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 import 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

REGARDLESS OF THE LABEL, DAIRY IS LOCAL

[Originally published from Illinois Farm Families]

Our family has been farming in central Illinois for more than 150 years and shipping our milk to local bottling plants for distribution in surrounding communities. We’re just one of many dairy farms across the country – in fact there are dairy farms in all 50 states shipping milk to neighborhood stores and markets, making dairy a true local food!

So what does it take to bring you some local goodness? Well, every day, regardless of birthdays, weddings, graduations or weather, our alarm sounds long before the sun comes up. We milk our cows twice a day and on average, each cow spends about eight minutes in the milking parlor – five of those minutes with the milking units attached. Our milk is cooled down to 38 degrees until the milk hauler comes to the farm. Then our milk is transported to the Prairie Farms bottling plant in Peoria, Ill. Testing is done for quality and safety before the milk is pasteurized, homogenized and bottled. Milk offers great nutrition with a lean source of protein, Vitamins A, D and calcium, just to name a few.

About 48 hours after the milk leaves our farm, it arrives on your store shelves and then on your dinner table!

We all want to sit around the dinner table and feed our family fresh food grown and raised by local farmers. It’s a concept that has recently been rebranded as “farm to table” but has actually been around for a very long time. On my family’s dairy farm, we are proud to say that with our without a “local” label, we have been providing the highest quality milk for our community for more than five generations. So, pour yourself a cold glass of milk or enjoy a heaping bowl of ice cream and know it came from a local farmer just a few days earlier.

MARY FABER

Mary raises dairy cattle and grain with her husband, Jesse, and two children in central Illinois. Mary’s great-grandfather started the dairy farm over 150 years ago with just a handful of cows. Today, her family continues to live and farm on those original acres. Farming is a history and a passion for Mary and her family!

I NEVER PAID MUCH ATTENTION TO CORN

Last night I took the long familiar drive home with added company in my car. I had fellow Corn Intern, Kylie, and her roommate in the car with me and we were making casual conversation about our days at work. The three of us are friends outside of work but come from various backgrounds that all led us to the University of Illinois agriculture program.

As we drove, the conversation began to lull and from the back-seat Kylie offered, “You know, I never really paid much attention to corn until I started my internship.” The sentence took me a bit off guard before she continued, “Of course we had some corn, but it was just there.” I understood what she meant, but to me, corn had never “just been there.”

Continued reflection on the topic had me curious how one could just assume corn was nothing more than passing scenery on the interstate. It was so much more than that to everyone I knew growing up and I have never known anything different. Corn was never “just there”, it was seed selected carefully, planting done late into the night praying the rain held off, then praying for rain a few weeks later. Corn was your classmate or teacher missing an afternoon because the field really needed to be picked and someone had to get it done. No, corn wasn’t “just there”.

I then thought about how the office had reacted the recent rain we had got. It was easy to tell who had been raised with farmers and whose family farm was in what parts of the state. Some were quick to groan at the thought of more water in their already sodden fields while many rejoiced at the chance for their plants to get a drink. All of the meaning was lost on Kylie, she had never paid much attention to corn. She didn’t know what the year of the drought was like. To her, the corn was still “just there”.

After having slept on the subject, I have reached a new mentality. Most people will never pay attention to the corn along the side of the roads. They will not see the food, fuel, and fiber that keeps the country turning, the backbone of the American economy, the pride of Illinois, they will see corn. That’s okay. It would be impossible to ask Kylie to appreciate corn in ways that I do, she wasn’t raised with corn as her nearest neighbor. Rather than be annoyed, upset, or frustrated, I am inspired. The fact that others think corn is “just there” means that I get to be corn’s voice. Those in agriculture have a passion that can’t be squelched. Share that passion. Spread the word. Others don’t have to pay attention to corn as long as you do.

Shelby Carlson
IL Corn Intern

CAUTION WHEN DRIVING!

It’s getting to that time of the year where the corn is growing a mile per minute. With advancements in technology, corn is growing quicker and taller sooner than ever before. With these advancements, we wanted to caution drivers who are cruising the countryside to be very aware of their surroundings.

  1. Drive the Speed Limit

People tend to think that their vehicle magically becomes a racecar when going down a country road. With corn growing there becomes a huge visibility issue and it’s harder to see other drivers on different roads. Go the speed limit because you have no idea what might or how fast things down other roads can be going.

  1. Slow down at every corner, even if there is no stop sign

Like I just said, when corn is growing there becomes a huge visibility issue. Even if there is not a stop sign at every corner decrease your speed or even stop. Many people feel the need to roll through stop signs in the country, even when the corn is high. Be the proactive person and ensure everyone’s safety and slow down at every corner and intersection you can.

  1. Use caution & double check when you see equipment coming down the road

Though it is not the time for harvest right now, it will be soon. Ground Rigs are still able to get into the fields and before we know it harvesting equipment will be roaming the country roads more. Lots of this equipment takes up space that fills up the whole road. Most of this equipment is also designed to go a lot slower than your average vehicle. Most farmers try to be courteous to others not in equipment and allow them to pass when it’s safe for both of them. Before passing the equipment ALWAYS DOUBLE CHECK to see if there is anything coming. Sometimes farmers are just getting over to let oncoming traffic through.

Though you should always be cautious while driving anywhere, please be extra cautious during this, and any other corn-growing season!

Abby Jacobs
Illinois State University

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