5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT FARMING

Originally published by BestFoodFacts.org

Cows and chickens, fields of corn, a big red barn, green tractors and dusty jeans – these are just a few of the images that come to mind when people hear the word “farming.” But for today’s farmers, there is much more to agriculture than meets the eye. We spoke with three farmers for their insights on how and why they’re committed to producing safe, nutritious and affordable food.

Here are five things we learned:

1. Most farms are owned and operated by families.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture shows that 97 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family-owned operations. Most farmers would tell you that working with their family is key to why they are so passionate about what they do.

“The biggest misconception I’ve heard would be that, as farms have gotten bigger, they have been labeled as factory farms. That we just use the land and move on. Yet, every farmer I know is very family-oriented. I love that our farm is something I can pass on to my family, a legacy, a business and a way of life that my kids love,” said William Layton, a third-generation Maryland farmer and owner of Layton’s Chance Vineyards and Winery.

Jenny Rhodes, University of Maryland Extension Educator in Agriculture and Natural Resources, who owns and operates a grain and broiler chicken farm with her family, said, “I love the whole family aspect and wanted my children to grow up the way I did. Instead of rushing home to spend a few hours with my family, we can spend time together working together. We are all family farms and at the end of the day it’s families working.”

2. Farming is efficient because it is high tech.
Farmers use technology to make advances in producing more food that is more safe, affordable, and produced more efficiently than ever before. Layton said, “Many people have an idea of the old-fashioned farmer, but in reality I spend half of my time in the office making GPS maps for what is going on in the field at any given point. We also have tractors that drive themselves, so we are very technology-based, and technology creates efficiency.”

“Everything you do in farming has to be efficient and sustainable and I love working to improve the resources on our farm so that we can do that,” explained Jenny Schmidt, a registered dietitian and Maryland farmer, whose family produces corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, hay, tomatoes, green beans and wine grapes. “When I talk to people about pesticide usage on our farm, I explain that our sprayer for our tomatoes, green beans, wheat, corn and soybeans sprays at the rate of 15-20 gallons per acre for herbicides. It is a 750-gallon tank so using 15 gallons per acre, this sprayer can cover 50 acres per tank – that’s only 0.04 ounces per square foot. This type of efficiency wouldn’t be possible without technology. Also, many people think we are dousing our fields with pesticides, but that would be inefficient. Spraying isn’t dousing.” Learn more about how the “dose makes the poison” in pesticide usage in “Should You Be Concerned with Pesticides On Produce?”.

3. Farmers are passionate about producing food.
“The thing that I love most about farming is working hard and seeing the results of that hard work. At harvest, I love quitting at dark after a 14-hour day and seeing all that I’ve harvested right in front of me. It’s a great feeling to see that,” said Layton.

“Farming is a passionate job and requires patience to weather through the ups and downs. Ultimately, I love being able to care for the soil and land with the available resources and set the stage for the next generation,” said Schmidt.

Farming is a lifestyle, not just a job. It is 24 hours a day, seven days a week and every day of the year! (Yes, this means vacations are nearly impossible to take!)

4. Farmers use a variety of production methods.
Debates about “organic” and “conventional” crops suggest there are only two ways to grow food: a “good” way and a “bad” way. But an important question to think about is, “What is the best way to feed a growing population, while reducing the amount of resources required?” To address this, farming will need multiple approaches, not just one.

“Many farmers don’t want to be seen as one thing; for me, I want to be seen as both holistic and sustainable. For example, there are trade-offs with all production methods. And each provide different benefits: it’s not an either/or, it’s more about melding the practices together,” added Schmidt. Want to learn more about organic versus conventional? Check out “Organic versus Conventional Foods: Is There a Nutritional Difference?”.

5. There are many ways to become involved with agriculture.
Farm and ranch families make up just two percent of the U.S. population, while most people are at least three generations removed from agriculture. However, the farmers we chatted with all agreed that getting involved in agriculture is for everyone.

Rhodes said it’s important to know what your goal is: Do you want to learn more? Do you want to own your own farm? “After you figure out your goals, then you can decide how to reach them through things like farm tours, working with different national councils, talking with your University extension programs and, of course, talking with the farmers in your area.”

“Social media is a great place to start and to seek out transparent farmers if you have questions about food. I love sharing information about my farm and interesting news articles that are related to the happenings on my farm,” Schmidt added.

