PLANTING IS OVER, WHAT’S NEXT?

As many of us have seen this spring, farm machinery is moving all around. Farmers are busy planting the fields during this time of year. Depending on the time of year, most farmers can have their fields planted by end of May or early June. Of course, everything depends on the weather too. Some of us in northern Illinois saw snow on Easter Sunday, which fell on April 1st. A cold spring makes for less than ideal conditions to plant in the field, as farmers must wait until the ground is thawed for good. In the fall, growers are fully occupied harvesting their fields and finishing for the season, hopefully before the winter weather arrives. So, what do farmers do in between planting and harvest? Let’s dive a little deeper!

After the seeds are in the ground, a farmer’s job is not done. The period between planting and harvest is a great time to get farm machinery into tip-top shape. By taking time during the summer to ensure all equipment is cared for and ready to operate, it allows the farmers to have a smooth transition into harvest when the crops are ready.

Another task farmers often face between planting and harvest is plant care. Just as we take care of our pets, crop farmers must care for their plants. If there are pests infesting a portion of the field, or a fungus invading some of the plants, it is up to the farmer to solve those problems. A farmer walks through each field and checks on the plants periodically through the growing season, also known as crop scouting. The health of the plant plays a big role in the harvest yield in the fall. The healthier the plants, the higher quantity of crops that will be produced. The farmer also must care for the soil. Just as many of us take vitamins to ensure we receive key nutrients, it is the grower’s responsibility to make sure the soil is getting the proper nutrients too. With a healthy soil foundation, a farmer is setting up for a fruitful harvest.

Growers are also tasked with the responsibility of planning for the future. Just like any other business, these operators are looking ahead and making decisions to better their farm for the following year. Important choices include types of crops to plant, what soil treatments should be applied, any machinery that should be fixed or purchased, and many more. The countless choices that go into each decision can be daunting to non-farmers. However, with experience and resources from experts, farmers can make the best-educated decisions for their farm and their family.

Farmers are some of the most hardworking individuals. They work year-round to ensure the best quality crops for a bountiful harvest, and to keep feeding us, the consumers.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

HOW MY INTERNSHIP EXPANDED MY KNOWLEDGE OF FOOD

Throughout this semester, I have been exposed to a new perspective on food. I have always been interested in the health aspect of it, as well as what goes on inside our bodies after we ingest it, but this internship influenced me to focus more on the source of it, as well as the work behind the entire process.

While I had a decent understanding of common misconceptions, such as people being against biotechnology and food that is inorganic, I began to learn that many of us do not truly understand the reasoning behind making these food choices. Throughout the internship, I would talk to some of my friends, or catch them in moments at the grocery store when they would say “wait, but choose the organic one,” and after asking why, it typically resulted in an answer along the lines of  “it’s healthier” or “I don’t know, it’s better for you.” There have been many examples of consumers purchasing an item merely because it contains the words “vegan, organic or gluten-free.”

My very first post on the Instagram Gate2Plate highlighted the craze about GMO-free water. After reading a few articles, it became evident that companies try to take advantage of the knowledge gap between consumers and their willingness to pay a higher price for a “premium” product. While the water bottle does look fancier and more official, in the end, there is no true difference in the quality or safety of that water, but there is in the price. Gate2plate contains a multitude of fun photos that include facts, tasty meals, artsy recipes, and more, and it has helped me and many others expand our knowledge of all the different realms of food.

Through my experience with this internship, I learned about food insecurity and programs created to fight it, such as Food Corps. I have also learned that there are so many fun food holidays, and they are almost every single day! I have also learned the details that go into many of the intricate processes of creating certain foods, such as whey protein, beef, and coffee. While I have always followed basic trends of eating in season, I learned a lot about why it’s important, such as more flavor and nutrition, the fact that it helps you save money since the food is at the peak of its supply, and it is also better for the planet because eating within the seasons helps reduce the number of miles our food has traveled, hence reducing amount of fuel used to get it to us! Overall, I have learned that the process that comes before our food reaches our plate involves so much dedication, knowledge, patience, and hard work, and it is a step in the process that should be known and recognized by everyone because we would be nowhere without it.

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois

TAXPAYERS ARE BETTER OFF WHEN FARMERS HAVE CROP INSURANCE

Basic premises that we must agree on before you read this post: 
       1. Food security is important, both for America and for the world.
       2. Food security depends on farmers being able to make enough money               to farm the next year.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics (JARE), U.S. taxpayers spend less when the government discounts farmers’ crop insurance premiums instead of relying on unbudgeted disaster aid packages.

