Please join us for Water Quality Wednesdays in August as we celebrate Water Quality month!  Illinois corn farmers are committed to minimizing agriculture’s effect on water quality and this month, we’ll tell you how!

Illinois agriculture has been very involved in working to improve water quality.  In fact it has become a priority to change management, develop best management practices, and improve nutrient use efficiency.

In looking at the facts, agriculture has been very efficient in producing corn with less fertilizer use.  When looking at the amount of potassium applied per bushel, the farmers have reduced the amount by 56%.   Phosphorus has been considered a contributor to water quality problems by promoting algae growth and farmers have reduced the amount of phosphorus applied per bushel of corn raised by 55% in the last 30 years.

Nitrogen use is often mentioned as causing a problem with water quality in the Gulf of Mexico.  Farmers have also decreased their use of nitrogen per bushel of corn produced by 33% since the 1970’s.   Most of that reduction has been done in the last 15 years.   Better management of application with precision equipment and placement, precision guidance and better management practices all contribute to reducing nitrogen losses and improving the crop efficiency.

Fall applied nitrogen is now done with nitrogen inhibitors, and applied when soil temperatures are cool (50 degrees) so it remains stable in the soil until spring.   Many farmers are increasing their spring applied nitrogen acres and also starting to do nitrogen application after the crop emerges.  This also increases the nitrogen use efficiency in corn production, resulting in lower nitrogen application rates and lower costs of production.

Illinois farmers are continually working to develop new methods and best management practices by supporting demonstration trials and research across the state.   This commitment assures that nutrients will be used efficiently, the environment is protected and farmers can produce the most cost efficient crop for food and fuel.

Mike Plumer
Former U of I Extension Specialist and
Conservation Enthusiast


Twist. Snap. Toss. Repeat.

Imagine that same routine over and over for an hour or so in the middle of a humid corn field.

Now…. imagine all that if you never grew up on a farm.

Insert me – a southern, Georgia gal turned farmer’s helper. I interned with Illinois Corn this summer and had the unique opportunity to pick sweet corn with John Kiefner and a handful of other volunteers and family farmers in Manhattan, Illinois.

Okay. I’ll be honest. I was dreading the heat, the bugs and the humidity (even though I’m from Georgia, I still dread the humidity from time to time!).

After we retrieved our bounty from the sweet corn patch, John proudly waved his hand over to the trailer hooked up to his truck; it was loaded down with the weekend haul from the local, community garden he’s also partnered with. Beans, summer squash, peppers and cucumbers galore overflowed from buckets and bins. John is a big believer in not wasting food, and the biggest part of that is getting the nutritious food to people that need it most.

So our first stop was the New Lenox food pantry. We unloaded a small fraction of the goods. That ‘small’ fraction overflowed six heaping recycling bins.

Next, we stopped at the downtown Joliet food pantry. Several people helped us unload sweet corn and veggies into grocery carts. They invited me inside the kitchen to see their culinary masters hard at work.

Standing there photographing the busy bees making dinner preparations, I couldn’t help but notice my overwhelming sense of humility.

John and his friends’ efforts made an extraordinary, rippling impact throughout not only his community, but also the surrounding areas. The countless hours they spent planting, raising, harvesting, organizing and delivering their veggies put food on the plates of hundreds, if not thousands, of families. I was fortunate to experience the end result of all their hard work (and a little of mine, too!).

And for that, I am grateful to have been a part of this project.

Lauren Knapp
Illinois Corn Summer Intern


I grew up with a clear view to the west. My back yard ran right into a field. They were on a two-year rotation cycle, of white corn and soybeans. It wasn’t our field; my family had long since stopped farming in my hometown, and only had the cattle and alfalfa up north at my uncle’s place. However, that field was a consistent fixture in my childhood. We flew kites there, after and before harvest. Those midwestern mainstays, corn and soybeans, have played a role in my life since the very beginning. I’ve spent summers scouting corn, I’ve run auger wagons during harvest. I’ve helped during planting and I’ve blogged all about the Illinois corn industry.

