WHAT’S IN YOUR FARM STAND?

It’s that time again in the spring where we see all the big tractors putting seed into the ground. It is also the time to start gardening! Maybe you don’t have a green thumb, like myself, we will stick to purchasing our produce at our favorite spot! No one can deny that fresh always taste better. It could be a salad on a summer night, a picnic thrown together for an afternoon, or even grilling vegetable! With spring well on its way, we will begin seeing those fresh fruit and veggies everywhere. Since everything has its season, I will have to wait for those delicious berries until June or July but some things will by ready in early June or even May!

kale and tomato seedlings

I visited a local family produce stand and farm in the middle of March, and they had already begun planting all their seed in the basement of their home! I would have never thought to start plants inside under lights, but that is why they have a business in produce and I do not. It’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. They had multiple trays under lights just waiting for the sun to shine, to be put into the grown for the summer. While trays of tomatoes were in the house, they had a small green house outside that they had actual leafy plants of kale, lettuce, and cabbage.

cabbage and lettuce seedlings

Asparagus was beginning to grow along with rhubarb. Now when the owner said rhubarb, I honestly had no idea what it was at first. The only thing that came to mind was rhubarb pie, but that didn’t help either. After a little research on the handy dandy Internet, I found that it is mainly used in desserts or jams as a fruit. Also there are two parts to rhubarb, stalk and leaves. Only eat the stalks! Asparagus is great on the grill on a summer night, and honestly about the only time I enjoy eating it. All you really need is to lightly coat the asparagus in olive oil with a pinch of sea salt to top them off, then grill for around seven minutes. Delicious as always!

Rhubarb

If you ever have time to stop at a local produce stand, or even a farmers market, I would do it! If you have questions, they are always willing to answer them and take the time! This family took me around for 45 minutes showing me everything they had done! They enjoy what they do and what to show it off to you! Different times of the year brings wonderful flavors, try something new this summer! Remember fresh always taste better!

Parkes Family Produce

jenna sudethJenna Sudeth
University of Illinois

TAKE YOUR DAUGHTER TO WORK ON THE FARM

“Whelp, time to go to work.” These are the famous words spoke by my dad as he is about ready to head out to work in the morning or after lunch. We know that when we hear those words, break time is over because he had work to be done. And for those of you who grew up on the farm, you know there is always work to be done.

-viewfrommyofficeToday, April 24, is recognized as “Take Your Daughter to Work” day. Now many people think of taking their daughter to their office to go to work, but what if the office is a tractor seat? There is no better place to have your daughter sit alongside of you. In fact, I believe that’s what buddy seats are for.

As a farmer’s daughter, I think the best memories are made when working or riding alongside mom and dad. It provides a perfect opportunity for hours of meaningful or silly conversations. For farming parents, it is a chance to teach your daughter about the factors that go into each decision made. It is a time where she can ask question after question about farming, or maybe just about life.

Farmer’s daughters are no longer just delivering meals to the field. They may still do so, but they are also getting behind the wheel. They are becoming active contributors to the family farm. Taking them to work, showing them how to operate the equipment, or teaching them the tips and tricks is a good start. Buying them lunch, letting them make a big decision, or getting a tootsie pop from the local grain elevator might just make a future farmer out of them.

-nitrogen

In his America’s Farmers video, Matt Martin says, “I think a dream for someone, especially involved in agriculture or someone who is self-employed or has a trade, is that their children would follow in their footsteps. Whether it be a daughter or a son, or whatever it is. I think it’s something that every person in agriculture strives for, to be able to lay that foundation for the future generation.” Start laying that foundation today. Take your daughter to the fields. Let her help refill the planter. Let her drive the tractor. Help plant the seed of farming into her heart, into her life, and into her future.

-cropcheckin

paige ehnlePaige Ehnle
Illinois Central College student

 

 

 

 

THE ONE THING YOU DON’T WANT TO SPEND YOUR TAX REFUND ON …

snoopy taxesHappy Tax Day!

Today’s the deadline.  There are some of us that have already filed and those of us that will be up until 11:59, but regardless, many Americans are enjoying a little bump in their income stream this spring, commonly known as an income tax refund.

Sadly, for many Americans, much of that money will be spent on increased cost of living, namely higher gas prices and higher food prices.

Here’s what interesting: The Consumer Price Index for food increased 0.3 percent from January to February and is now 1.4 percent above the February 2013 level.  This, even though corn prices are near or below the cost of production.

Both grocery store food (food at home) and restaurant food (food away from home) have increased over the same time frame last year.  You can read all the details for yourself in this report from the USDA Economic Research Service.

The correlation bears repeating.  Corn prices have dropped to near or below the cost of production.  Food prices are still increasing.  Could it be that corn and ethanol production is not to blame for increasing food prices?

Yes. We said it before and we’ll say it again: corn and ethanol production are NOT responsible for increasing food prices.

The economics behind this can be confusing and start with a basic understanding that corn used to make ethanol is not the corn that you eat frozen, from a can, or off the cob.  The corn used for ethanol production is also used primarily for livestock feed and export.  Farmers are not diverting corn from your plate to fuel tanks.

