BEST POSTS OF 2015: TOP FIVE ANSWERS ON FARM SUBSIDIES

As we head into 2016, we’d like to look back at the best performing posts of 2015.  All week, we’ll repost the articles you liked best!  Enjoy!!

TOP FIVE ANSWERS ON FARM SUBSIDIES

Americans have questions about farm subsidies – and why shouldn’t they?  Americans deserve to understand what their taxes are paying for and why.  So here’s the top five questions we get on a semi regular basis and the best, short answers we can provide.  Do you have more questions on farm subsidies?  Ask away in the comments!

1. Why should tax payer dollars fund farmers anyway?

The government got involved in helping farmers stay afloat because they were interested in food security.  Our country needs to guarantee a safe, affordable, DOMESTIC food supply and not put ourselves in the position to have to import food because American farmers go out of business.  The food security portion of this equation is what makes government payments to farmers different than other businesses or industries that are also reliant on weather or market conditions.

Helping farmers stay in business also supports American rural economies that are built on farming and agriculture.  Without farm subsidies, rural communities would be completely desolate and Americans would be forced to urban areas to find work.  In essence, farm subsidies that keep farmers in business help many more Americans that don’t farm, but live in rural communities.

Illinois, farm, field, farmer, country, scenic

2. I don’t want to pay a farmer to not farm!  That’s not right!

There was a time in our history when farmers were paid to leave their land fallow.  The “set aside” program sought to control supply and increase commodity prices.  But we haven’t done this since the 1990s.  The “set aside” program was unauthorized in the 1996 Farm Bill.

3. I don’t really understand what farm subsidies are paying for then.

Government payments to farmers currently come in the form of subsidized crop insurance.  Because farming relies on the weather and is so unpredictable, farmers must insure their crops or face investing a ton of money to plant a crop only to have Mother Nature ruin their crop and leave them with no income for the year.  Crop insurance protects farmers when this happens.

But private insurance companies find the proposition too risky.  No private company can withstand a weather event like the 2012 drought we experienced here in IL.  So the government subsidizes crop insurance, making it available for farmers and encouraging them to protect themselves.

Farmers do pay a portion of their premium AND what amounts to an average of a 20 percent deductible in the event of a loss.

(Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at crop insurance and what it means to farmers in the near future!)

Marty Marr Family

4. Farmers are small businessmen and should compete in a fair and free market just like all other Americans, without government assistance.

Yes.  And that would be amazing.

But consider that farming is a different business model than most.  In most other small businesses, the business buys inputs at wholesale prices, builds a product or completes a service, and then determines the cost for the product or service based on the input costs.  Farmers do not have this business model.buy wholesale, pay retail

They must buy inputs at retail prices, pray for great weather, and accept whatever commodity price the market dictates for that month and year.  Yes, opportunities exist for farmers to mitigate risk, but they should not and can not be compared to all other small businesses because they do not get to dictate market prices that cover their cost of production.

Also, back to the first point, guaranteeing that we have affordable access to domestic food supply is somewhat different than guaranteeing access to barbershops or photographers.

5. Farmers made so much money last year.  I don’t understand why farm subsidies are still needed or even considered by Congress.

Yes, farmers did have a great year in 2013.  Commodity prices were high because of the low corn supply after the drought, but farmers still grew a lot of corn.  They did well and they didn’t need/use their crop insurance.

But like all American families know, you have good years and you have bad years.  Farmers are well versed at saving money back from the good years like 2013, to pay for the bad years like 2014 (and probably 2015!).  Government subsidized crop insurance is still needed because bad years always happen no matter how good the good years were.

If you’re still curious about farm income, read ARE FARMERS RICH here!

I am very excited to answer your questions about farm subsidies and crop insurance.  Please leave a comment!

Lindsay Mitchell 11/14

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

TOP FIVE ANSWERS ON FARM SUBSIDIES

Americans have questions about farm subsidies – and why shouldn’t they?  Americans deserve to understand what their taxes are paying for and why.  So here’s the top five questions we get on a semi regular basis and the best, short answers we can provide.  Do you have more questions on farm subsidies?  Ask away in the comments!

