IMAGINE YOUR GARDEN ON A WORLD SCALE

April is National Lawn and Garden month. That’s cool. I’ve been itching for a chance to get some dirt under my fingernails since the last of the flowers got frosted last fall. The garden catalogs that light up my mailbox feed that urge. And finally, it is, “A time to plant.”

What goes into a person’s flower and vegetable gardens is not a fair comparison to the farm-scale production of both flowers and vegetables, and commodity crops, as well.

But it’s upon that very comparison, or rather contrast, that many people are deriving their opinions of food production. Are you following me? It’s like this: “What’s good for my garden must be good for the rest of the system.”

Uh, no. That’s why it’s a garden.

Some people thrive on finding the all-organic ways to produce tasty fruits and veggies from their own plot of ground. Other people look for every method they can to minimize the work and maximize the tasty output (that’s me.) That might be some granulated seed germination inhibitor, plastic sheets to block weeds, bug spray to keep the Japanese beetles from devouring the tomatoes, and chicken wire to keep out the, well, pesky chickens that not only eat the bugs but also take a bite out of every green bean, tomato, and strawberry they can find. Oh, and they can make short work of a cantaloupe, too.

But I digress.

Back to the backyard division of organic versus conventional methodologies. Both are good, in my opinion. Both have their benefits.

Same goes in the larger scale production as capitalistic minded individuals find markets for the products they’re willing to produce.

But when one way starts getting labeled as “better,” well, that’s when I get perturbed. When one way starts changing regulation, litigation, and legislation, based on falsehoods that have become “truth” just by virtue of mass acceptance? That’s a problem.

Witness an article published online in Time magazine, New Study Says That Organic Food Isn’t As Productive as Conventional Agriculture, which makes this remark:

            “Yet a new meta-analysis in Nature does the math and comes to a hard conclusion: organic farming yields 25% fewer crops on average than conventional agriculture. More land therefore needed to produce fewer crops—and that means organic farming may not be as good for the planet as we think.”

Cue the invisible farm audience to say, “Duh.”

Why is this so hard to understand? Why must there be a black and white choice with social consciousness coming down only on the side of organic? When does conventional agriculture be just as accepted as the “ethical choice” for feeding deserving Americans and others worldwide?

Well, maybe, just maybe, it’s when we (and I mean that in the broadest sense) quit comparing what works in our gardens to what we think is appropriate for production beyond just our friends and neighbors wants. Maybe it happens when we CONTRAST the wants of our personal lives to the needs of a hungry planet.

That’s my two-seeds worth.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

CORN PLANTING CONCLUDES IN SOME AREAS OF THE STATE

Follow our farmer’s progress as they continue the 2012 planting season!

April 22: We have finished planting corn. The earlier fields are starting to peek out of the ground. We will probably start planting soybeans tomorrow.  Jeff Jarboe – Loda, IL

April 21: Started the Monday after Easter, things didn’t go well until Wednesday, and managed to get 1/3 in before the rain Saturday night. We received over 3 in. of rain and we’ve been sitting since. Hard frost last night; I only know of one field up over by Pearl City in this area. Hope to get back to it Monday.  Aron Carlson – Winnebago, IL

April 21: Finished corn on Thursday. First corn I planted is up and looking good. Waiting at least a week to start planting soybeans.  Jim Reed – Monticello, IL

April 21: Saturday morning brought light frost.  Mostly no work done this week up here north of Rt. 30.  We snuck peas in and sprayed them Wednesday afternoon before another light shower.  Paul Taylor – Esmond, IL

Take a look.  Nationally, corn farmers are way ahead of the previous year’s progress.

STARTING YOUR VERY OWN FRUIT GARDEN

Have you ever had the chance to go to an orchard or a strawberry patch? Having those fresh fruits sure beats anything you can buy in a can at the store. For those avid gardeners already, or for those who just want fresh fruit, why not start your very own Fruit garden?

Fruits by definition are the (often sweet and fleshy) part of a plant that surrounds the seeds. Thus, fruits are the ripened ovaries of the plant. Basically, anything that has seed in, it is considered a fruit, including what most would think are vegetables: like tomatoes, pumpkins, peapods, and avocados just to list a few. To keep things simple, I’m going to stick to the traditional fruits like berries and fruit trees.

Some things to consider when picking what fruits to grow

Climate: Consider the area you live in. Different varieties are better than others in certain climates, therefore, consider going to Greenhouse Nurseries and talk to someone about the best varieties to plant for the area you live in.

Space: Space is a major issue for a lot of people and planting fruit trees might not be the best option. Consider planting strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberry’s, or if you have room a dwarf cherry tree.

Time: Many fruit trees can take several years before they can produce any fruit. Many Greenhouse Nurseries offer trees that have already been growing for several years and will even help you plant them. Berries, on the other hand, can typically bear fruit in their first or second seasons, depending on the plant.

Lastly, find your local Greenhouse nursery or garden store. They can typically answer most questions about what fruit varieties grow best and may even have some for sale.

Maintaining your fruit garden

Fruit trees are by far the hardest to care for and maintain, but the benefits are worth the time and money. Pruning is a vital part of growing fruit trees and even berries in some cases. Pruning is the trimming or cutting away of overgrown branches or stems in order to increase the fruitfulness of growth. Fertilizing your plants is extremely important when maintaining fruits. When and how much fertilizer you should apply depends on the plant and the type of fertilizer that is used. What is Fertilizer? It’s typically an organic or inorganic material that is full of vital nutrients a plant needs to grow. Insecticides are extremely important to control insect pests. Fruit trees tend to be a good home for insects of all kinds that can cause diseases and even eat the plant. Safe insecticides for plants and used to control those pests can keep the plant healthy and fruitful, no pun intended. Lastly, using a form of mulch around your trees or plants is a very effective way to control weeds that may come. By reducing that weed pressure, it allows the plants you want to grow to thrive even more.

When it comes to fruit gardening it takes some basic knowledge and time on your part to maintain. However, when you harvest the fruit and get a chance to eat it you’ll almost never want to go back to the store canned fruits. For advice on how to grow fruits and about gardening, in general, check out the National Garden Association website.

Eric King
Western Illinois University

WHAT DO NON-FARMERS REALLY WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE FARM?

“As farmers and ranchers, we’ve raised pretty much everything. Except our voices.”

This is the slogan of a farm and ranch coalition – the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.  They say, “For too long the voice of farmers and ranchers has often been missing in the conversation about where food in America comes from. That changes now. USFRA is inviting all farmers and ranchers to join us in leading the conversation with Americans. Raise your voice and share your story. Together, we can begin a dialogue with Americans about where their food comes from, the importance of today’s agriculture and our commitment to continuous improvement.”

They have already done some great work in this regard.  In particular, this infographic showing the disparity (and sometimes the similarity) between what farmers and ranchers think consumers should know about the farm and what consumers are actually wondering about.  Perhaps the differences here are one reason it’s hard to dialogue?

THE IMPORTANCE OF RECORD KEEPING

In every single business no matter the industry, record keeping is a must. Keeping track of your receipts, expenses, and of course, don’t forget taxes, is vital to success. But one challenge that business owners and companies often come to face is trying to find employees with experience in the simple task of record keeping. It’s not just business owners either, entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses definitely need to know how to keep books of their finances and inventories. Luckily, organizations like the National FFA are taking steps to help young people gain experience with record keeping.

So what exactly are students doing to help them prepare? They are completing their own records on their own enterprises or employment. Each member of the FFA completes a Supervised Agricultural Experience Program otherwise known as an SAE. Through an SAE, FFA members start their own agricultural business or seek employment in an agricultural business. Currently, there are 52 areas of record books a student can enroll in. Each area is specific to a certain area of the agricultural industry, for example, wildlife production & management, crop production, horticulture, diversified ag production, and agricultural sales. Once a student begins his/her business or becomes employed, they start their record books. Record bookkeeping includes taking inventory, keeping receipts and expenses, completing taxes, writing down safety activities they complete, and hours worked. Basically, the same information business owners need for their records. After a year’s worth of records books has been completed by an FFA member, they can continue to build their books year after year and also have the chance to compete against other members.

