When you think of a farmer, what do you think of? Do you think of an intelligent man who knows various farming techniques or do you think of a hillbilly wearing bib overalls with a front tooth missing? Most people who do not live in rural America probably think of farmers as being dumb hillbillies that have strange accents and have mud all over their clothes from working in the fields all day. With this in mind, I think this is the biggest misconception about farmers.

Last Sunday, I was in Costco with my family doing our weekly grocery shopping and while we were checking out, the nice cashier lady asked what we did for living. As my mother and father told her we were farmers, she began laughing and said, “You guys sure don’t look like farmers!” My family and I looked at each other with surprise because we didn’t think farmers looked a particular way because we are surrounded with other farmers all the time and it’s simply our way of life. After our Costco trip, I began wondering what the main misunderstanding about farmers were and I think it’s that people think farmers are rednecks with no brains, but that’s simply not the case.

Idaho, A Farmer stands in his field of Soybeans.
Idaho – A farmer stands in his soybean field.

To begin with, farmers are a little more fashionable than what you may think. Farmers generally wear jeans, work boots, and a work shirt that’s appropriate for their job, certainly not bib overalls! If you drive down the road and see a farmer in a tractor, you will most likely also see him wearing a ball cap too. It’s just the fashion trend that farmers do!

Furthermore, farmers are really intelligent people. The average farmer in the state of Illinois handles over $600,000 to put in one crop, like corn, for one year. How many people do you know that can walk into a bank and borrow $600,000? Probably not many! So not only do farmers need to have financial skills, balance sheet and sales knowledge, he also has to know the biology of soils, crops, and plants.  Being an expert of soils, crops, and plants, allows a farmer to determine when the field is ready to plant, fertilize, and harvest. The agronomic information a farmer has today is in such demand that companies will pay the farmer for the data.

All in all, farmers are just like everyone else, just a different field of knowledge and interests. I encourage you to take a drive out in the country. Its prime planting season, so you will be able to see you’re local farmers planting away, putting their crop into the field. If it wasn’t for farmers, we wouldn’t be able to put more than half of the food on the table for dinner. Be sure to thank a farmer next time you see them because they do a lot more than what you may think!


Kalie Rumbold
Black Hawk East Junior College


5-10-16Victory harvestLiving the life of a farmer was something that I grew up understanding because almost everyone in my life was involved in agriculture; however, not everyone may know what it takes to be a farmer. It is as easy as one, two, three! I am here to show you the three simple tactics to hop right into the field as a top-of-the-line farmer. * Read on to see how brains, following your gut, and cold, hard cash can lead you to the farmer lifestyle you desire.

*Unfortunately, this is sarcasm.

Step 1: Education

5-10-16I Want YouEven though the stereotype may be that farmers are uneducated, this is far from the truth. Farmers today would not be able to run their operations without all the knowledge they have gained throughout their lives. The key to their education is that it has been their entire life and it has been very hands on. If you are starting new as a farmer, you will need to spend at least the next ten years of your life devoting time to learning about whatever type of operation you wish to have. This writer spent one week on a farm and tells what he learned about getting into the rhythm of farm life. Whether you need to spend time in the field growing crops or in a barn working with cattle, that full-immersion education is the first key to becoming an expert farmer.

Step 2: Intuition

5-10-16The Intuitive FarmerUnlike obtaining an education, this step to becoming an expert farmer is not as cut-and-dry. Having the intuition to face the everyday obstacles that a farmer may meet is arguably one of the most important things to have, but, also, the most difficult. A cattle farmer needs to know when to follow their gut feeling about when a heifer is about to have her calf (like the farmer does in this article). A grain producer needs to listen to their inner voice about when to hold back a few days on planting and when the right time to harvest is. Timing of these events is critical to maintaining one’s farm and using your intuition correctly can lead to being an expert farmer. There is even a whole book about this step!

Step 3: Cash

5-10-16Cost per AcreThe final step to becoming an expert farmer is having the cash to start and run an operation. Just like in every other field, operating costs for farmers have gone up a great amount in the past decade.  It can be seen in this graph that cost per acre is on a continuous upward slope. That upward slope is true for all branches of farming, so to be an expert farmer with a successful operation, you need money to handle the costs. This article explains the increasing costs for rice farmers in Arkansas. The increased cost of inputs does not completely outweigh the income that farmers receive for their products. That is why having a cash source is included in these quick steps to becoming an expert farmer.

5-10-16Dairy family

My hope is that after reading this, the number of farmers in the world will increase exponentially! In all seriousness, these three steps are not all that it takes to be a farmer. There is so much that goes into the lifestyle, and these three are only a place to start. There are many places for education to be obtained, it is possible to naturally have the intuition needed, and managing money well in order to start a farm is also a feasible goal. While the cash step may seem daunting, I would say that these farmers would tell you the benefits greatly exceed the costs of becoming a farmer.