I am such a stereotypical midwestern farm girl. I’m broadening my horizons, though. As I write this, I’m sitting in a house outside of Sacramento, California.

Back in January, I received an offer for an internship for AdFarm, a marketing and communications agency that works exclusively in agriculture.

When I took the job, the location was still a bit hazy. I was sure I was going to end up in either their Kansas City or Fargo offices. When my supervisor told me I was going to California, I was beside myself with shock and excitement.

When you grow up in the land of grain, California agriculture becomes a bit of an adventure. Since my arrival here, I have been to two dairies, a walnut orchard, and almond orchard, a completely controlled-irrigated cornfield, and the coolest farmers’ market I have ever set foot at. Agricultural diversity abounds here. I’ve also met farmers who raise flowers, pistachios, strawberries, cherries, beef cattle, goats, sheep, bell peppers, oranges, herbs, alfalfa, and about a million other commodities. (Corn here is amazing, because they have corn of all different growth stages, all in the same area. You can have a pollinated field, sitting right next to one that is below knee-high. It’s mind-boggling!)

A shot of an orchard and canals

It’s a whole different ballgame than Illinois.

Neither is better or worse. They both have a sort of home-like feeling to me. When I see a rolling field of tasseled corn, my heart sings…because, there is something special there, for me. There is a flood of memories and a sense of comfort. While my present (and who knows, maybe my future) takes place in California’s diverse groves and orchards and fields and paddocks, I can always rest assured that back home, in the Land of Lincoln, the corn (and soybeans) will always be where my roots lie.

Kelly Rivard


With all the talk about controlling nutrient losses, both from the urban and agricultural sector, sometimes the proposed solutions seem so easy:  for agriculture, just put on all your nitrogen in the spring, preferably by side-dressing after the corn has emerged.  After all, that is when the corn is already up and ready to take in the nitrogen immediately.

Seems easy, so why don’t we all do this?  There are many factors that impact nitrogen availability, price and capability to apply in a timely manner, particularly in Illinois.  Let’s list a few:

  1.  Illinois is an anhydrous ammonia state.  Our soils can hang on to nitrogen applied in the fall, particularly if applied when soil temps fall to 50 degrees and when nitrogen stabilizers are added.   70% of all nitrogen sold in Illinois for agricultural production is in the form of anhydrous and 55% of total nitrogen applied in Illinois is in the fall.  25% is liquid nitrogen (UAN), and the remaining 5% is dry urea, applied in the spring.  Illinois has 13 ammonia terminals that are fed foremost by pipeline, then by river barges, and just one by rail.  Illinois has only one nitrogen manufacturing plant, located in East Dubuque.  In the US, 60% of all nitrogen is imported from foreign countries, adding to the logistical challenges of positioning millions of tons in a timely and cost-effective manner along with hoping that the Gulf port is not shut down by a hurricane.    
  2. Storage capacity at Illinois ammonia terminals is not such that all the ammonia needed could be provided in the spring of the year; the capacity to “turn” the terminals fast enough in the peak 2-4 week spring window doesn’t exist today.  Expanding capacity at ammonia terminals is difficult due to regulatory permitting challenges.   And putting all the ammonia down in the spring is also a challenge due to a 7-10 day waiting period after application before you can plant corn; in late spring seasons, most farmers do not like to wait to plant and will go with UAN or urea so that they can plant immediately after application.   If Illinois went to spring-only for nitrogen, the capacity to meet the demand for UAN or urea does not currently exist, and competition for these two forms of N would be severe given their popularity in all the other agricultural states and the world.  When demand is high and supplies are constrained, everyone knows what price does. 
  3. Equipment and labor are also factors.  By having a fall and spring nitrogen season, the equipment required to apply ammonia and the people needed to run the equipment are more readily available because the work load is spread out.  Again, if all the nitrogen were to be applied in a 2-3 week period in the spring, the equipment required for this feat does not currently exist, and the personnel needed to run the equipment, probably 24-7, poses serious human resource challenges for ag retailers and farmers alike.  

