AG SPIES: A REAL THING

As the agriculture industry becomes more diverse the need to gain the most knowledge and the best products has become a very tempting business. Many people across the world, specifically people in China, have been caught trying to take away research and ideas in order to progress their work. The FBI warns of “agricultural economic espionage ‘a growing threat’ and some are worried that biotech piracy can spell big trouble for a dynamic and growing U.S. industry.”

Ventria Bioscience president and CEO Scott Deeter displays some of the bio-engineered rice developed in his company’s laboratory. CREDIT BRYAN THOMPSON FOR HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

Recently a group of Chinese scientists traveled to Hawaii for business. On their way back to China, U.S. customs agents found rice seeds in their luggage that were not supposed to be there. Because of this offense, at least one of those scientists is going to be finding a new home in the federal prison system.

Sadly, this is not the only time one of these offenses have taken place. At Ventria Bioscience, scientists figured out how to “genetically engineer rice to grow human proteins for medical uses.” After hosting a meeting of scientists from the Chinese crops research institute it was found that Weiqian Zhang had rice seeds in his luggage. He is currently awaiting his sentencing in federal court.

Another issue that has occurred was back in 2011 where a field manager for Pioneer Hi-Bred International found Mo Hailong, a man with ties to China, digging up seed corn out of an Iowa field. In January 2016 he pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets involving corn seed that was created by Monsanto and Pioneer.

But why do they do this?

According to the assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, Jason Griess, “There are countries in this world that are in dire need of this technology and one of the ways you go about obtaining it is to steal it.” With a huge population in China, they are very interested in getting better access to seeds and technology to grow and feed their growing population.

To read more about this topic check out the original article from KCUR 89.3

Abby Jacobs
IL Corn Communications Intern

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

APPLICATION IS IN THE AIR

It’s that time of the year where we are going to start seeing those yellow (not always seen as yellow) airplanes flying around from field to field from sun-up to sun-down. What was once known as crop dusting is now referred to as Aerial Application and they for sure have a great importance to boost plant and field health. Here are 5 fast facts about the agricultural aviation industry that you should know!

  1. Airplanes weren’t the first mode of aerial application

A hot air balloon with mobile tethers, flown by John Chaytor in 1906 in Wairoa, New Zealand is the first recorded aerial application flight. It was said that John flew over a swamped valley floor and spread seed over it.

  1. Ag Pilots are in high demand but require a lot of aviation training

Those pilots in those airplanes are not the same ones that take you to your favorite vacation spot. Though both require extensive amounts of training, agriculture pilots have to go through specific agriculture training that not most commercial pilots have. To become an ag pilot you have to get your private pilot license, a commercial rating, a tail-wheel airplane endorsement, and more agriculture training. They also go through extensive pesticide and entomology training use as well.

  1. Hefty price tag

Those airplanes that buzzing around aren’t just something that can be cheaply replaced. Planes used for aerial application can range in price from $100,000 to $1.5 million. Many of these pilots that fly them on average have over 20 years of experience and over 94% of them own their own business.

  1. Pilots are pretty tech savvy

There are not just a steering council and paper maps in those airplanes. Plenty of high-tech GPS, GSI, flow controls, and well-calibrated spraying equipment is in them. Lots of time and training goes into knowing what and where controls are.

  1. There are two main products being applied

Though all aerial application planes can be used to spray water on wildfires and etc., the ones you see here in Illinois are usually applying insecticides and fungicides. Insecticides are used to control insects in the fields and fungicides are used to kill and/or control fungi or fungal spores.  Without spraying for these things fields can get out of control and produce a lower quality product and a lower yield.

Though those yellow planes are super fun to watch fly low onto the fields, please always remain cautious and not get too close to those fields being treated. To all the Ag pilots out there, have a safe and happy application season!

Abby Jacobs
Illinois State University

FEELINGS AND FACTS: TALKING TO CONSUMERS

There is no doubt that there is a huge push coming from consumers disconnected from the farm on practices used to produce the food that they consume. We as agriculturalists have been pushing facts hard lately to portray our points on why we choose the practices we do. But are facts that effective?

A video that was recently posted on social media states that people “make decisions based mostly on emotion instead of facts.” The video talks about how we, as people, “respond better to social and tribal dynamics.” This means that if one’s tribe (or as I like to put it, people they want to be around) believes something, that person thinks that is the honest truth, whether or not it is actually true.  Why do people do this you might ask? “It’s safer to agree with your tribe and stay united ideologically, even if you are wrong about the facts, than to disagree and isolate yourself.”

So what does that mean for us agriculturalists? We need to be connecting to consumers on a personal level. We need to portray how we are proud of what we grow and they should be proud too. Personal stories, pictures, and short videos have been shown to be super effective. People who are interested in learning where their food comes from just want to be shown (notice I did not say told) what the inside of your farm looks like. They want to see your kids working with animals, machinery moving in fields, and how the whole family really has a part in making the farm functional. They are striving to find out what your personal story is and why they should believe in you. Connecting with them that you are a consumer too and care about what you and your family eat too is a huge selling point.

