FARMER’S DAUGHTERS LOOK FORWARD TO THE FAIR

Many farm kids believe the best part of summer is their county fair. Throughout the year 4-Hers work diligently to perfect their projects in hope of a successful week at the fair. Yesterday, we went to the McLean County 4-H Fair and it brought back sweet memories from our days in 4-H.
Kelsey: The fair that I attended while growing up was the Tazewell County 4-H fair and I was a member of the Tremont Clovers 4-H club in Tremont, Illinois for twelve years. Throughout 4-H I attempted numerous projects taking away something different from each one.

Kristie: My county fair was the McLean County fair, the biggest 4-H fair in the country, and I was a member of the Blue Ribbon Kids 4-H group from Colfax. Although I grew up on a farm, I never showed any animals at the fair. All of my friends had cattle, swine, goats, or chickens, but the biggest animal that I ever showed was my cat Buttercup, who was not the most cooperative of all animals.

Kelsey: The projects I tended to return to included visual arts, photography, tractor safety, veterinary science, and crops. Due to all of my friends showing cattle I usually spent a great deal of time in the cattle barn. I loved helping them show their cow-calf pairs and participating in the beef obstacle course. However, I would have to say that my favorite project was crops. The first morning of the fair my dad and I would get up extremely early to go dig my crops out of the field. Depending on the morning dew and the status of the irrigation system we would usually arrive at the fair completely soaked, and covered in dirt from head to toe!
Kristie: Since I did not have to take the time to show animals, I spent my time doing as many projects in as many categories as possible, sometimes bringing well over twenty projects. I always had projects in multiple arts and cooking categories, I took woodworking projects a few times, I usually had a photography project, and I tried my hand at sewing. My favorite category was the “Clothing Decisions” projects in the Clothing and Textiles division, which was really just an excuse to go bargain shopping with my mom. I always did the Style Revue Show to model my sewing projects, and my biggest sewing accomplishment was making my homecoming dress for my freshman year of high school. My big state fair début was to show my microwave bran muffins, and by the time I had perfected them, my family couldn’t get rid of them quick enough.
Kelsey: In 2007 I was honored to represent Tazewell County 4-H as their queen. During my reign I was able to see the fair in an entire new perspective. I attended nearly every event at the fair, rode in eight parades throughout the county, participated in many 4-H activities, and attended the IAAF Convention as a contestant in the Miss Illinois County Fair Queen Pageant. While agriculture had always been my lifestyle as a farmer’s daughter, it was not until my year as queen that I realized the effect it had on our society and the importance of advocating such an extraordinary industry.

Kristie: My 4-H experience was much different from my friends’, but I would never say that I missed out on anything. I learned many different skills that I continue to use today, and 4-H allowed me to try out as many skills and ideas that I wanted so that I could figure out which things I was good at and what I liked the most. If it weren’t for 4-H, I wouldn’t have been able to make the decorative throw pillows and oil paintings for my new apartment, I never would have found my passion for cooking or learned how to wire a trouble light or turn a wood lathe, and my stressed out cat probably wouldn’t have lost as many years off of his life.

Kelsey: I can imagine that showing a cat is considerably harder than showing a cow. You have my sympathies.

Kristie: Thanks, but I don’t envy you walking around the fairgrounds in heels.

Kelsey: Still, 4-H is such a valuable program because it has something to offer every kid in every walk of life. Like Kristie said, these are experiences you always remember, family memories that you would never want to forget, and life skills that you take with you when you grow up.

Kristie: The fair is the culmination of all those activities. When you bring your hard work from the fields or the sewing machine and have it evaluated, you feel a sense of accomplishment, but you also learn to appreciate constructive criticism.

Kelsey: So from two farmer’s daughters that spent the afternoon at the fair yesterday and can’t wait to get back, get involved in 4-H and participate in your county fair. You’ll never be sorry that you did.

