My name is Nicole York and I’m the Issues Management and Social Media Intern this summer. I was on the fence over what I wanted to do with my life. Then one day I realized that I wanted to help feed the world. That is work I can be proud of. My major is Agricultural Communications and I’m minoring in Public Relations from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
When I got to IL Corn, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was in a city I’d never been to before, living with a stranger I found on Craig’s list, and a new job. It was an adjustment to say the least. I knew the basics about corn and not much else before I started here. My background was in beef and pork. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and learn something new.
This has been a busy summer at IL Corn between Waters of the US (WOTUS) and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). It has been awesome to see all the work that happens behind the scenes to protect the livelihood of IL farmers. I was also shocked to learn about how much misinformation there is in regards to agriculture. I am in charge of several social media pages so I have been able to interact with people from all walks of life. Here are a few common things people have said:
“Where did all the family farms go? These are all factory farms ruled by corporations.”
- 95% of farms are family owned.
- The average farm is 413 acres.
“GMO crops are going to destroy our health.”
- There has not been a single documented case where GMO foods have harmed or killed people. (This is coming from over 1,200 scientific studies.) There are only eight GMO crops available to the public: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, canola, cotton, and squash.
“All farmers care about is making money. Look at how expensive food is.”
- Yes, farming is a business. The farmer is trying to make a profit, just like every other business in existence. But farming is very risky. You have to have passion for it otherwise you wouldn’t put up with all the lows and highs that come along with it. On average farmers make between 16 cents and 24 cents for every dollar spent on food. That small amount has to cover all production costs and you don’t have much control on how much it will sell for.
“Why are animals given hormones and antibiotics?”
- It is illegal to give pigs and chickens growth hormones. Don’t pay extra for a marketing ploy.
- Antibiotics are only given when necessary and prescribed by a veterinarian. There is a standard set in place for drugs to be out of the animal’s system before it returns to the production line.
The voice of American farmers are not being heard. That has to change. This is where I’d like to focus as a career. I also hope to help establish programs that limit food waste, increase regulation on food labeling (particularly removing misleading language), and to increase public awareness, understanding, and the benefits of GMO crops.
I’d like to thank IL Corn for giving me this opportunity to work here this summer. (Special shout out to Shannon- the other intern. You made all of our projects fun to work on.) I can use the skills and information I learned here throughout my future career, wherever that may be.
Chicago moms tour Monsanto to learn about GMO foods
In April, I was invited to take a tour of the Monsanto research facility in Chesterfield, MO with a group of City Moms from Illinois Farm Families. I was thrilled! I feel like the general public mostly hates Monsanto these days. You hate them because you think they are an evil empire trying to coerce farmers into using only their seed. Or you hate them because you think GMOs are going to make us all sick. I just wanted to know why they do what they do, what motivates them to keep going when they get such negative press and why people seem to hate them more than love them.
Here’s a crazy thing that I found out: They make their products because it helps farmers and the farmers ask for it. Shocking, I know. Monsanto makes something that is helping, not hurting? Monsanto is making something that farmers want and continue to buy year after year? That’s not the media portrayal these days!
Through my farm visits with Illinois Farm Families, I’ve met multiple farmers who tell me that Monsanto is just one of many companies trying to sell seed. Some buy from them, some don’t. No one feels like they are pressured to use Monsanto seed – they shop for seed the way we shop for things. What fits this year, what’s going to give me the most bang for my buck (well, maybe that’s just how I shop for a shirt; I’ve never been a farmer shopping for seed). Some use a portion of Monsanto seed and then use seed from other companies, too. They use the seed that works best for their farms. They want something that keeps insects from eating and ruining their crops so they can get paid for their harvest. They want a product that allows them to spend less time spraying and weeding, helps minimize soil erosion and uses less chemicals (you heard me correctly; farmers are using LESS chemicals now than ever before thanks to advances in technology across the farm with seed, soil testing and electronics).
If you want to take a peek into the world of Monsanto, their doors are open to you, too! Just call to make an appointment for a tour and they will very happily walk you through so you can educate yourself on why they do what they do. Then, you can make the choice on if you love them or hate them based on your own experience, not just what you might be reading or hearing about them.
Travel expenses within St. Louis and lunch courtesy of Monsanto.
Deer Park, IL
Jill is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. (City Moms formerly knows as Field Moms.)
The IL Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy was released last week. It was a big deal for farmers. But maybe (probably?) you have no idea what it is or what it means. If so, this post is for you.
Farmers apply nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients to their fields to help crops grow and maximize yields. This is pretty much like you applying MiracleGro to your potted house plants or your garden, but on a huge scale.