Illinois farmers and the ag input industry recognize the challenges facing the nutrient sector.  We are already seeing more interest by farmers to back down on fall nitrogen rates, choosing to put down a half rate and then follow in the spring with the remaining nitrogen needs for the crop.  Over time, this transition will allow the industry to respond sensibly with the infrastructure, human resources and management planning necessary to provide more flexibility with regard to meeting the nitrogen demand.   Nitrogen management will continue to evolve, but in doing so the logistics and reality of storage, terminal capacity, equipment and human resources, combined with the surprises Mother Nature always has for us, require us to be honest about the challenges and pragmatic about the future. 

Jean Payne
Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association


Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in what’s called a “meetup.” In basic terms, it’s a get together organized on the internet, which anyone can choose to attend. You may or may not know anyone there. Generally there is a topic or theme for the occasion, thus those that attend self-select based on their interests.

At this “meetup”, the 3 dozen or so attendees came to meet farm moms and have a conversation about farms and food. And boy, were the conversations buzzing!

First of all, the meetup was held at a place called Little Beans Café. It’s interesting to me that parents would pay a membership to have a place for their kids to play, but I guess that’s just an aspect of city life with which I’m unfamiliar. The part I was familiar with was the coffee shop! At Little Beans, you can sit down and enjoy a fresh coffee drink while your little one’s enjoy the climate and germ controlled play area.

I could go on and on about the various conversations and observations. Instead, I’ll just make a quick list.

  • The types of questions and concerns we heard fell into thematic areas with which we anticipated.
  • Many of the questions came straight from the script of Food, Inc.
  • The moms, in many cases, just want to know that they don’t have to worry about whatever they’re worrying about!
  • They became concerned about labeling and terms like “organic” and “Angus beef,” even feeling duped when they came to understand the marketing process.
  • One-on-one conversations are the way to go.
  • Social media (like this blog) is a great way to start the conversation and carry-on with it after face to face dialogue.

We’re on the right track with what the Illinois Corn Marketing Board is doing in terms of reaching out to different, influential audiences. The cooperative effort dubbed Illinois Farm Families ( is a great outreach component. We can apply these lessons at the Corn Crib and at NASCAR events, everywhere non-farmers are gathered and interested in food and farming!

But none of this is worth anything if the FARMERS are not involved in the conversation.

Have you talked with someone recently that challenged the way you think? Are you prepared for that to happen?

Just a little food for thought!

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMBA Communicatios Director


CTIC founded the Indian Creek Watershed Project to increase adoption of conservation agricultural systems and measure effectiveness of different nutrient management practices.

Over 120 farmers, agribusiness, government and non-profit organization representatives attended last month’s Indian Creek Watershed Project field tour in Livingston County, Ill., hosted by CTIC and our public and private partners.   These include Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (with funds from Section 319 of the Clean Water Act), Agrium Advanced Technologies, AGROTAIN International, The Fertilizer Institute, Monsanto, Mosaic, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Agri Drain Corporation, Case IH, John Deere, ADM and International Plant Nutrition Institute.  Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association and Illinois Soybean Association contributed funds to defray costs of the tour.

Each field tour stop represented conservation agricultural systems focused on efficient nutrient management and products, practices and technology that can boost profitable farming and improve water quality.

The slow release fertilizer demonstration at Herb Steffen’s farm featured a controlled-release nitrogen (N) source ( Agrotain’s SuperU) to boost N use efficiency.  Nitrogen loss starts the moment the farmer applies fertilizer and can add up over time. SuperU blocks the enzyme urease to prevent N loss into the air.  This technology allows the crop to access N immediately, but controls losses in critical weeks after application.

The Steffen site also demonstrated SuperU with a small-plot N use efficiency rate demonstration, which will help determine the most efficient rate for the location and season.

 A soil test at the Steffen site showed a relatively low phosphorus (P) level, so we developed a demonstration of Mosaic’s Micro-Essentials (MESZ) applied as a side-dress (plant nutrients placed on or in the soil near the roots of a growing crop) to provide an additional boost in available P.

