If you live in a rural area, you may have noticed the rapid onset of harvest. While the first week of September is definitely historically early to begin harvest, I can assure you that once those farmers get out in the fields and get a taste of harvest, there will be no stopping them until every last grain and oilseed is reaped.
For the rest of us in Illinois, that means it’s time to slow down and be more cautious for slow moving farm equipment.
Farm safety is a great lesson any time of year to be sure. For livestock farmers especially who conduct mostly the same activities year round, the risks aren’t necessarily elevated during planting and harvest. And there are always these sorts of accidents that happen regardless of the season, so being careful is always imperative.
But for the rest of us, those of us that live in town and forget that we are surrounded by hard working men and women trying to get the crop out in the fall, spring and fall are important times to remember to be cautious and careful.
Drivers in slow moving vehicles can’t always see your compact car trying to pass them. Farmers attempt to avoid high traffic areas and high traffic times of day, but weather and crops are tricky business and harvesting certain fields isn’t always feasible after 5 pm or on the weekend.
Do your best to be wary and remind your family (especially teenage drivers) to be extra careful as well. Check out the media’s coverage of Eureka, IL efforts to educate their teenage drivers about the necessity of using extra caution this time of year.
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director
Labor Day, the day we American’s celebrate our nation’s workforce, is a great day to announce plans for more jobs. I definitely understand what President Obama was thinking when he stood in Milwaukee, WI and announced plans for massive infrastructure investment, which will not only modernize American roads, rails, and runways, but will also create millions of jobs.
What I don’t understand is the conspicuous absence of funding for upgraded locks and dams.
Will investment in waterway transportation create jobs? Yes. Updating our waterway infrastructure will create 48 million hours of labor for skilled trade workers throughout the Midwest.
Does investment in waterway transportation offer a return on investment? Definitely. America’s inland waterway navigation system moves more than a billion tons of domestic commerce valued at more than $300 billion per year. Agricultural products are a significant portion of that commerce and agriculture is one industry with potential to pull our economy out of the black hole it’s in.
Does investment in waterway transportation garner industry support? Undoubtedly. The shipping industry is the only industry stepping forward to provide additional funding streams for upgrades to their system that will match federal dollars. In other words, upgrading locks and dams provides jobs and return on investment in a much bigger dose than other projects because the industry is financing a portion of the project.
So what’s the problem? I’m not sure. President Obama used to support lock and dam upgrades. As a US Senator he was an advocate for upgraded locks and dams and even played a key role in the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 that now simply sits for lack of funding. He used to be in favor of allowing the US to be competitive in a global market. He used to understand that Midwestern agriculture, the powerhouse of the American economy, relied on efficient infrastructure to get goods to markets all across the globe.
What’s changed? Again, I’m not sure. What I do know is that investment in waterway transportation offers a greener option for transporting goods, a bundle of great jobs for Midwestern workers, and a means to allow agriculture to further drive our country out of an economic mess.
All I know for sure is that that no matter what question I ask, upgraded locks and dams are the answer. More jobs, greener transportation, supportive to our nation’s largest economic powerhouse …
Mr. President, where are the locks and dams?
Frustrated IL Corn Waterway Transportation Specialist
I’ve spent 21 years in Illinois. I’ve never left for more than two weeks at a time, and let’s be honest, that Chicagoan dialect that spews out of my mouth doesn’t exactly allow me to assimilate into just any geographic region. Illinois is my home. Specifically, I was raised in Itasca, which is about a 40 minute train ride from Chicago.
Being a Chicagoan (or even a suburbanite) is a lifestyle. The pace at which I walk to work is probably better described as “jogging.” I know what a REAL hot dog looks like, I can direct you to the city’s best Italian beef and don’t even get me started on thin crust pizza. When my boss told me that we were going to volunteer our time to corn picking in Manhattan, I thought he was joking.
The thought of Nicky Hunter picking corn is akin to the thought of a cat swimming laps in a pool. Outrageous. I love sports but hate playing them because I hate to sweat. I’ve never tended to a garden because I don’t like dirt, and I don’t even know what I would do if I found a worm. I’d probably scream and jump up and down, hands waving in acute panic. The great outdoors and I never really got along.
