CORN PHOTO CONTEST WINNERS

Did you know that every year there’s a corn photo contest nationwide? Every year, National Corn Growers Association invites its members to submit their best farming pictures in the Fields of Corn photo contest. Our farmers are mighty good at their job, but they’re not too shabby at snapping pictures either. You can view the winners of 2017 below.

LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT’S ON YOUR TABLE

As farmers, we get a lot of questions about our passion. Consumers like you are taking a new interest in food and we absolutely love that! We get asked a range of questions almost daily and so our friends at Illinois Farm Families put together FAQs and answers to some of the more frequent questions we get. Use these as a starting point your education!

Are most farms today factory or corporate farms?

Today, the vast majority of farms are still family owned.  In Illinois 97 percent are owned by individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. For these family farms, being stewards of the land and caretakers of their animals truly runs in their blood.

Get to know some Illinois farm families by checking out our Meet the People page.

Should I worry about antibiotics in my meat and milk?

The USDA requires all beef, pork, poultry or milk destined for grocery stores or restaurants be tested and inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service to ensure there are no antibiotic residues. Farmers also are required to follow strict withdrawal periods for animals given antibiotics.

Read this post from a farmer who breaks down how farmers use antibiotics and how they ensure your food is free of all residue.

Are hormones in food making girls develop early?

There is no science-based research linking food to early development. Higher body weight has been suggested as a contributing factor. You might not realize it, but all living things contain hormones. Watch this video as Illinois farmers talk about hormones in dairy and meat compared to other food items.

Are GMOs safe?

The World Health Association, Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and American Medical Association, to name a few, have all deemed ingredients derived from a genetically modified crop as safe as ingredients derived from crops raised using other methods.

In this video, Paul Jeschke talks about the benefits of using GMO seeds in his fields.

What’s the difference between grass fed and grain fed beef?

  • Grain-finished – Cattle spend most of their lives grazing on pasture, and then spend four to six months in a feedyard where they eat a mix of grasses and grains
  • Grass-finished – Cattle spend their entire lives grazing on pasture

Check out this infographic on today’s beef choices.

Where can I find out more about what labels mean?

Read what this Chicago mom with a Master’s in Public Health learned food labels, or visit the USDA’s website to learn more about label requirements.

Is buying organic worth the extra cost?

While organic and non-organic foods are produced using different farming methods, nutritionally they are no different.

In this blog post, a Chicago mom discovers some of the differences, and similarities, between organic and traditionally grown produce.

Why do farmers use chemicals?

Plants use nutrients in the soil to grow. Fertilizers are natural compounds from the earth including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that give growing plants the nutrients they need. When farmers need to control a pest or weed problem, they use products judiciously to help protect the plants.

Get perspectives about chemical use from different local farmers here.

Do animals on small farms receive better care than on large farms?

The livelihood of livestock producers – whether large or small – depends on the health and well-being of their animals. Regardless of the size of the farm, caring for animals is a 24/7 job that requires knowledge, patience and the utmost devotion.

Read this blog post from a Chicago mom who toured local farms to witness animal care for herself.

Do farmers have a choice in what they plant on their farms?

Yes, just like consumers have choices in what they buy at the store, farmers choose what they want to plant in their fields. They spend a lot of time researching, reading, meeting and listening to industry experts to determine what’s best for their farms.

Get to know Paul Taylor, an Illinois farmer who grows both GM and non-GM crops and can share his perspective on both.

 What makes food local?

There is no set definition for “local” when it comes to marketing products. Many Illinois farmers sell their products directly to the public and others sell to brands such as DelMonte, Dean’s and Farmland that can be found in grocery stores throughout the state.

What’s the truth behind cow tipping?

The legend of cow tipping is mainly just that – a legend. In this video, Linda Drendel gives ones of many reasons as to why tipping a cow over would be quite the challenge.

This obviously doesn’t even scratch the surface of questions people ask. So to get more answers to your questions, check out Illinois Farm Families.

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

LOVE & FAMILY ARE THE BACKBONE OF AG

When I think of family I think of the agriculture industry. Just like when you say a TV show that is all about family I also think of This Is Us. Family is a very big part of agriculture and has helped shaped the direction of the industry today. There are many ways you can relate agriculture to This Is Us, because, in the end, we all face the same challenges.

It is best to roll with the punches! Randall is the one who struggles with this the most on the show. He tends to be more uptight about things, especially his family. When Kevin came to move in with Randall and his family we could all see how stressed he was with Kevin coming and not telling him. In agriculture, we have to be flexible with what is happening currently. Everyday something will change and with that, we have to be able to move right with it. Even though Randall is the brains in this family, it is not always great to be like him.

Family does not always mean blood. When a crisis occurs on the farm, it takes everyone to fix it. You can count on people you may not know at the time to become your family. Many times when a farmer has a health issue or family accident right in the middle of harvest you can count on those people who are not blood to help you. Agriculture is one big family and it always brings a smile to my face when I see how close we all become. On This Is Us, they adopt a son when their twins are born and they become the big three! Bringing a new life into their home that was not their blood but became their family. It is all about the people who are there for you when you need them the most.