1. Why should tax payer dollars fund farmers anyway?

The government got involved in helping farmers stay afloat because they were interested in food security.  Our country needs to guarantee a safe, affordable, DOMESTIC food supply and not put ourselves in the position to have to import food because American farmers go out of business.  The food security portion of this equation is what makes government payments to farmers different than other businesses or industries that are also reliant on weather or market conditions.

Helping farmers stay in business also supports American rural economies that are built on farming and agriculture.  Without farm subsidies, rural communities would be completely desolate and Americans would be forced to urban areas to find work.  In essence, farm subsidies that keep farmers in business help many more Americans that don’t farm, but live in rural communities.

Illinois, farm, field, farmer, country, scenic

2. I don’t want to pay a farmer to not farm!  That’s not right!

There was a time in our history when farmers were paid to leave their land fallow.  The “set aside” program sought to control supply and increase commodity prices.  But we haven’t done this since the 1990s.  The “set aside” program was unauthorized in the 1996 Farm Bill.

3. I don’t really understand what farm subsidies are paying for then.

Government payments to farmers currently come in the form of subsidized crop insurance.  Because farming relies on the weather and is so unpredictable, farmers must insure their crops or face investing a ton of money to plant a crop only to have Mother Nature ruin their crop and leave them with no income for the year.  Crop insurance protects farmers when this happens.

But private insurance companies find the proposition too risky.  No private company can withstand a weather event like the 2012 drought we experienced here in IL.  So the government subsidizes crop insurance, making it available for farmers and encouraging them to protect themselves.

Farmers do pay a portion of their premium AND what amounts to an average of a 20 percent deductible in the event of a loss.

(Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at crop insurance and what it means to farmers in the near future!)

Marty Marr Family

4. Farmers are small businessmen and should compete in a fair and free market just like all other Americans, without government assistance.

Yes.  And that would be amazing.

But consider that farming is a different business model than most.  In most other small businesses, the business buys inputs at wholesale prices, builds a product or completes a service, and then determines the cost for the product or service based on the input costs.  Farmers do not have this business model.buy wholesale, pay retail

They must buy inputs at retail prices, pray for great weather, and accept whatever commodity price the market dictates for that month and year.  Yes, opportunities exist for farmers to mitigate risk, but they should not and can not be compared to all other small businesses because they do not get to dictate market prices that cover their cost of production.

Also, back to the first point, guaranteeing that we have affordable access to domestic food supply is somewhat different than guaranteeing access to barbershops or photographers.

5. Farmers made so much money last year.  I don’t understand why farm subsidies are still needed or even considered by Congress.

Yes, farmers did have a great year in 2013.  Commodity prices were high because of the low corn supply after the drought, but farmers still grew a lot of corn.  They did well and they didn’t need/use their crop insurance.

But like all American families know, you have good years and you have bad years.  Farmers are well versed at saving money back from the good years like 2013, to pay for the bad years like 2014 (and probably 2015!).  Government subsidized crop insurance is still needed because bad years always happen no matter how good the good years were.

If you’re still curious about farm income, read ARE FARMERS RICH here!

I am very excited to answer your questions about farm subsidies and crop insurance.  Please leave a comment!

Lindsay Mitchell 11/14

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

MISCONCEPTIONS OF FARMING

There are misconceptions about everything in life. Religion, schooling, and sexuality are just a few. One common misconception that many people have are understanding someone else’s occupation. People always seem to have an opinion of what someone else does for a living and most of the time it is very skewed.

Farming, agriculture, and rural life are some of the many occupations that people have a misconception of. When someone who isn’t familiar with agriculture describes a farmer and their life, they would probably use the stereotype description. They would say that a farmer is someone that lives in a “hick town”, wears blue jean overalls, and talks with a southern twang. However, for those of us that farm, we know that this isn’t usually the case. People misunderstand what farmers do and what rural life actually consists of all the time and as farmers we wish that people could understand our life styles better.

