FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: BEHIND THE SCENES

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Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at filming of the 360º Farm Tour series produced by Illinois Farm Families. In the videos, Illinois farmer Justin Durdan teaches us and WGN radio personality Patti Vasquez about growing corn. Here, Justin talks about the process of aerial application, popularly called crop dusting. Be sure to follow along at WatchUsGrow.org

Posted in Agriculture, Education, Friday Farm Photo, General, Who are Illinois Corn Farmers? | Leave a comment

#TBT: COVER CROPS AN IMPORTANT PART OF NUTRIENT MANAGEMENT

[Originally posted August 27, 2013]

Farmers are being encouraged to consider growing cover crops on their fields through the winter.  Studies show that a living, growing plant in the ground year round improves the soil, productivity, and nutrient runoff.

The science behind this makes sense.  On a big picture level, Illinois is prairie and having grasses growing on our soil year round is a return to what built the rich organic soils in the first place.  But looking closer, planting rye grass or cereal rye after you harvest your corn crop makes sense.

corn, corn stalks, tillage, farm, agricultureIn central Illinois, many farmers plant corn on corn (this is the way we describe a crop rotation of corn every single year without planting another crop in between).  Because corn uses nitrogen from the soil to grow, farmers apply nitrogen every year to replenish what the corn used the previous year.  If that nitrogen isn’t applied at exactly the right time, the plant doesn’t get to use all of it, meaning that valuable nitrogen is lost to the soil and water, causing problems in the environment and costing farmers money.

Additionally, corn doesn’t grow well in the leftover stalks and leaves from the previous year.  This causes farmers using a corn on corn rotation to have to till the soil which isn’t good for soil erosion.  The current industry standard is to no till the soil, meaning, literally, no tillage.

Growing crop like cereal rye or rye grass from the time you harvest the corn until you replant in April, helps with both concerns.

As the cover crop grows in the fall, it uses the nitrogen left in the soil to grow and stores it within the plant.  In the spring when the farmer kills the cover crop, the nitrogen is released back into the soil for the corn crop to use.  This management technique significantly minimizes the nitrogen remaining to run off into the water supply.

A cover crop also reduces compaction, increases organic matter in the soil, and otherwise helps the health of the soil and increases productivity for the farmer.  In fact, some farmers doing trials in Illinois this past year have noticed up to 20 bushels per acre increase in yield!

The Council on Best Management Practices is now working one-on-one with farmers in the Springfield, IL area (they had a bigger problem than most, remember?).  Several will be growing cover crops this winter as a trial and demonstration for other local farmers.  And we hope to show farmers the environmental and economic benefit of growing cover crops on their fields as a part of the normal corn on corn rotation.

Using science as our base, farmers will definitely be on board for improving the resources in their care.

phil thorntonPhil Thornton
ICGA/ICMB Value Added Director

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AGRICULTURE FUELS YOUR NEW SCHOOL YEAR

As Illinois students head back to school, it might be a perfect time to thank U.S. farmers!

Farmers provide more than just the soy biodiesel in the school bus and the ethanol blend in the parent drop off line. Illinois wheat is used for chocolate chip cookies; Illinois specialty growers provide apples, and Prairie Farms Dairy and Illinois dairy farmers, provide thousands of ½ pint milk cartons filled with milk! But what about the rest of the back to school supplies? How are they linked to agriculture?

notebooks equals one treeCalifornia cedar trees are most commonly used in pencils due to the non-warping features, and a classroom of 32 students, each carrying 5 new 100 page notebooks use the wood from roughly one tree. The Mead Company (makers of many of those notebooks and the infamous Trapper Keeper) is a part of ACCO (formerly the American Clipper Company, a paperclip company) based in Lake Zurich, Illinois. So even if the trees to make the paper come from the great north woods, an Illinois company still has a hand in providing paper products!

Spruce, Fir, Aspen and Maple trees are typically harvested for use in facial tissues because of the thin wood fiber system that provide both softness and durability.

Of course you can find soybean oil in some crayons, but you’ll also find hair from cattle in paintbrushes, and more soy by-products in the cleaning materials to help clean up the art room!