Some days you wake up and just do not want to get out of bed for work. There are freezing cold days when you think “Can I spend a few more hours in bed and feed the cows later?” untimely the answer is no sadly. Farming is not an easy job to be up doing things all day but someone has to do it. There were many days when Kevin was working on the ManNY and nothing would go right. Each take wasn’t right and he just kept having everything go wrong. When bad days hit you have to make the most of them and keep going, like Kevin you can get back into your groove.

Agriculture is a family industry and just like in This Is Us you can always feel the love no matter how rough a day is.

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University

#TBT: TRUE LIFE: I LIVE ON A FARM

[Originally published: January 24, 2017]

1-24-17deal-family-%ef%80%a7-family-session-55
1-24-17deal-family-%ef%80%a7-family-session-56Let me tell you a bit about our quaint little farm… We live about a quarter mile off a narrow, but paved, country road. Generally, the only traffic we have going by our house are our neighbors, to whom we always give a “country wave” when we pass. It’s quiet – aside from the cows mooing at dinnertime and birds chirping at 4 a.m. Our house, barns, and shop sit atop a slight hill which allows us to see for miles around. We are surrounded on all sides by green pasture followed by corn and bean fields. Our dog can run freely, our farm cats come and go as they please, and my kids have ample spaces to play and explore. It’s peaceful, it’s picturesque, and it’s perf—– Actually, no. It is FAR from perfect…

Growing up in a town of 850 people, I thought I understood country living. But no. There are many, MANY aspects of living on a farm which I had no idea of. Let me enlighten you to a few:

Farm Smells – Sure, everyone knows farms can be kind of stinky. However, the level of stench drastically depends on both the type of farm and the time of year. We have cattle. So we deal with the smell of cow poop daily. The surprising thing is that the smell changes depending on what the cows eat. The direction of the wind also impacts the level of stink you have coming at you. Some days it is so stinky that it’s actually counterproductive to open up the windows to air out the house! Other bad farm smells make it inside on my farmer’s clothing. Smells like diesel fuel, welding, chemicals, and old rotting silage all plague my laundry room.

Garbage – While garbage pickup is an option where I live, it’s pricey. Country folks who don’t have the luxury of regular garbage pickup have other options such as a dumpster, burning their garbage on the farm, or transporting it to the city dump themselves. Household garbage is handled a bit differently from when I lived in town though. Instead of just putting any old thing in the trash, it’s divided out a bit better. Lots of farm families I know will collect their compostable kitchen waste and either put it in their compost pile that they’ll later use for gardening or just dump it in the cornfield. Recycling is collected and transported to a recycling center in town.

Well Water – Being without city water might be the most life-changing aspect of farm life I face. Some family and neighbors have to be conscious of the amount of water they use based on the depth of their well and recent amounts of precipitation — sometimes your well CAN. RUN. DRY. And that’s a scary thing! Luckily for us, we have a very deep well that’s on the Mohomet Aquafer (ie: a big underground river that will virtually never run dry) and I don’t have to keep track of the amount of laundry I’m doing or make my kids bathe together in 2 inches of water. I should mention that even though we have plenty of water, and it’s safe to drink, we have very hard water with high sulfur and rust contents. We spend a lot of money on softener salt.

Septic Tank – We have a septic tank. Sometimes it gets full. Enough said.

Power Outages – In my experience with country living, the power outages always seem to happen in the dead of winter. City people deal with power outages too, but in the country when there’s a power outage, it is much more difficult for the power company to come repair the lines during an ice storm on slick, unsalted country roads than in town, meaning our power can be out for days instead of hours. This is when our scenic hill and drafty old farmhouse don’t get along. Without power, our propane furnace is unable to ignite and the cold winter wind whips through our home. I’m talking a breeze through our power outlets kind of draft. And let me tell you! It only takes one (freezing) time to realize that your generator is insufficient and can’t keep up with the amount of power needed. I should mention, though, that some of our generator’s power is allocated to our cattle – can’t have the automatic waterer freezing up!

Liquid Propane – Since we’re not on a natural gas line, like in town, we have to purchase liquid propane (aka LP) to heat our home and run some appliances. LP is delivered by a gas truck which drags a hose through your yard to fill a big ugly tank sitting in your kids’ play area. The tank usually holds approx. 500-1000 gal. of propane. The price fluctuates similarly to the way gasoline or corn prices change. Time of year also affects the price, making it cheaper in the summer and more expensive in the winter. Propane is definitely more costly than natural gas but it is essential for heating our home. Some people also use propane for their stove, clothes dryer, and water heater.

Sometimes it really feels like I’m totally living off the grid in central IL, but as much of an inconvenience some of these things are, I truly wouldn’t trade it in for a city life any day of the week! I take a little pride in knowing that should there be a zombie apocalypse, we could survive on our own power, water, food, tools, and toilet!

Deal_Ashley

Ashley Deal
ICGA/ICMB Membership