There are five things I wish my classmates and peers around me would better understand about farming/agriculture/rural life:

bag of money1. For starters, everyone thinks that all farmers are rich and that is why they farm. I can’t think of a single farmer I’ve known whose goal was to get rich. People farm because they love it. Farmers farm out of a deep desire to help, to make a positive difference in the world. Farmers also farm simply because they realize that farming that it is truly necessary.

city

2. People that live in a rural community understand that there is more out there then just farming. People tend to believe that since someone grew up in a small community that they don’t know that there is more to the world than a small town. Just because someone grew up in a rural community doesn’t mean that they have never seen a skyscraper or been on an airplane. Farming and small towns coincide because of the advantage of excess land not because the people are sheltered individuals.

father & son

3. Just because you grew up on a farm, doesn’t mean that you will be a farmer the rest of your life. There is a common misconception that people who grow up on a farm will forever be farmers and never do anything else. Many children of farmers go to college and receive a degree and never farm another day in their life.

field

4. There’s no future in agriculture. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. The people that do not believe that there is a future in agriculture obviously wants to stop eating. Fox News recently said that farmers are the “hot ticket” for job growth because it is completely necessary for everyone. People will forever need to eat and therefore there will need to be people supplying and taking care of what goes into our food.

OS0005

5. Farmers are uneducated. This is a myth and one we need to bust. The days are gone when you learned everything you needed to know about farming from your grandfather. This doesn’t mean we don’t use grandpa’s advice, since it is based on years and years of experience, however, it does mean that farmers today need post-high school training. They need training in many categories such as science, business, marketing, and communications. Farming is a life long learning process and will continue to need educated people doing it.

maschingGrace Masching
Illinois State University Student

GULF HYPOXIA ZONE IS SMALLER THAN PREDICTED

Every summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measures and releases information about the size of the hypoxia zone* in the Gulf of Mexico.  Because of the drought in 2012, because all the nutrients that were applied went unused as the crops failed to grow, and because of the massive rainfall some of the Midwest experienced this spring, NOAA predicted the zone to be at least 20 percent larger in 2013.

2013 hypoxizWe were all surprised to hear that the zone is not nearly that large.  In fact, the zone is very nearly the average size.

This means that although some would like to believe that we have nutrient runoff and the causes of hypoxia zones down to an exact science, the fact that we can’t accurately predict a significant increase or decrease means that there’s a lot we still don’t know.

That is exactly why the Council on Best Management Practices, of which IL Corn and several other agri-business and associations are members, is working to build more science and more data regarding hypoxia and nutrient runoff.  Very little scientific data about agriculture’s contribution to the problem exists.

Plan to tune in every Tuesday this month on Corn Corps as we explore more about the water quality issues facing Illinois farmers and how farmers really are trying their best to manage and solve the problems facing those of us that drink water.

phil thorntonPhil Thornton
ICGA/ICMB Value Added Director

*Hypoxia zones are “dead zones” which are devoid of life.  This occurs because nutrients make their way into the water system, encourage the increasing growth of small microorganisms, and then deoxygenate the water as all these small organisms die and decompose.  As large sections of water become oxygen-free, fish and other wildlife can’t live causing fish die-offs and serious impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries. 

Many environmentalists would like to believe that agriculture is a substantial contributor to nutrient runoff and hypoxia zones.  However, to date, no solid research has been done on what agriculture’s contribution to this problem really is.  If agriculture has a significant impact, farmers are already poised to change their practices and do their best to minimize runoff.  If other industries are more at fault than currently assumed, everyone must step up to the plate to minimize nutrient runoff problems.

MYTH OF THE MODERN FARMER

Originally posted on Fit to Farm blog

My sister and I talk about this one often. You see a post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yahoo News, etc. promoting the hardworking farmer. It makes us feel good to be in the industry and generally, it’s as far as you want to look. Then scrolling down to the comments, you see the standard post that “those farmers are good, but real farmers don’t work hard like that anymore, they just let the antibiotics/robots/pesticides do the work for them, and collect a big pay check.”