In a perfect world, farmers apply the nutrients, the plants grow enormously big, strong, and prolific because they are “eating” the nutrients, and everyone is happy. But what happens when the nutrients are applied at the wrong time? In the wrong amount? Or the plants don’t grow and don’t use the nutrients like what happened to farmers during the drought?
In each of those cases, the nutrients are left in the field. And when the spring rains come, the nutrients hitch a ride with the running water to the nearest ditch, then a creek, then a stream, a river, and end up exactly where we don’t want them.
This is bad for clean water, but also bad for farmers. They paid for those nutrients (and nutrients are VERY expensive!) and they really want the plants to use them instead of watching them escape the field.
So the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy is basically exactly what it says – its a list of ways that farmers can help minimize nutrient loss from their fields. The EPA has written the list, and now they leave it to ag associations and agribusiness to help farmers understand and implement the strategies on their own fields.
Of course IL Corn is doing just that – along with Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Council on Best Management Practices, Illinois Pork Producers Association, GROWMARK, Syngenta, and others.
What are some of the things farmers are being asked to do?
1. Change the timing of their nitrogen applications. It makes a lot of sense for farmers to apply nutrients when the plant needs them most to grow. The problem is that equipment and availability doesn’t always make it possible for every farmer to apply their nitrogen at the exact same time of year … but we’re working on helping farmers through that.
2. Change the amount of nutrients they apply. Farmers like this one because applying fewer nutrients means paying less money. We’re encouraging farmers to do soil testing throughout their field, determine which areas of the field need a boost and which do not, and then apply nutrients only where needed. New GPS technology helps with this and makes the process very efficient.
3. Grow cover crops. We’ve figured out that for some farmers, applying nutrients in the fall, but also planting a crop that will grow a bit in the fall, hold the nitrogen within the plant through the winter, and then kill that crop before planting corn in the spring can work very well. The techniques will be different for every farmer in Illinois because of our diverse weather from north to south.
These are just a couple of the options, but each can make a big difference for individual farmers and for the water supply!
Maybe hearing from a real farmer will help! This is Garry Niemeyer, Illinois farmer, talking about what his conservation plan is for one of his fields near the Springfield watershed.
Do you have more questions about clean water, nutrient loss, or the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy? I’d love to answer them!
This photo by former board member Bill Christ shows that the plight of all mamas – whether of human or other species – is pretty much the same. The kids crawl under the fence (or up a tree or even just across the living room), out of grasp, and we are left to do nothing but frantically call to them!
Poor Mama cow is mooing after her new baby to get back on the right side of the fence!
1. Read only biased news sources
To really misunderstand modern food production, it is essential that you only read Mother Earth News, Natural News, and whatever links your local natural chiropractor shares on Facebook. Absolutely do not read anything that might pass as a reputable news source – scientific journals, census data, peer-reviewed studies and all papers from state Universities are strictly off-limits.
2. Believe everything you’ve read without questioning
Whatever tidbit you’ve gleaned about food production, food sources, farmers, or labels, believe that tidbit as law and do not read or think any further. Once you believe you understand something fully, there simply is no room for questioning.
3. Refuse to engage in meaningful dialogue
If someone – who may even call themselves a professional or an expert on the subject – wants to talk further about your beliefs, refuse. There’s not enough time in the day to talk about what you already know – especially with someone who disagrees with you.
4. Call anyone who disagrees with you a shill and question their integrity
And lets face it – if they disagree with you, they are likely paid by Big Ag or Big Food. There’s absolutely no way that anyone with half a brain cell could ever disagree with you. Call them a shill and don’t speak to them again. And if you can throw out a personal bomb like maybe suggesting that they don’t even love their children and wish them dead, all the better.
5. Forget everything you ever learned in eighth grade science
If you really want to misunderstand conventional food production, you’ll need to forget everything you knew about basic science. No room for plant biology, genetics, DNA, or how things grow in this debate. You’ll want to remain as ignorant as possible on all things science – including scientific consensus. Especially scientific consensus. Also, doubt scientists and their motivations – for more on this, see number 4.
Obviously this post is sarcastic and obviously I pray that no one follows my five easy rules.
The fact is, advocating for farmers and modern food production is exhausting. I’m tired of seeking out meaningful conversations and getting NaturalMama news stories as proof of an incorrect viewpoint. I’m tired of being attacked as an idiot (or a shill, GASP!) and being asked to suspend basic scientific knowledge while I attempt to cognitively understand where the other person is coming from.
If you happen to be a person reading this who seeks to engage in meaningful debate while looking to science and unbiased data for answers, here are the places you can start:
Farm Hats – a Facebook group with tons of farmer selfies from real farmers
And, of course, you can email me with any question, any time. I LOVE a great debate and a differing viewpoint, but please – for the love of all that is holy – don’t call me a shill.
