#TBT: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A FARMER: MARCH

[Originally published March 15, 2016]

Some people think that the only busy times of the year are planting and harvest and the rest of the year farmers spend their glorious amounts of free time vacationing or tinkering with antique tractors. This may be true for some, but not the majority. Today is the third post in my one-year series which will give you an idea of a farmer’s workload throughout the year. Keep in mind that all farms operate differently and I am just providing one example of a year in the life of a grain farmer. There are several factors that contribute to the seasonality of the farm such as size and scale of the operation, crops grown, location, livestock, management style and general upbringing or personal work ethic! I hope this provides some insight into what versatile businessman farmers are.

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Bookkeeping

March 1st was the deadline for farm taxes to be filed. That chore is a load-off… Quite possibly LITERALLY. Also, a lot of Ag lenders also expect their prior year’s input loans (think 2015’s crop) to be paid in full by now.

Next THIS year’s crop

What we previously considered “next year’s crop” can now be called “This year’s crop”. The 2016 crop year is officially underway! There is lots of prep work to get done before the first seed can be placed in the ground – but nearly every task is weather permitting.

  • 3-15-16Ayear3The seed corn that was selected last December or January will likely be delivered to the farm by the end of the month. Better clean out a corner of the shed to store it for a bit.
  • Get machinery cleaned up and prepped for planting. Wash, wax, check tires, make sure the engine’s running smoothly, re-calibrate settings for depth and spacing, vacuum out the cab, etc.
  • There might be drainage or other “dirt work” to do before crops are put into the fields. The freeze-thaw of winter might have slightly shifted the lay of the land and new, or worse, wet spots may now be visible. It would also be a good idea to make sure tile line exists are free of debris and able to drain the fields properly.
  • Depending on how wet the fields are, there’s a possibility of working ground for seedbed preparation and fertilizer application.

Household and farm odd-jobs / repairs

As mentioned last month, in March the weather dictates your schedule. If the ground’s still too cold or wet, you might have some spare time to spend working on indoor projects. Then again… don’t count on it. If something needs doin’… Do it now!

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Ashley Deal
ICGA/ICMB Membership Assistant

WHY AG EDUCATION SHOULD BE A GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENT

Each of us has taken (or is in the process of taking) general education classes at school, whether it be at a middle school, high school, community college or a university. These classes vary by institution but usually include a combination of English, fine arts, math, science and Global Studies. I think it is fair to assume not everyone is extremely passionate about all of those basic general education courses. I can say from personal experience, I was not exactly the most excited about my Introduction to Theatre course. I’m not a fine arts major, so I did not receive many benefits for my future career from that class.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have required general education courses that we actually utilize in the real world? Not that things like the Pythagorean Theorem aren’t useful; however, theories like that one aren’t useful outside the walls of math class. That’s where agriculture education comes in. The agriculture industry offers many lessons to be taught to those who desire to learn. For example, many FFA members have projects and must keep accurate records of all transactions that occur each year. This teaches students how to balance a checkbook, budget accordingly and plan for the future – all of which are real-world skills.

At many universities, introductory agriculture courses offer many ways to help students grow professionally, for both agriculture and non-ag majors. For example, at my university, a class titled, “Introduction to the Agriculture Industry” (also known as AGR 109) requires students to create a resume, cover letter, and participate in a mock interview with real employers, all for a grade. Many students enrolled in this course, from college freshmen all the way to seniors, did not have a resume created for themselves. This class creates an opportunity for those students to make a resume and receive feedback as well. On top of that, the mock interviews allow for students to network with actual recruiters from many different companies. This basic agriculture class helps students prepare for the professional world, far more than my Introduction to Theatre class ever did.

General Education courses are important; they are considered a foundation for student education. However, when courses like AGR 109 offer professional development skills and put students in real-life scenarios, this helps prepare for life after graduation. Those classes are solidifying the foundation they will use for the rest of their lives. This is why everyone should take at least one agriculture education course as a student, from middle school all the way through college. The skills learned, knowledge gained and networking opportunities provided are very applicable to the working world – all the more reason to add agriculture as a general education requirement.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

ORGANIC VS CONVENTIONAL FARMING – WHAT’S THE SAME, WHAT’S DIFFERENT?

[Republished from Illinois Farm Families]

Organic versus conventional – it’s a highly debated topic. As a farmer who has employed both methods, perhaps I can offer a valuable point of view to help you make the best choice for you and your family.

What’s the same?

  • Pesticides – There are pesticides approved for use in both types of farming. Farmers use these to protect their crops from bugs and disease.
  • Soil health – Farmers use a variety of tools and practices to maintain soil and water health on farms of every shape and size.
  • Sustainability – All farmers think about sustainability. The tools farmers can use vary slightly between conventional and organic, but the desired result is the same.
  • Farmers care – We all care about growing safe food for our families and preserving our land for years to come.
  • Safety – Whether or not you’re reaching for an “organic” label at the store, the food you’re eating is safe. Furthermore, research shows very little difference between the nutritional value of organic and conventionally grown foods.

What’s different?

  • Pesticides – While there are approved pesticides for use in both types of farming, pesticides used on organic farms must be naturally derived whereas conventional farms can use synthetic pesticides.
  • GMOs – Genetically modified crops are not allowed in organic farming. GMOs can be grown in our conventional fields and help us avoid using pesticides among other benefits.
  • Cost – But you already knew that. Generally speaking, certified organic food costs more.
  • So, yes, there are some differences between conventional and organic farming, but there isn’t necessarily a “right” and a “wrong” way to farm. It all comes down to what is best for each individual farmer and their land. In my case, I’m comfortable growing both and I feed both to my family. I’m making what I believe are the best choices and I encourage you to do the same..