While the part about the big paycheck might be comical, those types of comments are a problem that we often run into. As individual farmers, consumers see us as the hardworking person, who gets the job done. Each one of us is the exception to the rule of “corporate farmers,” or “Big Ag.” However, our industry as a whole is viewed as corrupt, run by the executives of Monsanto in some high-rise office building. How can we use technology in our farming, and not seem like the bad guy?

When talking to people, they will defend my right to farm the way they believe I do to the death. They tell me that I am unique in that I don’t abuse my animals, and use antibiotics responsibly. If friends post a picture that demeans agriculture, they even will go out of their way to tell me that my farm is the exception. My job at this point is to get them to realize, my farm isn’t the exception, and it is the rule.

As Farmers, we take responsibility for providing good, quality food to our own families, neighbors, and larger communities. We believe the food we produce is safe and we try to produce it in the best way that we can. Part of that care is treating those who are sick, and euthanizing animals that are suffering. We house our animals inside to protect them from bad weather, and provide them a stable environment. We use technology to help us achieve a consistent product, something our consumers demand.

We don’t have to look far to start to spread the message of responsible farming. It’s just not something we have had to do much in the past, so we don’t always understand some of the questions. By ignoring the myths that live around agriculture, we are letting them grow. People who don’t know will follow the popular opinion. We are no longer just farmers, but also educators.

ILLINOIS FARM COUPLES: RICHARD AND JANICE GATES

They say February is the season for love … and we’re celebrating by giving you a glimpse of five Illinois farm couples throughout the week!  These couples practice their love for each other and the land every day on their farms.  Get to know them and the work they love to do!

50 years ago, vintage wedding dress, 1963

Richard and Janice Gates will celebrated 50 years together on February 10. They met at a District Youth meeting while Juniors in High School and were married 4 years later. Richard spent his life farming with his father (and later with his son) and Janice’s career was as an employee with the US Department of Agriculture local office. In the past 50 years, they have enjoyed their three children and many grandchildren.

tourism, travel, vacation
Richard and Janice in Ireland in 2012.

As the Gates were raising their family, they all worked on the farm. Janice says that her daughters were always great at cultivating soybeans and their son joined the farm when he became an adult. The Gates like to travel and enjoyed a vacation to Ireland in 2012. They are active in the church, Farm Bureau, Kiwanis Club and Illinois Corn Growers Association.

IS YOUR HALLOWEEN COSTUME A ‘GOOD’ OR ‘BAD’ FARMER?

Have you heard the kids talking about morphsuits? These stretchy garments are one-piece and cover the wearer completely from head to toe, taking away all distinguishing characteristics, leaving just a human form. They’re all the rage this year for Halloween costumes. With intentions unseen, morphsuit-wearing trick or treaters can ring doorbells and engage in Halloween hijinks with little worry about seeming odd.

Dressing as a farmer for Halloween? Well, you might as well put on a morphsuit. The characteristics that make you and your work what you are really have nothing to do with how you look. Or does it have everything to do with how you look? That’s more likely the case, as farmer attributes are being bestowed on anyone who wears a farmer-suit, which might as well be a morphsuit.

This type of insanity hit me full in the face last week at a conference I attended in Springfield, IL, called “Healthy Farms, Healthy People.” The room was full of more than a hundred public health and environmental health professionals, gathered together to listen to presentations about how better farmers grow better food which makes people who eat the better farmers’ better food, better people, apparently. Those professionals there actually received professional continuing education credits.

