PRODUCTION AGRICULTURE: A WHITE-COLLAR CAREER?

Since there is less than two percent of the United States population living on farms, I am sure there are many people whose image of a farmer is something along the same line I had. Growing up, I always had this image of a farmer as a man in bib overalls, wearing a plaid shirt, holding a handkerchief in his back pocket and chewing a piece straw in his mouth. Maybe that was from all of the pictures in the children’s books, or maybe from my Fisher-Price farm that I played with as a child. Many people still have this image of farmers today.

Sometimes an image can be distorted. Today’s farmer is so much more that what I had previously described. Up until the last couple of years, I never really had an understanding of production agriculture careers. There is a lot more than driving a tractor through a field to plow the soil, plant a few seeds, and then use a combine to harvest in the fall. Unlike the Little People farm, there are a lot more livestock on a farm than one horse, one cow, two sheep, a goat, and a chicken. With those livestock, there is a lot more involved than giving some grain, hay, and water. In reality, today’s farmer wears both blue and white collars. The blue-collar work is the physical labor involved in production agriculture. That work involves all of the maintenance, adjustment and repair of farming equipment, the operation of the farming machinery, and the physical care and handling of livestock. The side of production agriculture that is often overlooked is the white-collar side. The white-collar work is all of the marketing of agricultural products, understanding all of the financing needed for a farming operation, business planning, developing enterprise budgets, understanding the economics of agriculture, understanding the legal aspects of farming , and applying the science involved in production agriculture.

I recently returned to school to study agriculture business at Joliet Junior College. I was encouraged to see a thriving population of Aggies there furthering their education in the agriculture discipline at a collegiate level. Moving forward in our current agricultural society, there is a need to pursue an education beyond a high school diploma. With new technologies emerging, more complex machinery, increased regulations on farming practices and emphases on productivity as well as conservation all contribute to the need for a post-secondary education.

A two-year Associate of Applied Science degree in agriculture prepares a person to successfully work in the agriculture industry. Coursework in agricultural economics, crop production, animal science, soil science, animal nutrition, farm management, agricultural mechanization and more, provide our future farmers plenty of tools to make a great contribution to food, fuel and fiber production in this nation. A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in an agriculture discipline further equips a person to help lead our industry. With specializations in animal science, crop science, agronomy, agricultural economics, agribusiness and more, the white-collar part of our job can be done easier and more successfully.

Nearly 30 percent of today’s farmers and ranchers have attended college, with over half of this group obtaining a degree. A growing number of today’s farmers and ranchers with four-year college degrees are pursuing post-graduate studies. Quoting a contributor to the Agriculture Everyday Facebook page, “Farmers today need knowledge (or how to access it) of marketing, accounting, technology, weather, sales, animal care, soils. It isn’t just enough to say ‘I’m a farmer’….”

David Taylor
Joliet Jr. College Student and Part-Time Farmer

NO SNOW DAY FOR FARMERS

Its International Friendship Month.  To celebrate, Phil Thornton (our international trade expert) had a post planned to tell our friends all about the work Illinois farmers do to create and maintain friendships with international customers.

But we’re all still realing from the snow storm of the century, so, maybe another day.

Today, I feel like we all need a reminder about what exactly it is to be a farmer.  Because ninety percent of those reading this had the day off yesterday.  Ninety percent of us didn’t expend any effort yesterday except what it took to scoop off their driveway.  Ninety percent of us watched TV, slept, played with our kids, or read up on our friends on Facebook.

The farmers spent the day keeping hogs warm.

The farmers spent the day checking on generators to make sure your milk didn’t spoil.

The farmers spent the day helping cows give birth to calves.

The farmers spent the day chipping away at ice to ensure fresh water supplies for their animals.

The farmers spent the day plowing out their country roads and those of their neighbors.

Farmers don’t get holidays.  It’s really much too easy to critique their jobs and their devotion when you’re sitting in an office in the city with an endless water supply, a city snow plow, and only your family’s mouths to feed. 

Perhaps you’d like to check out this older blog post or this news story.  And no matter what you do, remember the hard working men and women who didn’t get a snow day.

ILLINOIS FARM FAMILIES CAN PROVIDE A VIRTUAL FARM EXPERIENCE, BUT REAL RELATIONSHIPS AND CONVERSATIONS

You’ve heard it a million times…farmers should tell their story.

Maybe you’ve tried to tell your story. Maybe you figure someone else has done it for you. Either way, I’m here to tell you that telling your story isn’t good enough anymore.

Now’s the time to have a conversation about you, your family, and your farm. Even more, it’s time to ask questions, listen to the answers, find common ground, and establish a community based on an enhanced understanding of each other’s needs, wants, concerns, hopes, and aspirations.

And yes, I’m asking you to do this in person and (gasp) online using social media applications like Facebook, twitter, blogs, etc.

There’s nothing magical about social media or conversations of any kind. It just takes two people who are genuinely interested in learning, sharing, and establishing a broader understanding.

The risk of not participating in these types of conversations is that you and your farm and your way of life may become irrelevant. There’s no need to re-hash this argument…you know what I’m talking about. It’s the movies, books, and news stories that are “filled with misinformation” as those of us in agriculture are so apt to describe it. Well, we describe it that way to each other, more than anyone else.

Yes, that was a nice way of saying let’s quit preaching to the choir.

Are you ready to get involved? Good, because we’re ready to help you.

Through an effort funded in part by the Illinois Corn Marketing Board (your corn checkoff), free training is available to share with interested farmers, agribusiness professionals, and/ or their family members to become part of a network of go-to people representing agriculture.

Join the movement of Farmers Opening Our Doors (FOOD). FOOD was developed by a coalition of the five largest Illinois farm groups. We’ve made a commitment to openly share with consumers what really happens on Illinois farms and answer consumers’ questions about how their food is grown and raised. While they may not like every answer, at least from us, consumers will get the honest truth about their food.

Training seminars are scheduled for Bloomington, DeKalb, Marion and Quincy with all locations scheduled in February.

For more information about getting involved, or to register for the training, please email me at tbraid@ilcorn.org.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

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HIGH FIVE FOR FARMERS!

This video won second place in the Alpharma Student Video Contest! Tori Frobish is a University of Illinois student from the Champaign-Urbana area.

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ALL WE WANT FOR CHRISTMAS: CONSUMER TRUST IN THE AMERICAN FARMER

Dear Santa,

Over the past year Illinois farmers feel that they have been very well behaved. We have worked diligently to once again feed the world while making several changes to help our environment, protect the safety of our consumers, and produce high quality products. In fact, America’s corn farmers have cut soil erosion forty-four percent by using innovative conservation tillage methods! As far as yields are concerned, nationwide there has been a twenty percent increase since the year 2000. We hope that you will please take our Christmas list into consideration and do whatever you can to help us make the best better in the agricultural industry. Have a Merry Christmas!

Yours Truly,

Illinois Corn

1. Free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama.
2. Corn based ethanol to be allowed to qualify as an advanced biofuel.
3. Upgraded locks and dams.
4. Consumer trust in the American farmer.

The family farmers Illinois Corn represents are misunderstood.

Ninety-eight percent of farmers are family farmers and two percent are corporate farmers. However, the general public would tell you the opposite. Over the past two decades, corn farmers have cut soil erosion by forty-four percent using innovative conservation methods. American consumers will tell you we are destroying the land. Americans spend approximately ten percent of their annual income on food while other countries spend up to seventy percent of their annual income. Yet, the general public is encouraging new laws and regulations that will run our American farmers out of business forcing us to import food.

While I hate to bore you with facts, they have the capacity to change the entire outlook of our industry. The only problem is that the facts are not reaching our consumers.