Kelsey Vance
ICGA/ICMB Summer Intern
Illinois State University student

Kristie Harms
ICMB/ICGA Summer Intern
University of Missouri student

SURPRISE! FARMERS HAVE TO FEED AN EXPONENTIALLY GROWING WORLD POPULATION!

I find it interesting that this is “breaking National news.”

Are there any readers that were under the assumption that food was just going to magically appear in your refrigerator? Did any of you think that world population was decreasing?

Of course farmers need to work smarter in order to grow safe, affordable, wholesome food for a world population that is growing exponentially. That’s why growing more with less is exactly what we’re doing.

“Maintaining adequate food production levels in light of increasing population, climate change impacts, increasing costs of energy, constraints on carbon, land degradation and the finite supply of productive soils is a major challenge,” said Dr. Neil MacKenzie says in the article.

That’s why corn farmers are facing that challenge head on.

They’ve decreased the amount of land needed to produce one bushel of corn, the amount of soil lost per bushel of corn, the amount of energy used to produce one bushel of corn, and the emissions per bushel of corn.

The article also quotes Ms. Wensley, a former Australian ambassador for the environment, who said scientists have an important public advocacy role in the face of “growing disconnect between food production and consumption on our heavily and increasingly urbanized planet.”

And I guess that statement is exactly why the fact that we need to grow more food with less is breaking National news. It’s not that farmers aren’t able to meet the challenge. It’s not that corn farmers aren’t ALREADY meeting the challenge. It’s that consumers don’t understand what actions corn farmers are taking and that we actually have a challenge in the first place.

That’s where you come in.

Have you connected with important ag media outlets to get good tidbits of information to share with your friends? Have you made an effort to connect your friends with those same outlets?  Check out Agricultural Everyday on Facebook. Check out The Beef Ambassador blog or Midwestern Gold. Follow @agchick on Twitter. Encourage your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to do the same.

Start talking about agriculture. Let’s make the awesome job that farmers are doing the next national headline.

Jim Tarmann
ICGA/ICMB Field Services Director

COMMON SENSE SHOULD PREVAIL – WILL IT?

“We respect efforts for a clean and healthy environment, but not at the expense of common sense.”

If we had an awards show for things elected officials say, (why not? Everyone else has an awards show!) this quote about the EPA would win in my book, hands down.

And to what issue is the quote referring? The EPA is now considering regulating dust as a harmful pollutant.  If this isn’t some sort of indication that we’ve let the EPA go a little too far, I don’t know what is.

I leave it to you to figure out how exactly the EPA will regulate farm dust … perhaps they will fund replacing all those dirt roads and driveways with pavement? Perhaps they will loosen the reins on our water supply so that we can spray everything down? Perhaps they will just decide that they would rather go hungry?

When did common sense become … well … less common?

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

FINALLY … SOME GOOD NEWS

All the farmers I know tend to be a “glass half full” sort.  I’m guessing that’s because farmers have to weather all sorts of disasters that can make or break their crop and they have to make a decision to see the positive or go home.  But it’s getting increasingly different to see the glass half full when it comes to popular media and the multitudes of attacks on agriculture coming from every direction.

That’s why, we’ve got to take the positive and run with it!

These are all variations on the same story, but its a good story and I’m seeing it everywhere.  That’s a great thing!  This was obviously sent out on the AP wire and tons of folks are picking it up.

Kuddos to our own Len Corzine for a great interview!

Yahoo Finance
Pantagraph, Bloomington, IL
ABC News
Long Island Press

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO

We’re finding all kinds of ways to share information about corn and the family farmers that grow it at The Corn Crib, professional baseball’s newest ballpark. The Corn Crib is home to the Normal CornBelters. If you visit you’ll see messages like this one, reminding non-farmers that their friends and neighbors are the family farmers producing Illinois’ highest valued crop. If you sit through a game, you’ll hear conversations about corn and farmers happening between people that otherwise never would have talked about corn. Spontaneous shouts of “Let’s Go Corn!” echo through the stands, and Corny, the CornBelters mascot, is high-fived wherever he goes. It’s opportunities like this that can make a huge difference as more and more challenges to agriculture are being promulgated by detractors.

