5 LESSONS TO PLANT AT THE END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR AND GROW ALL SUMMER LONG

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

 

2016 PROSPECTIVE PLANTINGS REPORT LEAVES FARMERS CORN-FUSED

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.

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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

 

FROM FARM GARDEN TO DINNER TABLE

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

Kathryn Bohner
Illinois State University

A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A FARMER: APRIL

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.

4-12-16 April

Bookkeeping

There’s probably not a lot of bookkeeping getting done this month – not with springtime and planting on the brain. A farmer is constantly watching the commodity markets, though. There may be some old crop left in the bins or maybe he’s pricing some of this year’s crop ahead of time. Either way, it’s always good to follow the markets.

This year’s crop

If you see a farmer in April, an appropriate conversation starter would be, “How’s it goin’ at your place – are you anxious to get in the field?” To which you will receive either an overly-optimistic, rosy outlook, or a stressed and grumbly, get-off-my-back kind of response. It’s truly a crap shoot – Much like the weather which is likely dictating their mood. Some major prep work that may be on a farmer’s mind:

  • 4-12-16 20160321_171030 editedApply anhydrous ammonia (NH3), if used, and not applied last fall
  • Apply fertilizer, either organic (manure) or synthetic, if not done last fall
  • “Work Ground” which basically means chop up, mix, or turn the dirt for seed bed preparation. There are a variety of “tools” a farmer could pull behind his tractor to do this, but a disc and/or cultivator are most common.

Finally, once the threat of frost decreases, ground temperature reaches near 50 °F, and the soil dries out enough to drive the equipment through it without making ruts or risk getting stuck… PLANTING can begin! Planting requires quite a bit stop and go:

  • 4-12-16 April 1Tweaks need to be made to the planter
  • Depending on your equipment it can take some time to fill the seed buckets (and refill, and refill again!)
  • Farmers try to be very precise on their field pattern and make their rows nice and straight (especially on busier roads!)
  • And sometimes they’ll have to stop to get a huge rock, branch, or garbage out of their path so they don’t wreck their machinery.
  • Of course, there’s also more major setbacks like a mechanical break-down or a flat tire

Household and farm odd-jobs / repairs

The only time for odd-jobs and repairs is if it’s too cold or wet to be in the field!

4-12-16 Slow moving vehicleSince planting season is beginning to gear up here in Illinois, as you drive, PLEASE keep in mind that there may be a slow moving vehicle or wide load up ahead as you pop over that hill or come around a curve. They may be pulling an awkward or heavy load so keep a safe following distance behind them and allow enough time for safe passing. And a friendly steering wheel wave is always appreciated by a farmer!

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Ashley Deal
ICGA/ICMB Membership Assistant

A LETTER TO MY FUTURE DAUGHTER

Have you ever thought about what you would tell your daughter if you haven’t had the chance to meet her yet?  You expect that she will be great and take after you, but have you made any mistakes that you definitely do not want her making?  What scares you for your children’s futures?  I could go on for days thinking and writing what I would want her to know.  Women’s roles in society have changed so much in the last century.  Just think how much it will continue to change and evolve into something that today’s moms are not even expecting.

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Dear Daughter,

In your lifetime you will experience many new things.  Societal, agricultural, technological, and many other advances will be made.  Sometimes it will be cool and other times it will be scary.  The best advice I can give you is to try to keep up with the advances, but do not let them consume you.  People will always grow, change, and develop.  I wish for you to follow your heart, chase your dreams, no matter how cliché that may sound.

When it comes to agricultural advances, there will be fads, practices, and trends.  Traditions that will all change during your lifetime as it did mine.  I encourage you to become well-educated in areas that may concern you.  Articles published through different media outlets may not be the most reliable.  Check multiple reliable sources and take away your own ideas from your research.

Technology: isn’t it a great thing?  What has changed since you were a little girl?  Keeping up with technology is a job within itself.  Some words for the wise: technology consumes you if you let it.  You are only as advanced as you allow yourself to become.  Sometimes technology can make life easier but sometimes it makes life 10 times more difficult.  Social media are great for keeping up with friends who you do not see very often, yet it takes away from those you are with on a daily basis.  Find a way to balance your life and don’t let one piece consume you.