Teachers will find lanolin from sheep in the lotion they use after grading all the papers and fatty acids from beef cattle are also used in cleaners and sanitizers!

Corn starch is used in the formation of plastic items to help coat molds to help in the efficiency of plastic production.

You will find beef by-products in the new bottles of glue, as well as the erasers from those brand new pencils!

And those PE uniforms and back to school clothes? Those are made from cotton of course. 1 bale of cotton makes 1,217 T-shirts, 215 pairs of jeans and 4,321 socks. The extra sock is the one that gets lost in the laundry anyway!

And those school fees and school lunches can be paid for in cold hard cash. According to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing that cash is printed on 75% cotton and 25% linen fiber.

So, as back to school time starts, slow-down in school zones, thank a hardworking teacher and remember to thank a farmer!

Daughtery_Kevin 2x2 10Kevin Daugherty
Education Director
Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom

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FREE ADVICE FROM THE FARM

I wasn’t always a farmer.

Before I married a farmer, I looked at the world a little differently.  But after nearly 40 years on the farm, I have learned some very valuable lessons that apply to both farm life AND my day job.

Be prepared!Jim and Pam Robbins
Living out in the country miles from town a wife must be prepared to do almost everything from the stores of supplies “on hand”!  This can range from making a cake to feeding four or more men in a moment’s notice.  Farmer’s “offices” are in the hundreds of acres in their fields, either getting soil ready in the spring for planting or harvesting the crop in the fall and a farm wife must be able to whip something up in a moment’s notice that may have to feed grown men for their midday meal.

No running to McDonald’s for the farmer! Rather farm wives must have ingredients to prepare a well-balanced meal to take to the fields or prepare for a mid-day visit by your farmer family and menus that can be prepared quickly or travel in containers to where the working farmer may happen to be.

I learned shortly after being married in August 1980 that I was responsible for feeding four grown men which included delivering that meal to the field. I had to learn to cook quickly, and that meant keeping the shelves in my kitchen stocked with ingredients that I could prepare to make a large meal in a couple of hours. I learned to “cook big” and still can do it today!

Expect to treat any injury that might show up at the back door!
I’m a nurse so this one stands out for me.  When a farmer injures themselves they seem to do it big. Farming, or as they list it Agriculture, is one of the most hazardous occupations according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.  The registered nurse in me always kept an emergency bag of bandages and gauze ready to go to make a visit – especially to the field.

One day my brother in law came to my back door covered in bean dust holding his glove over his other hand. I had no idea what to expect – would a finger be hanging on by thread?  A deep cut in his hand?  He took away the glove and a large slice was in his palm. He has gotten too close to the combine blades that cut the soybeans. A trip to the hospital was on our agenda for the evening. Several stitches later we arrived back home and he went back to the fields. Never a dull moment with farmers. Farmers work long hours. Being fatigued contributes to injuries and praying my farmers stay safe is always on daily rosary beads!

You can do everything correctly but if it doesn’t rain it doesn’t matter!
The focus on weather before becoming a farmer’s wife is quite different after becoming a farmer’s wife. “Before farming” (BF) weather could be seen as an inconvenience – if rain was going to interrupt your daily plans.  As a farm wife the importance of timely moisture from God’s sky to grow crops at the crucial time rain is needed was a new topic I had to quickly learn.

The conversation about the weather is something farmers and their families never get bored with discussing! Will it rain, how much will it rain, how hard will it rain, will there be wind, hail, is there going to be an early frost. The list of weather conditions can vary as the seconds in a day! BF weather was simple – do I grab an umbrella?  After marrying a farmer, I’m now concerned if our fields get enough moisture to produce a crop that we can sell. If we have no crop we have no money…our income is off the yearly harvest of our crops.

City folks go to work and get a check every week. If it doesn’t rain at the right time for the crops there may be no check! That means that year is a bust. So when you see a rain cloud in the sky note if it growing season for crops and say a prayer that the farmer gets enough moisture to grow a crop to feed his family and the world!

One U.S. farmer produces enough food to feed 155 people and is the leading producer of more than 50 foods of importance to diets throughout the world.

