Research & Creative Activities Sabrina Trupia NCERC 3-14-13Sabrina Trupia is the Research Director for the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) in Madison County and has been conducting research and learning more about ethanol at NCERC since 2009.

NCERC is located at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and is the only center of its kind in the world.  It is the only facility in the world at which corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, advanced biofuels, and specialty chemical research is conducted simultaneously.

From petri dish to intermediate and pilot scale, NCERC is fully equipped with the technology and expertise needed to meet any research or technology validation needs – and Sabrina gets to oversee all of it.

Lindsay: What are your primary responsibilities at NCERC?

Sabrina: I am the principal scientist in all client projects, project lead in fermentation laboratory services, and grant-funded lab research projects, in charge of laboratory quality control, safety and methods.

Lindsay: So you are “the scientist.”research director

Sabrina: One of them!

Lindsay: What do you love most about your job?

Sabrina: I love that we study ways of utilizing agricultural products to make the world a better place. Also, because of the variety of projects we do, there is always a lot to learn and it is a good place to apply one’s scientific creativity.

Lindsay: What skills/education do you believe have helped you to be successful?

Sabrina: I do have a PhD in Chemistry, but I think that the skills that have helped me most to be successful are my flexibility and curiosity. I am always looking to improve my understanding of the processes that we study and I am always looking for cutting-edge solutions.

Lindsay: How did you land in this job?  What was your path or journey to this career?

Research & Creative Activities Sabrina Trupia NCERC 3-14-13Sabrina: I came to NCERC in 2009, after working in the biodiesel/anaerobic digestion fields in the Northeast. Ethanol was one of the biofuels that I was also interested in and was looking to expand my portfolio of bioenergy knowledge, so when I heard of the opening at NCERC I immediately applied. I think it’s has been a very good mutual relationship.

Lindsay:  Based on your experiences, do you think young people today should be considering careers in agriculture?

Sabrina: I definitely think that agriculture careers are an excellent career choice for young people, because agriculture is of paramount importance in our world and whatever their discipline, understanding the importance of agriculture can only make ag better.

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager


It’s no secret that my heart belongs to the cornfields of western Illinois. It’s where I grew up, learned many life lessons, and became the strong and independent young woman that I am today. I owe a lot to the place I call home, and no matter where I go or what I do, here are five reasons why it will always be my favorite place on Earth.

8-29-16five4The Ag room is where I spent a majority of my high school career. Early morning Parliamentary Procedure practice, speech writing, resume building, life chats, record book keeping… It’s all happened here. I’ve cried many tears of stress, sadness, and frustration in this room, but I’ve also smiled until my cheeks hurt and laughed until I couldn’t breathe. My Ag teacher, the FFA, and this room have without a doubt helped me become who I am today.

8-29-16five3Some of my fondest childhood memories include riding in the semi with my dad and having McDonald’s “picnics” complete with Orange drink or Diet Pepsi. Sick days in elementary school meant riding with dad as he hauled grain to places like ADM and Cargill. He would set me up in the sleeper of the semi, and I would snuggle up with my stuffed animals and watch Disney movies. Then, I took it for granted, but as I have gotten older, I have realized how precious times like that were.


The Fulton County Fair is arguably one of the highlights of my summer. While corn dogs and lemon shake-ups are at the top of my favorite things list, one of the best things about the county fair is the fact that you get to spend time with some of the greatest people. I like to call them my “fair family.” They’re the ones that ask you how your summer has been, are always there when you need a laugh, will lend a hand if you need help in the show ring, and are always cheering you on throughout life.


This picture was taken by my aunt at my cousin’s wedding shower a few years ago. I’m pretty sure everyone from the surrounding counties was there (or at least everyone from church!). The sense of community that comes from small town life is one of life’s greatest blessings. If someone from the family is hurting, someone is always there with a meal. If a child needs help with a 4-H project, there is someone who has mastered the craft and is willing to share their talents. If someone is getting married, you can bet on it that they will be there too!