Earlier this month we posted a list of the county fairs happening around the state for the first half of the month.
Here is the schedule for the second half of July.
For some strange reason you still haven’t gotten your funnel cake fix, it’s not too late!
Livingston Co. Ag. Fair Assoc. – Livingston
7/20/2915 – 7/23/2015
18487 N. 1200 E Rd
Pontiac, IL 61764
Launch Web Site
Mason Co. 4-H & Jr. Ag. Show Assoc. – Mason
7/20/2015 – 7/23/2015
19580 E. CR 1100 N
Kilbourne, IL 62655
Fulton Co. Fair – Fulton
7/20/2015 – 7/25/2015
14778 N Catholic Cemetery Rd
Lewiston, IL 61542
Christian Co. Ag. Fair Assoc. – Christian
7/21/2015 – 7/25/2015
PO Box 714
Taylorville, IL 62568
Phone: 217 820-6870
Launch Web Site
Hancock Co. Fair – Hancock
7/22/2015 – 7/26/2015
PO Box 85
Augusta, IL 62321
Launch Web Site
Edwards Co. Ag. Fair Assoc., Inc. – Edwards
7/22/2015 – 8/1/2015
RR 3, Box 112
Albion, IL 62633
Stark Co. Jr. Fair Assoc., Inc. – Stark
7/24/2015 – 7/27/2015
7511 Wallace Hwy
Toulon, IL 61483
Champaign Co. Fair Assoc. – Champaign
7/24/2015 – 8/1/2015
P.O. Box 544
Launch Web Site
Lawrence Co. Jr. Fair Assoc. – Lawrence
7/25/2015 – 7/31/2015
1658 Berryville Ln.
Sumner, IL 62466
Launch Web Site
Clark Co. Fair Assoc., Marshall – Clark
7/26/2015 – 8/1/2015
5292 N State Hwy 1
Marshall, IL 62441
Phone: 217 822 8834
Launch Web Site
Shelby Co. 4-H & Jr. Fair Assoc. – Shelby
7/27/2015 – 7/30/2015
600 State Hwy 32
Windsor, IL 69157
Ogle Co. Fair Assoc., Inc. – Ogle
7/29/2015 – 8/2/2015
1381 E Pleasant Grove Rd
Oregon, IL 61061
Launch Web Site
Adams Co. Fair Assoc. – Adams
7/29/2015 – 8/4/2015
PO Box 108
Mendon, IL 62351
Launch Web Site
Kendall Co. Fair Assoc., Inc. – Kendall
7/30/2015 – 8/2/2015
P.O. Box 149
Yorkville, IL 60560
Launch Web Site
Bond Co. Fair Assoc., Inc. – Bond
7/30/2015 – 8/4/2015
PO Box 426
Greenville, IL 62246
Phone: 618 664-1412
Launch Web Site
This past week, most of our staff was in Washington, D.C. for Corn Congress.
Some Illinois farmers as well as farmers from all over the U.S. had the change to “Rally for Rural America” and to advocate on current issues that effect the agriculture industry.
Our staff was able to capture a few great moments!
Congresswoman and veteran Tammy Duckworth delivered a moving and motivating speech at the Rally for Rural America. She reminded these farmers that they are not only fighting for their own families, neighbors, and communities, but also every serviceman and woman protecting our country overseas or laying in a hospital bed right now. American bushels, not foreign barrels.
Even Captain Cornelius was in D.C. to show support. He also took a moment to pose for a picture with a few of our board members.
This post was originally posted on our blog last July and it is still very relevant today!
Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware that farmers and ag businesses alike have begun to have more conversations with some of our more urban consumers who have questions about the food we are putting on their tables. This is somewhat of a new concept for our industry, but it presents us with an opportunity to speak to a genuinely interested audience about what we do and why we do it. Most (if not all) of the people who work in the agriculture industry are incredibly proud of what they do, so it is no surprise that many farmers seize the opportunity to teach people about the different things that happen on their farm.
One way those interested urban consumers have been able to learn about their food is through the Illinois Farm Families program. This program, which is funded in part by the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, allows moms from the Chicago area (Field Moms) to go on various farm tours to experience farming first hand and have a conversation about their food with the people who are actually growing it. Paul Jeschke, the ICMB District 5 director, and his wife Donna have welcomed multiple groups of Field Moms onto their farm for a tour and discussions about the crops they grow on their farm. Watch the video below to get a glimpse of what it is Paul and Donna are doing to help spread the word about agriculture:
If you are interested in learning more about the Illinois Farm Families program, visitwww.watchusgrow.org