#TBT: FIVE WAYS HAVING LIVESTOCK BRIGHTENS A BAD DAY

[Originally published: November 3, 2014]

Some days when you wake up in the morning and go out to do the chores you never fully know what you are going to find… and if it’s too quiet you start to get suspicious. Raising livestock always keeps you on your toes, but in the end, the animals are always a bright spot on even the worst day.

1. Farmers and Livestock have a mutual love for each other

Hog farmerMany farmers are close to each animal they raise. Every animal is cared for to the farmer’s best ability, and with care there is love. Whenever I have to hop over the fence to get a trough for the hogs, I never get out without getting a rub on my legs from each hog, and then I normally end up scratching their backs and watch them do a little dance because they like it.

2girl hugging cow. A Built-in Friend on the Farm

Whether you own a dog, horse, duck, cat, or cow you can always count on having a friend on the farm. If you’re lucky you’ll have a friend from each animal on the farm! My brother has 3 calves and whenever he goes out to feed them he will get in the pen and play tag with them for a little bit, and they will all run around in the pen together and get a good laugh out of it (as well as a little winded).

3. They Come Running to Greet You – or just to Eat

cows eating at feederWhen you notice the hay bale getting low for the cows out in the pasture every farmer knows to hop on the tractor and get another one for them before they finish it or else they will be chasing cows all over the county! When my dad and I take a bale out to the cows, and they hear the tractor coming up the hill you see all of the cows migrate over to the feeder and start calling for the little calves to come over because supper is ready. The cows appreciate all the time and work my family did to get them these hay bales so that they are well fed.

4. Always a Life Lesson

litter of pigs with momSometimes when you’re out on the farm taking attendance of your livestock you notice that one may not be present, and if so, a search party (the whole family) gets called to help find the missing animal. This normally happens on my farm when a cow or sow is about ready to have a baby(s). If dad counts someone missing, everyone is sent to the pasture to find the animal, and if you’re the lucky one you will get the sweet reward of finding a the new life of a baby calf or a litter of baby pigs curled up next to their mama; healthy and happy as they could be and it can turn any day into great day.

5. Livestock are loyal to their farmers

farmer and dogOne thing you must know about livestock is that they are loyal. Back at home, we have four dogs and each one shows their loyalty in different ways. When I am home, my dog is always by my side. He always helps me with the chores and goes out with me in the pasture to walk the fence and check the animals.

Raising livestock isn’t easy, but the pros outweigh the cons. Every day farmers care for their livestock in the best way possible, and in return, each day is a little bit brighter having shared it with the animals.

ellen childressEllen Childress
Illinois State University student

ILLINOIS: THE GREAT PUMPKIN STATE

John Ackerman grows more than 160 different varieties of pumpkins at Ackerman Farms in Morton, Illinois. Morton is known as the Pumpkin Capital of the World.

An Illinois farm likely grew both your Halloween pumpkin (known in the industry as ornamental) and the prime ingredient in your Thanksgiving pie (called processing pumpkins).

When it comes to pumpkin production, Illinois smashes the competition. Prairie State farmers grow more ornamental and canning-type pumpkins than any other state. In fact, Illinois produced more than twice as many pumpkins in 2012 as second-ranked to California.

“I doubt if the average person in Illinois realizes the impact of pumpkin growing in this state,” says John Ackerman, owner of Ackerman Farms near Morton. He, his wife, Eve, and their children grow both ornamental and processing pumpkins.

The state’s farms harvested a record 16,200 acres of pumpkins in 2012, according to the Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service (IASS). Most of those were processing pumpkins, the best type for canning and cooking. More than 90 percent of the nation’s canning pumpkins grow in Illinois, says Mohammad Babadoost, a plant pathologist and professor at the University of Illinois.

Illinois earns the top rank for several reasons. Pumpkins grow well in its climate and in certain soil types. And in the 1920s, a pumpkin processing industry was established in Illinois, Babadoost says. Decades of experience and dedicated research help Illinois maintain its edge in pumpkin production.