Here are a couple highlights from the conference that really ought to scare you:

  • Those guys that grow corn and soybeans all up and down Illinois. They’re not real farmers. They don’t grow food. They don’t even call themselves farmers. Just ask them. They call themselves producers. (From Dave Cleverdon, Organic Farmer, Kinnikinnick Farm; Board Member, Chicago Green City Market)
  • The way that we farm in Illinois drains hundreds of millions of dollars from the Illinois economy. Where could we, if not in Central Illinois, grow real food for local communities? (From Ken Meter, MA, MPA, President, Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis)
  • Farmers were better off in 1929 than in 2011, making more money and growing real food for their families and their communities. (Ken Meter)
  • October is now the official “Farm to School” month in Illinois, a signed Proclamation from Governor Quinn.
  • Locally grown, organic, fresh produce, is the only way to cure obesity and diabetes. (From a moderator in the discussion)

Now, on the outside quick glance, the bullet points above might not scare you, but they should. You should have a pretty decent Halloween-style creepy feeling crawling up your neck right now. That ominous feeling is public pressure, coming about from publicly-funded ‘public health’ professionals listening to scare tactics from other ‘professionals’ who are selling speaking gigs, research projects, and books.

Oh, but I’m saving the best part for last. To register for this event, you actually had to describe what kind of farmer you are. Apparently, there are good and bad farmers who either grow real food or they don’t, and that real food is only good food if it’s locally grown, fresh, and organic. It really has nothing to do with say, nutrition, or anything like that. That’s just a detail.

Good farmers (knighted as such by the ‘professionals’) grow real, good food (determined as such as long as it’s locally grown, fresh, and organic.)

All the rest of you? Well, you might as well just put on a morphsuit and go trick or treating tomorrow with the rest of the charlatans.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

WHAT DO NON-FARMERS REALLY WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE FARM?

“As farmers and ranchers, we’ve raised pretty much everything. Except our voices.”

This is the slogan of a farm and ranch coalition – the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.  They say, “For too long the voice of farmers and ranchers has often been missing in the conversation about where food in America comes from. That changes now. USFRA is inviting all farmers and ranchers to join us in leading the conversation with Americans. Raise your voice and share your story. Together, we can begin a dialogue with Americans about where their food comes from, the importance of today’s agriculture and our commitment to continuous improvement.”

They have already done some great work in this regard.  In particular, this infographic showing the disparity (and sometimes the similarity) between what farmers and ranchers think consumers should know about the farm and what consumers are actually wondering about.  Perhaps the differences here are one reason it’s hard to dialogue?

PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS: CLEAN BACKGROUNDS

Photography is a big part of my life…I don’t know everything but I know some of the key points that I feel are necessary in taking a good photograph.  And for Photographer Appreciation Month, I’d love to share a few pointers that can make you a better photographer.   Check back every Tuesday this month to learn something new!

Are you wondering how to take a better picture? Well this week’s topic is a simple one that will help improve your photos tremendously.

Find clean backgrounds!

wind energy sky corn field farm farmer alternative clean Have you ever noticed a picture of a person with a telephone pole or a tree sticking out of the back of their head? Doesn’t look right does it? If you want to use a tree in the background of your picture just make sure that you place it correctly.

This simple step of having a clean background will take the most average picture and make it an awesome shot. You want to be able to see the bigger picture past what your subject is.

You might be wondering what a clean background is exactly? They are solid colors, generally without distracting power lines or anything that will draw the viewers’ eye away from what you’re shooting. You may have to place your camera at higher or lower level to achieve a clean photo background. Sometimes I stand on chairs or even lay on my belly to get a good shot, (you might look silly but at least you get a nice photo!) By getting at a lower level, you’ll make the background the sky which is more often than not clean. By raising the camera up, you’ll get clean backgrounds such as the ground.

When taking a picture, think of it as in terms of layers. You’ll have your foreground which is closest to the bottom, the middle area is the subject, background is behind the subject, and infinity is what is behind the background.

Photography is a lot of trial and error, so don’t get discouraged! A lot of times you have to play with your layers and see what works and what doesn’t. Always keep your eyes open for a better position to give you a cleaner photo. Sometimes you do want a busy photo, but always look for those clean backgrounds and it will make your photos much more appealing.

CHALLENGE FOR THE WEEK:  Give this tip a try. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles in search of the clean background.

Upload your challenge photo to IL Corn’s Facebook page for a prize!  Farm challenge photos get better prizes than non-farm photos!

Illinois Corn Marketing Board Intern

Jenna Richardson
Southern Illinois University student