Everyday United States farmers fight the battle to protect their image in the public eye. Due to groups and organizations such as PeTA, the Humane Society of the US, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and even the Environmental Protection Agency, our battle is getting harder every day. While these groups are attempting to dismantle our industry, farmers are quietly continuing to feed the world, which, if you know any farmers, is our way.

Growing up in the grass roots of production agriculture, I have strong feelings on this issue. Over the past year through my internship with Illinois Corn my eyes have truly been opened. As a Tazewell County farmer’s daughter, former 4-H queen, and an Illinois State Ag Major, I was not aware of the depth of the criticism the agriculture industry was receiving every minute of every day … and I’m taking offense.

My dad does not work an eight to five job. During harvest and planting seasons my mom, sister, and I make meals for the farm hands, help move guys from field to field, run for parts when we have unexpected breakdowns, and are prepared to jump into any piece of machinery at a moment’s notice. Throughout the summer, my dad spends sleepless nights running irrigation systems that allow us to grow crops in fields that we would otherwise not be able to utilize. Every farm family in the United States could tell the same story; we work hard because we love what we do. In fact, feeding the world comes naturally to us and we take a great deal of pride in the family farms our ancestors developed decades ago.

More and more farmers are beginning to understand that quietly feeding the world isn’t going to fix this issue and they are learning to utilize social media to talk about the truth on their farm. For others, though they are independent people that enjoy quiet and solitude, they are inviting school groups for farm tours to prove they are transparent. This is the hard part – how do we convince people who love peace and quiet, who are independent business owners, and who just want to be proud of their family farm legacy to work together with consumers, listen, and take harsh criticisms without being defensive?

Santa, we need your help. Farmers will have to go against years of tradition and become better communicators who are transparent about their businesses. Consumers will have to understand more about farm life and who farmers really are.

What a daunting task.

Kelsey Vance
Illinois State University Student

HOLIDAYS ARE NON-EXISTENT FOR FARMERS

There are only a few more days until Santa comes down our chimneys and the Christmas cheer is sent to rest for yet another year. Farmers have the same two things on their list each year, high crop market prices and a much needed break. That’s right a break. Many have the perception that farmers only work six to eight months out of the year, fall and spring. False; farmers have many duties which they perform when they are not physically working in the fields.

Planting and harvesting may be the simplest components to farming. One drives back and forth through hundreds to thousands of acres, which takes patience and mental awareness to get the job complete. But, once the field work is done they immediately start the next step to their never ending process to feed America. For instance, when the crop is harvested and the combines are put away, farmers begin to analyze data. This data includes information on crop yields, understanding which seed varieties worked and those that failed, and discovering which fertilizers and techniques worked best. They use this information to prepare and finalize a plan for the upcoming spring.

Farmers have a constant desire to become more educated. As technologies advance, companies are working to create the most efficient and most productive farming applications. To learn about these, farmers attend meetings and conventions as well as read farm reports. Recently, Chicago held a DTN (Data Transmission Network) Progressive Farmer Ag Summit which was a three day seminar including topics on finance and the economies affects on grain prices. Along with understanding the business aspects of farming, the farmer must be educated in the agronomical side. Meetings and classes are held to teach farmers and introduce them to new practices and available supplies to better soils and increase crop growth. During harvest, farmers typically meet with sales representatives from various seed companies to compare results and determine which varieties and fertilizers to use.

An often multi-daily activity for farmers is to watch the grain markets. Monthly reports are sent out with updated information on demand, allowing farmers to make decisions as to when they should sell their crop. The government delivers these supply and demand reports and submits updated farm policy reports. As a farmer it is crucial to follow and understand the government amendments. Along with following North American supply and demand, farmers must look at other continents like South America, which has a planting season at the time of our harvest. If South American countries experience a drought that will greatly affect the American commodity prices. Market pricing reflects on the economy and prices depend on storage capacity. Another factor includes America’s relationships with foreign countries and the frequency of exports and imports. If a country overseas decides to purchase billions of bushels of corn, our prices will rise due to the principles of economics.