Secondly, corn yields are increasing.  Nearly every year (sometimes this isn’t true because of extreme weather like the drought) we produce more bushels of corn than we did the year before.  Livestock numbers aren’t increasing.  So we have extra corn just sitting around waiting to be used.

Extra corn equals low corn prices, which harms family farmers who make a living growing corn.  And if food prices were correlated to corn prices, food prices would be dropping dramatically right now because we have tons of extra corn and the low prices that go with them.

A more realistic correlation is food prices and petroleum prices.  Food is still expensive because petroleum is still expensive.  Have you filled up your gas tank recently?  Gas is still expensive!

(And I’m sure there’s also that pesky little phenomenon that says once a consumer is used to buying a smaller amount of food at a higher price, prices will never decrease again, yielding the food manufactures more cash.  There’s always that.)

The take home points here are simple:

  1. If corn prices caused food prices, food would be dirt cheap right now.
  2. Historically, food prices have been more similar to gasoline prices – we’re trucking that food from somewhere!
  3. I hope you love spending that tax refund on cereal and frozen pizza.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

GROCERY SHOPPING: OPTIONS ARE GOOD.

As if it’s not bad enough that it’s Monday… I had to go grocery shopping today. Like most of you, I assume, this isn’t exactly one of my favorite activities. Not to mention money is always tight, so it’s never fun spending what you do have on boring stuff like peanut butter and paper towels.

But something amazing happened today. I got all of the items on my list (plus a few extra things like raspberries & kiwi because I felt like treating myself), and my total at the register was UNDER $25. As old and boring as it makes me feel to be THIS excited about my total grocery bill… I couldn’t help but smile as I pulled out of the parking lot.

Image

I grew up on a farm that raises beef cattle and various crops. We generally use conventional farming methods, but my family is also very interested in conservation of the soil & water on our farm so we take some special measures in those areas. I also have many friends that farm organically or choose to buy organic products at the grocery store. Essentially, I understand where everyone is coming from and truly value everyone’s right to make their own choices about the food they eat.

But today, I am so thankful that I had the option to purchase items at the grocery store that kept my bill under $25. The store I was at offered an organic brand for raspberries, but, to me, raspberries are expensive to begin with and a real treat when I do decide to buy them. So I’m glad I got to spend $3.00 on my raspberries rather than buying no raspberries at all because a store only offered the $6.00 organic product.

This is something I wish the more radical “organic pushers” would understand. I respect your right and ability to buy all organic for you and your family; that’s your prerogative. What I have a problem with, is when people say that their choice is the only right choice, and therefore we, should do away with all other options in grocery stores. I think conversation and education on these issues is incredibly important, but in my opinion, there is no right & wrong when it comes to this debate, there are only options. And, personally, I like options.

rsandersonRosalie Sanderson
Membership Administrative Assistant

WORDS FROM A FARMER’S WIFE AND MASTER GARDENER

paul and barb taylorAs a farmer’s wife, I worked full time off the farm. My job was challenging and time consuming as many farmers wives probably can attest to. Part of my job was spent driving to and from appointments which led me through country sides and neighborhoods with beautiful gardens and landscaping. I’d like to think that my appreciation for these, and maybe even the fact that I noticed them at all, was part of my heritage! My grandmother was a farm wife and a gardener so maybe this was the genetic part of my passion to know more about “all things green.”

One year at an annual review for my full time, off-farm job, my boss asked me what my goals were for the year. I am absolutely sure by the look on his face that the answer he got was not what he expected.

“I want to learn to play the piano and I want to be a Master Gardner.”

Ok, I had to renege on that and get serious! He did get some more appropriate goals out of me, but gardening was what I really wanted to do.

I finally became a Master Gardener when I retired. I love it! I will never know all those Latin names for everything, but meeting and gardening with likeminded lovers of the soil and blooms is wonderful thing.

summer-flower-garden-with-rocksBeing a farm wife, I had visions of what my farmer husband would do to help me with his “big bucket” and all those tractors. Sadly, he is more concerned about planting our fields and making a living for us before the next rain, so I got that out of my mind pretty quickly! But it is ok, I work around all those glorious ideas of large rocks and he likes gardening enough to help me when he can. I sometimes leave photos or drawings around the house exclaiming my next idea so he understands what he’ll be working on as soon as the crops allow.

Being a Master Gardener is a lot like farming. Planning, buying your seeds, preparing your soil, caring for your mature plants, and enjoying or eating your harvest … and then you start over again. I find that my love for the garden and my husband’s love for his fields helps us understand each other just a little better!

If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener you can get the details here. Your Extension Office will be happy to help you with any questions you have.

Being a Master Gardener is knowledge that will grow into a need for more, as you create, experiment, and learn about the love of our beautiful Midwest summers and “all things green.”

Barb Taylor
Farm Wife and Master Gardener

SPRING PHOTO CONTEST

Last week, we held a spring preparation photo contest on Instagram using the hashtag #ilcplantprep.  There were a lot of great entries, and after tallying up the votes this was the winning photo:

tractor

Congratulations to Mary Beth Burtle!   She entered the contest in honor of her 87 year old Grandfather, Robert J. Burtle. He is pictured on his newly restored Oliver tractor. This was the first NEW tractor he and his father purchased together when he started farming.