When farmers have a major loss, often due to weather extremes like drought or tornadoes or hail storms, it benefits the American people to help those farmers make enough money to survive to farm another year (see food security premise above).  Before crop insurance, the U.S. government would hear about the major loss and Congress would often pass a disaster aid package.

This would be similar to what happened after the major hurricane events we’ve seen lately.  The disaster happens, the loss is extreme, the government steps in to help.

However, those unbudgeted needs are a strain to the national financial situation and aren’t ideal.  Also, political games can impact the timely deliver of the disaster programs and aid.

When the government pays a portion of the farmers’ crop insurance premium, it is a budgeted amount that provides farmers an incentive to protect themselves.

corn fields planter illinois

Federal crop insurance has become a pillar of U.S. farm policy in recent years and is being considered by policymakers around the world.  As it stands, farmers collectively spend $3.5 to $4 billion from their own pockets to purchase insurance protection a year.

Since crop insurance’s rise, annual disaster bills, which are fully funded by taxpayers and used to be the norm, have been largely reduced.  That’s been welcomed news for farmers since the disaster bills of the past were often politically motivated and were slow to deliver relief.

Congress is debating the farm bill right now, and this – among other topics – is a very important nuance to note.  When farmers have access to a working crop insurance program, they are partnering in the costs of the disaster losses.  Without a working crop insurance program, farmers turn to the government and tax payers fully fund the cost of the loss.

This study uses mathematical, peer reviewed data suggesting that it will be important for lawmakers to recognize the reduced insurance participation and increased likelihood for ad hoc assistance associated with the proposals being championed by farm policy critics during the ongoing Farm Bill debate.

Thank you to our source, National Crop Insurance Services.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

CROP INSURANCE 101

Many non-farmers don’t understand crop insurance.  It’s difficult to understand – I’ll give you that!

On the surface, the premise is just like home insurance or car insurance that most of us already understand.  But the implementation of crop insurance is pretty different.

This article from National Crop Insurance Services really helps describe how and why crop insurance is different from auto, life, and health insurance.

All insurance, from auto to life, health, and crop insurance works best when it expands the number of people it covers – a concept known as the “risk pool.” That is because the greater the participation, the more widely risk can be spread. And by spreading the chance of loss among a diverse group of insureds, premiums become more affordable for everyone involved.

Additionally, participants in all forms of insurance must pay premiums and shoulder deductibles. This gives the insured some ownership of their own protection and prevents participants from engaging in risky behavior – sometimes referred to as “moral hazard.”

In this sense, crop insurance works like other forms of insurance. However, the parallels are not perfect because agriculture is a unique kind of business that suffers unique kinds of losses. Unlike other insurance lines, agricultural losses tend to be geographically targeted and severe.

For example, there is little chance that every car in a city will be simultaneously totaled, or that every person in a state will need medical help at the same time. But a single flood, storm, or drought can cause a catastrophic loss for every farming operation in a county or region, which makes it more difficult to insure.

Because of this higher risk, the concentration of losses, and the likelihood of wide-scale disaster, crop insurance policies would be cost-prohibitive and very limited without some form of government support. Thus, America has a crop insurance system based on a public-private partnership between private insurance providers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Under this arrangement – spelled out in a contract known as the Standard Reinsurance Agreement – companies that sell crop insurance must sell a policy to any eligible farmer at the premium rate set in advance by the Federal government. In addition, insurers cannot refuse to provide protection, raise the premium rate or impose special underwriting standards on any individual eligible farmer, regardless of risk.

#TBT: WHY I CAN’T LEAVE ILLINOIS

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.

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

SPRING RECIPE: LEMON CHICKEN STIR FRY WITH ASPARAGUS

With spring in full swing we now finally have some of our favorite vegetables back in season. Mine happens to be asparagus, which means I can cook it fresh from the garden. Instead of a traditional chicken and asparagus dish, I enjoy this one because of the complex flavors it introduces. Savory yet still simple to make. This recipe serves three to four people and is very filling.

For this recipe you will need:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup of chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon zest

Now to the best part, how to make it!

  • Cook asparagus and oil in a skillet over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. When 1 minute remains, add garlic. Set asparagus and garlic aside.
  • Season chicken with salt and pepper. Increase heat to high and cook chicken until browned.
  • Set chicken aside and add soy sauce and chicken broth to the skillet. Bring to a boil for about 1 minute. Add lemon juice, water, and cornstarch and stir for about 1 minute.
  • Return chicken and asparagus to pan. Coat with sauce, top with lemon zest and serve!