Keep in mind that they are just like us and have opinions and questions too.  Be respectful to people’s opinions and by no means make them feel like they are less of a person. So go out and tell your story! Connect with people! But most importantly, keep it real!

Abby Jacobs
Illinois State University

KNEE HIGH BY THE 4TH OF JULY

If you took a drive down a country road, you would probably see corn and a lot of it. That is my drive to work every morning. It is a part of life in central Illinois and a scene as familiar as the leaves turning in the fall. Without a doubt, those who have grown up in this region have also heard the phrase “knee-high by the 4th of July.” Let me tell you, I could get lost in a corn field more easily than find one that meets only my knee.

Once the standard for a good corn crop was that it should be as tall at the farmer’s knee by early July. This no longer applies to a modern crop for a variety of reasons ranging from a change in planting date, a change in seed genetics, fertilizer, and increased technology. A central Illinois cornfield in early July can completely conceal my head from view. Head high just doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?Why have we changed up the tried and true methods of the past? Simple, we know more than we did before. No longer do we have to settle growing only 20 bushels on an acre like in 1912. The national average was 175 bushels an acre in 2016. This is important because farmers are expected to feed more people than ever before, and on less land.

Why have we changed up the tried and true methods of the past? Simple, we know more than we did before. No longer do we have to settle growing only 20 bushels on an acre like in 1912. The national average was 175 bushels an acre in 2016. This is important because farmers are expected to feed more people than ever before, and on less land.With increases in technology and knowledge, scientists have been able to select varieties of corn that can be planted earlier. This allows them to grow longer and results not only in more of the beautiful golden

With increases in technology and knowledge, scientists have been able to select varieties of corn that can be planted earlier. This allows them to grow longer and results not only in more of the beautiful golden kernels but a taller crop that is definitely not just knee high. More recently, the traits can be combined with others such as drought and bug resistance in a genetically modified crop that is much hardier and can feed more than ever before.Can you imagine your house plants staying green without a little “plant food”? Neither can corn! These nutrients that the plants need to grow big and tall can now be applied in ways that were never before possible in the form of fertilizer. Corn that might have once grown short and wimpy in a location if it grew at all can now grow tall with the help of scientists and farmers applying the right kinds of fertilizers in measured amounts.

Can you imagine your house plants staying green without a little “plant food”? Neither can corn! These nutrients that the plants need to grow big and tall can now be applied in ways that were never before possible in the form of fertilizer. Corn that might have once grown short and wimpy in a location if it grew at all can now grow tall with the help of scientists and farmers applying the right kinds of fertilizers in measured amounts.Knee high by the 4th of July, while still a clever rhyme that was a once useful, simply isn’t good enough for the modern corn crop. Farmers have to up their game to feed the world. Through the use of modern technology and a careful selection of seed genetics, a farmer today feeds 155 people. As you celebrate the 4th of July, watch the fireworks from somewhere other than a cornfield, you won’t be able to see over those big green leaves.

Knee high by the 4th of July, while still a clever rhyme that was a once useful, simply isn’t good enough for the modern corn crop. Farmers have to up their game to feed the world. Through the use of modern technology and a careful selection of seed genetics, a farmer today feeds 155 people. As you celebrated the 4th of July, I hope you watched the fireworks from somewhere other than a cornfield, you wouldn’t be able to see over those big green leaves.

Shelby Carlson
IL Corn

#TBT: RAIN CAN BE A HUGE PAIN

[Originally published June 29, 2015]

We love this parody by Ohio Ag Net’s Ty Higgins.  Rain IS a big pain all over the Midwest.

On Friday, after leaving IL Corn’s rained out golf outing, I took this quick video (below). You can see clearly see the damaged caused to this corn by standing water and inadequate drainage. The dark spots are higher ground where the corn wasn’t trying to grow in standing water. The lighter green spots are lower ground where the corn is struggling to survive.

Here’s a photo I took today on my way back to the office after lunch. See how the corn is lighter colored where it’s excessively wet?

wet field

This damage is everywhere. Farmers are starting to get nervous. THIS is one of the reasons why farming is such a risky business.

