WHERE WOULD YOU BE WITHOUT AGRICULTURE?

Even before your feet hit the floor in the morning, an industry we all take for granted becomes part of your day.  The sheets on your bed, the eggs on your plate, the milk in your glass, and the clothes on your back are all made possible through agriculture.  As you make your way down the hall to the shower room even the floor you walk on and the doors you open are part of an agricultural process.  You turn on the water, and you get in.  Did you know that your soap, shampoo, conditioner, and even the towel and washcloths you use are pieces of agriculture?  By the time you style your hair, brush your teeth, apply your makeup, and start your car, you have already used hundreds of modern agricultural products.

As you drive down the freeway to your destination, you rush past crowded shopping centers, restaurants, bus stops, subway stations, small businesses, and crowded streets.  Suddenly as you enter the dreaded traffic jam, you realize that the American population is growing at an excessive rate compared to when you first started your job a few years ago.  In fact, the United States Census Bureau estimates that the world population will grow between 50 million and 80 million people every year for the next 40 years (www.census.gov).  Scientists are already working to provide the ever growing population with enough food, clothing, and modern agricultural products, without having to take up more land.  Through genetic engineering, scientists are able to chemically and physically enhance plant seeds to produce higher yields and prevent insect damage.  This process is intended to increase crop production on existing farmland, and to provide more food for the large population of America. 

I’ll bet you have even seen agricultural businesses close to your community.  Some of these are agricultural cooperatives.  If you use these cooperatives, you not only have a say in their products, prices, and leadership, but you also give back to your community.  In return, agricultural cooperatives give back to the community too.  If they receive business, it draws consumers to your town and can also benefit other businesses your community has.  In Pleasant Hill, our local agricultural cooperative is FS.  FS gives back to our community by hosting an annual Field Day with our FFA members.  They inform us about new farming methods, growing processes, agricultural threats, and influences in Pleasant Hill.  We utilize this information to help us not only with agricultural assignments but also with FFA events and fundraisers. 

So the real question here is: “Where would you be without agriculture?”  Without agriculture you would be inconvenienced, naked, malnourished, unprotected, and most importantly, hungry.  The cotton that provided you with your sheets, your clothes, your towels, and your washcloths wouldn’t be processed into these everyday items.  The eggs and milk you had for breakfast wouldn’t be available without the chickens that produced the eggs and the dairy cattle that produced the milk.  The floorboards under your carpet and the doors made of wood in your home wouldn’t be accessible without the agricultural process of forestry.  The consumables such as your soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair products, toothpaste, and makeup would also be diminished because they are byproducts of plants, another important agricultural method.  And finally, the gas used to operate your car is made possible by distilling corn and soybeans into fuel.

As you can see, if agriculture wasn’t available, life would be greatly affected.  Everyday tasks wouldn’t be possible.  So the next time you wake up, eat breakfast, walk down the hallway in your house, shower, get ready for work, and head out into the every growing world, remember what it takes to give you the necessities you need to live life to its fullest.

Keirra DeCamp
2011 GROWMARK Essay Contest Winner

WHAT AGRICULTURE MEANS TO ME

I do not own a pair of boots.  Nor do I rise with the sun and work well into the evening when the work is finished.  However, I do feel a connection to agriculture. 

Some might find this hard to believe since I was born and raised in a suburb outside of Chicago, but I have always had an interest in the environment.  Growing up in the suburbs, my education never included classes about agriculture.  Although we did have our basic science classes and the ability to take a cooking class in high school, the focus was never on where this food actually came from.  So, during my senior year of high school, I decided that I would tailor my education to what I was actually interested in, the environment. 

When I was accepted to the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, I enrolled under environmental economics and policy.  Beginning here, my friends and family couldn’t really see the importance of this topic.  Halfway through my sophomore year, I began to notice a pattern in my classes.  Professors would jokingly note how the classes seemed to be divided into two groups: kids from Chicago suburbs and everyone else.  This oversimplification began to intrigue me and helped me realize that I was not on the correct career path.  With my suburban background, my interest in both agriculture and the environment could help bridge a gap between these two “groups”. 

