Having just come off of several policy and priority setting meetings with Illinois corn farmers all over the state, I feel very confident of this fact: selling corn for export outside of the country is the largest market for Illinois corn.
The reasons for this are simple. Illinois has a great location on three major rivers: the Illinois, the Ohio, and the mighty Mississippi. With adequate and efficient river transportation, we are a powerhouse of exporting capacity.
However, that stands to change. Illinois corn farmers are continuing to increase yields exponentially, and export markets aren’t dwindling. But the simple fact is that our current infrastructure no longer allows for the efficient transportation of our goods to market … and it’s going to get worse.
Apparently the Army Corps of Engineers has typically maintained the authorized depth of 45 feet on the Mississippi by dredging. When they were not allocated enough funds to dredge and maintain this depth, they “reprogrammed” funds from other projects, speculating that maintaining the authorized depth was the most important. However, as their fiscal year 2011 began, ACE announced that they would no longer “reprogram” funds to dredge and would stay within the budgeted funding amount.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the river is currently at its lowest levels in a decade. Certain points in the river are already becoming unsafe for larger ships and passage is restricted to daylight only. When spring comes with its additional rains and runoff, ACE warns that they will only be able to guarantee 40 feet instead of the 45-47 feed that shippers need.
This means shipping is less efficient, grain prices will drop, and American’s will lose out to foreign buyers.
Bottom line, America’s failure to make long term investments in its infrastructure is an insurmountable hurdle, this dredging issue AND the larger issue of needed lock and dam improvements included. President Obama has already declared his intent to double exports over the next five years. Although an ambitious goal, Americans can produce and other countries will demand enough to make this possible, if only our transportation system would allow it.
There is no way we can double exports if cargo ships cannot use the Mississippi River. Experts indicate that the Pacific Northwest is already at 100% capacity. This means any increased growth in US exports must travel to market via the Mississippi River system and when that system is broken, how exactly does the President plan to get the additional goods out of America?
Corn farmers have been shouting it and we’ll continue until someone finally listens. We need investment in river infrastructure.
Come on, folks. If Brazil and Panama can do it, so can we.
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MR. PRESIDENT, WHERE ARE THE LOCKS AND DAMS?
TRADE MISSIONS ARE VITAL TO ILLINOIS AGRICULTURE
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.
Illinois family farmer, mom, wife &
This post originally posted at Corn Commentary.
It is interesting to note the group change.org, on their “Sustainable Food” web site takes issue with the new CommonGround campaign which seeks to give exposure to family farmers and their efforts to educate the public about food and the people who raise/grow it.
There are numerous efforts today like Common Ground (from the Corn Farmers Coalition to The Hands That Feed Us) that seek to give a voice to family farmers. Doing so in an organized fashion and giving farm women an opportunity to be heard makes perfect sense. This public outreach effort is neither anti-sustainability, against social change or antagonistic.
Traditional farming is driving social change and has made incredible gains in environmental improvement and sustainability. In fact, all segments of Ag are moving more to the middle – saving soil, cutting pesticide and fertilizer applications, reducing carbon footprint – so it is really the rate of change that is at issue.
To continue to feed an additional 9 billion people by 2050 this speed of change will be critical to nourishing an expanding world population. Safe, abundant and affordable food is something that we can all agreement upon and is a core goal for all of the farmers supporting CommonGround.
“There are many misconceptions about agriculture in the media today, and we are working, as we have over the past 35 years, to be a voice for truth in communicating to others about agriculture,” Wilson says, so maybe it is the organized effort and the amplification of the message that is disturbing some who are used to dominating the conversation about food in this nation.
Thanks American Agri-Women for showing continued leadership and thanks for all the farmers supporting this important effort by contributing your hard-earned dollars.
Read more from Corn Commentary here!
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!
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.
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.
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director
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THANKS AND GIVING: HISTORY
TELLING YOUR STORY AT ILLINOIS COMMODITY CONFERENCE!
REFLECTIONS FROM A CITY GIRL
Forget the gobble gobble – at my house it isn’t Thanksgiving until the ham is sliced. That’s right; our family tradition is to gather around a nice PORK dinner. Yes we have a turkey to maintain the American tradition, but the flavorful ham is the center piece. Growing up on a hog farm, I’m used to spending Thanksgiving being thankful for the fresh ham, bacon, and pork roast that were always available for our table.
So I guess I have yet another thing to be thankful for this year – that Illinois farmers are just as concerned about feeding those in need as they are about feeding themselves. And that in America, even those in need can look forward to a fabulous PORK dish on their Thanksgiving table!
(Check out the awesome pork recipes for your Thanksgiving here!)
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.
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.
|Speaker John Carter|
|Friend of Ag Award Winner Mike Hutjens|
Looking forward to seeing you there!