HOW THE U.S. IS BECOMING LESS COMPETITIVE EVERY DAY

The LaGrange Lock and Dam and the Upper Mississippi Lock and Dam 25 are vital pieces of the marine highway for agricultural commerce, linking the upper Mississippi and Illinois basin farmlands to export markets reachable through the Louisiana Gulf. Each year, more than ten million tons of corn and soybeans transit this lock down-bound for export, and the region’s agriculture is equally served by up-bound fertilizer movement.

In addition, the LaGrange Lock and Dam serve as an integral component in the navigation system linking the Chicago Area and Great Lakes Waterway Systems to the rest of the U.S.

As Americans, we simply cannot stand by and not invest in our infrastructure, costing American companies $1.7 billion additional in transport costs and, more importantly, costing the U.S.A. our competitiveness.

We must secure appropriations (funding) to rebuild our locks and dams.

HOW MY INTERNSHIP EXPANDED MY KNOWLEDGE OF FOOD

Throughout this semester, I have been exposed to a new perspective on food. I have always been interested in the health aspect of it, as well as what goes on inside our bodies after we ingest it, but this internship influenced me to focus more on the source of it, as well as the work behind the entire process.

While I had a decent understanding of common misconceptions, such as people being against biotechnology and food that is inorganic, I began to learn that many of us do not truly understand the reasoning behind making these food choices. Throughout the internship, I would talk to some of my friends, or catch them in moments at the grocery store when they would say “wait, but choose the organic one,” and after asking why, it typically resulted in an answer along the lines of  “it’s healthier” or “I don’t know, it’s better for you.” There have been many examples of consumers purchasing an item merely because it contains the words “vegan, organic or gluten-free.”

My very first post on the Instagram Gate2Plate highlighted the craze about GMO-free water. After reading a few articles, it became evident that companies try to take advantage of the knowledge gap between consumers and their willingness to pay a higher price for a “premium” product. While the water bottle does look fancier and more official, in the end, there is no true difference in the quality or safety of that water, but there is in the price. Gate2plate contains a multitude of fun photos that include facts, tasty meals, artsy recipes, and more, and it has helped me and many others expand our knowledge of all the different realms of food.

Through my experience with this internship, I learned about food insecurity and programs created to fight it, such as Food Corps. I have also learned that there are so many fun food holidays, and they are almost every single day! I have also learned the details that go into many of the intricate processes of creating certain foods, such as whey protein, beef, and coffee. While I have always followed basic trends of eating in season, I learned a lot about why it’s important, such as more flavor and nutrition, the fact that it helps you save money since the food is at the peak of its supply, and it is also better for the planet because eating within the seasons helps reduce the number of miles our food has traveled, hence reducing amount of fuel used to get it to us! Overall, I have learned that the process that comes before our food reaches our plate involves so much dedication, knowledge, patience, and hard work, and it is a step in the process that should be known and recognized by everyone because we would be nowhere without it.

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois

FIVE TEACHER GIFTS THAT CELEBRATE AG

It’s the end of the school year and time to pull together that amazing gift that lets your child’s teacher know just how much you appreciate everything she’s done to help her students this year.  But what?

Well, consider thanking your teacher AND helping him incorporate ag into next year’s classroom with these five fun gifts!

Nothing says “agriculture” like gifting your teacher with a live plant at the end of the year.  Beef up that gift with some pumpkin seed packets and a lesson plan on pumpkins and your teacher is set for a fun, interactive lesson next fall!

 

 

 

How about a beautiful book mark like this one from etsy wrapped around an ag friendly book or two?  The Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts and Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace are two of our favorites for young readers.

 

 

 

I love the idea of a Starbucks gift card (which EVERYONE likes), along with a free dairy ag mag from your local county farm bureau.  Many teachers don’t even realize the free ag resources at their fingertips!

 

A thumbprint bee coffee mug or planter could be a fun way to get your student in on the action.  Make this up with some quick yellow paint and a black sharpie … and share these amazing pollinator classroom resources!

 

 

And if you really REALLY liked this teacher, invite her to your farm or set up a summer appointment to visit the farmers market together!  These farmer invitations are adorable and seeing your little munchkin is sure to brighten her summer!