TRENT SANDERSON

Trent farms with his family in northern Illinois. He also enjoys learning and educating other farmers about the environmental benefits of cover crops. He lives on the farm with his wife, Elizabeth, and their son Owen. 

WHERE DOES ILLINOIS CORN GO?

If you’ve driven through Illinois, you’ll remember fields and fields of corn along our (sometimes dilapidated) scenic interstates and highways.  It’s true, corn is a very popular crop in our state and one that supports the Illinois economy in many ways.

For a moment, let’s review that the corn you see growing in Illinois is not sweet corn.  Sweet corn, bred for its sugar content, is the corn you enjoy off the grill, out of a can, or frozen from the grocery store.  But this corn makes up less than 1% of the corn grown in Illinois.  Most of the corn is field corn or dent corn, bred for its starch content, and used to make corn meal (rarely), to feed livestock, and to fuel our vehicles.

So where does all this corn grown in Illinois go?

Well, according to the best available data we have on the 2016 crop – data from the 2017 crop isn’t finalized yet – most of that corn is exported out of Illinois and likely used to feed livestock.

To be fair, we can’t know exactly what the corn is used for once it leaves our state, but we do know that 41% of the corn grown in Illinois is exported.

Why is export the largest market in our state?  Because we have a unique position on the Illinois and Mississippi River that gives us very competitive access to transportation to get that corn out of the country.  Buyers and get our corn delivered to them more cheaply, so they tend to buy from us instead of from other states.

If a semi load of corn in Illinois isn’t leaving the state, it’s probably being used for ethanol production.  Thirty-one percent of the corn grown in 2016 ended up at an ethanol plant and became the cleanest burning fuel option American’s have.

Interesting to note, much of the ethanol produced in Illinois also leaves the state for other countries.  Those rivers, man!  They are a BIG advantage.

The rest of the corn is used for processing (23 percent) and livestock feed (5 percent).  Livestock feed is an easy one to understand.  Five percent of the corn grown in Illinois is fed to livestock living in Illinois.

But this 23 percent processing number is more complex.  It basically includes everything else that we use corn for.  This is where the human food use for field corn is (cornmeal, tortillas), but also where all the industrial uses are lumped.  Corn is used to make diapers, gum, lollypops, crayons, and many, many more products!  So many that 23 percent of Illinois corn goes into those markets.

Here’s the shocker though – fifteen percent of the corn harvest in Illinois is sitting unused in a pile or in a bin somewhere.  We grow more corn than we can use!  This is why we are always looking for innovative ways to incorporate corn into our lifestyles to make our products better.  And this extremely versatile crop delivers!!

Lindsay Mitchel
ICMB/ICGA Marketing Director

#TBT: LETTER OF APPRECIATION: FROM A FARMER’S DAUGHTER

[Originally published March 4, 2014]

Dear Farmer – more specifically – Dad,

Hollands 006Growing up on a family farm, life wasn’t always easy or ‘fair’.  I wasn’t able to run down the street to play with my friends after school or on many weekends like the rest of the kids in my class.  You expected me to be at home helping in the garden, in the field mowing hay, or in the pasture checking cows.  And you didn’t pay me for doing these things.  If I wanted to buy something extra, then I had to earn the money for it.  Summers of my youth were spent detasseling and baling hay.  Once I hit sixteen, I worked part-time outside of the farm.  You were always there for me and supplied me with the necessities, but if I wanted more, I was expected to earn it myself.

I wasn’t able to have all the coolest, up-to-date clothes that the other girls in my class sported.  Mom took us shopping at Farm & Fleet and we got the Wranglers that were on sale.  Boots were handed down from older siblings, it didn’t matter if they were boys or girls, we wore what fit.

While my town friends were sleeping in or watching Saturday morning cartoons, we were working cattle before the heat set in for the day.  Sometimes even being woke up in the middle of the night to round up loose cows.

You know what though… I wouldn’t change it for anything.  Life on the farm taught me many lessons that I have carried with me into adulthood.

  • Determination and Commitment – When I got bucked off a horse, the world didn’t stop turning for me, I had to get right back on and ride.  You taught me that when something isn’t going right, you don’t give up, you dig your heels in and finish the job.
  • Roll with the Punches –  Things don’t always go as expected on a farm… you’ve got a 30 acre field of hay cut and an unexpected thunderstorm rolls in, or a heifer is having problems calving at 2 in the morning, you’ve got to deal with the obstacles as they come at you, not everything can be done by the book…. Not so different than the hurdles I face in life now.
  • Caring – Farmers care about the welfare of their sources of livelihood – the livestock and the land – like no other profession I’ve ever come across.  You taught me this.  How many corporate folk do you know that would go out in the driving rain and sleet to help a downed cow?  I can’t name any.  That’s part of a farmer’s job though.  You care about the quality of life of your animals and that extends to caring about others as well.  When a neighboring farmer is going through a hard time and needs help getting the crops in, we helped.  You don’t stand by and watch others struggle, you do what you can to lift them up.
  • Respect – You taught me to respect my elders, the land and the animals we raised.  Without them, we wouldn’t have anything.
  • Be Independent and Work Hard– You can’t rely on others for everything.  You taught me that if I wanted something I had to work for it and do it myself.  There wasn’t going to be any magical Fairy Godmother to wave her wand and pay for my first car or my college tuition.  You taught me how to change a tire so I wouldn’t have to be stuck on the side of the road waiting for help.

This is just a short list of the things you taught me, but what I’m really trying to say is, thank you Dad, from the bottom of my heart.  I appreciate all the lessons learned and quality time spent together.   Without you and Mom showing me the ropes of farm life, I don’t think I would be the person I am today.  And to all the other farm parents who have created such an amazing environment in which to raise their families, you are appreciated.

Becky FinfrockBecky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant