WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE THROUGHOUT HISTORY

This week on Corn Corps, we’re celebrating ag history!  Come back everyday to learn more about where we’ve been and where we’re headed! 

Women have always been a part of the agriculture industry, but most the time have been overlooked. However, this trend is changing, and women are becoming more prevalent on farms today. Do you know any women in agriculture, either on farms or in the industry?

In early American history, a woman’s job on the farm typically meant bookkeeping for the farming operation. Women also tended to the family garden, which was most likely a major food supply for the farm family. Even though women did contribute to the farm, their work was never recorded by the Department of Agriculture, thus making women seem non-existent in the agriculture world.

The growth of the women’s movement in the 1960s-1980s made clear that women participating in agriculture were very important to the well being of the farm. This change in roles was very hard for some male farmers to handle. Did you know that crisis hotlines were set up so men could call in and deal with no longer being the sole provider in the family? There was also an increase in alcohol use and abuse reported during this time in American agricultural history.

In 1981, Sherrod Perkins, a rural mental health counselor, said, “There is a confusion of roles and rural women are caught with one leg in each camp…What happens to these women?” This did not discourage women from joining in on the agriculture trend, as we can see today in our modern agriculture industry.

Recently, the 2007 census recorded that a woman operates two out of every ten farms in the United States. Also, the number of farms run by women has doubled from 1978 to 2005, from 100,000 to 250,000 farms; how awesome is that?! We have also found that 65 to 75 percent of all the food grown worldwide is grown by a woman. There is a good chance that some of the foods you will consume today have been raised by women!

This number of women farmers is increasing because a lot of women today want to be involved in organic farming as well as community based agriculture. These tend to be smaller operations, but farms none-the-less! Also, many farmers are starting to age, and these farms, some being larger operations, get handed down to wives, daughters, or other female family members. Taking on a farm is a huge task, but these women are up for the challenge!

Executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, Karen Anderson said, “I think that food is really a women’s issue. It’s a healthy sign of a reconnection between food systems and agriculture that women are interested in farming, not just cooking.” Next time you see a woman involved in the agriculture industry, say thanks! And know that she has fought hard for her respect in the agricultural world.

Erin Palm
Illinois State University student

CUTTING BY HAND TO CUTTING BY COMBINE: HISTORY OF HARVEST AG MECHANIZATION

This week on Corn Corps, we’re celebrating ag history!  Come back everyday to learn more about where we’ve been and where we’re headed! 

“It’s harvest time in this little town, time to bring it on in, pay the loans down.”  Luke Bryan’s new song “Harvest Time” explains this time of year perfectly.  However, not so long ago, harvest was done completely different around here.  Instead of the combines, tractors, grain carts and the semi-trucks we use today, farmers harvested with much simpler tools.  Farming has seen numerous changes over the years, but none of them have been as impactful as the mechanization of harvest equipment.

Since Egyptian times, farmers have been harvesting their crops with sickles or scythes.  This process was extremely labor intensive and therefore made large farms nearly impossible.  Even in the early days of the United States, farmers had to have lots of help to plant, grow and harvest their crops.  The invention of the threshing machine by a Scottish man named Andrew Meikle in the 1780s, improved harvesting, although numerous people and horses were still required.  His machine mechanically separated the grain from the stalk of wheat and oats, the major crop of the time.

This machine was so revolutionary; our founding fathers ordered one of Meikle’s machines to use on their own farms.  Thomas Jefferson used three on his farm making one stationary, ran by steam and two that could move and be powered by his horses. George Washington wrote Jefferson stating the following about the machines,

“If you can bring a moveable threshing machine, constructed upon simple principles to perfection, it will be among the most valuable institutions in this Country; for nothing is more wanting, and to be wished for on our farms.”

It is easy to see that making farming more feasible was a key principle throughout the farming community.  Over the years modifications of the machine were made so it could be more maneuverable and be able to reap, thresh and winnow the crop all in one machine.

Luckily for today’s farmer, mechanical advancement of harvest equipment continued past the horse drawn machines.  In 1923, the Baldwin brothers of Kansas invented the first self-propelled harvester in the MidWest.  This machine, unlike the threshing machines, could be run with one person and no horses.  This harvester, called the combine, incorporated numerous advancements including augers to move the seed from the machine to storage equipment.  This galvanized metal combine, known as the Gleaner combine, changed harvesting forever.  The brothers sold their company to Allis-Chalmers in 1955, which is now part of the AGCO Corporation.

On our farm, we still have our old Gleaner combine, but she has been retired for the most part.  In her place is now an Illinois designed green machine, a John Deere 9510.  Today on our farm, instead of having dozens of people reaping by hand, we have one person in the combine, and another driving the semi-truck to the elevator to deliver the grain or someone driving the tractor and grain cart.  Harvest equipment sure has changed over the years, making harvest a little less time-consuming and little more enjoyable for everyone.

Miranda Morgan
University of Illinois student

IL CORN LOOKS FORWARD TO NOVEMBER 6!

A top priority for IL Corn is the upcoming election.  IL Corn Growers Association is diligently encouraging farmers to vote, encouraging farmers to make local and federal legislators earn their vote,  and encouraging the candidates that our leaders support with our Political Action Committee funds.

In many ways, because agriculture is so much smaller and has significantly less funding than our foes, we turn to our elected officials to keep agriculture a viable industry for our children.

ESTIMATED CORN YIELDS ARE DISAPPOINTING

Although I didn’t advertise it as such, I commissioned the guys in the office to help me write about current issues we’re working on here in the IL Corn office this week.  We started out the week discussing nutrient runoff, which will become of increasing importance as the temperatures drop and farmers start applying nitrogen for next year, and we’ve talked about the EPA’s obligation to issue or not issue a Renewable Fuels Standard waiver, releasing the nation’s gasoline suppliers from a mandate to blend renewable fuels.  The deadline for comments on the latter is today, by the way, if you were considering speaking out on that topic.

The issue of today is (drumroll please!) … corn yields.

It’s an issue that IL Corn can’t really do a lot about, but it’s something that we are keeping our eyes on.  And today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report which gives us the official prediction for average yield both by state and for the entire U.S.

The numbers are sad.  Illinois is predicted to have yields averaging only 98 bushels per acre when 2011 and 2010 averages were both 157 bushels per acre.  In 2009, Illinois yielded 174 bushels per acre.  Truly the drought has had a major effect on our harvest.

The U.S. averages aren’t a lot better.  Today’s WASDE report estimated 122 bushels per acre when last year’s average was 147.2 bushels per acre.  Even the 2011 average was down … 2010 saw 152.8 bushels per acre and 2009 saw 164.7 bushels per acre.

Some in our office think that the USDA estimate is low.  It is, after all, only an estimate and harvest is still underway in many Illinois counties.  However, we will have a low yield this year … lower than what we expected in the spring … and the low yield will have an impact.

  1. The laws of supply and demand will dictate that the price of corn will be high.  Higher priced feed may lead livestock producers to liquidate some of their herd in order to make it through the year on budget.
  2. Ethanol markets are similar.  Regardless of whether or not an RFS waiver is granted, the ethanol plants will have to buy much higher priced corn.  Ethanol will become more expensive as a result and won’t compete as well against petroleum.  Ethanol plants may have to scale back their production.
  3. Foreign buyers may be able to purchase corn from other countries cheaper than they can buy it in the U.S.  Exports might drop substantially.

All these forces – basically supply and demand – will cause a “rationing” of the corn supply.  All of the markets for corn will just have to make it through the year until next year’s harvest can be marketed.

Interestingly enough, farmers are already looking forward to next year.  That’s what’s great about farmers.  This year has been horrible, but once the crop is out of the ground, they begin to look with optimism towards a new year, a new crop, and a new opportunity.  So we’ll keep an eye on the yield predictions, but we’ll just deal with them and try to keep the same healthy optimism that our farmer leaders exhibit for us.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

RENEWABLE FUELS STANDARD WAIVER WILL HAVE HUGE EFFECTS

If you are a follower of current events, you have no doubt seen that five state governors, at the prompting of the U.S. livestock industry, have asked for a waiver to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

In layman’s terms, the livestock industry, and subsequently the governors of Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, and North Carolina, has asked the EPA to consider lifting the requirement that Americans use increasing amounts of biofuels in the place of petroleum.  They did this because producing biofuels to fulfill the requirements set forth in the RFS takes corn, and the livestock industry is competing with the ethanol industry for corn which is in shorter supply than usual because of the drought.