Two pumpkin processing facilities exist in Illinois today – Nestle Libby’s in Morton and Seneca Foods in Princeville, both located near Peoria.

Meanwhile, ornamental pumpkins offer entertainment value for Illinoisans. People enjoy pumpkins, farms and the autumn agritourism destinations surrounding them.

“We have limited recreation opportunities,” Babadoost says. “We don’t have oceans. We don’t have mountains.”

But Illinois has tons of pumpkins. In fact, farms throughout the state grew more than 278,000 tons last year, according to IASS. That translates to millions of pumpkins.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PUMPKINS YOU EAT AND PUMPKINS YOU CARVE

Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins can be eaten. Processing pumpkins can be carved. But for best results, stick to the pumpkin’s intended purpose.

Ornamental pumpkins possess decorative appeal. They exhibit bright orange, smooth flesh with heavy handles. A few varieties offer uniquely colored flesh or warty texture.

Some Illinois farms sell decorative pumpkins wholesale, including to major retailers such as Walmart, Babadoost says. Many ornamental pumpkin growers, like Ackerman, invite customers to their farms to pick pumpkins in person. More than 2,000 schoolchildren and an unrecorded number of other visitors come to Ackerman Farms each fall.

Processing pumpkins are bred and selected to be canned. They have pale flesh, meatier insides and a more palatable flavor. The production of these pumpkins has increased with the growing public demand for pumpkin-flavored products, Babadoost says.

SEE MORE: Pumped for Pumpkin Recipes

Pumpkins grown for consumption pack a nutritional punch of antioxidants, fiber and vitamin A. As a result, home cooks use pumpkin to flavor soups, pasta dishes, cookies, breads, pancakes and more. Even some dog foods contain the healthy power of pumpkin.

HOW PUMPKINS GROW

Pumpkins take about 120 days to grow from planting to harvest.

Nestle Libby’s and Seneca Foods each contract with farmers within their region to grow processing pumpkins. Farmers plant seeds in April and May for a harvest that starts in late July and lasts through November, Babadoost says. Farmers plant ornamental pumpkins in May and June for harvest closer to the beginning of fall.

The sprawling plants grow and cover fields with vines up to 30 feet long. The vines contain flowers that bees pollinate to become pumpkins. Disease presents the biggest challenge during the growing season, Babadoost says. Warm and moist conditions increase those concerns.

Farmers use machines to harvest processing pumpkins. One farm machine moves the pumpkins into rows, while another elevates them into trucks. Then the crop travels to the facility to be washed, chopped, processed and canned.

In contrast, farmers harvest ornamental pumpkins using good old-fashioned manpower. These decorative gourds must be gathered by hand to avoid bruising and damage. Ackerman and about five employees pick up thousands of pumpkins on his 30-acre farm. One year, he estimated selling more than 30,000 pumpkins off the farm.

“We love what we do,” Ackerman says. “I don’t think you could do this if you didn’t enjoy it.”

Originally published by Illinois Farm Bureau Partners Magazine.

JOANIE STIERS

YOUNG PERSON IN AG: KADE GAMBILL

Kade Gambill, Second From Right

Kade Gambill knows his stuff. Ask him just about any questions about agriculture, politics, or agriculture policy and Kade most likely knows it. Kade did not grow up on a farm but once he got into the industry and saw what all it had to offer he was hooked. His goals and passions are very commendable making him a great leader as well as a great young person in ag.

  1. What college do you attend, what is your major and your future plans?

I am currently a sophomore at Kaskaskia College in Centralia Illinois. After that, I plan to go to Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky to major in Agriculture Business with a focus in Economics. I have also really found a passion for Agriculture Policy so that is something I may go into also. I want to work in Southern Illinois where I am originally from and possibly open some sort of AgriBusiness business or work with Farm Bureau or a private company with their agriculture policy and law department. I may not know exactly what I want to do, but I do know that I want to work in the Agriculture Industry.