Layton concluded, “Agritourism, corn mazes, farm stands, community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, farmers markets – these are all ways to connect with farmers. Talk with the farmers – they are happy to chat with you! I give tours twice a day every day at the winery and people ask questions not only about the grapes and wines but about our crops, too. I love answering these questions.”

Our food supply is abundant, affordable overall and among the world’s safest, thanks in large part to the efficiency and productivity of America’s farm and ranch families. Want to learn more about growing food? Reach out to a local farmer or let us know and we can connect you with one!

A FUN LITTLE GRILLING COMPETITION WITH U.S. MEATS

IL Corn works with other associations to promote U.S. corn, ethanol, DDGS, beef, poultry, and pork in other countries.  We often fund educational, fun, and meaningful opportunities for chefs or average consumers to experience the difference with U.S. products.

This video shows a fun event in Mexico promoting U.S. beef and pork, hosted by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.  IL Corn didn’t happen to fund this particular event, but you’ll see how much fun we have showing folks the YUM factor with U.S. meats!

FORGET CORN & ETHANOL, EVEN DDGS TRADE IS PROFITABLE!

We talk a lot about corn and ethanol on this blog, but what about DDGS?  We sell a considerable amount of DDGS overseas – worth $2.34 billion!  And that’s worth talking about!

DDGS stands for Dried Distillers Grains with Solubles.  DDGS are what’s left over after corn has been made into ethanol.   Corn-based distillers grains from the ethanol industry are commonly sold as a high protein livestock feed that increases efficiency and lowers the risk of subacute acidosis in beef cattle.

IL farmer Lou Lamoreux shows the DDGS he feeds his cattle.

Those are a lot of big words, but the main point here is that after we make ethanol out of the corn, what’s left can be fed to livestock and it’s becoming increasingly important in the livestock industry, both in the U.S. and around the world.

So important, in fact, that DDGS are sold and trade just like corn, ethanol, and other commodities.

It’s recycling at its best!  We don’t waste a bit of that precious Illinois corn!

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

 

 

For more information, watch this video!  DDGS are a bit of a dry topic (pun intended!) but for the folks that are interested, you can learn a ton here!

#TBT: CELEBRATE NATIONAL DAIRY MONTH WITH PIZZA

[Originally published: June 23, 2016]

June is National Dairy Month! Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an exciting time for me. You can find me celebrating by eating ice cream, cheese, and all of the other delicious dairy products that our American Dairy Farmers work hard to produce!

6-23-16image6National Dairy Month is a little more personal for me. I grew up on my family’s dairy farm 40 miles south of downtown Chicago. On my family’s farm, I was able to watch as my grandfather, uncle, and father worked hard each morning and evening, no matter the weather conditions, to feed, milk, and clean up the cows. Their dedication to the animals was mesmerizing. Even I had the chance to be active and work with the cows in day-in and day-out as I grew up.

No matter how much hard work dairy farmers put in, they still seem to be scrutinized by the general public. It is always interesting to me that those from off the farm don’t stop to see and realize that American Dairy Farmers spend every day of the year working with their cattle to make sure they are strong and healthy.

I grew up on a dairy farm and I have worked on my family’s dairy farm. I know how we treat our animals. We treat our animals with care, love, and respect. You can ask anyone who knows me that I love my cows and treat them with better respect than most humans I interact with.

6-23-16image5Now, to celebrate my love for National Dairy Month, I decided to cook one of my favorite meals, my homemade pizza. I make the dough and sauce from scratch, but what makes this pizza great is the cheese: Chellino’s Scamorza Cheese to be exact. Chellino’s is based in Joliet, IL and they use milk from our dairy farm to make the cheese. Now, what could be better? Great tasting cheese AND you know who put in the hard work to produce and deliver the milk and cheese.

If you can’t get your hands on Chellino’s Scamorza, it is okay to use other Scamorza, or even smoked mozzarella. However, if you can get your hand on some of Chellino’s, you’ll know it will turn out delicious, and you’ll even know where the milk came from that produced it!