Amanda Rollins

Amanda Rollins
Illinois State University


4-28-16kalieWhat could be better than having a supportive mom? Maybe a mom who doubles as your best friend! Fortunately for Danae Ross of Wyanet, IL, this holds true.

Danae Ross and her mother Kendra are the dynamic duo of Bureau County. You name it and they probably do it! One of their greatest passions is to ride horses. They have four horses altogether. “My favorite horse is Diamond because she is so easy-going and sweet” Danae said. Her and Kendra raised a few of the horses from when they were babies. Together, they teach the horses how to ride with someone on their back and how to perform certain maneuvers, like hopping over logs and staying on the path for trail rides. For the past 15 years, they have traveled to Missouri for the Big Creek Trail ride. Big Creek provides scrumptious buffet-style meals and good entertainment, as well as incredible trails. It’s all hilly, mountainous forestland with a gorgeous river and the view from the top of the mountain is simply breathtaking.

Along with their love for horses, the duo also loves to work on landscape together. When pulling into their driveway, one sees landscape that many can only dream about! Kendra was willing enough to lend us a few helpful tips on how they keep their flowerbeds looking flawlessly beautiful. She says the best gardening tip is to start mulching early and use plenty of it. Mulch is a covering, such as straw or compost, which is spread on the ground around plants to prevent excessive evaporation, enrich the soil, and inhibit weed growth. By applying mulch early, gardeners can reduce the weeds from even getting started growing. Another key to gardening is maintaining the beds daily. The younger the weeds are, the easier they are to pull and keeping up with the weeds frequently will keep the beds in great shape and looking beautiful.

Another activity the Ross duo did together was 4-H. Kendra was the 4-H leader of Western Winning Wonders for ten years. When Danae was president of the 4-H club, the two were inseparable making plans and activities for the club. Kendra is now the Bureau County 4-H Horse Superintendent, where she plans and prepares for the horse show every year. Danae’s favorite part of 4-H was exhibiting her livestock. She showed, goats, horses, and rabbits. Now that’s a lot of work for one person, so Danae and Kendra built a close relationship doing this together, learning and doing all those different things together. 4-H really is a great way for parents to build strong relationships with their children.

As you can see, Danae and Kendra are very involved within the agriculture industry. “It has given us many opportunities” Danae said, “ from being able to sell some of the animals to taking us all over the state to various horse horses, and to just allow us to learn about each animal and the showing process as well as bring us to meet and make relationships with a lot of incredible people.” Whether it is big or small, agriculture is a part of everyone’s life, and is especially a part of the Ross’s.


Kalie Rumbold
Black Hawk East Junior College


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.

I think Paul Taylor, one of the many farmers I’ve been privileged to know over my years in our industry, says it best so I’ll let you hear it from him.  (Start at about 2:45 if you don’t want to watch the entire video.)


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


This is a leaf cutting that I propagated roughly eighteen months ago!

As the days get warmer and the end of the school year approaches, teachers often struggle to keep their students’ attention while wondering if they will forget everything once the bell rings for summer vacation. Here are some fun science projects with plants that will keep your students engaged and learning all summer!

  1. Vegetative Propagation

This lesson can be taught at any age level. Here is a lesson for young kids, but I did a very similar experiments in one of my college classes. You can talk about asexual reproduction and plant hormones or you can stick to the basics of photosynthesis. Either way it is a really fun way to grow plants in a new way.

2. Garden in a Glove

4-25-16 2 Garden in a gloveI taught this lesson at our summer reading program a couple of years ago and the kids ate it up! It is a great way to teach kids about what a plant needs to survive while also comparing and contrasting different seeds and plants. You could start this a couple of weeks before the end of school and hang them in the window. Then, over the summer, the students will be able to transplant them at home. If you use vegetable seeds, they might even be able to get a snack from their glove!

4-25-16 3 germination necklace

  1. Germination Necklace

My fifth grade teacher made these with us when I was in school and I still remember it! We all wore “our babies” around for a week and got to watch the seeds germinate. It is a super fun way to teach students about seed growth or to compare and contrast the effects of environmental conditions on plant growth. Once the plants outgrow their bags, you can transplant them and they can continue growing at home!

  1. Growing Letters

This is a cool activity to do with younger children to introduce them to what plants need to grow. All you do is trace the letters in their name with glue on a piece of construction paper and pour seeds on top. After the glue is dry, you spray the paper with water and put it in the window. After daily watering, the plants should start to grow in the shape of your students’ names. Another option would be to grow their spelling words or the letter they are learning that day!

