Corn is arguably the most versatile crop in the world. Normally, we think of corn as food, and food only, when actually, less than one percent of corn in our country is sweet corn. Most people do not realize that corn has many different uses and we still continue to find more. Demand for corn has been at an all-time high in 2011.

The United States is the largest producer and exporter of corn in the world.  This makes the largest net contribution to United States agricultural trade balance of all the agricultural commodities. On average around 20 percent of corn from the United States is exported. The rest we keep for our own uses.

Fuel ethanol has become a huge use of corn materials. By creating fuel ethanol with corn it has created thousands of jobs to our economy and added over 15 billion dollars to tax revenues through the federal state and the local government. This has displaced more than 445 million barrels of imported oil.

By using corn for ethanol we receive multiple products. After using the starch portion of the kernel that is converted to sugar and fermented, the rest of the kernel is used as corn oil and feed for the livestock.

One of the most important uses of corn is to feed livestock daily. Farmers like to use corn to feed their livestock because it has high-protein and high-energy.

Corn can actually help save the environment! One acre of corn can remove eight tons of harmful greenhouse gas.

Did you know corn is also used to made compostable plastics? Corn-based plastics are used in utensils, gift cards, bags, plant containers, water bottles and more. Since they are compostable they will break down eventually.

Not only is corn used to make plastic materials but also there is now fabrics made from corn bio-materials. Corn replaces the oil that is usually used for polyester and nylon. These new fabrics have many advantages; such as they are much softer. Corn bio-materials can also be used to create a tough, stain resistant fiber that is used for carpets.

Researchers are now trying to find even more opportunities to use corn for more petroleum-based products. The opportunities are nearly endless. From antibiotics to the frosting, to pet food to baby food, corn is a widely used crop that we could not get by without.

Hope everyone has a safe and fun Halloween with plenty of candy corn!

Emilie Gill
Illinois State University Student


Growing up in the rural town of Manhattan, Illinois, just north of Kankakee and about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, I was surrounded by corn. The immensely tall grass that enveloped the landscape was always something to look forward to in the summer months. With such a proximity to Chicago, I grew up observing this juxtaposition between the urban and rural landscape. Both places had their towers whether they were rooted in concrete or rooted in the dirt they both stood as monuments to human engineering. Illinois has such a history with corn from the early Cahokian civilization to the corn-fed stockyards of Chicago that supplied the world with its meat.

Agriculture has long stood as one of the most influential discoveries in human history. By supplying us with a surplus of grain and the security of a next meal, it led to the development of settled communities and new technologies that ultimately shaped the entire way in which we live. Simultaneously, farmers who cultivated plants season after season saved the most favorable seed to be replanted for the following year. It was this process that brought the tall grass, Teosinte, to unprecedented heights and created the crop we now know as corn.

This sculpture entitled “Saving Our Seed” references humanity’s rich history with agriculture and the codependency that exists between humans and their invented ecosystem. The form which is made of steel and clear acrylic sheeting is inspired by biblical depictions of Noah’s Arc, while the materials allude to a modern greenhouse. The 17-foot long boat holds roughly 4,000 Lbs of Corn seed. The story of Noah’s Ark was always peculiar to me as it seemed to recognize the human race as somewhat alien to this planet. It put a single person in charge of something as grand as saving two of every animal species. While I recognize mankind’s technical abilities and inventive nature I still ask the question, what would we really save? The corn inside creates a landscape within the landscape itself. It is a man-made landscape, one that sustains us and depends on us.

boat load of corn noah's ark

Zach Balousek
SIUE Student


Photography is a big part of my life…I don’t know everything but I know some of the key points that I feel are necessary in taking a good photograph.  And for Photographer Appreciation Month, I’d love to share a few pointers that can make you a better photographer.   Check back every Tuesday this month to learn something new!

Are you wondering how to take a better picture? Well this week’s topic is a simple one that will help improve your photos tremendously.

Find clean backgrounds!

wind energy sky corn field farm farmer alternative clean Have you ever noticed a picture of a person with a telephone pole or a tree sticking out of the back of their head? Doesn’t look right does it? If you want to use a tree in the background of your picture just make sure that you place it correctly.

This simple step of having a clean background will take the most average picture and make it an awesome shot. You want to be able to see the bigger picture past what your subject is.