FOR THE PIZZA:

  • 1 1/3 cup hot water (not boiling)
  • 1/4oz envelope active dry yeast
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (and extra for oiling bowls)
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 3 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • granulated garlic
  • scamorza cheese
  • baby arugula
  • diced pancetta
  • baby arugula

GET COOKIN’:

  1. In a bowl, add warm water and 1 1/2 tsp sugar, and then add in the yeast packet. Set aside.
  1. 6-23-16image2In a stand mixer bowl, add 3 tbsp olive oil, salt, the rest of the sugar, and the flour. Then, take the water, yeast, and sugar and mix until it is dissolved. Once dissolved, add to mixer bowl. With a dough hook, mix at low until everything is combined, and then mix on medium and let the mixer knead the dough. Add more flour if needed until the dough is coming off the sides of the bowl and not sticking, about 6-8 minutes.
  1. Take the dough and divide it into two piece. With each piece, round into two balls and place into an oiled bowl seam side down. Cover with plastic wrap and let them sit to rise for 90 minutes, preferably in an oven recently turned off and still warm.
  1. Once risen, the dough should be able to be poked and the indent stays. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Roll the dough out into a circle and onto a pizza stone. Mix together 1/4 cup olive oil with 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic. Once mixed, brush onto the dough. Once spread onto dough, grate about 1/4 – 1/2 lb of Scamorza cheese onto the pizza. Pop into the oven for 15 minutes.
  1. After 15 minutes, remove the pizza from the oven and add the diced pancetta. Pop back into the oven for another 5-7 minutes. Once finished, add baby arugula to the top of the pizza. Slice up and enjoy!

For more recipes, find me on my website at DiningWithDakota.com

Cowger_Dakota_IL CORN INTERN 2x3 16

Dakota Cowger
Communications Intern
IL Corn

NATIONAL BEEF MONTH: CELEBRATE THE BEEF

Photo by Fábio Alves on Unsplash

It’s a late Sunday afternoon, the sun is almost setting it’s the perfect time of the day, golden hour. You can smell the grill starting up and hear the sizzle as juicy hamburger patty hits it. Grilling season is finally upon us and I cannot wait to start celebrating, especially with my favorite meat. Now there is a lot that goes into making this perfect patty before it hits the grill but just to make sure you are doing your best follow this link to perfect your grilling.

The perfect hamburger starts at the farm as a calf. Currently, in the United States, we have around 31.7 million beef cattle living on farms and ranches. I grew up on a beef cattle farm and my grandpa always told me that a happy cow makes a difference. Keeping our beef cattle healthy and happy is very important to us in the United States. Most of our beef cattle come from the great planes area and have the most opportunity to run and explore while eating grass and corn daily. Texas is home to the most beef cattle, but if you just look at the size of the state it seems reasonable to have enough room for all of them. There are a lot of questions and speculation about grass-fed cows versus incorporating grain into the diet. Now, this a bigger question than will be explained in this post, but follow this link for more facts and make the decision for yourself.

Now I plan to celebrate this whole month by incorporating more beef into my diet each week. Not only make some of my favorite meals that include beef such as stuffed peppers and beef tips with noodles. The most important nutrient that comes from beef is iron which is something most people are lacking including myself. Eating a few more pieces of beef each week can benefit not only for your taste buds but for your overall health too! I like to use beef as my main source of protein with at least one meal a day. One of my favorite meals is stuffed peppers like I mentioned earlier. It is a very simple recipe to make but highlights beef as the main star of the meal! Here is a link to the recipe I choose to follow.

I hope you enjoy the month of May and eating beef as much as I do! Grilling to perfection this summer is just as it’s supposed to be.

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University

EVERYTHING RUNS ON HOMEGROWN CORN

Ok, not everything.  But a lot of things that you probably haven’t thought about depend on corn grown right here in Illinois.

These benefits to the Illinois economy are just the foundation; the building blocks of corn’s contribution to our state are found in the clean air we breathe, the steak and bacon we enjoy, and the tires, cleaners, diapers, and plastics we use.

And let’s not forget the whiskey.

Find out more at www.watchusgrow.org/corn

PIG FARMERS CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT

Did you know that all farmers must learn about and abide by a host of federal and state environmental regulations?  Pig farmers are no different.  They use research to understand and address the impact that large amounts of manure and using land to raise pigs can have on:

• Groundwater and surface water
• Air quality
• Animal manure management
• Land and soil quality
• Land use

Farmers are using all this research and the regulations they must abide by to fuel creative solutions to environmental concerns and to keep growing more pigs to feed more people.

