SIX REASONS FARMERS VISIT WASHINGTON, DC

  1. TO EXPLAIN HOW THEY LIVE: It’s no secret that every single year, more and more kids leave the farm and the rural areas where they’ve grown up for the bigger cities.  Flat out, there is just more opportunity in ST. Louis or Chicago for those young Americans.  Even if they want to stay in the ag industry, they have multiple opportunities to work for the Chicago Board of Trade or for Monsanto in the bigger cities than they do in the rural areas.  The result is that many of our legislators just don’t know what it is to live on the farm or even in a rural area.  Who better to explain farm family life to them, but farmers?
  2. FARMERS ARE LESS THAN 2 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION: And even among those 2 percent, a majority will never travel to Washington, DC and will never make an appointment to see their elected official.  It means so much to those elected officials to see real farmers in their Washington, DC offices – to have someone to ask questions of and to reflect on problems with.  Farmers really ought to visit our nation’s capital more often!
  3. TO EXPLAIN HOW POLICIES MIGHT OR MIGHT NOT WORK: Because legislators aren’t always super aware of rural life or of how to farm, they need farmers in their office to talk them through potential policy ideas.  While a farm bill is being debated, for example, farmers need to be available to point out successes or pitfalls of potential policy.  How will legislators who have never farmed understand how a policy might really work on an actual farm?
  4. TO SEE HOW THEY CAN HELP: Sometimes, legislators that really do try hard to represent their district and enact policies that make a difference need help too.  An elected official might be trying to do the right thing, but media or other non-supporters in his or her district are swinging the other way, which makes the right thing difficult.  Farmers often ask how they can help their Congressman on any potential issues in the district.  If a Congressman is genuinely trying to do the right thing for his district, farmers definitely want to help that Congressman so that he or she can remain in office.
  5. TO DONATE MONEY: It takes money to get elected into Congress and to remain in Congress.  Whether that’s right or wrong, farmers will often visit Washington, DC to donate funds to the elected officials who help them on pro-farm and pro-rural life policy initiatives.  Farmer leaders want to enable the best Congressman who try to understand agriculture and rural life to remain in office.
  6. TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE DYNAMICS OF VARIOUS POLICY INITIATIVES: Often when farmers visit Washington, DC, they are able to meet with other national associations, companies, and think tanks to gather information and get a better picture of the dynamics influencing policy decisions.  For example, if farmers really want to pass tax reform, they need to meet with other impacted parties to determine how certain tax reforms might work for them.  Perhaps there’s a negative impact that the farmers haven’t considered and the policy idea can be changed.  Perhaps many associations are in favor of the same tax fix and they can all work together to show Congress why one idea is better than another.

When IL Corn farmer leaders travel to Washington, DC, there is almost no free time!  By the time we schedule in meetings with other interested associations and companies, by the time we background ourselves on what’s going on in Washington, DC and meet with our elected officials (all 20 of them!), and by the time we participate in fundraisers for the Congressmen who have helped us, we’re running from 6 am til 9 pm and that’s no exaggeration.

But the work farmers do in D.C. is so important to protecting farm families and rural life.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

WIN FREE FUEL

You can win free fuel by reporting fuel prices of E85 and other ethanol blends on e85prices.com.

All you have to do is download the app, create an account, and start reporting the prices of the ethanol blended fuel in your area or wherever you find yourself during your scheduled summer driving.  Each time you report a price (you can report multiple prices per day) you are entered to win $50 in free fuel!

Winners are drawn every single day from Memorial Day through Labor Day and announced every two weeks.

For full contest details, click here.

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH FFA?

If you live in Illinois and are even remotely involved in agriculture, you have most likely heard the Illinois Association FFA convention took place this week. In the agriculture world, that’s a big deal. It’s more than just tons of high school kids walking around in blue corduroy jackets and dress slacks, it is high school students picking the future leaders of American agriculture.

This time of year, nostalgia hits as I begin to reflect on my own FFA days and what those experiences meant to me. Too often people explain FFA as the former title of “Future Farmers of America”, but that is no longer an accurate description of the organization. FFA provides leadership and growth opportunities for high school youth, even those who don’t want to farm.

Throughout my time in FFA, I learned more about myself than I ever could have in a classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing a classroom education, I wouldn’t be pursuing a Master’s degree right now if I didn’t see the value in it, but I think there is much more to be learned about oneself that can’t be figured out until you enter the real world.