8-29-16five5They say that home is where your heart is. And as you have figured out by now, that couldn’t be truer. I am so proud of the 18 years that I spent growing up and learning from the people around me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the experiences and guidance. As I grow up and move farther and farther away from home, I know that my roots will always be firmly planted, and the cornfields of western Illinois will always be my favorite place on Earth.


Kaity Spangler

Kaity Spangler
University of Illinois



Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at filming of the 360º Farm Tour series produced by Illinois Farm Families. In the videos, Illinois farmer Justin Durdan teaches us and WGN radio personality Patti Vasquez about growing corn. Here, Justin talks about the process of aerial application, popularly called crop dusting. Be sure to follow along at


As Illinois students head back to school, it might be a perfect time to thank U.S. farmers!

Farmers provide more than just the soy biodiesel in the school bus and the ethanol blend in the parent drop off line. Illinois wheat is used for chocolate chip cookies; Illinois specialty growers provide apples, and Prairie Farms Dairy and Illinois dairy farmers, provide thousands of ½ pint milk cartons filled with milk! But what about the rest of the back to school supplies? How are they linked to agriculture?

notebooks equals one treeCalifornia cedar trees are most commonly used in pencils due to the non-warping features, and a classroom of 32 students, each carrying 5 new 100 page notebooks use the wood from roughly one tree. The Mead Company (makers of many of those notebooks and the infamous Trapper Keeper) is a part of ACCO (formerly the American Clipper Company, a paperclip company) based in Lake Zurich, Illinois. So even if the trees to make the paper come from the great north woods, an Illinois company still has a hand in providing paper products!

Spruce, Fir, Aspen and Maple trees are typically harvested for use in facial tissues because of the thin wood fiber system that provide both softness and durability.

Of course you can find soybean oil in some crayons, but you’ll also find hair from cattle in paintbrushes, and more soy by-products in the cleaning materials to help clean up the art room!

Teachers will find lanolin from sheep in the lotion they use after grading all the papers and fatty acids from beef cattle are also used in cleaners and sanitizers!

Corn starch is used in the formation of plastic items to help coat molds to help in the efficiency of plastic production.

You will find beef by-products in the new bottles of glue, as well as the erasers from those brand new pencils!

And those PE uniforms and back to school clothes? Those are made from cotton of course. 1 bale of cotton makes 1,217 T-shirts, 215 pairs of jeans and 4,321 socks. The extra sock is the one that gets lost in the laundry anyway!

And those school fees and school lunches can be paid for in cold hard cash. According to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing that cash is printed on 75% cotton and 25% linen fiber.

So, as back to school time starts, slow-down in school zones, thank a hardworking teacher and remember to thank a farmer!

Kevin Daugherty
Education Director
Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom


I wasn’t always a farmer.

Before I married a farmer, I looked at the world a little differently.  But after nearly 40 years on the farm, I have learned some very valuable lessons that apply to both farm life AND my day job.

Be prepared!Jim and Pam Robbins
Living out in the country miles from town a wife must be prepared to do almost everything from the stores of supplies “on hand”!  This can range from making a cake to feeding four or more men in a moment’s notice.  Farmer’s “offices” are in the hundreds of acres in their fields, either getting soil ready in the spring for planting or harvesting the crop in the fall and a farm wife must be able to whip something up in a moment’s notice that may have to feed grown men for their midday meal.

No running to McDonald’s for the farmer! Rather farm wives must have ingredients to prepare a well-balanced meal to take to the fields or prepare for a mid-day visit by your farmer family and menus that can be prepared quickly or travel in containers to where the working farmer may happen to be.

I learned shortly after being married in August 1980 that I was responsible for feeding four grown men which included delivering that meal to the field. I had to learn to cook quickly, and that meant keeping the shelves in my kitchen stocked with ingredients that I could prepare to make a large meal in a couple of hours. I learned to “cook big” and still can do it today!

Expect to treat any injury that might show up at the back door!
I’m a nurse so this one stands out for me.  When a farmer injures themselves they seem to do it big. Farming, or as they list it Agriculture, is one of the most hazardous occupations according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.  The registered nurse in me always kept an emergency bag of bandages and gauze ready to go to make a visit – especially to the field.