“Sure, I’ll do it,” I replied because I talk a big game. I knew it was for the City Produce Project, which was a good cause. Monsanto, which is a huge company, got behind the project and Illinois Corn Marketing Board also participated in the program, so if such big forces can help out, what was stopping me? Some dirt and sweat? Pathetic, city girl, pathetic.
It would be easy, I thought, because it’s a farm. I thought I knew farms. After all, I’d seen one obnoxious farm comedy after another, I knew the routine. You get up early when the rooster crows and then you do various farm duties until someone rings that little triangle to announce that a large, bountiful dinner was ready. That dinner, of course, was provided by the farmer’s hard work and that was how they survived. That’s all I was exposed to.
What never really occurred to me was that the work that gets done on a farm is a business. The crops that grow on a family’s farm aren’t just exclusively for family meals that would make a Norman Rockwell painting look like child’s play. Once I arrived on the farm, I expected to see machinery going to town on those crops, with volunteers just packing away the corn that the machines left behind. After all, farms are so expansive, there is no way that we would actually be doing the harvesting. There are machines for that…right?
Not in this case. It was all hard work and human labor. It finally occurred to me that the vegetables I eat actually originate somewhere. It was humbling to realize that sometimes I’m just too lazy to get in my car and drive three minutes to the supermarket and pick fresh produce, then come home and prepare it. Instead, I shuffle through my kitchen, mumbling “There’s no food in this house” and chomping on a bag of chips and maybe a cookie, if I’m lucky. I realized that farmers have to plant, nurture and send off all their crops in order to get to the supermarket produce section that I rarely visit because I just don’t have “THE WILLPOWER” to eat correctly.
Spending a few hours on a farm went beyond just opening my eyes to the process. Being involved with the City Produce Project even at the most minimal level has made me aware of the daily challenges farmers face. If the weather is nice on Sunday, farmers are working. Weekend or not, there’s something to do on the farm. If the weather doesn’t cooperate at the right time; game over. The whole field could be washed out and there could be nothing to show for days or even weeks of work. No produce, no profit. No profit, no nothing. Farming isn’t a joke.
I was lucky enough to get to volunteer when the weather, though hot as the Sahara, was relatively good. I was informed that the week beforehand, volunteers trudged through mud in order to get the work done, and not many extra people showed up because they didn’t want to get dirty. The work had to get done, so the farmers spent the entire day in wet mud. They have no choice. That corn had places to be, City Produce Project participants to please, delicious flavors to unleash upon unsuspecting omnivores.
As a suburbanite who spends more than 40 hours in metro Chicago per week, I can say with confidence that I was completely unattached to my food. I don’t know where it comes from, I don’t know how it was grown, and I know even less about who is responsible for its production. If it reached my mouth, I was happy. After spending literally no more than two hours on a farm, I can say that now I appreciate fresh vegetables. They take work. I don’t know if larger areas are handled with machinery or not, because I’m only familiar with the sweet corn used in the City Produce Project. But I do know that regardless of machinery’s role, humans operate them. Humans purchase the seed, humans tend to the crops and humans wouldn’t exist without this kind of selfless dedication.
I feel less like a Chicagoan/Suburbanite and more of an Illinoisan. I am aware of the goings-on in other parts of this vast state, not just the deep-dish pizza feuds and seemingly endless roadwork of Cook County. There are things beyond my hamburger, beyond my debilitating fear of being touched by an earthworm, and beyond my selfish need for food to just appear.
I appreciate corn farmers now, because after two hours I was ready to throw in my sweaty towel and call it a day. That’s not an option for them, and I commend them for dedicating their lives to such an uncontrollable gamble. Without such skilled and charitable farmers, programs like the City Produce Project wouldn’t be possible, and some communities would be left without any resources to combat diabetes because they would have zero access to anything as nutritious as the corn grown in Manhattan.
I think every Chicagoan should experience just a few hours on a farm. It does bring perspective and opens up those smog-weary eyes to a different kind of existence that is only a few hours removed from Chicago.
And would you believe it, this city chick actually had fun on a farm. I touched some bugs, got sweaty and got a paper-cut on my hand (the horror!), but at the end of the day, I did something new for a good cause.
One of the ways that we keep that export market vibrant and growing is to meet with buyers in other markets to tell them about our products. In much the same way that a printing company sales rep might knock on your door to market their printing services or the Schauwn man stops by every week, we simply make appointments to meet with buyers at their homes and businesses, even if those businesses are an ocean away. This is really the only way to truly understand what a buyer needs, the quality they are looking for, the price they expect, and how we can work together to deliver on that demand.