Carbon footprint

American pig farmers are working hard to understand their carbon footprint and watching for opportunities to raise our food smarter.  According to the EPA, only 2.8 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in 2007 came from animal agriculture. Of that percentage, pig farming contributes just a little more than one-third of 1 percent (0.35 percent) of total U.S. GHG emissions.

Air footprint

Right now, a tool is in development to help pig farmers better understand air emissions from their farms and how they can make improvements.

Water footprint

Most of the water used on pig farms is either to irrigate the crops the pigs will eat (90%).  The rest of the water is used to give the pigs something to drink.  The best way farmers are looking to get more control over that water use is to use science and technology to evaluate animal drinking systems.  If we can water our pigs better, we can waste less.

Improvements to our farming methods are the name of the game and we are always trying to do better and trying to find small (and big!) ways to change the way we raise pigs to make less of an impact on our earth.

Thanks to https://www.pork.org/ for this important information on pig farming!

THE LIVESTOCK LIFECYCLE

In our fast-paced society where options are plentiful, time is sparse, and the day-to-day grind can really wear a person out, there’s one daily constant that brings me some amount of joy — or at very least, satisfaction… Food. Luckily for me, life on the farm, in conjunction with my career in corn/agriculture advocacy surrounds me with opportunities to think about where food comes from and what we can do with it. Follow along throughout the spring, summer, and fall as I share my food-related thoughts here on Corn Corps.

Let me start by saying: I love GOOD food. Specifically: fresh, flavorful, home-grown, made-with-love, not-always-healthy, much-anticipated, home-cookin’! Though I grew up surrounded by farming in Northwest Illinois, I’ve only lived on a farm for about 7 years. In that time, I’ve come to understand why March is a love-hate time of year for My Farmer. Depending on the weather (a phrase that’s thrown around A LOT at my house) there are a plethora of things that could go on in March. If the fields are still frozen, cow manure can be spread. If the frost is out, you can think about applying ammonia. We’re likely still expecting the last few baby calves to be born, and in just a few weeks we’ll begin artificially inseminating next year’s calf herd. The numerous babies that have already been born will be exploring the area between their barns and pretty soon they’ll be turned out to pasture for the first time. For me, it’s a genuine springtime feeling of new beginnings! For My Farmer, it’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants work schedule.

For my kids, between afternoon visits to the barn to see the new babies, and suppertime around the table, we have some pretty frank conversations. Our four-year-old understands that the meat we’re eating is beef. Beef comes from cattle. The cattle right outside. Every so often we load a couple cattle into our trailer and take them to the butcher. (–Insert gray area here–) …And the beef comes back home and we cook it and eat it for supper. So far, there haven’t been any questions about what exactly happens at the butcher – but when he asks, I’ll explain it to him. We have similar conversations about vegetables. I’m no gardener, but we have a few vegetable plants outside. He watches those grow over the summer and helps harvest the produce. My little guy understands that what we buy in the store comes from a farmer somewhere. Last week I asked my little guy “where did this potato come from?” to which he shrugged and responded, “a farmer market – like both a farmer and a store”. Technically, he was right, despite the fact that I bought it at Walmart. He actually grasps the idea that numerous people worked hard for those mashed potatoes to end up on his plate. I like to think that this framework we’ve laid will result in a lifelong appreciation of both food and the effort it takes to produce it.

The lifecycle of our livestock truly makes a full circle, and that’s one of the coolest parts of farming. We grow corn, in part, to feed our livestock. We breed our livestock to have more livestock. We care for them by keeping them fed, doctored, safe both in the pasture and the barns, and then use their manure to fertilize the fields which will grow to feed them later. At some point along the way, some of them leave us only to return a few weeks later wrapped in white paper, ready to feed our family, which allows us to keep doin’ what we do!

This spring, as you feel the days grow longer and observe life coming back to the land, I hope you enjoy some fresh fruit and vegetables, along with a big, juicy, well-marbled, steak, and feel gratitude for the numerous hands it took to prepare it!

Ashley Deal
IL Corn Membership Assistant

MY WEEKEND AT REEVERT’S FARMS

Does anyone remember learning in junior high science classes that heat rises? Well, I rediscovered that lesson this past September after spending a few hours at Reevert’s farms, the home of the Illinois FFA State Reporter, working in the hay mow.