  1. What is your involvement at school?

I am involved in multiple different clubs including Ag Club as an officer and PAS. I also work some with the research farm that my agriculture department partnered with the Fayette County Farm Bureau to operate, as well as helping organize different contest for different FFA contests

  1. High school experience/involvement in ag?

I was involved in numerous clubs and organizations. I was the Section 21 President my senior year of high school and got the opportunity to travel the state as well as to a few states with my 29 other teammates where we lead, organized, and helped with anything Illinois FFA related. My section included about 16 schools and 1000 students and is something that I will never forget. I also was involved with Farm Bureau and served as the student representative on the school board.

  1. Mentors?

My freshman year of high school was the first year that agriculture classes were being offered so I decided to take one. Before high school, I was not even thinking about being any part of the agriculture industry. My agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Casey Bolin really pushed me and encouraged me to be involved and to make my own path in this industry as well as in FFA to take leadership roles that I didn’t think I would normally.

  1. Some internship highlights?

This past summer I interned for the Lieutenant Governor, Evelyn Sanguinetti, and her office. I went to Springfield twice a week and assisted her staff on different legislation she was trying to push as well talking to legislators and representatives of various interest about different bills. We also went to different businesses with her and went with to the DuQuoin and Illinois State Fairs. It was a great experience getting to talk with and get close with the Lt. Governor as well as other lawmakers. As well as, getting to see the behind the scenes work at the state government level that goes on. It gives you a new appreciation/look at that process.

  1. In the terms of age of Agriculture, we are very young people, but do you remember anything that really changed agriculture in any way

I think there has been a lot of misinformation that has gone around. Whether that be because people are not from the farm or people making up things I don’t know. But I think it is our job as young people to hopefully fix that kind of gap of what is right and wrong information.

  1. How do you see the agriculture industry changing in the next 5-10 years?

Technology is going to get bigger and better. I look forward to the day that farmers are getting to run their combines or tractors from their phone. Hopefully, by then agriculture companies and interest groups like the Farm Bureau will have been able to bridge that gap we just talked about on what agriculture really is and where people’s food and fiber come from.

  1. Do you have any advice for younger people in agriculture/FFA or thinking about agriculture as a career?

I may not know exactly what I want to do, but I do know that I want to work in the Agriculture Industry. I have met so many people through FFA, college, and so many other things. This industry is welcoming and encouraging and I want to be a part of that. My advice would be to embrace ALL those welcome people and opportunities. I have regretted some missed opportunities of things that would have helped me in my professional life. You can’t be too involved in a group or organization.

Lacie Butler
Lake Land College

WHY FARMERS CARE ABOUT LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

Farmers are often considered to be a “jack of all trades”, and there is a reason for that.  On any given day, they can be mechanics, construction workers, scientists, and meteorologists.  What most people don’t think farmers specialize in is policy, but they do that too.  It makes sense if you think about it. There are a lot of rules when it comes to farming, and they need to stay up to date on legislative issues because they directly affect their livelihood.

They have a lot to lose

 

Because farmers have so much invested, they also have a lot.  In all reality, it is a wonder that farmers are able to survive in today’s economy.  It may seem like their fields of green turn into the best kind of green (money), but that is not always the case.  Farmers spend millions on their harvesters, planters fertilizers, irrigation, sheds, seeds and land but that doesn’t mean that they have millions.  Their inputs cost so much, that they need the highest prices out of their outputs possible just to stay afloat.  The government can help farmers through creating policies that help farmers yield the most out of their inputs.

 

Farmers are usually self-employed

 

In my family, my parents’ employers provide insurance and retirement, but that usually isn’t the case for farmers.  Especially if the farmer’s spouse does not have outside employment, they have to make room in their income for things that most people are provided in the workplace.  In order to afford this, they need to make their voice heard to lawmakers when it comes time to create policies like health care acts.  Farmers also need the government to support companies that give them loans to make large purchases like equipment.  Especially considering that farming is dangerous, farmers need insurance.