I knew what I wanted to do as a career when I was a sophomore in high school, but I wouldn’t have been able to narrow that down without the experiences that FFA allowed me. I had always enjoyed talking, ask anyone who knows me, but I loved presenting to groups. In FFA I could speak to groups about agriculture and opportunities within it. At this point, I knew I had found my life calling, something I had been born to do.

Not everyone has college aspirations, and that is something else I was able to learn through FFA. There is a shortage of skilled workers in the country and FFA is a place where students can try their hand at these skills. In my own family 3 out of 4 kids were headed straight to a four-year university, but the youngest had a different plan, he wanted to weld. Never for a moment were my parents in the least disappointed in his choice. They knew that his skills as a welder were needed the same as mine as a communicator and my sisters’ as teachers.

We aren’t the only family like this, the only ones whose lives had been shaped by opportunities given to us by FFA. Competitions in FFA range from livestock judging to public speaking, business management to forestry, mechanics to parliamentary procedure, and much more. Students can easily find their niche in at least one Career Development Event (CDE) or become a veteran at competitions like myself. In FFA, you learn it isn’t about winning, but getting to experience a taste of the real world in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

At the 89th Annual Illinois Association State FFA Convention that took place this week, officers were many state level CDE competitions were held. In addition, the new major state officers elected will tour the state over the next year on behalf of both Illinois FFA and agriculture. FFA turns students into leaders and gives those leaders avenues to represent the agriculture industry that they hold near and dear.

Shelby Carlson
IL Corn Intern

A CALL FOR FOOD PRODUCTION TRANSPARENCY

In a recent News Watch, the Food Production Industry was called to increase their transparency. It pointed out that while the population wants to know more about what is going into their food, there is no one group that helps wholly responsible for this effort.

It’s no secret that consumers are becoming more and more interest in the makeup of their food. A trip to the grocery store once involved choosing between the name and generic brand now involves sifting through a collection of letters and symbols placed on the food all in an attempt to learn a bit more about what is going into their body. This transparency is a right consumer have, but who is ultimately responsible? And who should be making sure the consumers understand the labels in front of them?

One must remember that the average consumer has very little knowledge of how their food is produced. It is easy to blame their lack of knowledge on an absence of effort in finding answers. They don’t spend their days in a field and their nights and weekends discussing yields with their neighbors. Their chosen profession is just as foreign a concept to a farmer.

When an average consumer hears the phrase “all natural” they honestly believe it is better for them, and why wouldn’t they?  Farmers use chemicals with names that are hard to pronounce for reasons that a consumer can’t understand. If there is a safer way to get the job done, why isn’t it being done the way? This is where transparency is the job of the agriculture industry.

Increasing industry transparency should be a top priority for producers globally. Agriculture has nothing to cover up. Safe food is produced that feeds a growing population. With the evolution of technology, questions can be answered and experiences can be shared at a much larger speed than ever before.

Americans and the global population want to trust farmers. These men and women represent the heart of the values that are held near to the hearts of the people. They are the foundation and how the country became what it is today. Each and every farmer is responsible for the life of 155 people.

Shelby Carlson
IL Corn Intern

ORGANIC OR CONVENTIONAL?

Are you one of so many moms that can’t decide which food is best for her family?  Do you burst the grocery budget to buy organic because it’s healthier or safer?  Or do you stick to the budget and buy conventionally grown food and splurge taking the kids to the pool?

The fact of the matter is that both choices are good choices.  Both foods are safe for you and your family.  But if you’d like to hear a farmer break it down for you, you’ll definitely want to check out this video:

And when you’re done, look for more resources about organic and conventionally grown foods, straight for the farmers, right here at www.watchusgrow.org.

Or, watch one of our Illinois farmers apply a herbicide and some fertilizer to his growing corn in a cool 360 degree video.

Enjoy!

TAKE SOME YA AND AGRICULTURE WITH YOU TO THE BEACH

[Originally published from BeyondTheBarnDoor]

Summer is here…and how about a reading list for teachers?  Whet your summer reading appetite with some YA and Ag Books!


Take some YA and Agriculture to the Beach!
A recent survey found that over half of the audience for Young Adult Literature (YA) are adults!  Why not join the ranks and take some YA with you this summer, to the beach, the ballfield or just out to the backyard!