Last week, the EPA said that they would delay the decision on the waiver until mid-November, after the elections.

The waiver request and granting of the waiver is an issue that IL Corn has our eye on, although we don’t really have a position.  We don’t want the waiver to be granted because we end up losing potential market share if the ethanol industry is throttled back, but we also want the RFS policy to work and if there ever is a year when corn is in short supply, 2012 is it.  We are relying on the EPA to make the best decision for the American public and the agricultural industry, but will be affected no matter which direction this falls.

According to Larry Elworth, chief agriculture counselor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, no matter which way EPA goes in the fuel waiver debate, Elworth said, “We will be litigated.”  Obviously, the decision heavily affects everyone.

Stay tuned for the answer to this question shortly after we find out who will serve us as President for the next four years.  And if you have a significant interest in this issue, consider submitting comments to the EPA regarding your position.  Comments are due by October 11.

Dave Loos
ICGA/ICMB Ethanol Guru

IL CORN ADDRESSES NUTRIENT RUNOFF

If you are a regular follower of Corn Corps, you might remember this post which details the difference between a membership organization and a checkoff association, between the Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. If you don’t remember this post or haven’t read it, go read it now.

You might also need a better understanding of “nutrient runoff” if you aren’t from an agricultural background or profession. Nutrient runoff describes the fertilizers we put on our fields that are left unused by the plants being collected in the water supply and leaving the field into our streams and rivers. We address nitrogen and phosphorus as the key nutrients that get carried into streams and rivers. Even your own yard, if you fertilize it, can contribute to nutrient runoff into our water supply.

Using the model of a checkoff program, Illinois has now formed the Nutrient Research and Education Council or NREC. NREC replaces an older group, FREC (Fertilizer Research and Education Council), with some significant changes. FREC was managed entirely by the State of Illinois and its funding, intended for nutrient research and education, has been swept by an Illinois government that can’t pay its bills. The new NREC is a public private partnership, much like the checkoff fund, where the monies collected are held outside of the state coffers so that they can actually be used for nutrient research and education.

Nutrient research and education IS needed. The USEPA considers Illinois agriculture a major contributor of nutrients resulting in Gulf Hypoxia as well as unacceptable levels of nitrogen and phosphate in some Illinois streams, rivers and lakes. Research and education to relieve or disprove these opinions is critical to avoid regulations that would harm farmer profitability, but more importantly, jeopardize world food supplies.

The new NREC is a $1 per ton assessment on all fertilizer sold. The Illinois Department of Agriculture will receive 25 cents of the assessment for fertilizer quality, safety, and inspections while the remaining 75 cents will go into research and education to deal with the nitrogen and phosphorus runoff issues while increasing yields.

The bottom line is, Illinois farmers and fertilizer dealers want to do the right thing for the environment. They’ve tried to do the right thing in the past, but our state budget didn’t allow for our programming to work most efficiently. Now, we have taken matters into our own hands, passed legislation to create NREC, and continue to address the environmental issues that may be caused by Illinois agriculture.

It’s a big issue for Illinois Corn, one that we consider very important, and we look forward to big results.

Phil Thornton
ICGA/ICMB Value-Added Director

OUR LOCKS AND DAMS NEED HELP! FAST!

Did you see this video of a lock wall in Lockport, IL collapsing due only to its own deterioration?

When concrete walls spontaneously fall, when our economy is built on those same concrete walls helping us transport goods to market, when the potential for a time without said concrete walls is termed a “catastrophic failure” … we think it’s time to invest in infrastructure.

VIDEO WEEK: ILLINOIS HARVEST!

According to the USDA Crop Progress report released September 30, 71 percent of the Illinois crop is harvest which is significantly ahead of an average Illinois harvest.  We will know next week what the USDA predicts in terms of yield per bushel for 2012, but in the meantime, they are estimating that 75 percent of the US crop is fair, poor, or very poor.  The drought had a significant effect on the crop.

Still, the 2012 bushels harvested will rank number eight in the top ten yields throughout history.  Isn’t is amazing what technology can do?