” So basically, the CBMP works with farmers across the state to implement practices to help conserve and sustain the environment around us.

IMG_8329As for Best Management Practices, those are practices that farmers can use to help reduce soil and water erosion, and nutrient loss in agricultural fields. These include grass waterways in fields, drainage tile, and cover crops planted before or after the normal crops like corn and soybeans.

While driving around this state, I have met farmers with numerous different practices and ideas on how they are protecting their land and water. Many farmers get a bad representation that they are constantly working up the ground, putting on too much fertilizer, and eroding the land. These are not the cases. Farmers are working hard to protect the land that they have so they can hand it down to their future generations, and keep making profitable decisions in the future.

IMG_8273In Metamora in Woodford County, Bill Christ has implemented buffer strips of grass along creeks running through his farmland. These buffer strips help stop nutrients and sediment carried by surface water from the field. They can slow down the water and allow plants to take up and use water and nutrients. He also prides himself in the buffer strips because they provide a great spot for local wildlife habitats.

In Fulton County near Adair, Gary Schmalshof has created dry dams in his fields. These dams help manage water runoff from his field. They also hold soil back during large rainfalls, while making sure to help drain water properly.

Andy Bartlow farms in Schuyler, Hancock, and McDonough Counties in Western Illinois. There, he has implemented technology where he can calculate and watch his nutrient usage. Being able to watch his nutrient usage means he can put on the proper amounts of nutrients and limit runoff of nutrients like nitrogen.

While I have visited many farmers and there are many more stories than just these three, they give a great look at what farmers in Illinois are doing to help conserve resources.

For more stories, visit

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Dakota Cowger
Communications Intern
IL Corn


“OMG, GMOs!” This seems to be the mantra of consumers everywhere on the topic of food safety. The issue is, people have no idea where their food comes from, let alone what GMOs are. The website GMO Answers describes a GMO as “a crop that has very specific changes made to its DNA. They usually have one to two genes added or silenced to achieve a desired trait. This plant breeding technique is called genetic engineering, and it enables plant breeders to take individual traits from one plant or organism and to another with the purpose of improving or changing the trait.” GMOs are not created by sticking a syringe into your fresh produce. The process is way more special (and safer) than that! Watch this video for more information.

GMO Free BreadOne of the largest misconceptions on GMOs is that the aisles at your local grocery store are full of GMOs. Have you ever seen GMO-free bread on the shelf? It’s usually more expensive than “regular” bread. Funny story, you’re paying for that “GMO Free” label. There is no such thing as Genetically Modified wheat. There are only nine GMO crops commercially available in the U.S. today: corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, summer squash, and potatoes.

Americans will soon begin to see more labels, like the one above, on a variety of food products. Due to a law enacted by Vermont in 2014 that takes effect July 1 and due to a lack of a nationwide policy, all products containing GM ingredients will require a label. These labels will cost consumers across the country roughly $3.8 billion. That’s approximated $50 per family! Those costs, however, are just the start. The switch will cost $81.9 billion annually, costing $1,050 per family per year. Over the course of 20 years, every household would be spending an extra $13,250 on food labels.

To the average consumer, a label may seem like a good idea. GMOs are scary, right? Wrong. GMOs are safe and have been tested to prove that. Here you can find a list of 1,785 long-term GMO studies. By the year 2050, farmers are going to be tasked with feeding 9 billion people. How are they going to do that? Science. Science is helping farmers feed the world and science is proving that GMOs are safe. It’s important to remember that GM isn’t a “thing.” It’s a process. What’s most important is that food safety be confirmed by thorough testing.

Blog4Kellie Blair, a farmer, and agronomist from Dayton, Iowa, says, “I would never intentionally feed my family anything that would be unsafe, and as a farmer, I would never want to produce food that is unsafe for others. I believe that on my farm, we are growing safe food, and I take that responsibility very seriously.”

If you’re looking for more information about GMOs, check out Emily Webel’s blog, Confessions of a Farm Wife! Also, be sure to check out the blog Find Our Common Ground, as well as GMO Answers. All three sources will give you a better understanding of GMOs and their importance.

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Kaity Spangler
Legislative Intern
IL Corn


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 fourth 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 to what versatile businessman farmers are.



Cash BidsAs mentioned before, farmers are always watching the markets and summertime markets can be pretty volatile. There may still be old crop left to sell in the bins, or the farmer may be looking ahead to contract this year’s crop. Keep in mind, this year’s crop still has a long ways to go – lots could happen over the summer like drought, flood, hail, wind, and pest or weed damage. It’s important not to get too far ahead of yourself when contracting grain for fall or winter delivery.

This year’s crop

Planting – Depending on location and weather, farmers might be finishing up planting in early June… or possibly replanting if they came into some bad weather situations.