DOES SIZE MATTER?

I heard it again just yesterday … the general manager of a local hotel told me that he prefers smaller 600-700 acre farms over larger farms of several thousand acres. He couldn’t tell me why, just that he liked the idea of a small farm over a large one.

We chatted about it and I tried hard to listen to his concerns – something that farmers don’t do enough of, and I admit, was difficult for me. The problem is that I didn’t walk away from the conversation understanding exactly why he preferred smaller farms. Either I did a horrible job at listening or he really wasn’t sure himself.

Because of that recent conversation, this video really hit home for me this morning. Enjoy … and share!

http://www.youtube.com/v/uHtIRAjzw3c&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xd0d0d0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1

HEALTHY AND ENVIRONMENTAL LIP SERVICE

About a month ago, I visited the corporate headquarters for McDonald’s USA with the Illinois Beef Association. It was a really interesting visit, where I learned things like ’27 million people eat at McDonald’s Global every single day’ and ‘Around 70% of McDonald’s business is drive thru purchases.’ These facts together really say something about our society.

But here’s something else I learned that really says something about us: in surveys and while testing new products, consumers indicated that if there were a healthy option for those Happy Meals you’re buying for your kid once a week, a large majority of parents would chose that option. In practice, only 10% of parents actually buy apple dippers for their kids instead of those extremely yummy fries.

To me, that says that while American’s do genuinely want to be healthier and live better, when push comes to shove, they are mostly only giving it lip service.

I thought of this recently gained knowledge while reading Pros of Modern Beef Production in the July 19 issue of Feedstuffs. There were some really great quotes in there that are completely Facebook worthy.

Things you might consider copying and pasting to your status like:

“Contrary to the negative image often associated with modern farming, fulfilling the U.S. population’s requirement for high-quality, nutrient-rich protein while improving environmental stewardship can only be achieved by using contemporary agricultural technologies and practices.” Dr. Jude Capper, Washington State University.

“We have the perception that feedlots are bad and that simply isn’t true.” Dr. Jude Capper, Washington State University.

“Compared to beef production in 1977, Capper found that each pound of beef produced in modern systems uses 10% less feed energy, 20% fewer feedstuffs, 30% less land, 14% less water, and 9 % less fossil fuel energy.”

Still, I’m left with one important quandary. Much like McDonald’s, we’re doing exactly what the consumer has asked for by producing more meat with fewer inputs and becoming more environmentally conscious and more sustainable while still delivering a quality, safe product. Why then, is the consumer not on board?

During my visit at McDonald’s Corporate, they indicated that while menu items must meet rigorous sales quotas or they are removed from the menu, apple dippers will always remain despite their less-than-stellar performance. McDonald’s has to maintain the option that the consumer wants even if the consumer doesn’t buy simply to sustain a positive image.

Can livestock farmers do this too without going out of business?

I realize that research is showing that consumers don’t want to have to make choices. They want everything that they want and they will not be forced to put a premium on any given option. This is understandable – businesses in our country have always subscribed to the “customer’s always right” mantra.

Still, we may have finally reached a plateau where livestock farmers simply can’t offer EVERYTHING that the customer wants. If they want grass-fed beef, livestock farmers will gladly deliver it, but it’s going to cost more, there will be less of it and it’s going to take a toll on the environment. If they want beef produced with a smaller hoof print on our planet, they may have to learn to tolerate feedlots.

To which option are they simply giving lip service?

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

FARMING 101: PICKING SWEET CORN

Sweet corn is by far one of the most popular summer veggies! Have you ever wondered how the sweet corn you’re eating for dinner got to your plate? Yesterday, a couple of us from the IL Corn office were granted a day in the sweet corn field with a couple of Northern Illinois farmers. We picked approximately 1,500 ears of sweet corn that were donated to a food pantry.