I decided to switch my major to Agricultural Communications.  Now, once my friends and family heard the term “agriculture” in my major, they became even more confused.  To them, agriculture is an entirely different world; one they feel absolutely no connection with.  I had a similar view for some time but the more I learned about the environment, the more I realized how agriculture plays such a large role. 

Agriculture to me does not just mean planting crops and raising cattle.  It does not just mean driving tractors and plowing fields.  I see agriculture as part of a larger process.  Without the environment there is no agriculture and vice versa.  For those who might be skeptical, farmers definitely understand the importance of weather on their crops. 

I would like eliminate these two “groups” and generate a better understanding for everyone involved.  I want people like my family and friends to be curious about where their food comes from and what processes are involved.  Just as well, I want those from rural backgrounds to understand the lifestyle suburbanites such as me grow up in. 

Agriculture is everything. 

Ashley LaVela
University of Illinois Ag Communications student

PROGRAM HELPS DISABLED FARMERS RETURN TO THE FIELD

Originally posted in the April 7 issue of the Pantagraph.

For a guy used to working with his hands, the job was frustrating.

Farmer Randy Miller of Chenoa was shown a small board with bolts, washers and nuts and told to remove them and put them back on. It was an important step in his occupational therapy at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, just months after he was almost paralyzed in a crash on the way home from the grain elevator.

He struggled. “If I can’t do this,” he thought, then how will I ever farm again?

More than two years later, Miller, 43, is farming again. That’s thanks in part to AgrAbility Unlimited, a statewide program that helps those in agriculture who have disabilities. AgrAbility, created in 1990 as part of a national initiative, was government-funded for years but is now seeking private support to stay afloat.

“It gives you hope, shows you what other people with disabilities have done and are doing,” Miller said.

AgrAbility is a joint program of University of Illinois Extension and the Easter Seals Central Illinois. A client service manager gets calls from farmers or referrals from family and friends. Some get advice on how to, say, devise a lift to get into a combine; others are guided to the state’s rehabilitative services staff for financial help.

AgrAbility has helped more than 800 people since its inception in 1990, said director Bob Aherin, an ag safety professor at U of I. Clients’ backgrounds range from heart problems to partial paralysis, he said.

Randy Miller struggles to use his left hand while assembling the subsystem of a planter in his tractor shed near Weston on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. Miller suffered a broken neck in an accident in October 2008. (The Pantagraph, David Proeber)

“The biggest focus is to try and keep them engaged and involved in farming, despite whatever disability they have,” Aherin said.

Initially funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state’s ag agency picked up the tab until funding was cut entirely about 1½ years ago. Aherin said the program runs on about $180,000 annually, largely for a handful of part-time staffers, with only a small portion used to help farmers buy assistive equipment.

“For a statewide program, we’re pretty frugal,” he said, noting a vast network of volunteers.

AgrAbility has enough carryover state money and donations from groups like Illinois Farm Bureau and Growmark to last thru December, he said. An application to the USDA for more funds is pending.

Helping Randy

Miller’s neck was broken but his spine was not severed in the October 2008 crash. After treatment at a Peoria hospital and three months in Chicago, Miller did six months of outpatient work at a Pontiac hospital, which he said was more equipped to deal with farmers’ unique needs. It even had a Deere tractor cab replica for patient use.

Miller said he’s blessed not to be confined to a bed or wheelchair, but the accident lingers. He has poor balance, can’t type with his left hand, and has no pain sensation on his right side. He was down 45 pounds at one point.

Chip Petrea, AgrAbility’s client service manager, visited Miller’s farm in spring 2009. They discussed his options for returning to farming, from upgrading an older tractor with more accessible steps, to using more air-powered tools to make it easier on his hands but not clog up the ground with cords.

Randy Miller uses a cane to walk around his farm near Weston on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. (The Pantagraph, David Proeber)

Miller said he bought a new combine with more push-button electronics. Petrea also helped get Miller a reverse-facing camera and monitor for his combine cab, so he didn’t have to strain his neck turning around. 

“I just try to present them with options of what other farmers have done in their situations,” Petrea said.

Getting back hope was the biggest benefit for Miller, married with two children, ages 12 and 14. Miller said AgrAbility also helped him face a difficult realization about tasks he used to do, such as climbing on equipment.

“You want to try things, but you also have to accept there’s things you probably shouldn’t be doing,” he said.