This Christmas, as you gather with your family and eat a wholesome meal make sure to take a minute to thank to people who allow you to be able to eat, be dressed, and in warmth. Unlike many other professionals, holidays are nonexistent for farmers. Their minds are constantly worrying about the idea of a sudden downfall in prices, accidents with equipment, and having the ability to provide for their families and country.

Traci Pitstick
Illinois State University student

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FARM WOMEN LEAVE A STRONG LEGACY

Earlier in November I had the opportunity to visit my aunt in Arizona and to help her celebrate her 98th birthday. Born on a farm in northeastern, IL, this woman has had quite a life as she has lived in cities including Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago as well as traveled internationally. With little prompting, Aunt Vi loves to talk about growing up on the farm. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think about how life has changed for farm women over the past several generations.

My aunt spoke as if it were yesterday about bridling her horse, Beauty, each morning to herd the cows to the pasture and then doing the same each day after school to bring the cows back to the barn for the night. She told me how one fall and winter she and Grandma were “in charge” of the farm while Grandpa was working on another farm some 20 miles away. Each morning, before school, my aunt and Grandma would milk the cows and then load the milk cans in the buggy. With Beauty providing the horsepower, Aunt Vi would take the cans of milk, one from the night before and one from the morning, to the streetcar station in town. There she would unload the milk cans. At 11 years old, less than five feet tall and about 75 pounds this was quite a task. But she said if she timed it right, the streetcar would arrive just as she was backing the buggy to the ramp and the conductor would help her pull the milk cans from the buggy. Each time I look at the milk can that is now a decoration on my porch, I can’t help but thinking about those wintery mornings and seeing my Grandma and aunt caring for those cows.

Like my Grandma, Aunt Vi, and my Mom before me, I have the opportunity to be a partner in our family farm. Although we do not milk cows, our farm involves growing corn and soybeans. My fall days are not spent herding cows, but rather driving a tractor or combine. After the crop is harvested, I find myself preparing annual reports for our landlords and working with my husband to secure inputs for the coming crop year. During the winter months I will attend meetings and conferences representing local corn farmers as their director to the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. Also during these months much of the corn and soybeans that we have grown will be sold and delivered to our customers, both domestically and internationally.

Each time I walk outside and pass that milk can, I think about the many women and men who have had the opportunity to grow food for our brothers and sisters around the world. It is a privilege to work on the farm today, to be a part of this effort to feed the world, and to have grown up with a love of the land in my blood, passed down from my Grandma and Aunt Vi.

For them and for all the strong farm women like them, I continue the legacy and look forward to sharing the joy I get from the farm with my children and grandchildren.

Donna Jeschke
Illinois family farmer, mom, wife &
ICMB Director

GOOD FARMERS AND BAD FARMERS …

Part of our Illinois Commodity Conference agenda was a discussion on the research Illinois Corn has funded with Illinois Beef, Illinois Pork, Illinois Soybeans, and Illinois Farm Bureau.  This is the research that provides a baseline for us, telling us where consumers are, what they think about farmers, and how we can best reconnect with them.

Knowing some of what we were learning from consumers in focus groups and statistical analysis, we sent our interns out to create this video.

This is what people really think about farmers.  The sad fact is, they don’t know much and what they do know is wrong.  And they don’t have to be from Chicago to have incorrect notions … some of these consumers are living in the number one corn producing county in America!

THE THING THAT TOOK MY BREATH AWAY

Today is the day I’ve been waiting for.

Since Sunday, Illinois Corn Growers Association has held a board meeting, a policy meeting, a PAC Auction, an annual meeting, and coordinated the Illinois Commodity Conference. To say we’ve been busy is an understatement and honestly? I just can’t wait to take a really deep breath.