Not growing up on a farm, I was extremely excited for that weekend feeding calves, hogs, and sheep. At the time, Ryan told me I was going to be putting hay in the mow. I originally thought this meant mowing hay in the field, but in reality, it was putting hay up in the mow. For those that don’t know, the mow is an upper section of the barn where hay is stored. Once we got to the farm, Ryan told me that I was not going to be mowing hay in the field, like I thought. Instead, I was going to be manually moving hay in a hot, sweaty, and cramped environment. Luckily, Ryan’s dad came in to save the day for me and told Ryan that was no way to treat his guest. He told Ryan, “You go up in the mow! Joey didn’t even have a clue what was going on! Don’t be rude!”

In the picture below, you can see Ryan, his dad, and me all posing for a picture. As you can tell, Ryan seems to be more tired than me. That’s because he spent over forty-five minutes in the mow moving hay while my job was putting it on the conveyer belt. Needless to say, I was having the time of my life putting hay in the mow, and so far, my first impressions of daily farm chores were very good.

I learned two lessons from that experience. First don’t trust Ryan and volunteering for farm work, and second, always bring an extra t-shirt.

After that tremendous experience, Ryan told his dad, “go back home! You’re being too easy on the boy! He needs some real work.” Once Ryan’s dad left, we walked over to the pig pen to feed the hogs. Ryan told me, “Get on in there Birrittier. Distract the hogs from the feeder while I fill their feed.”

One thing that Ryan forgot to mention is that his female pigs like to come up and smell the people around them. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t even like it when my dog comes up and smells me, let alone a pig! I suddenly became very scared as these two dark eyes start coming to me closer and closer. Now mind you, it’s dark out now, so all I can see are these two eyes coming right for me. I pin myself into the corner yelling out Ryan’s name. I’m screaming louder and louder until Ryan finally hears me.  He yells back at me, “Quit screaming! You’re going to scare the pigs!” “Scare the pigs!” I replied, “They’re the ones scaring me! Look how close this one is! Help me!” All Ryan could say was, “That’s just Beulah. She just wants to smell you. Relax you wimp.”

Five months later, I still get grief from the Reevert’s family about my experiences with pigs. In my defense, how else would a person react if their first up-close encounter with a pig was it smelling your face?

Although I might have embarrassed myself multiple times, the memories I made that night will last me a lifetime. Not only did I learn to always bring an extra t-shirt to the farm and never overreact when a pig smells your face; I also learned the hard work and dedication it takes day-in and day-out on the farm.

I have a huge admiration for farmers and their families now because of the memories I made at Reevert’s farms.

Joseph Birrittier
Illinois Association FFA President

NOT ALL FARMS HAVE LIVESTOCK

When many of us encounter someone who lives on a farm, the first question that tends to pop into our minds is, “What kind of animals do you have?” To the surprise of many, not all farms raise livestock. Not every farmer is comparable to Old McDonald.

Let’s dive into history for a minute and take a look at farms existing about 100 years ago: the year 1918. Many more farms existed because each operator had less land to tend and care for. Because of this, more farms had livestock and were able to be more diversified. However, fast forward to present day, in order for farms to be successful, farmers must pick and choose specialties to focus on for their operation. For example, when students select what major they would like to pursue at a college or university, they likely combine their interests and career goals to choose a career path. By combining interests with job outlook in a certain career area, students are essentially specializing their education to best fit their desired job. Farmers have a similar process; they select one or two specialties for the sake of best-combining resources to meet production needs.

So what kinds of farms do we have here in Illinois? I’m glad you asked. According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), a farm is classified as an operation that makes $1,000+ each year. Taking this classification into account, in 2016 Illinois reported having 72,200 farming operations. Illinois had 11.6 million acres of planted in 2016. That’s more than any other commodity grown in our state. The runner-up to corn was soybeans, coming in at 10.1 million acres planted. Those two grains were on more farms than all other commodities combined.

Now, just because many of our operations have grain does not mean no livestock exist. We had over 300,000 beef cattle (used for meat production) and over 5 million hogs as well. But aside from grain and livestock, we have some really unique farms in Illinois that stand out from the norm. For instance, Illinois had 1,200 acres of peaches, 45,000 acres of oats and 7,000 acres of potatoes planted in 2016.

This goes to show we are really diversified here in this mid-Western state. While many of us may not realize it, Illinois features a wide array of farms that bring great significance to our agriculture diversity. So the next time we bump into someone that owns or operates a farm, strike up a conversation with him or her. But before we ask more details about what the farm’s specialty is, remember: not all farms have livestock.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University