One day my brother in law came to my back door covered in bean dust holding his glove over his other hand. I had no idea what to expect – would a finger be hanging on by thread?  A deep cut in his hand?  He took away the glove and a large slice was in his palm. He has gotten too close to the combine blades that cut the soybeans. A trip to the hospital was on our agenda for the evening. Several stitches later we arrived back home and he went back to the fields. Never a dull moment with farmers. Farmers work long hours. Being fatigued contributes to injuries and praying my farmers stay safe is always on daily rosary beads!

You can do everything correctly but if it doesn’t rain it doesn’t matter!
The focus on weather before becoming a farmer’s wife is quite different after becoming a farmer’s wife. “Before farming” (BF) weather could be seen as an inconvenience – if rain was going to interrupt your daily plans.  As a farm wife the importance of timely moisture from God’s sky to grow crops at the crucial time rain is needed was a new topic I had to quickly learn.

The conversation about the weather is something farmers and their families never get bored with discussing! Will it rain, how much will it rain, how hard will it rain, will there be wind, hail, is there going to be an early frost. The list of weather conditions can vary as the seconds in a day! BF weather was simple – do I grab an umbrella?  After marrying a farmer, I’m now concerned if our fields get enough moisture to produce a crop that we can sell. If we have no crop we have no money…our income is off the yearly harvest of our crops.

City folks go to work and get a check every week. If it doesn’t rain at the right time for the crops there may be no check! That means that year is a bust. So when you see a rain cloud in the sky note if it growing season for crops and say a prayer that the farmer gets enough moisture to grow a crop to feed his family and the world!

One U.S. farmer produces enough food to feed 155 people and is the leading producer of more than 50 foods of importance to diets throughout the world.

Pam Robbins
Registered Nurse & Farmer
Northern Illinois



IMG_8861This past Tuesday (August 16) was Ag Day at the Illinois State Fair. If you’re familiar with the history of the fair, you’ll know the fair’s primary purpose was for agriculture. People brought their animals from across the state and to compete in showing. For instance, the competition would decide which dairy cow had the best features and characteristic of the ideal dairy cow that would best carry on the breed. These competitions still exist today and have varying criteria based on the category/animal.

Since then, the Illinois State Fair has evolved to include a non-farming audience with different games, rides, concerts and foods. While no one is discounting the glory of a funnel cake, Ag Day was created to give a spotlight to the fair’s original intention. This year, IL Corn joined other agriculture organizations, farming families, and government leaders to showcase the industry while also engaging the non-farming community to learn about issues agriculture faces today.

Among the events:


  • 8-16-16raunerGovernment officials including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and U.S. Congressman for Illinois Cheri Bustos showed their support by meeting with industry leaders.



  • IMG_8851Illinois FFA members interacted with government and industry officials to talk shop as they learn more to become our nation’s next agriculture leaders.


Check out more from our Facebook, where we live-streamed an interview with Illinois FFA members and heard from IL Corn leaders.


Jerry Rowe is the CEO of the Heritage Grain Cooperative.  He uses a lot of math, accounting, and customer service skills to run his grain elevator.

A cooperative grain elevator is a first purchaser of grain that is owned by a group of farmers in the community.  The elevator is run by a Board of Directors – and Jerry says that having an excellent Board of Directors is one of the highlights of his job!

As farmers harvest grain in the fall, they take it to the elevator to either sell on the spot, or to have the elevator store the grain for them until they are ready to sell.  As commodity prices fluctuate, the elevator offers farmers competitive prices, and farmers decide to sell based on their own budgets and marketing plans.  The elevator then sells the grain to other markets (export via rail or river, livestock).

Jerry’s job is extremely important.  If the elevator becomes unprofitable at some point, farmers loose another option to sell their grain.  Competitive options for selling grain is important to make sure farmers can sell for the very best prices.

Lindsay: What are your primary responsibilities?

Jerry: I’m the General Manager-CEO of the Heritage Grain Cooperative.  I’m responsible to make sure things run smoothly, we serve our farmer customers and farmer owners as best we can, and we make money.jerry rowe

Lindsay: What do you love most about your job?

Jerry: I enjoy grain trading, planning and logistics.

Lindsay: Planning and logistics I understand, but tell me more about grain trading.

Jerry: Grain trading is where the elevator takes the grain off the market when the basis is wide and the carry is large (i.e., there’s more grain in the system than needed). When the market does not want it, it our job to store and repackage it in larger units and different delivery methods. Like instead of selling and delivering via truck, we might sell and deliver via rail. We take the grain off the market when it is not wanted (wide basis) and sell it into the market when it is wanted (narrow basis).

Lindsay: What skills/education do you believe have helped you to be successful?

elevator CEOJerry: I have definitely needed good math skills for this position, in addition to knowing how to talk to people and how to listen.  Math is very important for the commodity trading part of my job, people skills are super important for the farmer customer service part of my job.

I’ve also needed some accounting skills, as I deal with money coming in and going out all day every day.

Lindsay: How did you land in this job?

Jerry: I started my career here 1977 as a manager trainee with Illinois Grain Corporation.  I was an assistant manager at two other locations, then managed a small elevator when this position opened.

I have been working in Central Illinois my entire career.  I knew all the people here and when this job came open, I was in contact with the right people and had developed the right skill set.

Lindsay: Do you think young people today should be considering careers in agriculture?

Jerry: Yes!  Agriculture has been very good to me.  There is always a future in ag for bright young people who want to work.  I never did want to live in a Chicago.  If you like the smaller towns and rural areas in Illinois, then working in a grain elevator is one of the best jobs in a small town.

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


Less than 83 days remain until the United States determines who will lead the country for the next four years. A new administration means the roll-out of new programs and legislative agendas. Therefore, it’s important to know for what these individuals stand, not just for what makes them famous (or infamous for that matter). The positions that candidates take now on such issues as agriculture can have impacts decades later. That’s why farmers must take a look at how or if the candidates prioritize agriculture.

For this first edition, we’ll start with the major party candidates, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump. The remaining independent party candidates will be covered in a later post.

(Sorting method: Candidates are not divided by preference. Last names are sorted alphabetically.)

Secretary Hillary Clinton – Democratic Party

hillary-accepts-nom-dnc-7-29-16Secretary Clinton has a direct connection to farming communities in her work with constituencies in rural, upstate New York. In August 2015, Secretary Clinton rolled out a plan to revitalize rural communities. While some points do not speak directly to farming, the emphasis on revitalizing rural towns, which are largely farming towns, would likely boost the agriculture economy. Within this plan, Secretary Clinton supported providing government subsidies for farmers that are struggling and helping the next generation of farmers with funding, education, and mentoring for “aspiring farmers and ranchers.”

Secretary Clinton also supports the expansion and use of renewable energy sources, including biofuels. She seeks a strengthening of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and actively opposes the EPA’s cutting back of already-established target blending levels.

On GM foods, Secretary Clinton supports a mandatory labeling program, citing the consumer’s right to know. Yet, in those same remarks, she upheld sound science and the need for GM seeds, particularly in populations that are drought-resistant.

Current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack endorsed Secretary Clinton in 2015.

Donald Trump – Republican Party

Trump_Nom_072216Although Mr. Trump does not have any direct connection to farming or rural communities, many of his stances have implications for the agriculture economy.

In 2015, Mr. Trump gave explicit support to the RFS in order to achieve energy independence from other nations. The federal program has been critical in expanding markets for renewable fuels such as ethanol.

Mr. Trump supports biotechnology and GMO foods and dispels the need for right-to-know labeling mandates. This comes in contradiction with a now-deleted tweet on the candidate’s infamous Twitter feed: “Too much #Monsanto in the #corn creates issues in the brain?”  The comment was originally made by a Nevada businessman. Mr. Trump later claimed it was an intern that re-posted the remark.

The candidate is also infamous for his plans on immigration reform. However, some have argued that his would decrease workforce numbers in agriculture significantly. The American Farm Bureau Federation noted that the ripple effects of deportation could be decreased production, increased food prices, and a drop in net farm income.

On August 16, 2016, Mr. Trump’s campaign announced that he has formed an agricultural advisory committee composed of several governors, including former 2016 GOP candidates Rick Perry and Jim Gilmore, and lawmakers. We should expect that more concrete agriculture solutions will come from Mr. Trump and his new brain trust in the following weeks.