You might be wondering what a clean background is exactly? They are solid colors, generally without distracting power lines or anything that will draw the viewers’ eye away from what you’re shooting. You may have to place your camera at higher or lower level to achieve a clean photo background. Sometimes I stand on chairs or even lay on my belly to get a good shot, (you might look silly but at least you get a nice photo!) By getting at a lower level, you’ll make the background the sky which is more often than not clean. By raising the camera up, you’ll get clean backgrounds such as the ground.

When taking a picture, think of it as in terms of layers. You’ll have your foreground which is closest to the bottom, the middle area is the subject, background is behind the subject, and infinity is what is behind the background.

Photography is a lot of trial and error, so don’t get discouraged! A lot of times you have to play with your layers and see what works and what doesn’t. Always keep your eyes open for a better position to give you a cleaner photo. Sometimes you do want a busy photo, but always look for those clean backgrounds and it will make your photos much more appealing.

CHALLENGE FOR THE WEEK:  Give this tip a try. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles in search of the clean background.

Illinois Corn Marketing Board Intern

Jenna Richardson
Southern Illinois University student


I asked Google to tell me a little bit about Lung Health Month and quickly discovered that October is full of reminders to be healthy.  October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Eye Injury Prevention Month, Depression and Mental Health Month, and a whole host of other things to be aware of.  With all of these different things that we’re supposed to keep in mind, it would be easy for Lung Health Month to get lost in the shuffle or forgotten about altogether.  So what makes lung health stand out?  Why should you keep reading about lung health when you could be learning more about mental health and how to avoid injuring your eyes?  After all, everyone already knows that all you have to do to improve lung health is avoid smoking.  And if you really want to get serious about it, you might even consider putting in one of those radon mitigation systems.  But there’s more to it than just that.

Lung health is impacted by the air that we breathe, the dirtier the air the less healthy our lungs become.  So other than not breathing (which is not recommended!), how do you address poor lung health related to dirty air?  There are lots of ways to improve air quality, but one of the things that you might not automatically think of is using a cleaner burning fuel, like E85, in your car or truck.  You likely know that E85 is an ethanol-based fuel made from corn grown throughout the Midwest, but there’s more to it than just that.  A gallon of E85 fuel reduces the petroleum content of the fuel by up to 85%, replacing it with cleaner burning ethanol.

From a healthy lung standpoint, this means that there are fewer pollutants in the air that we breathe.  The use of E85 fuel helps to reduce the emission of lung cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and a few other harmful VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).  E85 also helps to reduce asthma irritants that result from the usage of typical petroleum-based fuels.

One of the best parts about E85 fuel is that you don’t have to wait 25 years for the fuel to be commercially available.  You can buy it today from one of the over 200 gas stations in Illinois selling E85. If you’re not sure where the closest E85 station is, be sure to visit www.CleanAirChoice.org for a complete list of E85 stations throughout the Midwest.  And while it is true that you do need a Flex Fuel Vehicle (FFV) to take advantage of the opportunities of E85, there are more vehicle models capable of using the fuel now than ever before.  While you’re at www.CleanAir.Choice.org you can also find out whether or not you currently own a FFV, or you can see a list of available FFV models.

As Lung Health Month comes to a close over the next week or so, take the time to consider using E85 fuel, not just in the month of October, but all year long.  After all, how many opportunities do you really have to improve not only your lung health, but also for the lung health of people sitting in the car behind you at the stoplight, the kids at the playground that you’re driving past, and the family, friends, and neighbors living in your community?

Matt Marcum
American Lung Association of Illinois


Originally posted on Corn Commentary

Usually, farmers like to have dry weather in the fall to get the crops out of the field – just not too dry!

Harvest season two years ago was so wet that crops in some areas went unharvested until the following spring. This year is a totally different story. Combine fires setting fields on fire have been happening all over the corn belt this season because it has been so dry and windy, the worst areas being Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas.

“Extreme conditions in South Dakota this fall created a perfect storm of high temperatures, low humidity, dry crops, and high winds producing extreme risk of fires during harvest,” said Daniel Humburg, professor of Ag & Biosystems Engineering Department at South Dakota State University.

There is still plenty of harvesting yet to be done and while most farmers understand the risks of combine fires and how to prevent them, a little reminder never hurts. University of Nebraska farm safety specialist Dave Morgan offers these safety tips:

– Keep your equipment clean and in good repair. When you get done for the day, take time to clean your machine thoroughly with an air compressor, power washer, or even a broom to dislodge any crop residue or chaff from the combine.