Pam Robbins
Registered Nurse & Farmer
Northern Illinois

 

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FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: ILLINOIS STATE FAIR

IMG_8861This past Tuesday (August 16) was Ag Day at the Illinois State Fair. If you’re familiar with the history of the fair, you’ll know the fair’s primary purpose was for agriculture. People brought their animals from across the state and to compete in showing. For instance, the competition would decide which dairy cow had the best features and characteristic of the ideal dairy cow that would best carry on the breed. These competitions still exist today and have varying criteria based on the category/animal.

Since then, the Illinois State Fair has evolved to include a non-farming audience with different games, rides, concerts and foods. While no one is discounting the glory of a funnel cake, Ag Day was created to give a spotlight to the fair’s original intention. This year, IL Corn joined other agriculture organizations, farming families, and government leaders to showcase the industry while also engaging the non-farming community to learn about issues agriculture faces today.

Among the events:

 

 

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    Government officials including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and U.S. Congressman for Illinois Cheri Bustos showed their support by meeting with industry leaders.

 

 

 

  • IMG_8851Illinois FFA members interacted with government and industry officials to talk shop as they learn more to become our nation’s next agriculture leaders.

 

 

Check out more from our Facebook, where we livestreamed an interview with Illinois FFA members and heard from IL Corn leaders.

Posted in Activism, Agriculture, Animal Care, Atrazine, Current News, Education, Environment, Food, Friday Farm Photo, General, Livestock, Politics | Leave a comment

AG CAREER PROFILES: WHAT DOES A GRAIN ELEVATOR CEO DO?

Jerry Rowe is the CEO of the Heritage Grain Cooperative.  He uses a lot of math, accounting, and customer service skills to run his grain elevator.

A cooperative grain elevator is a first purchaser of grain that is owned by a group of farmers in the community.  The elevator is run by a Board of Directors – and Jerry says that having an excellent Board of Directors is one of the highlights of his job!

As farmers harvest grain in the fall, they take it to the elevator to either sell on the spot, or to have the elevator store the grain for them until they are ready to sell.  As commodity prices fluctuate, the elevator offers farmers competitive prices, and farmers decide to sell based on their own budgets and marketing plans.  The elevator then sells the grain to other markets (export via rail or river, livestock).

Jerry’s job is extremely important.  If the elevator becomes unprofitable at some point, farmers loose another option to sell their grain.  Competitive options for selling grain is important to make sure farmers can sell for the very best prices.

Lindsay: What are your primary responsibilities?

Jerry: I’m the General Manager-CEO of the Heritage Grain Cooperative.  I’m responsible to make sure things run smoothly, we serve our farmer customers and farmer owners as best we can, and we make money.jerry rowe

Lindsay: What do you love most about your job?

Jerry: I enjoy grain trading, planning and logistics.

Lindsay: Planning and logistics I understand, but tell me more about grain trading.

Jerry: Grain trading is where the elevator takes the grain off the market when the basis is wide and the carry is large (i.e., there’s more grain in the system than needed). When the market does not want it, it our job to store and repackage it in larger units and different delivery methods. Like instead of selling and delivering via truck, we might sell and deliver via rail. We take the grain off the market when it is not wanted (wide basis) and sell it into the market when it is wanted (narrow basis).

Lindsay: What skills/education do you believe have helped you to be successful?

elevator CEOJerry: I have definitely needed good math skills for this position, in addition to knowing how to talk to people and how to listen.  Math is very important for the commodity trading part of my job, people skills are super important for the farmer customer service part of my job.

I’ve also needed some accounting skills, as I deal with money coming in and going out all day every day.

Lindsay: How did you land in this job?

Jerry: I started my career here 1977 as a manager trainee with Illinois Grain Corporation.  I was an assistant manager at two other locations, then managed a small elevator when this position opened.

I have been working in Central Illinois my entire career.  I knew all the people here and when this job came open, I was in contact with the right people and had developed the right skill set.

Lindsay: Do you think young people today should be considering careers in agriculture?

Jerry: Yes!  Agriculture has been very good to me.  There is always a future in ag for bright young people who want to work.  I never did want to live in a Chicago.  If you like the smaller towns and rural areas in Illinois, then working in a grain elevator is one of the best jobs in a small town.