As our morning began we asked farmers, Jim and John, for a quick overview of the sweet corn picking process. While they have been picking sweet corn their whole lives it was difficult for them to describe the art of their technique. We all began working and before long we were covered in mud and sweat along with cuts on our hands from the corn stalks. However, we all had a great time and were reminded the importance of our job promoting the agricultural industry!
Jim and John’s sweet corn fields were planted in late May and early June. While the weather in Illinois has been challenging this year the sweet corn crop was a success.

While every farmer has his own twist as to when the sweet corn is ready they typically revolve back to feeling the ear. The ear should feel full and complete all the way up to the top.

If you are just beginning your picking adventure it is important to pull the shucks back a little ways to check the kernels. This is usually done by puncturing the kernel and checking for a milky juice substance.

The sweet corn ear is then ready to be removed from the stalk. Simply pull the ear in a downward motion until it is disconnected.

Due to different maturity rates and to track your progress, it is often helpful to stomp down the stalk after you have picked the sweet corn.

Many sweet corn farmers feel that raw sweet corn fresh off of the stalk is the best and simply irresistible! Therefore, it is not uncommon for water and corn breaks on a sunny day on the farm.

The sweet corn that is left is gathered and sent to your local farmer’s market or grocery store. After a little cooking on the stove, grill, or even microwave the corn is then placed on your dinner plate! Bon Appétit!

Kelsey Vance
ICMB/ICGA Intern
University of Illinois student

E12 (12% BLENDS) ARE A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

For those of you just beginning your quest for more knowledge about Illinois agriculture (and maybe for some of you that work within the Illinois agricultural industry every day and just didn’t think through this particular issue), let me describe to you corn’s ethanol quandary.

Illinois farmers are really good at growing corn. They grow more and more corn every single year, using less inputs (less land, less water, less chemicals) to do it, and thus, they need more markets for this corn. This is one of the primary goals of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board – to develop markets for Illinois corn.

Corn-based ethanol is our largest Illinois market for corn and presents the most opportunity for growth, in turn, demanding more corn. This is good because we have corn coming out our ears. No pun intended.

Right now, nearly every gallon of gasoline that you purchase at the gas station is 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol; this product is referred to as a 10% blend. A 10% blend is the highest blend the EPA will allow. But we (Americans) have now reached the point where there are no more gallons of gasoline sold to blend 10% ethanol into, thus, the market is no longer growing and we have more and more corn that will be losing its value.

The ethanol industry has asked EPA to consider a higher blend of ethanol in every gallon of gasoline. They suggested 15%, which barely makes a difference per gallon of gasoline, but makes a huge difference to the ethanol industry and thus, to corn farmers in Illinois. This opens up more market space for ethanol and for the corn that creates it.

The EPA, being the EPA, has hesitated to approve a 15% blend. They argue that testing data from US Department of Energy on what a 15% blend really means hasn’t been provided to them.

In response to their stalling, the National Corn Growers Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol, and the Renewable Fuels Association sent a letter today asking US EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to consider an immediate move to a 12% blend which opens up a market for ethanol and allows existing plants to keep … well … existing.

The bottom line for corn farmers is that we need additional markets for corn or corn farmers will go out of business.

The bottom line for environmentalists is that we need a green, renewable fuel supply to address climate change and emissions concerns.

The bottom line for Americans is that we need domestic energy so we can reduce our oil imports and quit funding the countries that hate us.

The bottom line for the US EPA is that a 12% blend of ethanol moves us a step in the right direction. And frankly, if underdeveloped and developing countries can make an investment in green, renewable, domestic energy and Brazil can use up to 23% ethanol blends in their conventional vehicles with no problems … why can’t we?

Dave Loos
ICGA/ICMB Research and Business Development Director
(and ethanol guru!)