We love seeing all your photos and now we are bringing the contest to Facebook!  Email your spring prep photos to ilcorn@ilcorn.org or post to Facebook and tag us @IL Corn AND use the hashtag #ilcplantprep by this Friday, April 11 and you could win a great prize just like Mary Beth!

FARMERS ARE IMPROVING WATER QUALITY WITH THESE IMPORTANT STEPS

April showers do bring May flowers – I always find that most of those timeless sayings are true.  But you know what else April showers can bring?  Nutrient loss for the farmers who are trying to grow a productive crop on their fields in the summer.

This is a very big and very complicated problem, but to put it simply, bare fields with no plants in them can be a problem.  All the spring rains rushing through a bare field can pick up nutrients as they make their way to local ditches and springs.  Exposed soil also means more erosion – as those raindrops hit bare soil, they always grab a few particles to take with them.

Farmers can notice top soil loss and nutrient loss when they have bare fields.  Neither of those is good for the future of their crop or the water supply around them.

The solution for some farmers is to plant cover crops.  Cover crops – a variety of plants that can grow in the soil in the fall and very early spring – can take up the nutrients and store them so that they are less susceptible to run-off.  In essence, for a farmer using cover crops, the nutrients are in plant form instead of just free in the ground.

The plants also protect against soil erosion and improve overall soil health.  They can improve organic matter, improve biodiversity, and break up tough soils with roots that dig deep.

Let’s think about it in city terms:

Many of us apply fertilizer to our lawns in the spring and fall.  On average (and this calculation requires increasing the size of a lawn to an acre for the purpose of comparison) a homeowner would apply 130 pounds of nitrogen per acre.  This amount could actually increase depending on the type of grass you have seeded in your yard.

Farmers are, on average, applying 160 pounds per acre, because corn uses more nitrogen than grass.  Everything considered, our application rates are very similar.

Farmers applying nitrogen in the fall into bare soil would be similar to a homeowner applying nitrogen in the dead of winter.  The grass isn’t growing, so it isn’t pulling up any nitrogen and the expensive fertilizer you just applied is more or less lost cash.  The fertilizer would be carried off with rains or snows through the winter.

If farmers apply nitrogen in the fall AND plant a cover crop, the cover crop uses the nitrogen and saves it for the corn to use in the following in the spring.   This is more similar to a homeowner putting down fertilizer for the lawn in the fall when the grass is still growing.

The overall goal for farmers is to apply fertilizers nearest to the time when the corn will be growing and will actually need the nutrients.  But because of weather and infrastructure, it can be too risky to apply all the fertilizer the crop will need in the spring.  In this case, cover crops can be a good management option, helping to minimize nutrient loss during those heavy April showers.

Caroline Wade
Council on Best Management

HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR SPRING?

prepareAre you on Instagram? If so, follow us at ilcorn and take part in our latest photo contest!  We want to see how you are preparing for spring, anything from purchasing seed packets for your garden to maintenance preformed on your tractor.  Submit your photos by tagging us AND using the hashtag #ILCPLANTPREP, entries will be accepted until the end of the day!

Here are a few of the entries so far:

seed tractor work

 

FARMER SLANG!

Let’s have a little fun on this April Fool’s Day by celebrating farmers and the crazy things they say!

I have to tell you, the IL Corn staff had some difficulty coming up with this list because these crazy phrases and things that we say seem so normal to us that we aren’t sure what’s “farmer speak” and what is common to other occupations or regions of the world.

How did we do?

 

11-19-12 combineJerry-Job/Jimmy-Rig/Jimmy-Job – To repair something that’s broken incorrectly, but in a way that still works.  Ex: The combine quit, but I jimmy-rigged it and was able to finish the field.

Lollygag – Wasting time.  Ex: Quit lollygagging around and come help me!

Kitty Corner/Catty Corner/Catawampus – The corner opposite where you are standing, i.e. the corner across from you through the intersection at a four way stop.  Ex: Elmer is plowing the field kitty corner from the house.

The Back 40 – Directions to any field or section of woods that’s far away.  Ex: I saw a 40 deer in the back 40.

spring field tractorHoggin’ – Fishing for catfish with your hands.  A common pasttime in the country.  Ex: Wanna go hoggin’ with me this weekend?

Finer Than A Frog Hair (Split Four Ways) – A great answer for “How are you?” that indicates that you are doing well.  Ex: Hi Bob, how are you?  I’m finer than a frog hair.

Rode Hard and Put Away Wet – Used to describe someone who looks haggard.  Originated from horses who were not properly groomed before being returned to their stable after a hard days work.  Ex: What did you do last night?  You look rode hard and put away wet!

A Lick and a Promise – to do something haphazardly or without a plan.  Ex: She gave her resume a lick and a promise and sent it off.

By Hook or By Crook – to do something without caring about the consequences, even when it seems that the odds are stacked against you.  Ex: I’m going to finish mopping this floor by hook or by crook.