LAWYERS AIM TO HARASS, INTIMIDATE GROWERS IN ATRAZINE ISSUES

Sometimes, individuals and groups decide to stand up for something. In the case of many crop producers and the associations that represent them, they have decided to stand up for atrazine. Atrazine is a vital herbicide that is under attack by environmentalists, activist researchers, activist media and slick trial attorneys. These well-financed groups worked together last summer to garner enough attention to spur an unscheduled re-review of atrazine by the Environmental Protection Agency.

While farmers use atrazine in smaller and smaller concentrations, it is still an important tool to control weeds, especially in environmentally friendly “conservation” farming practices. For example, using no-till, an increasingly popular conservation farming practice, farmers leave the previous crop stubble on field and plant the next crop in that stubble. This practice reduces runoff and holds on to nutrients and other stuff that helps crop grow in the field. Atrazine’s ability to provide residual weed control makes no-till an option for many farmers. Without it, they’d better grease up the old plow. I read an apt quote on Twitter recently—“If EPA says bye-bye to atrazine, can we get cultivators rolling fast enough?”

Looking at the information above, it’s no wonder farmers and farm organizations are standing up for atrazine in a big way. It’s no wonder that they work with atrazine’s major manufacturer, Syngenta, to support this product.

But recently, many of those organizations have been served with subpoenas from big time trial attorney firms who are hoping to net millions of dollars in judgments from the state and federal court systems. These subpoenas require grower associations to turn over volumes of information to the courts regarding their growers, including all correspondence related to atrazine, Syngenta and even the Kansas Corn Growers Association.

The subpoenas come down to one thing, clear and simple: bullying. We can’t imagine what kind of useful information they hope to find by looking through membership records, leadership programs or who paid for the ice cream at a farmer’s meeting. But the threat of legal harassment might make an organization or an individual think twice about standing up for a product like atrazine.

Since the beginning of the Special Review of the triazine herbicides including atrazine in 1994, our growers have wanted one thing: a science-based outcome through EPA. Is throwing trial attorneys and frivolous subpoenas into the mix a game changer? Will farmers be intimidated and lose their will to support atrazine? The trial attorneys forgot one thing—farmers are uniquely independent. They stand up to wind, hail, drought, floods, pests and roller coaster markets on a regular basis. Slick attorneys are scary for sure, but we don’t scare that easily.

Jere White, Executive Director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association and is the Chairman of the Triazine Network, a nationwide coalition of growers and grower groups concerned with regulatory actions surrounding the triazine herbicides including atrazine.

HARVEST A BIT DISAPPOINTING IN ILLINOIS

While it is a bit of a rarity for harvest to be completed before October 1, we’re just about to do just that in 2010.  What a surprise given the late, late, and even later harvest we dealt with last year, when crops were still in the field at Thanksgiving!

Kent, who farms in Central Illinois, indicates that he’s 70% done with corn and 0% done with beans. Corn so far is at 160 bushels per acre. Lots of variability, but the whole field averages are at 160.

In Northern Illinois, Jim is harvesting early beans with success – 56-65 bushels per acre.  The corn sprayed with Headline that Jim cut has performed better than without Headline … the Headline crop made 205-210 bushels per acre with the other making only 170.

For a point of reference, national average yields in 2009 were 165 bushels per acre, with Illinois average hitting the 183 bushels per acre mark.

Scott reports from the eastern Illinois border that “We are about 1\4 done with field averages from 110 to 190.  I hope to find more fields with the higher end of that spectrum, but know there are going to be some fields below 100 bushels per acre.”

Some Illinois Corn Directors mentioned that they’ve had enough rain and fields are starting to resemble last year’s rutted, muddy mess.  Here’s hoping Illinois corn farmers can hurry up and finish before any more rain hits our area!

ENGAGE IN SOCIAL MEDIA USING THESE TIPS AND TRICKS

Farmers and “agvocates” from around the country met in Chicago recently to fine tune their social media skills.

As a board member on the AgChat Foundation, I was so impressed to see the instant camaraderie amongst the group as we clearly had some things in common: a love for American agriculture and a willingness to engage non-farmers on issues.

I was one of the speakers at the conference and I focused on basic communication skills. Don’t let the “social media” part of social media get in the way. I’m talking about moving the coffee shop to your laptop. Here are some of my tips and tricks regarding communication that I sent home with the more than 50 attendees:

If we were to summarize what non-farmers are saying to us, it is this:
• I don’t know much about what you do.
• You do something very important to me.
• You raise the food my family eats.
• The most important thing to me is protecting my family and ensuring their health.
• I know you work hard.
• I want to trust you.
• But I’m concerned based on what I see and hear.
• Give me reasons to trust you.

Tap into the Emotions that drive trust: Authenticity (openness, transparency, the “truth”) Shared Values (“you” care about what “I” care about; Protecting me, my family, and my world) Responsibility

Engage in a dialogue, not a monologue

3 F’s: Feel, Felt, Found
• I appreciate the way you Feel
• Others have Felt the same way
• Here’s what I’ve Found

Squint With Your Ears!
• Know why you are listening
• Focus on content and the non-verbal messages
• Organize what you are hearing through observation, reflective listening and note taking
• Give your attention; if you cannot, say so
• Avoid giving advice, moralizing, predicting the future
• Avoid interrupting
• Listen with your heart as well as your head

Watch this video to get a flavor for what brought the group together.

http://www.youtube.com/v/eYoADgvJgE4?fs=1&hl=en_US
 

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

FIFTEEN PERCENT ETHANOL BLENDS SAFE FOR ALL VEHICLES

Many, many moons ago, members of the ethanol industry asked the US EPA to consider raising the blend level of ethanol to gasoline from 10 percent (the current level) to 15 percent. 

While the industry waits for an answer (the US EPA might provide a final verdict later this month), bits and pieces of the research the Department of Energy is conducting have made their way out.  That research is focused on 2001 model years and newer, but the ethanol industry feels that 15 percent ethanol blends are safe for older vehicles too.

Now, research released today from Ricardo indicates that fuel systems of older cars would not be adversely affected, giving the US EPA absolutely no scientific reason to approve E15 for only 2001 model year cars and newer.

In researcher speak, “The analysis concluded that the adoption and use of E15 would not adversely affect fuel system components in properly engineered vehicles, nor would it cause them to perform in a sub-optimal manner, when compared to the use of E10.”

This is big news for the industry.  Still, recent activities in the US EPA indicate that data simply clouds the pathway to bureaucratic agenda.  The final verdict remains to be seen.

In other ethanol news, the Renewable Fuels Association has a new ethanol ad running in Washington, DC this week, aimed at reminding legislators about the job growth potential increased ethanol usage presents. 

http://www.youtube.com/v/1THkmM72vnY?fs=1&hl=en_US

Illinois corn farmers wait and see.  Will this valuable, expanding market for their product be allowed access to the US market or will we continue to export cheap ethanol and import expensive oil at the expense of our American economy and national security?

Dave Loos
ICGA/ICMB Ethanol Expert

AROUND THE FARM, GRANDPARENTS DAY MEANS …

Yesterday was Grandparents day.

Around the farm that might mean a lot of things … because it’s nearly harvest time, it probably means working along side your grandparents (if you are fortunate to have healthy grandparents) or visiting them in the evening after a long day of work (if you aren’t.)

For certain, it means remembering the values and ethnics handed down from your grandparents, to your parents and then to you. 

Farming is a family business.  Farming usually entails working the same piece of ground that your ancestors settled when they immigrated to America.  It represents your heritage in a way that a treasured piece of jewelry or pocketwatch might to non-farmers, except much, much bigger because this piece of land fed your family over the course of 100 or 150 years. 

Farming means that nearly every square foot of the property you work on carries the memory of a person, a lesson, or a moment that you relive in the fall and the spring as you plant or harvest that ground.

This legacy is one that farmers live every day, whether they are small or large farmers, organic or conventional.

Family farmers don’t really need Grandparent’s Day, I guess.  Every day is a celebration of heritage, family and tradition.

CORN HARVEST HAS ARRIVED

Corn harvest is in full swing in Central Illinois, with the cool, breezy weather we’ve had lately drying out the corn in a hurry. 
Today’s forecast from the USDA is that corn production would hit a record 13.2 billion bushels, which is higher than the current 2009 record of 13.1 billion bushels.  Yields are expected to average 162.5 bushels per acre which is down from last year’s record of 164.7 bushels per acre.
If you enjoy this sort of data, click here to read more!

REFLECTIONS FROM A CITY GIRL

I’ve spent 21 years in Illinois. I’ve never left for more than two weeks at a time, and let’s be honest, that Chicagoan dialect that spews out of my mouth doesn’t exactly allow me to assimilate into just any geographic region. Illinois is my home. Specifically, I was raised in Itasca, which is about a 40 minute train ride from Chicago.

Being a Chicagoan (or even a suburbanite) is a lifestyle. The pace at which I walk to work is probably better described as “jogging.” I know what a REAL hot dog looks like, I can direct you to the city’s best Italian beef and don’t even get me started on thin crust pizza. When my boss told me that we were going to volunteer our time to corn picking in Manhattan, I thought he was joking.