HOW MUCH CORN IS PLANTED TODAY?

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its Planting Progress report and let us know that farmers have completely caught up to their five-year average and gotten the crop planted in record time!

Nationally, we are 62% planted and our average for this week is 63%.  Specific to Illinois, we are 90% planted and our five-year average for this week is 70%.

That means farmers worked their tails off over the last two weeks of good weather.

When we think of emergence – how many of those corn seedlings have poked their heads up out of the soil – Illinois is sitting at 63% emerged.  This compared to 44% emerged this week in 2017 and a five-year average of 41% emerged for this time of year.

Overall, despite a slow start, I think farmers are off to the races with a bang!

NATIONAL BEEF MONTH: CELEBRATE THE BEEF

Photo by Fábio Alves on Unsplash

It’s a late Sunday afternoon, the sun is almost setting it’s the perfect time of the day, golden hour. You can smell the grill starting up and hear the sizzle as juicy hamburger patty hits it. Grilling season is finally upon us and I cannot wait to start celebrating, especially with my favorite meat. Now there is a lot that goes into making this perfect patty before it hits the grill but just to make sure you are doing your best follow this link to perfect your grilling.

The perfect hamburger starts at the farm as a calf. Currently, in the United States, we have around 31.7 million beef cattle living on farms and ranches. I grew up on a beef cattle farm and my grandpa always told me that a happy cow makes a difference. Keeping our beef cattle healthy and happy is very important to us in the United States. Most of our beef cattle come from the great planes area and have the most opportunity to run and explore while eating grass and corn daily. Texas is home to the most beef cattle, but if you just look at the size of the state it seems reasonable to have enough room for all of them. There are a lot of questions and speculation about grass-fed cows versus incorporating grain into the diet. Now, this a bigger question than will be explained in this post, but follow this link for more facts and make the decision for yourself.

Now I plan to celebrate this whole month by incorporating more beef into my diet each week. Not only make some of my favorite meals that include beef such as stuffed peppers and beef tips with noodles. The most important nutrient that comes from beef is iron which is something most people are lacking including myself. Eating a few more pieces of beef each week can benefit not only for your taste buds but for your overall health too! I like to use beef as my main source of protein with at least one meal a day. One of my favorite meals is stuffed peppers like I mentioned earlier. It is a very simple recipe to make but highlights beef as the main star of the meal! Here is a link to the recipe I choose to follow.

I hope you enjoy the month of May and eating beef as much as I do! Grilling to perfection this summer is just as it’s supposed to be.

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University

NRCS – WHAT IT IS AND WHY WE NEED IT

The NRCS, otherwise known as the Natural Resources Conversation Service, is an organization through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This group works to protect agricultural land and improve conservation practices. There are two branches of the NRCS: AECP, the Agricultural Easement Conservation Program, and HFRP, Healthy Forests Reserve Program.

Let’s talk about the HFRP first. This branch helps protect and preserve forestland on private properties. The goal of the HFRP is to reduce the number of endangered and threaten species, as well as increase plant and animal biodiversity throughout forestlands. A new component of the HFRP includes opening this program to land owned by Indian tribes.

The other branch is the AECP. The goal of this conservation branch is to protect land currently being used in agriculture and preventing it from being sold for non-ag purposes. Many states in the eastern part of the country, such as New York and Pennsylvania, have farmland preservation programs at the county level. The AECP also works to preserve wetlands, which goes to improve

In Illinois, we have the Farmland Protection Program, located in Kane County. A collar county of Chicago, many do not imagine a county with much farmland. However, since it is so close to the city, it is more imperative to ensure the farm acreage stays in agriculture. Being a native Kane county resident, I can say we have a unique layout for our county. We are pretty well split between developed and undeveloped land.

The Farmland Protection Program was established in Kane County in 2001. Since then, there have been over 5,500 acres preserved. How does this program work? Essentially, the county purchases the developing rights of that land. The farmer is still in charge of caring for the land, and can still use the land to grow crops. The only difference is the land must stay in agricultural use, since the county purchased the developing rights. No neighborhoods or shopping centers can be built on protected acres. The land also must continue to be used in agriculture; in other words, the farmers must still utilize the land as part of their operation.