  1. Grass Head People

4-25-16 5 grass head peopleGrass grows super fast so this is a great way to teach students about plants without having to take a couple of weeks out of class to do a big experiment. All you have to do is take an old pair of pantyhose and fill the toes with grass seed and potting soil. Students can get creative and decorate their person to look however they want. Once you are done with them, the students can go home and practice to be a hair dresser and the best part is, grass hair grows back!



elizabeth brown

Elizabeth Brown
Purdue University



For the first time since 2013, there is potential for corn to represent the highest planted acreage in the United States. This has left agriculturalists wondering what’s going on and why this is happening when corn prices are where they are.

Photo Credit: Holly Spangler, Prairie Farmer

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been significant discussion over the USDA’s Prospective Plantings Report, which estimated corn acres were increased by an approximated 3.7 million acres to 93.6 total million for the coming year.  That is up 6% from last year! This has many farmers scratching their heads because corn is more expensive to plant and farmers could lose some money if things don’t go as planned. So, ultimately, what caused farmers to take this risk? Was it because of crop rotation? Is it just time for corn? Is something huge about to happen?

Patrick Holland, a team sales representative of Beck’s Hybrids from Western Illinois says, “Many of the opinions were that even with corn nearing $3.50, there was much more confidence in their [farmers] ability to raise a good corn crop and have certainty they could get closer to breaking even, and hopefully making a little profit this upcoming growing season.” Holland adds, “Corn yields have continued to trend upwards quite drastically, compared to where we have seen soybeans get to over the last 20 years. Across the industry, soybeans have been much more volatile, and the certainty is just not quite there like corn. Soybean yields have seen different bumps with some new technologies, but at $9 or $9.50 beans the margins are just that much tighter than corn.”

Kenton Carley, a corn and soybeans farmer in Eastern Illinois, says that he actually is planting more soybeans this year than normal. He adds that this is mainly because of crop rotation, but also sees less of a risk going into the planting season.“Planting corn is definitely more risky,” states Carley. “However, the reward could be greater with corn. It’s a changing game as it’s played out. The potential is there, but things can change very fast, so I am going to limit as much risk as possible.”

When it comes to spring planting, it is ultimately up to the farmer and what he feels is best for his region and making a profit. Most of the time, this decision is based on crop rotations, but sometimes farmers have to make the tough decisions. As Holland puts it, “Being able to focus on doing the right things, becoming more efficient where possible, and not giving up on yield is where most farmers believed they wanted to put their eggs.” The Prospective Plantings Report may not be what was expected, but we can rest assured that farmers everywhere will be working hard this season to ensure a safe and abundant food supply, no matter what the crop is.

To find the complete Prospective Plantings Report, click here.

Kaity Spangler

Kaity Spangler
University of Illinois



It’s that time of the year again! Spring has finally arrived and it is now time to start thinking about what to plant in the garden. I have had a garden in the past and am starting to think about what to plant for this year’s crop. Some garden must-haves for me include: cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet corn, pumpkins, green beans, and zucchini. These tend to be the easiest to manage, and always produce well.

4-14-16vegetable-gardenThe most stress-free part of gardening, in my opinion, is the planning stage. It is so much easier to picture where all the vegetables will go, rather than actually planting them. I do not own an electric rototiller, so I always have the hardest time tilling up the soil to prepare the garden for planting. If only there was a way to have nicely tilled dirt without having to spend all day working at it.

Once the garden is prepared, it is time to buy the seeds to plant. I prefer to buy a mix of seeds and seedlings, depending on which plants I am buying. For tomatoes, I always have the best luck with buying seedlings or a young pre-grown seed. Cucumbers, zucchini, and pumpkins tend grow well from seeds.

After everything is prepped, and I have purchased the seeds and seedlings, it’s time to get dirty! There is something calming about being in the garden and knowing my hard work will become something completely different in a few months. It is such a rewarding feeling to watch the plants grow throughout the spring and summer.

While my plants are growing throughout the summer, I like to think of different recipes that are new or interesting to try. I like to make family recipes that have been around forever, but I also like to search for new ones to try. Who knows, someday my “new” recipe may be an “old” recipe for someone else in my family.

4-14-16vegetablesOne of my favorite summer recipes I make involves fresh-from-the-garden green beans. My green beans are usually the first to start producing, so this green bean with bacon recipe is perfect for a quick addition to any dinner.  It takes about 20 minutes to make, and is very easy. All that is needed is some bacon, garlic, an onion, and fresh green beans. Check out the recipe here!

A new recipe that I am excited to try involves a few of the vegetables from the garden. It is another quick recipe that would go great with an outdoor barbecue. This summer fiesta corn salad recipe uses sweet corn, grape tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, red onion, and some celery. Once the veggies in the garden are ready to be harvested, this recipe is the perfect way to use them all at once. Check out the recipe here!

Garden-fresh vegetables are one of my favorite aspects of summer. I cannot wait to start planting! What are your garden plans this year?


Kathryn Bohner
Illinois State University