Mitchell_Lindsay
Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

SIX REASONS FARMERS VISIT WASHINGTON, DC

  1. TO EXPLAIN HOW THEY LIVE: It’s no secret that every single year, more and more kids leave the farm and the rural areas where they’ve grown up for the bigger cities.  Flat out, there is just more opportunity in ST. Louis or Chicago for those young Americans.  Even if they want to stay in the ag industry, they have multiple opportunities to work for the Chicago Board of Trade or for Monsanto in the bigger cities than they do in the rural areas.  The result is that many of our legislators just don’t know what it is to live on the farm or even in a rural area.  Who better to explain farm family life to them, but farmers?
  2. FARMERS ARE LESS THAN 2 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION: And even among those 2 percent, a majority will never travel to Washington, DC and will never make an appointment to see their elected official.  It means so much to those elected officials to see real farmers in their Washington, DC offices – to have someone to ask questions of and to reflect on problems with.  Farmers really ought to visit our nation’s capital more often!
  3. TO EXPLAIN HOW POLICIES MIGHT OR MIGHT NOT WORK: Because legislators aren’t always super aware of rural life or of how to farm, they need farmers in their office to talk them through potential policy ideas.  While a farm bill is being debated, for example, farmers need to be available to point out successes or pitfalls of potential policy.  How will legislators who have never farmed understand how a policy might really work on an actual farm?
  4. TO SEE HOW THEY CAN HELP: Sometimes, legislators that really do try hard to represent their district and enact policies that make a difference need help too.  An elected official might be trying to do the right thing, but media or other non-supporters in his or her district are swinging the other way, which makes the right thing difficult.  Farmers often ask how they can help their Congressman on any potential issues in the district.  If a Congressman is genuinely trying to do the right thing for his district, farmers definitely want to help that Congressman so that he or she can remain in office.
  5. TO DONATE MONEY: It takes money to get elected into Congress and to remain in Congress.  Whether that’s right or wrong, farmers will often visit Washington, DC to donate funds to the elected officials who help them on pro-farm and pro-rural life policy initiatives.  Farmer leaders want to enable the best Congressman who try to understand agriculture and rural life to remain in office.
  6. TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE DYNAMICS OF VARIOUS POLICY INITIATIVES: Often when farmers visit Washington, DC, they are able to meet with other national associations, companies, and think tanks to gather information and get a better picture of the dynamics influencing policy decisions.  For example, if farmers really want to pass tax reform, they need to meet with other impacted parties to determine how certain tax reforms might work for them.  Perhaps there’s a negative impact that the farmers haven’t considered and the policy idea can be changed.  Perhaps many associations are in favor of the same tax fix and they can all work together to show Congress why one idea is better than another.

When IL Corn farmer leaders travel to Washington, DC, there is almost no free time!  By the time we schedule in meetings with other interested associations and companies, by the time we background ourselves on what’s going on in Washington, DC and meet with our elected officials (all 20 of them!), and by the time we participate in fundraisers for the Congressmen who have helped us, we’re running from 6 am til 9 pm and that’s no exaggeration.

But the work farmers do in D.C. is so important to protecting farm families and rural life.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH FFA?

If you live in Illinois and are even remotely involved in agriculture, you have most likely heard the Illinois Association FFA convention took place this week. In the agriculture world, that’s a big deal. It’s more than just tons of high school kids walking around in blue corduroy jackets and dress slacks, it is high school students picking the future leaders of American agriculture.

This time of year, nostalgia hits as I begin to reflect on my own FFA days and what those experiences meant to me. Too often people explain FFA as the former title of “Future Farmers of America”, but that is no longer an accurate description of the organization. FFA provides leadership and growth opportunities for high school youth, even those who don’t want to farm.

Throughout my time in FFA, I learned more about myself than I ever could have in a classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing a classroom education, I wouldn’t be pursuing a Master’s degree right now if I didn’t see the value in it, but I think there is much more to be learned about oneself that can’t be figured out until you enter the real world.

I knew what I wanted to do as a career when I was a sophomore in high school, but I wouldn’t have been able to narrow that down without the experiences that FFA allowed me. I had always enjoyed talking, ask anyone who knows me, but I loved presenting to groups. In FFA I could speak to groups about agriculture and opportunities within it. At this point, I knew I had found my life calling, something I had been born to do.

Not everyone has college aspirations, and that is something else I was able to learn through FFA. There is a shortage of skilled workers in the country and FFA is a place where students can try their hand at these skills. In my own family 3 out of 4 kids were headed straight to a four-year university, but the youngest had a different plan, he wanted to weld. Never for a moment were my parents in the least disappointed in his choice. They knew that his skills as a welder were needed the same as mine as a communicator and my sisters’ as teachers.

We aren’t the only family like this, the only ones whose lives had been shaped by opportunities given to us by FFA. Competitions in FFA range from livestock judging to public speaking, business management to forestry, mechanics to parliamentary procedure, and much more. Students can easily find their niche in at least one Career Development Event (CDE) or become a veteran at competitions like myself. In FFA, you learn it isn’t about winning, but getting to experience a taste of the real world in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

At the 89th Annual Illinois Association State FFA Convention that took place this week, officers were many state level CDE competitions were held. In addition, the new major state officers elected will tour the state over the next year on behalf of both Illinois FFA and agriculture. FFA turns students into leaders and gives those leaders avenues to represent the agriculture industry that they hold near and dear.

Shelby Carlson
IL Corn Intern