– Fix any fuel, hydraulic or oil leaks. When it’s this windy, vegetative matter breaks up into really fine material that readily accumulates on oil and fuel leaks, Morgan said. This creates a source of solid and liquid fuel. From there, it doesn’t take much to start the fire — a dry bearing or a slipping belt can quickly heat up or spark.

– Check fluid levels and carefully refill, being careful not to spill any oil or fuel on the equipment. But don’t overfill fluid reservoirs. With high temperatures in the mid-80s, oil expands and may “burp” out the vent, creating another fuel source for fire.

– Carry at least one, and preferably two fully charged 10 lb ABC fire extinguishers on all equipment. (Be sure to have your fire extinguishers inspected annually and refilled as necessary).

Let’s be careful out there!

And here’s an update on one Illinois farmer’s harvest:

Jim Raben, Ridgeway – We are about 70% finished with corn and around 54% with soybeans.  This week’s rain is keeping us out of the fields, but we anticipate finishing up soon.

Tell us, where are you at with your harvest?


Photography is a big part of my life…I don’t know everything but I know some of the key points that I feel are necessary in taking a good photograph.  And for Photographer Appreciation Month, I’d love to share a few pointers that can make you a better photographer.   Check back every Tuesday this month to learn something new!

Today’s tip is how to shoot a silhouette image. Silhouettes are a great way to capture drama, mystery, emotion, and mood to the people viewing your photo. They also allow you to use your imagination on the image since they don’t give you a very clear picture of everything.

Basically what you have to do in order to produce a silhouette image is to place your subject in front of some source of light and force your camera to set its exposure based upon the brightest part of your picture which would be the background and not the subject of your image. This will underexpose your subject and turn it very dark.

First, you need to choose a strong subject to photograph. Pretty much anything can be made into a silhouette, although some subjects are better than others. A subject with a strong, identifiable, and distinct shape will make a good silhouette image.

Then you need to turn your flash off. If shooting on your automatic mode your camera will most likely want to use its flash, which will ruin your silhouette image.

In shooting silhouettes, instead of lighting the front of your subject, you need to make sure there is more light coming from the background than the foreground of your image. Basically, you want to light the back of your subject instead of the front. The perfect time to shoot a silhouette image is either at sunrise or sunset, but any bright light will do.

A plain bright background is the best for shooting a silhouette image. A bright cloudless sky with a sunset will make one of the prettiest images. If you have more than two subjects in your picture, make sure that they are separated so that you can distinguish the subject, and then let your imagination wander. If you are shooting a profile picture I recommend that you don’t shoot straight on, turn your subject to more of an angle so you can distinguish their features.

Most digital cameras have automatic metering which is good at sensing how to expose the picture so that everything is lit. The problem you might face is that your camera will want to try and light up your picture instead of underexposing it. What you can do to trick your camera is aimed your camera at the brightest part of the picture, push your shutter halfway down and don’t let go. Then move your camera back to frame the shot you want with the subject where you want it and finish taking the photo.

If that doesn’t work on your camera give the manual setting a try. Your shutter speed and aperture is what you are dealing with in manual photography, (if you aren’t familiar with shutter speed and aperture I recommend looking in your camera book).

CHALLENGE FOR THE WEEK:  Can you capture a silhouette?  Farm animals, machinery, children, and produce can all make good subjects.  Or use your imagination and experiment with others!

Illinois Corn Marketing Board Intern

Jenna Richardson
Southern Illinois University student


There is no doubt that women have always been a part of agriculture- behind the scenes if nothing else. Today, however, women are becoming more and more visible on the forefront of agriculture managing companies, researching, working hands-on on the farm, promoting agriculture, and so much more! Within the different generations of my own family I can see these changes happening. My Grandma Linda has always been a part of the farm “behind the scenes” making sure the men all get fed, cleaning up for meetings or events held on our farm, and managing finances for her husband’s seed business. My mother plays an active role in the farming operation when she grew up on a dairy farm.

She milked cows and drove tractors every day just like the rest of her sisters. Today she helps on our farm by keeping computer records for the business and keeping track of the finances of the farm… all while running her own business and traveling the world! As the youngest generation of women in my family, I can see that my role on the farm has been much more hands on and I am pursuing a higher education than previous generations of women in my family. I grew up feeding cattle and pigs everyday, showing those animals during the summer fairs, and working farm equipment as needed. Today, I am completing my Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Animal Industry Management and plan on pursuing a career in Ag Literacy or Ag Communications.