This is a quick family recipe that all are sure to enjoy!

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University

AN UPDATE ON GMO LABELING

It’s been awhile since we’ve chatted about food product labels and what they mean. As we prepare for our favorite Easter Sunday meal, let’s refresh our knowledge and chat about the different labels we see on our food.

GMO: This term, often tied to negative feelings, stands for a genetically modified organism. Essentially, this means the genetic makeup of product has been altered to better the product for us, the consumers. We have the capabilities to pinpoint the exact gene we want to be changed, to help ensure our food is healthy and grows correctly. This opportunity has been ground-breaking for agriculture and is imperative to providing a safe and sufficient food supply to our growing world population.

Check out this video from our neighbors in Iowa and see real farmers’ perspectives on GMOs!

As shared in the video, GMOs have been in our food supply for 25 years. These products don’t just appear out of nowhere – each genetically modified item goes through a rigorous series of tests to meet approval from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). By testing these products, we are ensuring they are indeed safe for consumption. Farmers feed their children the same food we as consumers buy at the store. They want a safe and healthy food supply for their families too. That’s why GMOs are such an important part to our food supply.

So what about labels? As many of us may have seen, labels on food products are now changing. This is part of a movement through the FDA to ensure consumers understand what they are eating and the science behind it. It is extremely important to be educated on what we eat and why we eat it. The FDA explains why genetically modified foods are safe to eat in a factual article here, check it out!

Most of us are aware that genetically engineered products are a hot topic and have been promoted, both positively and negatively, over the news and social media. How can we know if you are eating food with genetically modified contents? Some producers have voluntary labels sharing this information. Despite the labels, it is important to educate ourselves on the importance of a sustainable and healthy food supply, and how producers are working hard to feed our growing world. Different tools producers use include GMOs because it’s a way for farmers to grow more on less land. Therefore, more food can be produced to help feed us, the consumers.

So on Sunday, while making Easter dinner, ask a family member what they know about GMOs Maybe they haven’t heard anything, or maybe they’ve kept up with this hot topic via social media. In either situation, take a minute to find authentic and scientific facts, such as the article from the USDA. Sharing education means sharing a wealth of knowledge. By doing this, we can share the scientific facts about GMOs and ultimately continue to support our farmers.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

A GUIDE TO FOOD APPS

MyFitnessPal: A free app that tracks diet, exercise, micros, and macros, charts your own personal data, and utilizes your own personal goals to motivate you. You can type in food manually and it breaks it down for you, or you can simply take a picture of the barcode!

MyPlate: An app that helps consumers improve their diets by providing tools for dietary assessment, nutrition education, and more. It focuses on variety, amount, and nutrition, and it provides the ultimate food options such as food and beverages with less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. On top of it all, it allows consumers start with small, comfortable changes and lets them set the pace.

Dirty Dozen: This app will let you know which products are the lowest in pesticides, as well as which ones are the highest. It helps you decide on the best time to look for an organic option (food that does not have any antibiotics or growth hormones) for a certain food.

Good Guide: This app uses science to help find the best products out there. It provides ratings of the highest rated products on the market, ranging from a wide variety of products. 

 

HowGood: Similar to Good Guide, HowGood assesses products for environmental, health, and trade impacts, and it provides ratings to help shoppers gauge which option is best.

 

Farmstand: This app makes it easier for you to eat local! Eating local is better for the environment, economy, and your health. It lists more than 8,700 farmer’s markets, and lets users post pictures of markets and vendors, share good finds, and browse valuable information posted by others who shop at markets as well!

Locavore: Locavore makes finding local, in-season food easy! It shows nearby farmer’s markets and farms, and it also has loads of great seasonal recipes! It also allows users to tag local sellers, share reviews, and post new findings.

 

HarvestMark Food Traceability: This app allows shoppers to scan the code on their food, obtain detailed harvest information, and provide feedback. It allows food producers to connect with their customers, and it exposes consumers to the process of food production on a much more in-depth level.

Seasons: Seasons provides data on natural growing seasons and local availability of many different products. When a product is in season, that means the harvest or the flavor of that product is at its peak! It features data on fruits, vegetables, lettuce, herbs, fungi, and nuts, and all entries have a photo, short description, and seasonal data.

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois