A mutual friend recently introduced me to someone I’ll call Jane. Jane is college-educated, holds a good job and seemed to be an all around intellectual individual. In the course of our conversation and in getting to know each other it came up that I was from a farm. She literally said to me, “Oh my gosh, YOU are an ACTUAL farmer?” I explained that no, I have a full-time job, but my Dad IS a farmer and yes, I do still help on the farm when he needs it and my time allows. His operation isn’t large enough to hire full-time farmhands… that’s why he had four kids of course, built in help!

Jane was so excited to meet an actual ‘farmer’, she had a lot of questions that I was happy to answer. Some of them seemed so silly to me that I had a hard time not rolling my eyes. But then I remembered: if we as individuals who KNOW the answers to the silly questions don’t take them seriously, then who will? The people who have an anti-ag agenda, that’s who. And trust me, they are out there scattering their false statements around like a manure spreader.

After a lengthy conversation, I think Jane has a better understanding of agriculture and what farming actually is all about. She had no clue that 94% of all farms are family owned. Instead, she thought that the majority were owned by corporate entities and they just hired people to work on the farms. I asked her why she thought that and she said one of the reasons was the signs in fields. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this. Those seed corn signs that are all over the countryside this time of year? Yeah, to those outside of the ag world, they think that displays ownership of the field.

I must admit there were a few of her questions that I couldn’t give a precise answer to. Like what exactly are in pesticides and how they are applied. I’m not a chemist, nor do I have an applicators license, so while I can give broad answers, I can’t give specific details. However, since I do also work in the ag industry, I told her that it would be easy for me to find the answers and would gladly do so for her if she would like me to.

I present this only as an example and a reminder of what the ag community needs to do. If urban folks that literally live in our own backyards are excited, impressed and shocked to meet an actual ‘farmer’ then we aren’t doing our jobs! For so long, farmers have belonged to an association thinking that the association would promote their industry for them. That worked for a while, but no more.

Non-farmers want to connect with farmers. They want to understand who you are, what you do and why you do it. If you don’t tell them, who will?

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant


In Bloomington, IL today, the temperature hovered just below triple digits.  The “feels like” temperature approached 120 degrees.  Ninety percent of the worker bees in Bloomington hid in their cubicles with the a/c running full blast, only to dash to the comfort of their air conditioned cars at 5 pm.

Farmers didn’t.

All over Illinois today there were farmers taking care of their livestock.  Making sure water troughs were filled, fans were running, and sprinkler systems were operational was a priority.  The hogs and cattle that are residents of our great state may not have suffered in the heat as much as the farmers did, who continued to work hard while the rest of us sat in front of a computer to escape.

Is the farmer the only one toiling in the heat?  Most definitely not.  Construction workers, landscape artists, and millions of others are doing the same to serve the people in the communities around them.  You recognize them and you thank them – maybe not enough – but you do.

Of the farmer’s commitment to care for his animals, you throw stones.  You criticize his motives, his attachment to the lives in his care, and his judgment.  You attempt to tell him how to do his job.  You push for legislation that will ensure that he cannot care of these animals ever again, nor give the same commitment to his children.

Maybe today you can rethink the skepticism.  Maybe today you can believe that the farmer is committed to animal care, animal welfare, and animal safety.

Maybe today, from the comfort of your 74 degree cube, you can understand that the farmer cares for his animals before himself.

And you can thank him for the safest food products in the world.


Waking up at 5:45 a.m. is the norm for me to be out the door by 6:00 a.m. and start my day before the heat sets in. The result of what the season will bring is my motivation to continue working strong even when impediments occur. I lace up my shoes and head out the door with a positive attitude, because I know I need one in order to overcome my 10 mile training run.

Growing up on a farm surrounded by agriculture has taught me a lot about running.  The most important lesson I have learned is that hard work does pay off.  Throughout my life, I’ve seen failures and accomplishments.  Too much rain or a windstorm may damage the crops, but that is not always the case.  With determination and lessons learned, alternatives eventually will bring success as the expected result.

There are good runs and bad runs.  I can’t decide which one I will have before mile one.  However, I know that there is a lesson to be learned from every mile marker.  Sometimes I fall and need to get up to try again.  Scraped knees and palms are like downed crops in a perfect field.  You’re not able to correct the problem immediately, but you know the scratch is temporary. 

Most people who did not grow up in a rural area or around agriculture do not understand it.  Questions arise about the production of livestock, way of living, and the ultimate question of “why?”   While the answers seem very simple to those of us who have been around agriculture our entire lives, they are a mystery to others.

Running is not so different.  Non-running individuals don’t understand the reason behind the pain and training it takes to run a marathon, or the time commitment involved.  It takes motivation to put one foot in front of the other for those 10 miles, just as it takes motivation for farmers to plant rows of corn and soybeans for hundreds of acres.

Farmers and runners alike are highly motivated individuals. No one is telling them to wake up at 5:45 a.m., or asking them to keep working although it may be time for a ‘snack’ break.  I have learned to become motivated from growing up on a farm, and it has stuck with me through my double digit miles on a perfect day to sleep in.

Everything I learned from running, I also learned from agriculture. Running and agriculture have a lot in common, and the situations and lessons I was faced with on the farm have helped me to become a better person all around.  Running forces me to work hard with the limited energy I have, just as agriculture works with its limited resources.

“The answers to the big questions in running are the same as the answers to the big questions in life: do the best with what you’ve got.” – Anonymous

Abby Coers
University of Illinois Student


We just had Holly Spangler guest post for us last week, and after reading her latest post we had put the spotlight on her again.

Show season is heating up, all across the Midwest and, honestly, across the better part of the rural U.S. countryside. The best cattle, lambs and pigs have been vigilantly selected. The careful feeding has commenced. The daily rinsing and grooming may have even already begun. Preview shows are about to be held, or have already been held.

But really, all that isn’t even the point. This is the point:

This is Campbell Martin, getting a last-minute bit of advice and a pep talk from his Uncle Nathan. Campbell was about to show a pig at his county fair a couple years ago, one of his first shows. Then, at this time last year, his uncle died of testicular cancer.

I think what strikes me so deeply about this photo is the number of times I’ve seen it play out in real life. How many of us have been on either the giving or the receiving end of that exact same talk? Campbell’s mom, Holly, shared this photo at the time of Nathan’s death, and it has clung to a corner of my mind ever since. Look at how that young man adored his uncle. “Some of the best times we had with him were in the barn,” Holly says.

This is what it’s all about. Families together, learning from each other and having a good time. If you think the point of showing livestock is to make money – and a lot of people do – let me just say, I think you are wrong. We all like to win, and I am absolutely among them. The livestock exhibition business is an industry unto itself.

But this right here? Time spent together, in a shared activity that engages multiple generations? This is a gift. We don’t recognize that enough in agriculture; that this thing we do with showing livestock gives us opportunities to spend time together that families outside our industry would kill for.

Holly Spangler
My Generation – The Blog


With the help of valued industry partners including Syngenta and Monsanto, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board participated in the inaugural year of the City Produce Project in 2010. Now we’re back with nearly two dozen more Illinois farmers that will be growing sweet corn on their farms to donate to underprivileged families around the state.

The City Produce Project worked to positively impact the growing problem of poor eating habits, food insecurity, obesity, and diabetes by providing fresh, locally grown vegetables and nutrition education to low income communities. As an extension, Illinois corn farmers also used sweet corn seed generously provided through partner seed companies to support their local food pantries, soup kitchens, or other food outreach organizations.

In its 2010 pilot year, approximately 75,000 pounds of produce, including several tons of sweet corn, were distributed to inner city sites in urban food deserts where recipients accessed the produce through local pantries and enrolled in nutrition education programs to learn how to effectively use the fresh vegetables in their diets. It was a very successful beginning.

Specifically regarding the sweet corn component, 22 corn farmers received and planted the sweet corn seed donated by the partnering seed companies. A few of the crops were devastated by the early season rains, but the majority yielded a very successful harvest. The participating farmers reported great personal satisfaction in their experience, relaying stories about gaining a new understanding of the food needs in their communities. The sweet corn harvest also allowed for several facets of the local area to work together, introducing agriculture and corn to their conversations.

Recipients of the Chicago-area fresh produce overwhelming reported that the sweet corn component was the most valuable contribution to their family.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director


So fun to come over from Prairie Farmer to guest blog today at the Corn Corps! Thank you, Illinois Corn Growers, for having me over.

I was cleaning out some old files in our basement the other day, much to the delight of my husband. (Part of the downside of working from home: file storage. Part of the downside of being a packrat working from home: lots of file storage. Enough said.)

Anyway, I came across a red file folder that held the notes and a rough draft of the very first story I ever wrote for Prairie Farmer, when I was but a college student. (See? Pack rat.) In fact, it was a test story given to me by then-editor Mike Wilson and used by him to decide whether to hire me. The story was on the independent seedsmen of the day, and it was published in December of 1997 as part of a larger package of stories on the Midwest seed industry.

I stood there in front of the file cabinet, reading this little story in 2011, and HOLY COW. There are, in this story, companies that no longer exist, people who are no longer in the business, a giant who’s but one among four, and a entire industry that’s changed. (How’s that for a massive understatement?)

Thirteen years ago, it was all about the chemistries. When I graduated from college, the “good jobs” were those as chemical reps, and they came with high salaries and Jeep Grand Cherokees. Roundup Ready changed all that. Now it’s all about the traits. The very year after this story was published, Monsanto bought DeKalb, and this industry began a consolidation of historic proportions. A couple years ago, I saw a presentation where a seed industry leader showed a graphic charting all the consolidations, mergers and buyouts. It looked like an organized version of a toddler’s crazy coloring page. To think, in 1997 there were 300 seed companies? Monsanto alone has bought 100 of them, rolling them into Channel Bio.

And I think, it’s largely been to the farmer’s benefit. Think of the options we have available now. Stacked traits, insect resistance, weed protection, refuges in a bag – we hardly knew what a refuge was in 1997. Today, we’re disappointed if we don’t average over 200 bushels. In 13 years, the bar has been, effectively, raised.

I’ve copied that original story below, which first appeared in the December 1997 Prairie Farmer. I’d link to it, but it was so long ago, it was pre-digital. Shoot, we barely had the wheel then.

Take a minute or two and give it a read. Think it over and let me know what you think. It’s always useful to reflect on where we’ve been.

Competitive edge for the little guys is no fairy tale
By Holly Hinderliter

Think of it as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One great big company – Pioneer Hi-Bred International – and several smaller, independent companies competing for seed industry market share.

That comparison was drawn by Frank Thorp, past president of Thorp Seed Co., who estimates that those eight companies fight for approximately 75% of the market share. He adds that more than 300 other companies struggle for the remaining 25%. Compound those figures with the amount of money it takes to develop a seed variety with the biotechnology and genetics that producers demand, and you are looking at a pretty tough arena for the little guy to compete in.

So how do the smaller companies survive and thrive in an industry driven by being first with the best technology? The leaders at Thorp Seed Co. believe in alliances to help offset the costs of technology. Frank Thorp, the third generation in the 61-year-old family company, calculates that approximately 10 alliances currently exist within the seed industry.

“Independents just can’t afford it. It’s easy to breed – you can breed seed corn in your backyard. It’s testing and sorting that’s costly,” he says.

To become competitive in the technology arena, Thorp See Co. joined forces with four other companies to form Golden Harvest. Thorp’s company benefits by creating a national name and obtaining a proprietary breeding program.

Chan Sieben, executive director of the Independent Professional Seedsmen Association (IPS), observes that smaller companies have competed with multi-national very well in the past. They’ve done so by selecting varieties that are highly adapted to their localized market and producing a high-quality product that is supported by direct and personal service.

Munson Hybrids resident Bud Davis agrees. He believes the personal contact is what can give the smaller companies the competitive edge.

“By and large, a lot of these companies are solidly entrenched in their regions and have a strong sense of loyalty built up,” he says. Munson’s strategy has been to increase germination from the 95% industry norm to 98%, a goal that they have reached in many areas.

Being open to change, rather than being fiercely independent, also is important to success for smaller companies, according to Thorp. Independents must look at their assets and see how they want to develop them, he contends.

Another family-owned and operated company, Burrus Power Hybrids, has chosen to develop its assets and meet the competition in a slightly different way. To provide an alternative to Bt corn, Burrus will launch a new program in 1998 called “Scout and Save.” The program’s aim is to provide an alternative to paying up-front technology fees for insect control.

According to Tom Burrus, farmers will receive a $3 per bag refund if they us an integrated pest management approach, provided that the farmer purchased either 100 units or 100% Burrus seed corn. Producers will then use that money to hire a crop scouting service or to scout the field themselves. If necessary, the farmer can treat the field with a rescue insecticide, if infestations are above economic thresholds.

Burrus envisions the new program as a way for his company to compete while continuing to test the Bt technology. With its regional testing plots, the company hopes to produce varieties that will perform best for the Illinois and Missouri service areas.

“We may not be the first with a particular technology, but we have proven performers,” Burrus says.

Burrus sees his company’s future success lying in two main areas: satisfying the farmer and providing value-added products.

Though “value-added” may seem to be the latest buzzword in the industry, Wyffels Hybrids sees it as far more than that. Bob Wyffels, who owns the company with his brother, is very optimistic about the future of value-added products, especially the high-oil corn that their company has marketed for the past five years.

According to Wyffels, some 1 million acres were planted to high-oil corn this year, the most widely planted value-added product. He predicts that acreage count will double in 1998.

Why the popularity? Wyffels calculates that high-oil premiums will make $30-40 more per acre for farmers. Because high-oil corn makes such good animal feed, it is very popular among large swine and poultry integrators. Since Pioneer has yet to sell DuPont’s TopCross high-oil corn, and DeKalb only began to do so last year, it would appear that Wyffels has already beaten the competition to the punch.

The continuing challenge, Sieben feels, will be to select the right technologies for each company’s market and to deliver them through superior performance varieties.

“The ability to focus in on customer needs and to match those needs with a seed company’s ability will be critical,” Sieben says.

So perhaps the fairy tale will end happily for the dwarf seedsmen after all.

Holly Spangler
My Generation – The Blog