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Project Coordinator

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AGRICULTURE: HOW DO THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES SHAPE UP?

Less than 83 days remain until the United States determines who will lead the country for the next four years. A new administration means the roll-out of new programs and legislative agendas. Therefore, it’s important to know for what these individuals stand, not just for what makes them famous (or infamous for that matter). The positions that candidates take now on such issues as agriculture can have impacts decades later. That’s why farmers must take a look at how or if the candidates prioritize agriculture.

For this first edition, we’ll start with the major party candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump. The remaining independent party candidates will be covered in a later post.

(Sorting method: Candidates are not divided by preference. Last names are sorted alphabetically.)

Senator Hillary Clinton – Democratic Party

hillary-accepts-nom-dnc-7-29-16Senator Clinton has a direct connection to farming communities in her work with constituencies in rural, upstate New York. In August 2015, Senator Clinton rolled out a plan to revitalize rural communities. While some points do not speak directly to farming, the emphasis on revitalizing rural towns, which are largely farming towns, would likely boost the agriculture economy. Within this plan, Senator Clinton supported providing government subsidies for farmers that are struggling and helping the next generation of farmers with funding, education, and mentoring for “aspiring farmers and ranchers.”

Senator Clinton also supports the expansion and use of renewable energy sources, including biofuels. She seeks a strengthening of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and actively opposes the EPA’s cutting back of already-established target blending levels.

On GM foods, Senator Clinton supports a mandatory labeling program, citing the consumer’s right to know. Yet, in those same remarks, she upheld sound science and the need for GM seeds, particularly in populations that are drought-resistant.

Current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack endorsed Senator Clinton in 2015.

Donald Trump – Republican Party

Trump_Nom_072216Although Mr. Trump does not have any direct connection to farming or rural communities, many of his stances have implications for the agriculture economy.

In 2015, Mr. Trump gave explicit support to the RFS in order to achieve energy independence from other nations. The federal program has been critical in expanding markets for renewable fuels such as ethanol.

Mr. Trump supports biotechnology and GMO foods and dispels the need for right-to-know labeling mandates. This comes in contradiction with a now-deleted tweet on the candidate’s infamous Twitter feed: “Too much #Monsanto in the #corn creates issues in the brain?”  The comment was originally made by a Nevada businessman. Mr. Trump later claimed it was an intern that re-posted the remark.

The candidate is also infamous for his plans on immigration reform. However, some have argued that his would decrease workforce numbers in agriculture significantly. The American Farm Bureau Federation noted that the ripple effects of deportation could be decreased production, increased food prices, and a drop in net farm income.

On August 16, 2016, Mr. Trump’s campaign announced that he has formed an agricultural advisory committee composed of several governors, including former 2016 GOP candidates Rick Perry and Jim Gilmore, and lawmakers. We should expect that more concrete agriculture solutions will come from Mr. Trump and his new brain trust in the following weeks.

Trade – A Hot Button Issue

Both presidential candidates are against current free trade agreements, specifically the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a wide-reaching, multi-national deal that has been a major focus of President Obama’s remaining time in office. The current White House administration proclaims that the “past seven years have represented the strongest period in history for American agricultural exports…totaling $911.4 billion.” Agriculture exports increased from $56 billion in 2000 to $155 billion in 2014, per the USDA. Clearly, farmers have a major stake in free trade with foreign nations. Aside from the issues that come from working with nations on a case-by-case basis (e.g. lack of multi-national support could reduce leverage and ethos to produce more efficient and effective deals), United States agriculture would fall victim on a financial level as they might severely scale back commodity exports, even just during negotiation of new trade deals.

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This review is not completely exhaustive but can hopefully give a clearer picture on how either candidate would influence the future of American farmers. It’s important that we choose someone who clearly stands in solidarity with the modern farmer.

In my next post, I’ll cover what the three remaining independent presidential candidates say about agriculture.

McDonald_Taylor

Taylor McDonald
Communications Assistant
IL Corn

Posted in Agriculture, Ethanol, Food, General, Politics | Leave a comment