The thought of Nicky Hunter picking corn is akin to the thought of a cat swimming laps in a pool. Outrageous. I love sports but hate playing them because I hate to sweat. I’ve never tended to a garden because I don’t like dirt, and I don’t even know what I would do if I found a worm. I’d probably scream and jump up and down, hands waving in acute panic. The great outdoors and I never really got along.

“Sure, I’ll do it,” I replied because I talk a big game. I knew it was for the City Produce Project, which was a good cause. Monsanto, which is a huge company, got behind the project and Illinois Corn Marketing Board also participated in the program, so if such big forces can help out, what was stopping me? Some dirt and sweat? Pathetic, city girl, pathetic.

It would be easy, I thought, because it’s a farm. I thought I knew farms. After all, I’d seen one obnoxious farm comedy after another, I knew the routine. You get up early when the rooster crows and then you do various farm duties until someone rings that little triangle to announce that a large, bountiful dinner was ready. That dinner, of course, was provided by the farmer’s hard work and that was how they survived. That’s all I was exposed to.

Stupid.

What never really occurred to me was that the work that gets done on a farm is a business. The crops that grow on a family’s farm aren’t just exclusively for family meals that would make a Norman Rockwell painting look like child’s play. Once I arrived on the farm, I expected to see machinery going to town on those crops, with volunteers just packing away the corn that the machines left behind. After all, farms are so expansive, there is no way that we would actually be doing the harvesting. There are machines for that…right?

Not in this case. It was all hard work and human labor. It finally occurred to me that the vegetables I eat actually originate somewhere. It was humbling to realize that sometimes I’m just too lazy to get in my car and drive three minutes to the supermarket and pick fresh produce, then come home and prepare it. Instead, I shuffle through my kitchen, mumbling “There’s no food in this house” and chomping on a bag of chips and maybe a cookie, if I’m lucky. I realized that farmers have to plant, nurture and send off all their crops in order to get to the supermarket produce section that I rarely visit because I just don’t have “THE WILLPOWER” to eat correctly.

Spending a few hours on a farm went beyond just opening my eyes to the process. Being involved with the City Produce Project even at the most minimal level has made me aware of the daily challenges farmers face. If the weather is nice on Sunday, farmers are working. Weekend or not, there’s something to do on the farm. If the weather doesn’t cooperate at the right time; game over. The whole field could be washed out and there could be nothing to show for days or even weeks of work. No produce, no profit. No profit, no nothing. Farming isn’t a joke.

I was lucky enough to get to volunteer when the weather, though hot as the Sahara, was relatively good. I was informed that the week beforehand, volunteers trudged through mud in order to get the work done, and not many extra people showed up because they didn’t want to get dirty. The work had to get done, so the farmers spent the entire day in wet mud. They have no choice. That corn had places to be, City Produce Project participants to please, delicious flavors to unleash upon unsuspecting omnivores.

As a suburbanite who spends more than 40 hours in metro Chicago per week, I can say with confidence that I was completely unattached to my food. I don’t know where it comes from, I don’t know how it was grown, and I know even less about who is responsible for its production. If it reached my mouth, I was happy. After spending literally no more than two hours on a farm, I can say that now I appreciate fresh vegetables. They take work. I don’t know if larger areas are handled with machinery or not, because I’m only familiar with the sweet corn used in the City Produce Project. But I do know that regardless of machinery’s role, humans operate them. Humans purchase the seed, humans tend to the crops and humans wouldn’t exist without this kind of selfless dedication.

I feel less like a Chicagoan/Suburbanite and more of an Illinoisan. I am aware of the goings-on in other parts of this vast state, not just the deep-dish pizza feuds and seemingly endless roadwork of Cook County. There are things beyond my hamburger, beyond my debilitating fear of being touched by an earthworm, and beyond my selfish need for food to just appear.

I appreciate corn farmers now, because after two hours I was ready to throw in my sweaty towel and call it a day. That’s not an option for them, and I commend them for dedicating their lives to such an uncontrollable gamble. Without such skilled and charitable farmers, programs like the City Produce Project wouldn’t be possible, and some communities would be left without any resources to combat diabetes because they would have zero access to anything as nutritious as the corn grown in Manhattan.

I think every Chicagoan should experience just a few hours on a farm. It does bring perspective and opens up those smog-weary eyes to a different kind of existence that is only a few hours removed from Chicago.

And would you believe it, this city chick actually had fun on a farm. I touched some bugs, got sweaty and got a paper-cut on my hand (the horror!), but at the end of the day, I did something new for a good cause.

Nicky Hunter