They care about their families

 

Even if they make enough to provide for their family right now, they can never be certain for the future.  Farming is a family tradition.  Most farmers have been passed down land from many generations, and they want to pass it down to their children.  When farmers get involved in legislative issues involving agriculture, it is because they care about the future of their farm.  One year yields could reach an all-time high, and the next year a drought could kill all of the crops.  On top of this, land is becoming more and more valuable with technology advancements.  Legislators need to implement policies that ensure long-term farming success, and they are more likely to listen to the farmers talk about their families than anyone else.

For some farmers, it’s a hobby

Policy is interesting. Even if a farmer runs a very successful operation, they might be involved just because they can make a difference for other farmers.  The agriculture industry is huge, and companies have plenty of representation, but what politicians like to see are the real people, like farmers, who care.

Over the summer, I was able to see how involved farmers actually are in farm policy.  They want to talk to legislators, and they want to be heard.  Because farming is so necessary to our economy, farming is highly regulated.  The people who know agriculture best are the farmers cultivating the land, which is why their voice matters the most.

Kylie Bohman
University of Illinois

THE “GHOULING” TRUTH ABOUT DRIVING DURING HARVEST

Harvest season is in full swing throughout the Midwest region, and with harvest comes farmers (and their equipment) driving on the roads. The ‘average Joe’ would have no clue what really goes into driving combines down a busy-traffic road, but it is really quite dangerous. It is important to realize that a farmer puts his safety at risk every time he/she drives down the road in their farm equipment. Road safety is important, especially in the country this time of year. Here are 5 spooky truths about driving during this harvest, Halloween season.

  1. Your car is a ‘ghost’ to the equipment driver.

When driving past any piece of farm equipment, passing is very dangerous. Most likely, the driver cannot see you- there is a lot more of him than you, and it can be difficult to get around the vehicle in a timely and safe manner. The last thing anyone wants is a deadly accident. Farm equipment can usually only go a max speed of 30 mph, and they are prone to wide turns.

2. Move with caution, the signs are as orange as pumpkins.

Most farm equipment has large, orange caution signs on the back, visible to other drivers. When you see these signs, be cautious. Realize that you might need to slow down, pass with care, and realize that you have to share the road.

3. Don’t be ‘spooked’ by big farm equipment.

You will know farm equipment when you see it: a giant green or red tractor, combine, carts, or trucks. Most farmers know that their equipment is big, slow, and take up a lot of space. But, don’t forget that a farmer’s 18,000-pound tractor cannot go 70 mph. down the road. Be prepared to slow down to their speed.

4. No need to be a ‘witch’, farmers understand.

Farmers understand that their equipment is slow, they understand you want to pass them as you’re trying to get to your destination. Farmer’s will drive over the shoulder of the road, but you have to give them time. They have to be cautious of guard rails, road signs, and other vehicles on the road. There is no need for you to honk, make angry gestures, or anything of that nature. Realize that farmers are just trying to do their job.

5. Trick or Treat! Farmers are just like you and me.

This is the busiest time of the year for farmers all across the country. Making sure they can get their crops in before snowfall and freezing temperatures is hard. This is their job, we have to respect that. Safety comes first.

The most important thing to remember this time of year is that safety is the most important thing. We have to remember that this is a part of country life, farmers driving is just the norm this time of year. The spooky truth is this- farmers have a family to come home to at the end of each night during harvest, so please drive safe. For more tips and tricks this harvest season- check out this article full of harvest driving to-dos.

To all the farming families here in the Midwest and across the country, we wish you a bountiful harvest and a safe fall and Halloween season!

Ashley Hauptman
Illinois State University

3 WAYS FARMERS HELP THE ENVIRONMENT

Taking care of the environment is something every person in the world can contribute to. Maybe you turn off the water when you brush your teeth or carpool with friends to work. Did you know that farmers also care about the environment? Farmers want to protect the environment so they can continue to feed the world.