The SAE is a part of the three circle model of agricultural education. It is a very integral part of agricultural education so that the end result after students graduate, is a workforce that is now trained and ready. But not only do FFA members who complete record books learn how in the classroom, they learn through real-world experience! They actually start a business or work for an employer and keep physical records of their actions. What better way to help students learn the system than actually immersing them in what they are learning! This is what the FFA is all about, agricultural education through real-world experience in competition and classroom!

Mike Shively
IL FFA PRESIDENT

PLANTING PROGRESS

Farmers like to talk about field conditions and planting progress.  In fact, agriculture is such an art form, that it is interesting to read about different farmer philosophies.  You’ll notice below that our board members like to update each other on planting conditions all over the state and they also over commentary on what other farmers in their areas are doing.

In reality, there is a lot behind each and every farmer’s decisions on when to plant, how to manage their crops, what varieties to plant, and more.  Research plays a huge part in decisions like crop rotations and timing, but the farmer’s past experiences are important too.  Read on for some insight into the mind of an Illinois farmer.

April 7: “Planting pace has been pretty steady in Southern Illinois. We have a little over one third of our corn planted. Lots of folks down here are done with corn. A few beans have went in I heard but the cool weather will hold us out. Wheat has headed and doesn’t want to be below 30 for more than 2 hrs. Wheat harvest should be in the first week of June, about two weeks early.”  Jeff Scates – Shawneetown, IL

April 7: “As of this evening I am half done with corn. A couple of neighbors are done an several are waiting till Monday after Easter to start. Our high ground is very dry but decent moisture most places. Some of those that cultivated out winter annuals or leveled corn on corn ground now must wait for rain before planting as that ground really dried out. Radar shows rain here now but there is nothing getting to the ground.”  Jim Reed – Monticello, IL

(Some farmers plant winter annuals or leave corn stubble from their previous year’s crop in their fields to help hold in moisture and keep top soil from eroding.)

April 8: “We are 15% completed on the Hudson Farm. I planted my partner’s corn first – he is done.  I heard of one farmer that is done with corn and beans.  We were too dry also, until Thursday. We got 1/2″ to 1 1/4″ of rain. This was quite a relief to those that planted in dry dirt.”  Gary Hudson – Hindsboro, IL

(Soybeans are a little less tolerant of cold weather and easily die if a frost hits, so most farmers will still wait to plant soybeans even though the corn is being planted so much earlier than usual.)

April 8: “People are just starting here. I started a field today, but had the usual bugs to work out of the operation. I am hearing most people will hit it hard on Monday.”  Jeff Jarboe – Loda, IL

(When your equipment has been in the shed for the winter, sometimes it takes a day or two to get equipment running properly.  Even a farmer’s hired help – if he or she has them – might need a day to get back into the swing of things!)

April 8: “We plan to start Monday. We really need a little rain.”  Rob Elliott – Cameron, IL

April 10: “Tuesday now & I saw my first planter in the field this morning.  I know planting had been done but I had not seen a corn field planted until today.  Most of my buddies are waiting; not sure for what.  Very dry.  No significant rain here for past 3 1/2 weeks.  Below freezing last two mornings.”  Paul Taylor – Esmond, IL

GIVE HERB GARDENING A TRY!

Now that it seems that winter has passed (did it ever really get here?) everyone is ready to get outside and begin doing the normal spring activities including starting up their gardens again. Instead of sticking to the typical vegetables or flowers, why not consider starting an herb garden?

Herbs can be defined as any plant with leaves, seeds or flowers used for flavoring, medicine, food or perfume, which makes an herb garden come in handy. The most important thing to know before you start an herb garden is what kind of location your herb prefers. Most herb plants prefer shade, while a few prefer sun. The nice thing about herbs is its best to start them as a potted plant and then transfer them into the ground (making sure not to overcrowd them) after the plant has begun to steadily grow.  However, this is only an option according to the Gardening with Herbs website. Some people choose to keep their herbs as a potted plant.