These trends are common for most generations of women in farm families, and I would like to say “Way to go girls!” Here is a short video of some women in agriculture and their stories. Enjoy!

Rosie Sanderson
Illinois State University Student


It’s all about the cows when the early October mainstay of the Dairy Industry, World Dairy Expo, takes place in Madison, WI. 2,500 head of the world’s finest cows show up in Madison for the largest dairy show in the country. Along with this annual cow frenzy is an exceptional trade show where over 800 exhibitors display their goods and services to the some 65,000 attendees to the five day show.

The cows demand most of the attention in the ring and at the trade show. The “cow” is the emphasis whether it’s feed and silage quality, animal care, state of the art milking technology, or genetics. It amazes the novice and expert alike to see the wide array of goods dedicated to the cow and milk production.

Illinois Livestock Development Group and the Illinois Milk Producers’ Association have been exhibiting at World Dairy Expo the last five years. Each year seems to bring industry issues, topics and latest technology to the forefront for the industry to address in an open forum of leaders, attendees and producers.

This year was no exception. Pounds of milk produced, price paid per hundred, forage quality/availability, and technology were the leading discussions up for consideration. With Class III milk hovering in the $17 – $18 / hundred range, the price of feed becomes biggest factor in maintaining profits across the industry. Most concede that $20 milk is needed to compete with still elevated grain in the 6$ – 7$ per bushel equivalent price range.

New technology also demands a lot of discussion each year. This year, robotics was the primary focus as smaller producers struggle to maintain labor, performance, and profitability in a changing industry. Lely USA, DeLaval, and Westfalia/Surge all have an automatic robotic system that is becoming easier for producers to implement into their existing management and production plans. In essence, the cows decide when they need milked and the robot provides the service 24 hr a day. The producer can then focus on cow comfort, feed and management of the herd.

Another theme in the dairy technology discussion is manure and/or nutrient management. Methane digesters have taken over the discussion of the ultimate renewable energy COW POWER. This highly regarded technology continues to grow in acceptance and efficiency and affordability as it addresses environmental compliance for producers.

I enjoy representing the Illinois Livestock Development Group every year at this top notch event.  Not only does it keep me abreast of upcoming issues and innovations in the industry, but it helps me think through new themes and challenges that we might face as we continue to grow the industry in Illinois.  I love talking to dairy farmers from all over the country, and I’m always happy to find that Prairie Farms offers a market opportunity that continues to draw producers to the Illinois booth.  Of course, feed and water availability are key strengths of Illinois’ as well. 

World Dairy Expo serves as a forum for dairy producers, companies, organizations and other dairy enthusiasts to come together to compete, and to exchange ideas, knowledge, technology and commerce.  Illinois Livestock Development Group hopes to engage producers from Illinois and beyond to help them grow and expand their animal agriculture endeavors responsibly and profitably.  I happen to think the two are a great fit.

Nic Anderson
Livestock Development Group


Photography is a big part of my life…I don’t know everything but I know some of the key points that I feel are necessary in taking a good photograph.  And for Photographer Appreciation Month, I’d love to share a few pointers that can make you a better photographer.   Check back every Tuesday this month to learn something new!

Lighting is a big key to producing a quality photograph. The color, direction, quantity, and quality of the light you use determine how your photo subjects will appear. If you take pictures in a studio with artificial light sources, you can control your lighting; however, most of the agricultural pictures you take are shot outdoors. Daylight and sunlight are tricky to work with because they change hourly and with the weather, season, and location.

farm, soybeans, field, Illinois, photography, lighting, evening, farmerThis photo was taken at 7:45 am and I love the soft light.  The soybeans almost seem to be glowing!

Some people think that taking pictures during the middle of the day is the best time with the best lighting, but the morning and evening light will produce the nicest image. Strong, direct sunlight is difficult to work with because it produces dark, well-defined shadows as I’m sure some of you have experienced.  Also, a live subject will have to squint to see in direct sunlight making for a less desirable photo.

Taking pictures on a cloudy day is one of the best days because there will be no shadow. Next time you go out to take pictures, especially of people, I encourage you to use the morning and evening lighting and see if you can see a difference.

CHALLENGE FOR THE WEEK:  Photograph someone on your farm prior to 9 am or after 5 pm.  Do you like the results?

Illinois Corn Marketing Board InternJenna Richardson
Southern Illinois University student