FRIDAY FARM PHOTO

We’re finding all kinds of ways to share information about corn and the family farmers that grow it at The Corn Crib, professional baseball’s newest ballpark. The Corn Crib is home to the Normal CornBelters. If you visit you’ll see messages like this one, reminding non-farmers that their friends and neighbors are the family farmers producing Illinois’ highest valued crop. If you sit through a game, you’ll hear conversations about corn and farmers happening between people that otherwise never would have talked about corn. Spontaneous shouts of “Let’s Go Corn!” echo through the stands, and Corny, the CornBelters mascot, is high-fived wherever he goes. It’s opportunities like this that can make a huge difference as more and more challenges to agriculture are being promulgated by detractors.

DOES SIZE MATTER?

I heard it again just yesterday … the general manager of a local hotel told me that he prefers smaller 600-700 acre farms over larger farms of several thousand acres. He couldn’t tell me why, just that he liked the idea of a small farm over a large one.

We chatted about it and I tried hard to listen to his concerns – something that farmers don’t do enough of, and I admit, was difficult for me. The problem is that I didn’t walk away from the conversation understanding exactly why he preferred smaller farms. Either I did a horrible job at listening or he really wasn’t sure himself.

Because of that recent conversation, this video really hit home for me this morning. Enjoy … and share!

http://www.youtube.com/v/uHtIRAjzw3c&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xd0d0d0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1

HEALTHY AND ENVIRONMENTAL LIP SERVICE

About a month ago, I visited the corporate headquarters for McDonald’s USA with the Illinois Beef Association. It was a really interesting visit, where I learned things like ’27 million people eat at McDonald’s Global every single day’ and ‘Around 70% of McDonald’s business is drive thru purchases.’ These facts together really say something about our society.

But here’s something else I learned that really says something about us: in surveys and while testing new products, consumers indicated that if there were a healthy option for those Happy Meals you’re buying for your kid once a week, a large majority of parents would chose that option. In practice, only 10% of parents actually buy apple dippers for their kids instead of those extremely yummy fries.

To me, that says that while American’s do genuinely want to be healthier and live better, when push comes to shove, they are mostly only giving it lip service.

I thought of this recently gained knowledge while reading Pros of Modern Beef Production in the July 19 issue of Feedstuffs. There were some really great quotes in there that are completely Facebook worthy.

Things you might consider copying and pasting to your status like:

“Contrary to the negative image often associated with modern farming, fulfilling the U.S. population’s requirement for high-quality, nutrient-rich protein while improving environmental stewardship can only be achieved by using contemporary agricultural technologies and practices.” Dr. Jude Capper, Washington State University.

“We have the perception that feedlots are bad and that simply isn’t true.” Dr. Jude Capper, Washington State University.

“Compared to beef production in 1977, Capper found that each pound of beef produced in modern systems uses 10% less feed energy, 20% fewer feedstuffs, 30% less land, 14% less water, and 9 % less fossil fuel energy.”

Still, I’m left with one important quandary. Much like McDonald’s, we’re doing exactly what the consumer has asked for by producing more meat with fewer inputs and becoming more environmentally conscious and more sustainable while still delivering a quality, safe product. Why then, is the consumer not on board?

During my visit at McDonald’s Corporate, they indicated that while menu items must meet rigorous sales quotas or they are removed from the menu, apple dippers will always remain despite their less-than-stellar performance. McDonald’s has to maintain the option that the consumer wants even if the consumer doesn’t buy simply to sustain a positive image.

Can livestock farmers do this too without going out of business?

I realize that research is showing that consumers don’t want to have to make choices. They want everything that they want and they will not be forced to put a premium on any given option. This is understandable – businesses in our country have always subscribed to the “customer’s always right” mantra.

Still, we may have finally reached a plateau where livestock farmers simply can’t offer EVERYTHING that the customer wants. If they want grass-fed beef, livestock farmers will gladly deliver it, but it’s going to cost more, there will be less of it and it’s going to take a toll on the environment. If they want beef produced with a smaller hoof print on our planet, they may have to learn to tolerate feedlots.