Miller’s brother came to help on the farm after the crash. Miller drove the combine a bit last fall, and hopes to drive the tractor a bit more this spring. He can’t go overboard, or his damaged nerves start to burn.

Still, it’s something he never thought he’d do again.

“I’ve made an amazing recovery,” he said.


How to help

AgrAbility Unlimited has set up a 501(c)(3) account at University of Illinois to accept contributions from individuals, businesses or other groups. Checks should be made out to “University of Illinois AgrAbility Program,” and sent to:

Bob Aherin, AgrAbility Unlimited program director
University of Illinois
1304 W. Pennsylvania Ave.
Urbana, IL 61801

For more information, contact Aherin at 217-333-9417 or visit www.agrabilityunlimited.org.

2011 IFB YOUTH CONFERENCE

Yesterday, Illinois Corn spent the day chatting with youth from all over our state at the IFB Youth Conference in Springfield.  They were excited to hear about our partnership with the Normal Cornbelter’s baseball team and the FFA day we’re planning during ag week in July.  (Would you like to be in the know when we make this date announcement?  “Like” us on Facebook!)  Some were interested in our internship opportunities because, even though they were only high school juniors, they were already thinking about their futures.   And many didn’t have a clue what the Illinois Corn Marketing Board was.

Despite our name, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board doesn’t market anything.  The Board manages the 3/8 of a cent checkoff that Illinois farmers pay per bushel and invests in opening and maintaining markets for Illinois corn among other things like funding public education and research projects.  I was surprised, but that was the number one question during our afternoon with 400 Illinois FFA students.

The day was a fun time to reconnect with the future of agriculture.  I look forward to seeing many of these students again on our FFA Day at the Corn Crib and probably in a few years as Illinois Corn interns! 

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

BLOG REVIEW: FOOD FOR THOUGHT

When asked to discuss an informational blog that will intrigue readers “Food For Thought” came to consideration. This blog educates consumers about the misconceptions agriculturists face and answers any questions viewers may have.

Food For Thought will provide consumers with answers about where their food comes from by empowering agriculturalists, informing consumers, and confronting myths about modern agriculture through innovative and effective methods.

The blog has been very effective for myself and has educated me in many areas that I am not knowledgeable on. Being from a city atmosphere, and not having the peers to enhance my knowledge on agriculture, Food For Thought has answered many of my questions.

Food For Thought is striving to connect producers and consumers together, therefore, giving them the right information and decreasing the misconceptions consumers have about our farmers. Social media is the number one way to reach out to anyone in society today, the agriculture youth is teaching farmers about finding their voice and spreading information to peers. By updating the blog daily and increasing their fans this will help consumers discover more of the right information. Once one person hears a piece of information, it is viral, and eventually everyone will know.

Food For Thought is growing and deserves to be recognized for its incredible information the blog shares to the public. A main priority for our farmers is to explain to the misconceived people the right facts and statistics in order to better promote their reputation.

Megan Moore
ISU Student

THE FUTURE OF CORN

With National Agriculture Week underway, today marks National Agriculture Day.  No matter which day of the week it is, stories about the future of corn are common.  Being from a Chicago suburb, listening to news about how there is not enough corn seems plausible.  However, as I drive down to school at the University of Illinois, the highway is lined with corn for most of the trip.  This makes it hard to believe that we can be running out of corn.

For both 2008 and 2009, corn carry-out numbers were around 1.7 million bushels.  Not having an agricultural background, I was unaware how crop marketing worked.  The carry-out number represents how much corn is left after the crop’s sale and will be added to next year’s crops.  It is like playing a game but starting out with 1.7 million points.  So, as corn production reaches record numbers, there’s still more corn to utilize. The USDA predicted 2012’s carry-out number to reach 865 million bushels.  Although this may be a slight dip from previous years, by no means are we running out of corn. 

Lately, it’s been nearly impossible to read about corn without ethanol entering the picture.  Many who believe that the future of corn is in jeopardy attribute some of the blame to corn ethanol.  However, in 2008, with the second largest crop in history, ethanol only amounted to 30% of the demand for corn. Also, corn used for ethanol still remains in use for the feed market, amounting to some transfer of the percentage of corn used.  There is even considerable questioning of whether corn will remain the crop of choice in the ethanol market. As new technologies and innovations develop, biogas derived from prairie switch grass is expected to become the new face of ethanol production, further freeing up corn for market. 