Soil drainage is also very important when considering where you want to place your herb garden. Herbs do not like wet soil and will not grow in overly damp ground. If you find the location that you picked does not easily drain, no worry! Simply dig approximately 16 inches down and place a layer of gravel and sand. This should help excess water drain from your herbs.

Once your herb garden begins to grow, they are easy to maintain.  Herbs are considered the hardiest of all garden plants and naturally repel pests. Harvesting your herbs is the most beneficial thing about your garden, but choosing when to harvest the plant is the most difficult part of all. Experts say you should harvest your herbs right before they flower, early in the morning on a sunny day. Only begin harvesting when you have enough herbs on the plant to sustain growth and still be able to take what you need.

If you live in a cooler climate, it is best to take your herb garden inside for the winter, as the shallow root system can be easily damaged by frost or cold weather. You can also spread mulch to protect your herbs Avoid fertilizing or pruning late in the season.

Indoor gardening is very similar to outdoor gardening; however, there are several factors that must be controlled including light, temperature, air circulation, soil, fertilizer, water and pests. But don’t be discouraged by this. The three most difficult factors to control are temperature, moisture and pests. Herbs grow very well indoors once you find the right location for them. The five best herbs to grow indoors are Chives, Thyme, French Tarragon, Sweet Marjoram and Sage. These herbs grow as easily as a normal houseplant and take no extra time or effort.

Herbs gardens are easy to start and maintain. Herb gardens require no extra time or effort compared to a normal houseplant once you find the right location, whether indoors or outdoors,. Herb gardens also provide a great project for kids because they are so hardy! With spring in full bloom, today may be the perfect day to get your herb garden growing!

Nichole Wright
Illinois State University student

WHAT’S ILLINOIS DOING WITH TWO CORN ORGANIZATIONS?

Yes, it’s true.  Illinois does have two corn organizations.  The Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board are both housed under this roof in Bloomington, IL.

Each have very different functions.

The Illinois Corn Growers Association is a membership organization.  Illinois corn farmers pay dues to be a part of our association and the Association lobbies in Washington, DC and Springfield, IL on their behalf.  The ICGA concerns themselves with issues like Farm Bill negotiations in Washington, DC, regulations that prevent farmers from farming the best and most efficient way, and providing information on candidates and their agricultural platforms to help our members make informed voting decisions.  We also work on educating our members on key issues and calling them to action when needed.

The Illinois Corn Marketing Board administers the Illinois corn checkoff.  A checkoff is a system for Illinois corn farmers to pool their money to promote their product.  Just like a business would have a marketing and promotion budget, most of the major commodities grown in the US have a checkoff.

In Illinois, every time a farmer markets a bushel of corn, he or she pays 3/8 of a cent into the Illinois corn checkoff.  In 2012, we estimate that amount will be roughly $7 million.  The Illinois Corn Marketing Board then allocates that $7 million into projects that better the Illinois corn industry.

As an example, a new crop insurance product is available for Illinois farmers in 2012 that saves them significant premium costs.  The product was created, researched, submitted for approval, and now offered to farmers with the corn checkoff funds that each farmer donated.

The Illinois Corn Marketing Board works on issues like building new markets for corn, talking about corn farmers and corn farming to non-farmers, and helping corn move more efficiently into the marketplace.

Want to know more about what both organizations are doing?  Check us out at www.ilcorn.org!

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH THOSE LEFTOVERS?

Easter dinner was yesterday.  Today, the mouthwatering ham looks a little less appetizing.  What to do?

How about Ham and Cheddar Corn Chowder?  It requires four cups of cooked, diced ham AND it will take up your leftover corn, creamed corn, and some of the other veggies you might have on hand.

Or you might try a Veggie, Ham and Cheese Rice Bake.  Use up all your leftover veggies and ham along with some rice and cream of ___ soup to make a super yummy next day dish.

And if you’re one of those families that enjoys Prime Rib for Easter, try out this really yummy quesadilla recipe with your leftovers.  Drip Beef Quesadillas with Dijon Garlic Butter are really easy and delicious too.