But if you’re a glass half full sort of person, you could also think of all the things we’ve accomplished. Of course, all the day-to-day operations of the board are completed like updates on key issues and action on items that couldn’t wait until January for a vote, but we’ve also discussed where our members stand on things like how the new Farm Bill should operate, that allowing corn-based ethanol to qualify as an advanced biofuel is a priority, and what we think about the Illinois budget. We’ve raised money to allow us to become more politically active next year, helping to support the candidates that support Illinois agriculture. We’ve learned that consumers believe farmers are the most trustworthy source of information about how their food is being produced and hopefully the farmers in Illinois are now motivated to stand up for their way of life.

And in the middle of all this information and action overload, enough to leave me reeling for the next four days, there was one thing that really took my breath away.

Illinois farmers. All of the farmers that spent the last three days with me left their wives and kids and farms at home in someone else’s care in order to donate three days of their lives to better their industry. All of them offered 72 hours of their own time and energy without asking or expecting monetary gain. All of them are family farmers that are concerned enough about the future of their farms and the possibility of their children having the freedom to farm that same land that they want to talk about current events, discuss legislation and policy, and work towards a common goal.

We all want to eat, right? All of these farmers were working towards a common goal with every other American. All of these farmers want legislation, regulation, communications, and actions that better our food supply and give Americans confidence that their food is safe and plentiful.

http://www.youtube.com/v/v4vvPPNyQ5g?fs=1&hl=en_US

This Thanksgiving, I’m in awe of the fathers, husbands, grandfathers, sons, moms, grandmas, and daughters that spent the last three days with me. They are dedicated, tireless, and committed. They believe in the lifestyle handed down to them from their fathers and grandfathers and they work towards perfecting the handiwork that they learned on their mother’s knee. They are smart, engaging, fun, and overall enjoyable to be around.

Thanks to the Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board for teaching me something these last three days about what it means to work hard for something bigger than yourself.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

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THANKS AND GIVING: HISTORY

So fun to be guest blogging today at the Corn Corps! I’m in the midst of a month-long series at Prairie Farmer called Thanks and Giving, and when the good folks at Illinois Corn invited me over, I couldn’t resist. Today…giving thanks for our agricultural history.

During the fall of 1998, Mike Wilson sent me out on a photo shoot at an old grain elevator in Atlanta, Illinois. It turned out to be the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator, and it was on the National Register of Historic Places and it had just gotten a fresh coat of barn red paint. It was a photographer’s dream. The photos wound up being my first-ever cover, and Mike even took me to Pontiac to watch it roll off the printing press. And this one here won the top prize in the AAEA photo contest that year. As a fresh-out-of-the-gate ag journalist, I was giddy.

I love this photo in a very large way – large enough to print it on canvas and hang it where everyone who walks in my house will see it. In part because of the red paint and the majestic lines, but also because of the history it holds. I’m a sucker for a little heritage and a good farm history lesson, and the folks at the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum are some of the best teachers you’ll ever meet. First, you must check out their website. Don’t skip the intro. I always skip the intros, but not this time. Very cool.

Anyway, you can get the full lesson from the website, but in short, the elevator was state of the art when it was built in 1904. It was abandoned in 1976, and ready to be torched for firefighter practice in 1988. Local citizens stepped in, and saved the building.

What I love, though, is how the thing was built in the first place. In the early 1900s, prairie farmers were producing more and more corn each year, as distant grain markets expanded. Greater trade led to the development of a bulk system for inspection, grading and storage in giant bins, instead of individual sacks. All this made storage facilities along rail lines quite necessary. Mr. Hawes simply took a look at the map and noted that Atlanta was the intersection of two major rail lines – Chicago to St. Louis and Peoria to Decatur. And that’s where he put his elevator.

We have a lot to be thankful for in Illinois agriculture, from perspective to opportunity to time. And on the lighter side, we’ve got farm boys and barn kittens and a cold drink. But it’s our history that will sustain us, and that’s worth being thankful for.

Holly Spangler
Prairie Farmer