In conclusion, have fun with life. After all, you never know how long you have to live.  You are the youngest you will ever be right now and the oldest you have yet to be.  As many people say, “live well, laugh often, love much” quoted by Bessie Anderson Stanley.  This quote within itself means a great deal because it reminds us to live life to its fullest, while still having time to laugh, and always love like there is no tomorrow.  I challenge you to set extreme goals and even if you do not accomplish them they will take you to great places.

With much love,

Mom

I encourage all moms who have read this, write a letter every so often to your daughter and then give them to her when she moves out.  These letters can be whatever you choose to make them.  You can talk about things that have happened since the last letter you wrote or they could write them on big occasions.  The task is up to you, let me know what you think of this.

Lewis_Elizabeth

Elizabeth Lewis
Southern Illinois University

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR FUEL

When I pull into the gas station I am normally rolling in on fumes just hoping I don’t run out of gas. I pull into the nearest possible pump and begin fueling. Normally I am in such of a hurry that I don’t take time to stop and look at what I am actually putting into my vehicle. Turns out, it may be more than just fuel. It is a fuel blend that may be doing more than you think… ethanol. Here are five things you may not have known about ethanol in your fuel.

  1. High Octane

4-5-16Ethanol_Photo_1You may be asking yourself, what does high octane mean? I myself was unsure of what it meant until I researched it in further detail! According to the Federal Trade Commission, octane ratings are a measurement of the ability of gasoline to repel engine knock, which is a rattling noise resulting from a premature ignition of a condensed fuel-air blend in one or more cylinders. Ethanol happens to be considered an octane-enhancing additive. E10, which is a ten percent ethanol blend in gasoline, happens to be offered in all grades of gas and has the ability to be used in most models of vehicles regularly.

  1. Low Cost

Ethanol is not the only high-octane enhancer that has been used. Aromatics have similar high-octane enhancers compared to ethanol and have been used in many blends of gas in the past. Although, aromatics are a more expensive commodity as compared to ethanol. In 2013 an aromatic called benzene was the highest prices aromatic, but has since disappeared in early 2015. According to AgFax, a study was done that showed that purchasing ethanol, as a high-octane blend, was cheaper than the average price of three high-octane aromatic enhancers.

  1. Renewable

Ethanol is considered a renewable fuel. It is made from a wide array of plant materials commonly known as biomass. One industry that specifically benefits from ethanol is corn production because corn has high starch content. Nearly 40% of the U.S corn production is being used for the ethanol industry. Utilizing these ethanol blends in today’s gasoline is a successful way to oxygenate gasoline and reduce air pollution.

  1. American Made

4-5-16maxresdefaultMany ethanol production plants are located in the Midwest because there is a large majority of corn production in the Midwest. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture about 90% of ethanol is transported by train or truck while the remaining 10% is traditionally transported by barge. Therefore, a large majority American Made ethanol remains within the United States for gasoline blends such E10 or E85.

  1. No wars

Because Saudi Arabia and the Middle East is a large producer in the production of petroleum, this causes great conflict with buying and importing into the United States. Often prices are extremely high. The advantage of American made ethanol is knowing where it is coming from. We are extremely independent in the production of ethanol, which gives us advantages both from an economic and environmental standpoint.

Next time you stop to fuel up… consider that you are putting more than just regular fuel in the tank. You are putting in a blend that is so much more.

Nicole Chance

 

Nicole Chance
University of Illinois

HINTS OF SPRING

Spring is a magical time. Birds begin to chirp, the sun makes longer appearances, and warmer weather improves everyone’s mood.  Mother Nature, especially in Illinois, likes to tease us about when spring will decide to come and stick around, tricking us with warm temperatures one week and a snow shower the next.  Thankfully there are signs to indicate that spring has sprung!

You know it’s spring when planting begins.

3-24-16Hints of Spring- PlantingAs the weather warms up, farmers begin getting antsy to get into the field. They must wait for the right amount of moisture in the soil. If the soil is too wet, the weight of the tractor and planter may compact it. Compaction limits the flow of air and water through the soil and makes it harder for a sprouting seed to break through to the surface.  Farmers may also use a field cultivator to kill existing weeds and work up the soil. Once soil and weather conditions permit, farmers begin sowing seeds, which will hopefully turn into a bountiful fall harvest!

You know it’s spring when flowers begin to emerge.