Buyers also want to come to Illinois to see how the products are grown or created. Company reps from China looking to buy dried distillers grains (DDGS) from our Illinois ethanol plants might schedule a trip to our state and I will set up visits to ethanol plants for them, both educating them about the industry and connecting them with potential Illinois suppliers. This is an important way that we can add value to Illinois corn – by creating new markets for Illinois corn by-products.
Representatives from other countries come to Illinois for other reasons too. Sometimes they simply want to learn about US agriculture and experience planting or harvest. Sometimes they want to discover our methods of livestock production and how corn and DDGS fit into our feed rations. They may want to see how Illinois farmers live. But even these discovery missions make important connections between Illinois farmers and overseas buyers that we simply can’t ignore.
In the past year, I have worked with potential buyers from Mexico, Vietnam, Korea, China, Japan, Panama, Brazil, Central America, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and more.
Conversely, Illinois farmers need a knowledge of overseas markets to try to find ways to fulfill those market’s needs. Sometimes, experiencing a culture first hand helps Illinois farmers see markets that have never before existed. One good example is “chicken paws” that are coveted in the Chinese market. These delicacies are simply the feet of the chicken that US meat processors used to just throw away. Visiting and making connections with Chinese buyers helped us understand that there is a market for those extra parts of the chicken and now our US chickens have more value. And, of course, Illinois corn feeds those chickens so value in the poultry market is a good thing for both of us.
Illinois farmers have recently been to missions in Brazil, Mexico, Panama, and China just to name a few.
In Panama, IL Corn leadership met with the Panama Poultry Buyers Association who was considering switching their corn purchase from US Corn to Argentine Corn. After visiting with them twice in Panama City and once in Illinois, we have been able to maintain that market and address their concerns. They are still buying 95% of their corn from the US.
Also in Panama, we visited the Panama Canal. Current upgrades to the Panama Canal will double their capacity to ship grain, but the America’s failing infrastructure including our 80 year old locks and dams, leave us lagging behind in the global transportation system. It is very important for our Illinois corn farmers to understand Illinois’ precarious position in global infrastructure so that they can lobby their elected officials appropriately and hopefully resolve this issue.
Regarding upcoming trade missions, at the end of September, I will spend the week with a company from the Dominican Republic. Two years ago, SID Grupo was buying 100% hard endosperm corn from the US. Likely, because of our position on the Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio Rivers, much of that purchase was Illinois corn, to the tune of about 3.2 million bushels per year. Last year, our hard endosperm corn quality was poor so they switched their purchases to Argentine corn. In September, I will hopefully help them re-establish relationships with sellers of hard endosperm corn here in Illinois and we have several meetings set up with specialty grains shippers to regain that market and renew those relationships. $13 million dollars in grain sales is at stake, but the economics becomes much larger when you consider the entire production chain.
Traveling may seem glamorous, but in the end, Illinois Corn’s trade missions are about education and markets. After all, the near record exports we’re experiencing this year are the economic engine helping to pull America out of the recession. Our “exchanges” are simply programs that are too important to ignore.
ICGA/ICMB Value Enhanced Project Director
We’re right in the middle of Farm Progress Show in Iowa where heavy rains are definitely making things a little … damp.
Check out this link from WIRL’s Meghan Grebner showing Precision Planting’s precision pit that is supposed to be 6′ deep. Yikes.
She can’t find a candidate that she can believe in. She can’t find a candidate that she mostly agrees with and she doesn’t understand how she can prioritize to just one topic and vote according to candidate positions on that topic.
I’m sure I can find fifty other people in the span of the next fifteen minutes that agree with her.
Perhaps the problem with our country is not so much the politicians as it is the plain old citizens – the ones that are uninspired, apathetic, and too busy to care or notice what’s happening. Perhaps the problem with our state is that its citizens aren’t demanding more accountability, more access, and more information. Perhaps the problem with our democracy isn’t the vote, but the voters themselves.
To paraphase something Treasurer Giannoulias said in his address, things in Washington aren’t going to change until elected officials quit serving their party and themselves and recognize that they are serving the American public.
Perhaps things in Washington (and Illinois!) aren’t going to change until each and every ordinary citizen does exactly the same.