To which option are they simply giving lip service?

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

FARMING 101: PICKING SWEET CORN

Sweet corn is by far one of the most popular summer veggies! Have you ever wondered how the sweet corn you’re eating for dinner got to your plate? Yesterday, a couple of us from the IL Corn office were granted a day in the sweet corn field with a couple of Northern Illinois farmers. We picked approximately 1,500 ears of sweet corn that were donated to a food pantry.

As our morning began we asked farmers, Jim and John, for a quick overview of the sweet corn picking process. While they have been picking sweet corn their whole lives it was difficult for them to describe the art of their technique. We all began working and before long we were covered in mud and sweat along with cuts on our hands from the corn stalks. However, we all had a great time and were reminded the importance of our job promoting the agricultural industry!
Jim and John’s sweet corn fields were planted in late May and early June. While the weather in Illinois has been challenging this year the sweet corn crop was a success.

While every farmer has his own twist as to when the sweet corn is ready they typically revolve back to feeling the ear. The ear should feel full and complete all the way up to the top.

If you are just beginning your picking adventure it is important to pull the shucks back a little ways to check the kernels. This is usually done by puncturing the kernel and checking for a milky juice substance.

The sweet corn ear is then ready to be removed from the stalk. Simply pull the ear in a downward motion until it is disconnected.

Due to different maturity rates and to track your progress, it is often helpful to stomp down the stalk after you have picked the sweet corn.

Many sweet corn farmers feel that raw sweet corn fresh off of the stalk is the best and simply irresistible! Therefore, it is not uncommon for water and corn breaks on a sunny day on the farm.

The sweet corn that is left is gathered and sent to your local farmer’s market or grocery store. After a little cooking on the stove, grill, or even microwave the corn is then placed on your dinner plate! Bon Appétit!

Kelsey Vance
ICMB/ICGA Intern
University of Illinois student

E12 (12% BLENDS) ARE A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

For those of you just beginning your quest for more knowledge about Illinois agriculture (and maybe for some of you that work within the Illinois agricultural industry every day and just didn’t think through this particular issue), let me describe to you corn’s ethanol quandary.

Illinois farmers are really good at growing corn. They grow more and more corn every single year, using less inputs (less land, less water, less chemicals) to do it, and thus, they need more markets for this corn. This is one of the primary goals of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board – to develop markets for Illinois corn.

Corn-based ethanol is our largest Illinois market for corn and presents the most opportunity for growth, in turn, demanding more corn. This is good because we have corn coming out our ears. No pun intended.

Right now, nearly every gallon of gasoline that you purchase at the gas station is 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol; this product is referred to as a 10% blend. A 10% blend is the highest blend the EPA will allow. But we (Americans) have now reached the point where there are no more gallons of gasoline sold to blend 10% ethanol into, thus, the market is no longer growing and we have more and more corn that will be losing its value.

The ethanol industry has asked EPA to consider a higher blend of ethanol in every gallon of gasoline. They suggested 15%, which barely makes a difference per gallon of gasoline, but makes a huge difference to the ethanol industry and thus, to corn farmers in Illinois. This opens up more market space for ethanol and for the corn that creates it.

The EPA, being the EPA, has hesitated to approve a 15% blend. They argue that testing data from US Department of Energy on what a 15% blend really means hasn’t been provided to them.

In response to their stalling, the National Corn Growers Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol, and the Renewable Fuels Association sent a letter today asking US EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to consider an immediate move to a 12% blend which opens up a market for ethanol and allows existing plants to keep … well … existing.

The bottom line for corn farmers is that we need additional markets for corn or corn farmers will go out of business.

The bottom line for environmentalists is that we need a green, renewable fuel supply to address climate change and emissions concerns.

The bottom line for Americans is that we need domestic energy so we can reduce our oil imports and quit funding the countries that hate us.

The bottom line for the US EPA is that a 12% blend of ethanol moves us a step in the right direction. And frankly, if underdeveloped and developing countries can make an investment in green, renewable, domestic energy and Brazil can use up to 23% ethanol blends in their conventional vehicles with no problems … why can’t we?