3-24-16Hints of Spring- FlowersPlants have a variety of growing seasons. Some are perennial, meaning they live for more than two years.  Bulbs and tulips are examples of perennials. Some are biennial, meaning it takes two years to complete its biological lifecycle. Examples of biennials are carrots and onions. Summer annuals begin germinating in the spring and are mature by fall of the same year. Germination is the process of a seed beginning to grow after a period of dormancy. Carnations, pansies, and many other common types of flowers are annuals.  Spring is the time that many different types of flowers begin making their way to the surface and become beautiful for the summer months.

You know it’s spring when children begin playing outside.

3-24-16Hints of Spring- Fresh Air and SunshineLike Laura Ingalls Wilder said, “Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat.” After a long winter, everyone is ready to get back outside. Spring signals the time to break out bicycles and baseball gloves, sidewalk chalk and jump ropes. Playing outside has many health benefits, such as increasing attention span and reducing stress. Playing outside also provides a chance to soak in some Vitamin D, which helps prevent bone problems, diabetes, and heart disease. Parents and children alike are thankful when the weather warms up enough to get back outside!

3-24-16Hints of Spring- DirtSpring is a beautiful time as the weather warms up, flowers begin to emerge, and fields are planted. As Margaret Atwood said, “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Whether it is from spending the day in a field planting or cultivating, planting a garden, or playing in your backyard, many spring activities result in smelling like dirt, sunshine, and happiness.

 

 

 

To see other images like these, check out our Instagram page @ILCorn

Christy Allen

Christy Allen
University of Illinois

FARMERS CHOOSE GMOS, AND HERE’S WHY

Monsanto. Illustrated as an evil among many consumers, Monsanto forces farmers to plant genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and somehow the government influences farmers to comply. So how does this happen? Quite simply, it doesn’t happen. Farmers are not forced to plant GMOs and farmers certainly have no obligation to buy seeds from Monsanto. But farmers do choose to buy the seeds, and here’s why.

I recently spoke with two Illinois farmers, Paul Jeschke and Jeff Miller. Jeschke is a corn and soybean farmer from Grundy County, as well as Illinois Corn Marketing Board’s District 5 representative. Miller is a fifth generation farmer from Fulton County, who raises corn, soybeans, and beef cattle.

3-21-16seeds“Often times, the use of genetically engineered crops allows me to maintain or increase yields, along with greatly reducing the use of more toxic products like pesticides,” described Miller.

“There’s two main reasons that I like to use GMOs and do use GMOs, opposed to non-GMOs. Number one, they work a lot better. With GMOs, you’ll typically get 90-95% control of the insects you’re after. Whereas typical pesticides are weather-dependent, and maybe 50-75% control. Number two, I can avoid handling and applying pesticides with GMOs. I just as soon not use pesticides if I can stay away from them,” explained Jeschke.

Miller also added, “Though GMOs dominate the marketplace in both corn and soybeans, farmers sometimes plant non-GMOs, particularly if a premium may be involved. It is a free market system, and farmers will choose what is profitable and works in their system.”

So how does Monsanto relate to the negativism surrounding the use of GMOs? Monsanto is a sustainable agriculture company that has developed patented seeds, in which farmers must sign an agreement upon purchasing the seeds. In this agreement, Monsanto states that farmers are not allowed to save and replant the seeds from year to year.

3-21-16seedpatentMonsanto explains the concept of seed patenting by stating, “When a new edition of Microsoft Office hits the market, it’s copyrighted. You can’t buy a copy, burn it and sell it to your friends—or else it’s called piracy. It’s the same with Monsanto’s patented seeds. Patents, like copyrights, are a form of intellectual property protection that legally prohibits unauthorized duplication of a product.”

In our interview, Jeschke discusses how seed patents influence seed purchases saying, “We are absolutely free to buy whatever seed we want to buy, from any company. I choose to buy the majority of my seed from Monsanto, because in my area, they are the best performing seeds I can purchase. Across the country, Monsanto provides the top yielding variety, which is why they are the best-selling company. If other companies get better varieties than what Monsanto currently has, then that will change.”

“There are 3 to 4 major companies to buy seed from, and many regional type companies for corn and soybeans. Personal relationships with companies that have quality products are just as important in farming, as they are in other businesses,” Miller expressed.

As you can see, farmers study several options and take every factor into careful consideration when choosing which seeds to plant in order to harvest a safe, efficient, high-yielding crop for the market. If GMOs most suitably fit their farming operation preferences, farmers can choose GMOs. The bottom line is, farmers do control which seeds go in the ground, and which seeds don’t.

Miller_Carli

 

 

Carli Miller
University of Illinois