MESZ allows uniform nutrient distribution and provides essential nutrients in one granule. Two forms of sulfur provide season-long nutrition. We side-dressed MESZ at two rates and established a control plot where it was not applied.

At the Norman Harms farm we featured the benefits of N fertilizer split application. Farmers applying N close to the time it will be used by the crop avoid costly waste.

This demonstration compares 3 application times:  fall, spring, and split application (½ applied in fall and ½ applied in spring).

A second demonstration at Harms’ compares the full recommended N rate with a reduced rate (85% of recommended rate) using a controlled-release source, ESN®.

ESN® technology delivers N all season, allowing the crop to reach full genetic potential. The polymer coating helps prevent against N loss to surface water, subsurface drainage and groundwater, benefitting water quality.

Crop Production Services provided a John Deere 2510H nutrient applicator to apply fertilizer for this demonstration.

We stopped at John Traub’s farm to learn about strip-till N application.

In this system, the farmer uses real-time kinematic (RTK) precision guidance to apply N fertilizer in fall or early spring in a closely-controlled location where the seed will be sown.

Strip-till systems combine soil drying and warming benefits of conventional tillage and soil-protecting advantages of no-till by disturbing only the portion of soil that will contain the seed row.

At Traub’s we used fall-applied N with an RTK strip-till system and will compare it to a conventional chisel plow system. 

We also compared N use efficiency (NUE) rates with field-scale equipment, so the farmer can apply the rate treatments and harvest the plots without interrupting his normal production routine.  Every farmer can adopt this simple practice.

Find out more about this project at  CTIC seeks additional project sponsors.  For more information contact me at 317-508-2450 or

Christa Jones
CTIC Project Director


An interesting study conducted by Texas A&M University and Doane Advisory Services has found that net incomes of beef and dairy farmers have increased since 2007 when the Renewable Fuels Standard 2 (RFS2) was implemented. 

This is interesting because large meat processors and livestock associations in Washington, DC have long criticized the RFS 2 as a policy that makes them an unfair competitor for corn, dramatically affecting their bottom line.  Prior to the corn-based ethanol boom, livestock farmers were only competing with export markets for the feedstuff with tons of corn left over.  Because of the excess corn and federal supports, the price of corn remained artificially low for a long time.  With ethanol as a new, growing competitor in the marketplace, the price of corn has increased and livestock farmers were, at times, unprepared for the new competition.

However, the process of ethanol production creates a high quality livestock feed as a byproduct which has dramatically changed feed profiles and enabled livestock farmers a different option.

Overall, the study finds that although livestock farmers must deal with higher input costs as a result of a changing corn market, higher outputs more than make up for the difference, leaving livestock farmers better off in all cases examined.  Read more about this study here, and enjoy the National Corn Growers Association’s press release below.

Aug 5: Economic conditions have improved for beef and dairy farmers since the implementation of the expanded Renewable Fuel Standard in 2007, according to a new study by Texas A&M University and Doane Advisory Services.

“For years, corn farmers have understood that we have the ability to supply both growing ethanol and livestock producers simultaneously without negatively impacting these valued customers,” said NCGA President Bart Schott. “With advances in both seed and farming technology, we have increased our average yield substantially in the past few decades. This abundance allows us to meet increased demand, providing both feed and fuel that benefit our nation’s economic security.”

The study, which utilized Texas A&M University’s Agricultural & Food Policy Center’s premier farm-level modeling system and data from the University of Missouri’s Food & Agricultural Policy Research Institute, determined that net cash farm incomes for representative beef-cow and dairy operations had increased since provisions of the biofuels mandate went into effect. This conclusion verifies NCGA’s position that increased ethanol production has not negatively impacted the profitability of key livestock markets.

The study was prepared in response to ongoing allegations that increased ethanol production resulting from the expanded RFS had caused financial insecurity in livestock and dairy operations by spurring an increase in feed prices. Researchers looked at changes in input and output prices in January 2007 and January 2011 for beef-cow and dairy operations in 12 states, with consideration given to overall market changes. The final analysis concluded that while higher feed costs do exist, the profitability of all operations examined had increased over the four-year period as a result of increased output prices.