Dave Loos
ICGA/ICMB Research and Business Development Director
(and ethanol guru!)

SILVER FIN AN ILLINOIS DELICACY?

The summer 2010 issue of Our Mississippi brings silver fin (AKA Asian Carp) to the forefront, positioning it as both a delicacy and an important tactic to control the Asian Carp population.

According to Baton Rouge, LA chef Philippe Parola, the first step is “rebranding.” He says that the fish tastes like crabmeat and scallops and included several recipes for the readers at home to try silver fin which I’ve provided below.

Remember, the multitudes of Asian Carp in Illinois waterways and prevention measures to keep them out of the Great Lakes were a subject of much debate earlier in the year. In fact, the O’Brien Lock and Chicago Lock were closed for a period of time this year to keep the fish out, which also meant additional time and money to get needed products to the Chicagoland area.

Perhaps repositioning the fish, which is actually the oldest domesticated fish species in the world and has been farmed for at least 3,000 years in Asia, as a valued Illinois product (The state of Illinois has recently signed an agreement to export the fish to China!) is just the ticket to move the needle on this debate.

Silver fin fried strips

16 silver fin fish filets (boneless if possible, bones easily removed by boiling)
2 eggs
1 cup of half & half for eggwash
1 cup of Louisiana fish fry seasoned flour
Peckapepper mango sauce for dipping

Preheat fryer at 350, in a bowl beat eggs, then add half & half and stir well to make egg wash. Place the silver fin strips into egg wash, then coat each strip with the seasoned flour. Fry until done and serve with Peckapepper mango sauce.
Serves 4.

Silver fin with fresh berries

4 silver fin fish filets
2 ounces each: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and grapes
2 tablespoons pecan oil
2 ounces unsalted butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3 ounces white wine
1 lemon, juiced
1 orange, juiced
Seasoning to taste

Heat pecan oil and better in a sauté skillet until very hot. Brown seasoned silver fin on both sides, then add white wine and juices from lemon and orange. Bring to a boil, then add all the fresh berries and boil for 3 minutes over medium high heat. Stir in cream and season to taste.
Serves 4.

Silver fin cakes

1 pound silver fin white meat
4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 eggs
1 ounce bread crumbs
Seasoned flour
Seasoning and hot sauce to taste

Poach or steam silver fin meat until fully cooked, then break it up in pieces to remove bones. Place meat into a mixing bowl and add butter, mustard, 1 egg and lemon juice. Mix well. Add bread crumbs and season to taste. Roll into small cakes. To make egg wash, beat one egg with 2 tablespoons water. Dip fish into egg wash, then seasoned flour. Fry.
Serves 4.

Rodney Weinzierl
ICGA/ICMB Executive Director

WE MUST UNITE TO ADVOCATE OUR INDUSTRY AND EDUCATE THE PUBLIC

Throughout time we have seen struggles in American Agriculture. Every segment of the American Agriculture Industry has its distinct issues. From animal rights groups to the use of genetic engineering to develop better hyrbrids, agriculture is always under scrutiny. However, a more significant and prevalent challenge exists.

When I served as the Illinois State FFA President I was always asked the question, “What is the most important issue in agriculture?” Working for the Illinois Beef Association this summer, I realize the answer is still the same: Awareness and knowledge of agriculture in the American public. As more and more people become removed from where their food supply comes from, the basic understanding of our industry slowly diminishes.

We are all in this struggle together. From the landscaper in the Chicago suburbs, the central Illinois Corn Farmer, the Beef Producer in western Illinois and the southern pork producer, we must unite together to advocate our industry and EDUCATE the public. These people are more than our customers; they are our friends, neighbors, employers and fellow human beings. Cooperation and action will be the solution to this struggle, and will ensure the future of American Agriculture for generations to come!

I invite you to read this article on BEEF Magazine that encourages us all to change our mindsets and consider the end consumer in every single one of our conversations about agriculture.

Clay Zwilling
Illinois Beef Association Summer Intern
Former FFA State President
(Follow me on IBA’s FACEBOOK page!)