Have no fear, corn is here for good.  As summer quickly approaches, we can all look forward to some delicious corn on the cob at our barbeques.

Sources: National Corn Growers Association, Michigan Corn, Reuters “U.S. crop boom not enough to rebuild thin supplies”

Ashley Lavela
U of I Student

WEAR GREEN IN SUPPORT OF AG DAY

Originally posted on Dust on the Dashboard by Glenn Brunkow

It’s March and I am looking through my closet for green. No, its not what you think. I am not putting on the green for St. Patty’s Day. Rather I am putting on my green for the 2nd Annual Wear Green in Support of Ag Day. My friend Barrett Smith came up with this great idea last year. I encourage you to wear green also and here is why.

Those of us living in the United States have the incredible blessing of living in a nation with the safest, most wholesome, most abundant food supply in the world. We live in a nation with a system of farms and ranches that produce more food than we consume. We live in a nation where one farmer feeds themselves and 159 others. We truly feed the world.

The network of farmers and ranchers who produce the food and fiber we all need, do so in a manner that is both safe and sustainable. We protect the environment, the soil we live on is preserved, our air is cleaner and the water is purer than ever. This is all because we employ the most technologically advanced methods to produce the nourishment we all need while protecting the world around us.

I will wear green to honor my fellow farmers and ranchers, many whom are four and five generations on the same piece of land and most of whom are family farms and ranches. The men and women who produce your food do so out of a love of what they do. I promise you they do not farm and ranch to get rich. We chose our career paths because it is our calling.

That is why I am asking you to wear green this Wednesday. I am also asking you to pass this on to all of your friends, it would be my wish that everyone I see on Wednesday would be wearing green. After all I am a proud producer of the food we all eat.

Glenn Brunkow
5th Generation Flint Hills Rancher

WOMEN CHANGING THE FACE OF AGRICULTURE A SUCCESS

The 2nd Annual Women Changing the Face of Agriculture conference was last Friday.  Unfortunately, most of us were out of the office for the Commodity Classic (check back later this week for an update on this), but we wanted to send a big thank you to previous intern, Kelsey Vance, for standing in for us! 

We know Kelsey did an amazing job talking to students about her experiences as a college student majoring in Ag at ISU as well as her time as an intern for Illinois Corn. 

For more coverage on this event check out:

The Pantagraph

Rural Route Review

Interested in our internships opportunities?  Click here!

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMBA Communications Assistant

AGRICULTURE: EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER

Agriculture is the numerous amount of hours spent harvesting corn in the September sunset, waking up at 5 a.m. to complete chores in the barn before getting ready for school, and bagging corn on that hot summer day. However, agriculture is not limited to these tasks. There are also agricultural careers related to agricultural communications, food scientists, crop scientists, and so on. When thinking of these jobs, what is the gender that comes to mind? Males.

I am a female studying Agricultural Communications at the University of Illinois. My courses talk about careers dealing with communications, marketing, and sales in the agriculture industry. Therefore, males are not alone in terms of agriculture. These office jobs contain many women (and men, but mostly women), who make it possible for the farmers to continue a successful season in the field. As I learn about the many career opportunities for women in agriculture, I am also reminded that because I am not the male in the family who will be taking over the family farm, I am still able to obtain a career within agriculture. However, is the office the only place for women?

The answer is no, and I was exposed to this firsthand as I was at dinner the other night with a friend of mine when the conversation struck about where our parents worked.

“What does your mom do again?” I asked Ellen.
“She’s a farmer” was her response.

I should not have been surprised as I heard these words, but somehow I was. It was a different response than I have ever heard. “She’s a farmer”….yes, you read that right. There is an ‘s’ before the ‘he’.

Although I was raised on a grain farm in Central Illinois, this was still uncommon for me to hear. Ellen’s mom, Janet Gillen, is a farmer in Western Illinois with her husband, Dick. Jan and Dick collaborated the two farms into the Reeder-Gillen Farms. Jan did not grow up in a family who relied exclusively on farming. She never had the experience of being in a combine for 12 hours a day, and Jan also never would have guessed that she would be farming in her future career.