Scouting fields – There will be lots of “drive-bys” this month. If farm country, a drive-by is when you take the long way home so you can get a look at as many of your fields as possible. When you get next to one of your fields, you go extra slow. Sometimes you even stop to walk in a few rows. Don’t forget your pocket knife – You might need to pick at the dirt or uproot a weed or two on your way out. Farmers are studying crop emergence, soil moisture, pest activity, weed populations and anything else that catches their attention.

Side DressingSide dressing – (not just for salads!) Side dressing is a best management practice used by some farmers in which Nitrogen is injected into to the cornfield post-emergence, which boots corn growth when it needs it most. There is a rather small window of time when weather conditions and corn development need to align perfectly. You can’t side dress once the corn gets too tall, or it’ll get knocked over!


Spraying – While the corn is short and easy to navigate through, farmers are spraying herbicides to prevent weed growth before it gets out of hand. Herbicides are diluted with water – and many times all that’s needed is 3 oz of active chemical per acre – the rest is water!

Many farmers feel they can breathe a small sigh of relief after all the crops are planted and have begun to emerge. Others are just as riled up as before…. praying for heat one day, and less heat the next. One field to dry out but rain on a different one. A specific kind of rain though–  a long, gentle soaker that doesn’t come with any hail or wind… about an inch and a half…. Yeah… that would be perfect!

Ashley Deal
Membership Administrative Assistant
IL Corn


Sharon Dodd began her career with Illinois Farm Bureau fifteen years ago in September of 2000.  She is a multi-talented individual with a passion for visual communication.

DEIDRA: How did you become who you are today—what did you do to get here?

6-9-16Dodd (Newton)_Sharon 2x3 11 (1)SHARON: I didn’t have an Agriculture background.  I worked at Kruger Marketing in Champaign before applying to Illinois Farm Bureau.  I worked hard to get where I am.  I paid my way through college, and I learned how competitive graphic design really is.  I worked as an Art Director, Ad Layout Artist, and a Typesetter for the Daily Vidette, a student newspaper at ISU.  I was an art major and a print management minor.  I did a lot of “spec” art, and I focused on the marketing side of the newspaper.  When I worked with Kreuger, I learned a lot about agriculture.  During meetings I would sit and listen to everything, absorbing it all.  I didn’t realize until later how much all of that would really help.

DEIDRA: What are some of the challenges and some of the rewards you face on a typical day?

SHARON: The rewards are the people in agriculture.  I like being a voice and an advocate for agriculture.  I like seeing results, seeing people smile from my work.  The challenge is that there is a lot of communication.  We’re trying to change legislative issues and the perception of agriculture.  It’s hard to see results and it can feel overwhelming.  We have to constantly keep putting that voice out there—creating and communicating agriculture.

DEIDRA: What are some of your favorite tools of the trade?

SHARON: I like Mac computers and the Adobe Creative Suite.  Photoshop is my all time favorite, and then second is InDesign.  I use Dreamweaver and other web tools, but they aren’t my favorite.  Photography is a huge inspiration.

DEIDRA: When drafting a project design, can you describe the process you go through to come up with your solution?

ag_graphic_designerSHARON: The first step is getting the content together.  If there is a marketing person involved, I really like to get the content and get a feel for how it’s being laid out.  Who am I talking to?  What is my point?  I like to be in the reader’s shoes.  How can I engage them in a brochure or a social media post?  I am a common sense designer, and I don’t like confusion.

After getting the content, I need to find out what the theme is.  I like to sit on a project for about 24 hours.  When you let your brain process you would be surprised what the next day brings in.  When I get a layout started, sometimes I will do a rough [draft] but won’t do the entire thing.  I will communicate with the marketing people and see their reactions, work with them for corrections, and try to get the right design for the project.

When I make a concept, I try to look for anything that can help.  I’m not afraid to ask questions to get the right idea, and I am comfortable drafting a concept in person.  I feel like a channel between the people and I have a good idea of what they are thinking and communicating.

DEIDRA: What would you say has been one of your biggest accomplishments as a graphic designer?

SHARON: The next generation excites me, they are savvy and in it together; I am excited about young leaders and “Ag in the Classroom.”  I know there are legislative issues, but I feel like I am making a difference here.

DEIDRA: What kind of advice would you give to an aspiring graphic designer?

SHARON: The number one thing is to be a good communicator and a good listener.  If you’re negative, or if people can’t brainstorm with you, or if you are afraid of change then it will set you back.  You need to be adaptable because technology is constantly changing.  The second thing is you have to be creative.  If advertising, photography, or art inspires you, if it’s driving you, then all you need is to communicate.

Are you considering a career in agriculture?
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Deidra Sonnemaker
Graphic Design Intern