Young Adult Literature includes pieces you probably remember. Huckleberry FinnThe Outsiders,  and even Harry Potter are considered YA, and while you might feel guilty or embarrassed about reading books designed for a younger audience, I think the summer is the perfect time to branch out! I believe you’ll find these books entertaining and fast paced.  Remember the audience they are geared toward has many more options for spare time entertainment.   The books are also well written and tackle tough issues but in a hopeful way.  They are typically relatable and many are being made into films or television shows and most are typically shorter.

My choices for YA books with an ag flair for you to use this summer??  Take a gander!

  1. A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck or anything by Richard Peck!
  2. ….and now Miguel  by Joseph Krumgold 1950’s Newberry Medalist with a sheep theme
  3. War Horse by Michael Morpugo…great movie, even better book
  4. Kristina Srpinger’s Just Your Average Princess…. Illinois Author, set in central IL, can’t miss book.
  5. Steering Toward Normal by Rebecca Petruck…life beyond the show ring.
  6. Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen It is YA….so for the HS crowd and up!
  7. Crosswire by Dotti Enderle…I read it and saw it as a Walker Texas Ranger Flashback!
  8. Chigger by Raymond Bial another Illinois Author, I am positive those 40 and 50 somethings will see your childhood!
  9. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. A very popular YA author and a Yellow Fever outbreak in colonial times.
  10. Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee. Nutrition, friendship, a quick read
  11. Peeled and Squashed by Joan Bauer. Simply great books!
  12. Seedfolks by Newberry Winner Paul Fleishman. Urban gardening at its finest.
  13. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Certainly some coming of age  and civil rights era mixed in with pollinators
  14. The Year Money Grew on Trees by Aaron Hawkins. In the 1980s it was hard work, now it is STEM Careers!
  15. My Louisiana Sky by Kimberly Willis Holt. Nationa Book Award Winning Author.  GREAT Book!
  16. Taylor Honor Award Winner Black Radishes by Susan Lynn Meyer. Food, Hunger and WWII France.
  17. Pura Belpre Award Winner Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez. A look at immigrant labor in agriculture.
  18. National Book Winner The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata. Wheat and Wheat Harvest.  You’re going to hear more about this!

15 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you’ve got 18 books with an ag message that will help you pass the time in the dog days of summer!  Check your local library or bookstore for these items!

Kevin Daughtery
Education Director
Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom

APPLES TO ORANGES: WHY CROPS THRIVE WHERE THEY DO

Jennie is a Maryland farmer. She is also a registered dietitian who speaks about food and farming systems, sustainability and family farms.

[Originally published on CommonGround]

Drive through the Midwest and you’re likely to see field after field of corn and soybeans. Head down South, there’s cotton as far as the eye can see. And of course, Florida is synonymous with oranges and other citrus groves. Why are certain crops most prevalent in certain areas? And how do farmers decide what crops to plant on their farms?

The first is often dictated by climate and season length. Crops require a certain number of days before they reach maturity and are ready to harvest. Citrus fruits, for example, need more days of warmth and sunshine, which suits them well for states like California and Florida, while crops like corn can thrive in places like the Upper Midwest, where the days get shorter and colder in early fall.

America in Miniature

My home state of Maryland is sometimes called “America in miniature” because of our diverse ecology. From ocean to mountains, we have it all, along with a typical climate that’s somewhere between that found in the north or the south. We also have well-drained soil that’s not too dense, making it good for many crops. You see a wide array of crops grown throughout Maryland – just about everything, with the exception of citrus fruit.

As I write this blog, I’m in the middle of harvesting my twenty acres of wine grapes. You may equate wine grapes with places like Napa Valley, but grapes also thrive in Maryland, New York and elsewhere in New England. We have some great wineries! We often say that grapes don’t like wet feet, meaning they thrive in soil like mine that dries quickly and where the water table isn’t high. This keeps the roots from wet soil. In addition, on our farm we grow barley, wheat, tomatoes, green beans, corn and soybeans – which we harvest in that order, from June to October.

Climate and soil type aren’t the only factors that help farmers decide what crops to grow – things like infrastructure also play a large role, and I’ll talk more about that in my next blog. But if you’ve ever wondered why there’s a Corn Belt across the U.S. and orange groves in the South, you can bet that Mother Nature is the primary reason.

Amy Erlandson
CommonGround