WANT TO BE HEALTHY? EAT MORE FRUITS AND VEGGIES, NO MATTER HOW THEY ARE GROWN

As a mom of a one year old who’s recently started to eat table food (and she now eats everything in sight!) I paid attention when the Dirty Dozen* list hit the entire popular media list. I just as quickly dismissed it as propaganda as soon as I read through the list, but that’s because I grew up on a farm and I know what conventional agriculture is all about.

Not everyone is that lucky.

Naturally, I was excited when the Alliance for Food and Farming released their new report and website last week. As opposed to the “science” the Environmental Working Group (EWG) utilized when creating their Dirty Dozen list, this is real science conducted by real experts – nutritionists, toxicologists, and risk assessors – and they say that organic produce is no healthier or safer than conventionally grown produce.

At safefruitsandveggies.com, they offer the time tested truth that if you want to be healthier, the key is to eat more fruits and veggies. It doesn’t matter if they are organic or conventional because each offers the exact same nutritional content. In fact, the report criticizes the Dirty Dozen for making it harder for the American public to consume the proper amount of fruits and veggies each day because consumers are scared and confused about what is safe to purchase.

The report also says that my one-year-old would have to consume hundreds of servings of conventional fruits and veggies in a single day in order to have any measurable effect from pesticides. And that’s only if I don’t wash the produce because the FDA says that rinsing fruits and veggies under cold or warm water removes any traces of pesticides that might remain.

My thoughts? Let’s stick with common sense. If you want to be healthy, eat a balanced diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. Wash them before you eat them. Aren’t these the things that our mom’s and grandma’s taught us when we were growing up?

That’s certainly what I’m teaching my daughter.

*I did consider linking to the Dirty Dozen list so that you can see what it’s all about if you haven’t heard of it. Then, I read that the EWG says that buying organic as much as you can is not only better for you, but shows that you support decreased soil erosion, safer water supplies, and protecting wildlife. Since conventional farmers actually do some of these BETTER than organic and certainly are as conscious as organic farmers of all, I just couldn’t give them a link in my story. I hope you’ll understand.

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

FARMVILLE OFFERS ORGANIC BLUEBERRIES

I’ll admit it – I’m a Farmville fan.

For any of you that think I’m talking about some small town in IL, let me clue you in.  Farmville is a game that people play on Facebook – over 80 million people in fact – and for the vast majority, it’s likely the only experience they get with farms, farming, or agriculture.

In the game, you are gifted with a small plot of land and a bit of money and with both, you grow, fertilize, and harvest crops as well as buy and receive animals and buildings to create on your virtual farm the little piece of paradise you always wished you had.

Well, this week, it appears that Farmville has released a new crop, Cascadian Farm® Organic Blueberries.

So before I open up this can of worms, I want to start the discussion by saying that I support the organic farming industry because I believe that more choices are never a bad thing.  The problem for me comes when people are disillusioned about their choices, when they don’t understand that those organic foods offer the same health benefits at a significantly higher price.

And when consumers don’t even understand what organic produce is in the first place.

Yes, I said it and I’ll say it again.  Consumers that swear by organic foods have no idea what organic foods really are.  I learned this when a colleague told the story of gardening with a friend who purposefully purchased organic plants for her garden and then doused them in MiracleGro and it was reinforced again today.  Because I’d be willing to bet money that the folks playing Farmville and planting these sweet little organic blueberries are going to fertilize them to get more “money” from the crop without ever realizing that fertilized crops are not organic.

The complete lack of information and the fact that consumers base their buying decisions on marketing hype really anger me.  And while I do understand that purchasing decisions based on marketing is the way of our world, a movement to pure organic is going to have much more drastic consequences than buying more Pepsi than Coke would have.

So Farmvillians, enjoy your farms and plant organic blueberries until your heart’s content.  In the meantime, I challenge Farmville to ensure that no fertilizers are used on the organic blueberries and that the yields on organic blueberries are much less than the conventional blueberries.  If this is the only connection back to the farm we’re going to get, we need to milk it for all its worth.

Lindsay Mitchell

ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director