Jan is not alone among the female population who operate a farm. Although the percentage of female owned farms is fairly small, it is not uncommon to see a woman helping in the field during planting and harvesting. Jan is a perfect example of the impact among women in agriculture.

As Jan is in the field planting corn to help feed the world, other women are communicating the importance of her job, developing a new types of seeds, and many other occupations to help Jan have a successful farming season. Every aspect of agriculture includes women. As a a female in agriculture, I do not see any limitations on what job is for females and what is for males. I have realized the importance of women in agriculture, and the impact that we make among the industry.

Abigail Coers
University of Illinois

FARMERS AND TECHNOLOGY

Back in the old days, a family farm would often consist of two people farming. These two independent individuals strived on increasing awareness of their farm, but did not have the right tools to do so. Social media has changed farmer’s lives from helping them make decisions about their questions to informing society about farming stories. When it comes to social media it gives farmers the opportunity to interact with and educate the public, not to mention promote their farms and their products. I came to grasp the idea, after my research, that social media is here to stay. It is becoming the primary means for connecting with the public. One of the reasons is the next generation of farmers are beginning to take the wheel from the previous generation. The average age of farm owners is steadily decreasing and with that technology is more prone to be part of the business.

A large amount of research has been done on the economic changes caused by technological innovation. The goal is to remind our readers that such change brings wealth and that technology is driving great productivity increases in our economy. From years ago to today, the amount of physical labor that farmers have had to do has changed dramatically. Years ago farmers had to go and cut the crops and bring them all in by hand, to now when you can simply drive a combine up and down the fields. Technology has benefited farmers from what they use on the fields to spreading the word about their stories.

An individual that knows his agriculture facts definitely spreads the word for our farmers. Nate Taylor, a member of the Ag Chat Foundation Board answered questions and educated me on how technology has changed farmer’s lives. Taylor spends a great deal of his time on many farms throughout the Midwest and western US. He spends time in the field collecting data like soil moisture, weather, crop stage, and crop vigor to use for agronomic models. Furthermore, Taylor is an AG genius!

I asked Nate how he thinks farming has changed and helped farmer’s lives and one key piece of technology he believes made a huge impact is GPS. “Farmers can now use guidance to plant, apply inputs, and harvest using the same “lines” each and every season,” Taylor added. Another key piece is the ISOBUS; this electronic piece allows farmers to interact on the tractor.

A piece of technology that will be released within a few years is the Variable Rate Technology. “The days of blanket applying inputs are numbered and are very costly to farmers. Using VRT helps farmers apply the right input, and the right time, in the right amount, and the right place thereby ensuring optimal yield and lowering input costs,” Taylor replied.

If you have not checked out his amazing blog that is updated daily about the changes and facts about agriculture, then I recommend everyone to read the articles that are posted! A post that everyone should read is the 5 reasons he thinks Wi-Fi everywhere is good for agriculture. Taylor says that for one, farmers have access information anywhere; farmers at any time can get onto the internet and see what the best decision is for them. Also, they are able to raise the awareness of the latest news in farming through internet, because social media is what the world relies on. It allows farmers to share knowledge, share their stories to consumers who are misinformed with information, small business growth and data acquisition. This article is one of my favorite posts that really inform the public about how technology has helped farmers’ reputation in the past decades.

As time follows, social media is going to continue to grow. Farmers, who are not, should utilize the technology advancement in order to decrease the misconceptions, this way helping their reputation. Taylor spends a large amount of time using social media to reach out to consumers and correct misinformation. He also encourages farmers in his community to participate in social media activities and share their stories. But, that isn’t all Taylor does to inform consumer about farmers, he also works hand in hand with The Agchat Foundation to provide his knowledge to those farmers trying to do their part in sharing the love of agriculture. “After all, agriculture is a vast community. Global reach, local strong!”

Consumers and activists are going to continue to converse but, that does not mean we can start spreading the right facts quicker. We must help farmers share their story. Taylor added, “It is imperative to help our farmer’s reputation! We now have the tools available to use through social media to fight back with personal stories, knowledge sharing, and bridge building.” To the farmers and all their friends who help put affordable food on our tables, we say thank you and look forward to all the agricultural innovations of the future.

Megan Moore
Illinois State University student