Here are just a few things that farmers do to protect the earth we all live on:

  1. Cover Crops. Have you ever driven by a field in the dead of winter and wondered why something was growing there? A cover crop is planted in a field during winter when other types of plants can’t grow. The reason farmers plant cover crops is to reduce the risk of soil erosion, or the wearing away of the soil. Some common examples of cover crops are crimson clover and radishes. Soil erosion causes many problems such as poor drainage that could lead to water pollution. The cover crop helps eliminate soil erosion since the root of the plant is holding the soil in place. When wind and rain come along, the soil will not wash away. Cover crops also help keep organic matter in the soil, which increases soil health. Through this practice, farmers are ensuring the health of their soil, while also protecting the environment.
  2. No-Till. Farmers prepare for the planting season through tilling the soil. Tilling is a way of preparing the soil through digging, stirring, and overturning. On the other hand, no-till is a way of growing crops from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. The soil in the field is not disrupted and old corn stalks or leaves act as the “cover” to the soil. Because the farmers leave the soil intact, it is less likely to be washed away by water or blown away by the wind which would cause soil erosion. Farmers want to protect the soil so it can continue to be used in the future.
  3. Help Reduce Runoff. 

Agricultural runoff is water that leaves farm fields because of rain or melted snow. When the runoff moves, it can pick up pollutants, such as chemicals or fertilizers, which can then deposit into ponds, lakes, and sources of drinking water. Farmers can plant riparian buffers, which are vegetated areas that help prevent runoff into water sources.There are also programs in place to help protect water sources from agricultural runoff. The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) is one of those programs. The goal of MRBI is to work with farmers to implement conservation practices that help avoid and control runoff from fields, specifically into the Mississippi River. Farmers put a lot of effort into protecting the water that everyone drinks.

Laine Honneger
University of Illinois

ARE GMOs CONTRIBUTING TO THE DEATH OF BEES?

Are GMOs contributing to the death of bees and butterflies

Bees have a very big role to play in agriculture.  Farmers must have them to pollinate plants.

Experts estimate that honey bees are worth $15 billion to the U.S. economy because of their role in pollinating agricultural crops!

The good news is that despite what you may have heard, honey bee populations are at a 20 year high!  Read more about that here.

The buzz you’ve heard about bees about started in 2006 when Colony Collapse Disorder hit and reduced bee populations considerably.  This is a complicated issue that includes mites that attack the bees and inadequate nutrition that kills them, along with other factors we probably haven’t even figured out yet.

EPA et al recognize the bee populations may be challenged by a number of factors including pests and parasites, microbial disease, inadequate diet and loss of genetic diversity, as explained by Paul Driessen, a senior policy analyst and author, in this post.

When scientists and beekeepers first started studying this issue, many worried that GMO crops were among the causes to blame.  GMO crops include a protein that is indigestible for many insects, but after further research, the protein does not impact honey bees.

Paul explains that “the proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences indicated that bees may be dying not from a single toxin or disease, but rather from a variety of factors.”

Concerns have also been raised that a type of insecticide called neonicotinoids — or “neonics” – could be negatively impacting honey bee health. Sometimes the use of neonics are linked with GMO crops, but neonics are used on both GMO and non-GM varieties of crops, like corn, soybeans and canola.

So far, research shows that neonics do not have a significant impact to honey bees and that climate change has among the largest impacts on the bees, including narrowing the range of locations where bees can safely live and pollinate and thus magnifying the impact of the varroa mite.

Bee Ambassador for Bayer Chris Sansone, who has more than 30 years of experience as a professor and extension specialist at Texas A&M University, points to several scientific studies indicating this is not the case. He notes that “genetically modified plants and their impact on honey bees have been widely studied, and the results indicate that GM plants are not harmful to bees.”