Why are programs like AECP and HFRP important? Because as many of us have heard, the world population will grow to over 9 billion people by the year 2050. With a growing population, we have to have resources to continue to grow food, more than we ever have in the past. With programs through the National Resources Conservation Service, our county is better prepared to help feed the growing world.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

TAXPAYERS ARE BETTER OFF WHEN FARMERS HAVE CROP INSURANCE

Basic premises that we must agree on before you read this post: 
       1. Food security is important, both for America and for the world.
       2. Food security depends on farmers being able to make enough money               to farm the next year.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics (JARE), U.S. taxpayers spend less when the government discounts farmers’ crop insurance premiums instead of relying on unbudgeted disaster aid packages.

When farmers have a major loss, often due to weather extremes like drought or tornadoes or hail storms, it benefits the American people to help those farmers make enough money to survive to farm another year (see food security premise above).  Before crop insurance, the U.S. government would hear about the major loss and Congress would often pass a disaster aid package.

This would be similar to what happened after the major hurricane events we’ve seen lately.  The disaster happens, the loss is extreme, the government steps in to help.

However, those unbudgeted needs are a strain to the national financial situation and aren’t ideal.  Also, political games can impact the timely deliver of the disaster programs and aid.

When the government pays a portion of the farmers’ crop insurance premium, it is a budgeted amount that provides farmers an incentive to protect themselves.

corn fields planter illinois

Federal crop insurance has become a pillar of U.S. farm policy in recent years and is being considered by policymakers around the world.  As it stands, farmers collectively spend $3.5 to $4 billion from their own pockets to purchase insurance protection a year.

Since crop insurance’s rise, annual disaster bills, which are fully funded by taxpayers and used to be the norm, have been largely reduced.  That’s been welcomed news for farmers since the disaster bills of the past were often politically motivated and were slow to deliver relief.

Congress is debating the farm bill right now, and this – among other topics – is a very important nuance to note.  When farmers have access to a working crop insurance program, they are partnering in the costs of the disaster losses.  Without a working crop insurance program, farmers turn to the government and tax payers fully fund the cost of the loss.

This study uses mathematical, peer reviewed data suggesting that it will be important for lawmakers to recognize the reduced insurance participation and increased likelihood for ad hoc assistance associated with the proposals being championed by farm policy critics during the ongoing Farm Bill debate.

Thank you to our source, National Crop Insurance Services.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

START SEEING MONARCHS

This past weekend, we celebrated National Monarch Day!

The Monarch Butterfly is an important pollinator for corn farmers and one whose numbers are dwindling.  The problem?  Monarchs need milkweed to complete their life cycle and modern herbicides are making milkweed very hard to find.

The solution?  Plant milkweed!  Farmers are working to keep milkweed in roadside ditches and waterways, pastures and creek beds, and even planting pollinator gardens around their homes.

Chris Novak, Chief Executive Officer of the National Corn Growers Association, told Prairie Farmer that he understands farmers’ reluctance to embrace milkweed.

“When I was a kid, I hated pulling milkweeds the most, and we knew at the time it was a noxious weed. We watched the thousands of seeds that came from a milkweed pod,” Novak says. “At that point, we weren’t thinking about monarch butterflies!”

But he says as science has improved, agriculture has taken a closer look at habitat for wildlife and recognized that people need to take steps to help. Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a petition to list the monarch as a threatened or endangered species and plans to deliver a decision in June 2019.

“The farmers I work with are independent folks, and if they can get to the point where they don’t have government regulations coming down on them, they certainly prefer that,” Novak says.

He calls monarch habitat protection a “new part of the system farmers have to manage.” He and the rest of the Farmers for Monarchs coalition want to encourage farmers to take areas that aren’t part of productive working lands — fencerows, ditches, pivot corners — and plant habitats there.

“That’s at the heart of this effort,” Novak explains. “What we do first and foremost voluntarily gives us an opportunity to experiment and find what works best.”

Thank you to our sources:
Prairie Farmer
Start Seeing Monarchs