Trade – A Hot Button Issue

Both presidential candidates are against current free trade agreements, specifically the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a wide-reaching, multi-national deal that has been a major focus of President Obama’s remaining time in office. The current White House administration proclaims that the “past seven years have represented the strongest period in history for American agricultural exports…totaling $911.4 billion.” Agriculture exports increased from $56 billion in 2000 to $155 billion in 2014, per the USDA. Clearly, farmers have a major stake in free trade with foreign nations. Aside from the issues that come from working with nations on a case-by-case basis (e.g. lack of multi-national support could reduce leverage and ethos to produce more efficient and effective deals), United States agriculture would fall victim on a financial level as they might severely scale back commodity exports, even just during negotiation of new trade deals.

This review is not completely exhaustive but can hopefully give a clearer picture on how either candidate would influence the future of American farmers. It’s important that we choose someone who clearly stands in solidarity with the modern farmer.


Taylor McDonald
Communications Assistant
IL Corn


It’s August! By now, corn is taller than tall and you can’t see much as you drive past on the back roads of the Midwest, unless there’s a soybean field! All of the cornfields at this point are a beautiful luscious green towering in plenty of excess of 10 feet tall. However, you might see a few cornfields that aren’t as tall and look like their tops have been chopped off, this is because of a process that we call detasseling in the agriculture industry.

8-15-16detasselOn your average cornfield, you’ll see a brownish-yellow piece coming out from the top of the field. That is called the tassel. The tassel is the male flower part of the corn. It produces pollen, which falls down towards the female flower, which produces the cob or corn. Before it is corn, it is simply a cob with silk that catches the pollen. When pollen hits the silk, one kernel is formed. Therefore, corncobs have one silk per kernel.

With field corn, the predominant corn type you see that soars way above your head, fields are planted and left to pollinate. However, things are different when it comes to fields for seed corn.
In seed cornfields, two kinds of corn are planted. Typically, there are two rows of male corn planted, with 4 or 6 rows of female corn planted between the male corn rows.To pollinate correctly, a machine comes through and detassels the female rows, before they start to drop pollen.  Machines are not perfect, so after the machines go through, farmers and companies hire workers, typically students, to walk the rows and pick any tassels still on the corn.

Once they are detasseled, the only tassels left are the males, which will pollinate the surround female plants. Once the female rows are pollinated, the male rows are destroyed and the only plants left in the field are the detasseled female rows. This helps cross-pollinate the two different varieties that are in the field. If the tassels were left on the female rows, the male rows would not pollinate all of the female rows, as the female rows would also be laying pollen from their own tassels.

That is a short and somewhat confusing explanation of why and how fields are detasseled.  While you may not see it every day, now you know why some cornfields don’t have the yellow tassels on top!


Cowger_Dakota_IL CORN INTERN 2x3 16
Dakota Cowger
Communications Intern
IL Corn


Some people think that the only busy times of the year are planting and harvest and the rest of the year farmers spend their glorious amounts of free time vacationing or tinkering with antique tractors. This may be true for some, but not the majority. Today is the eighth post in my one-year series which will give you an idea of a farmer’s workload throughout the year. Keep in mind that all farms operate differently and I am just providing one example of a year in the life of a grain farmer. There are several factors that contribute to the seasonality of the farm such as size and scale of the operation, crops grown, location, livestock, management style and general upbringing or personal work ethic! I hope this provides some insight to what versatile businessman farmers are.


Start at the beginning!

It’s a month of anticipation and preparation for the upcoming harvest season. While there are still a few things going on with the current year’s crop, there’s also a mind shift into harvest and post-harvest plans. This can also be a busy time of year for off-farm meetings and events – like the state fair!

This year’s crop:

  • Finish Spraying Fungicide – Depending on the growth stage of the corn, there may still be some fungicide application to do in August.
  • Cover CropsApply Cover Crops –Terminal cover crop varieties like tillage radishes and oats can be aerially applied to standing corn and beans once the canopy has shrunk some and enough light can get to the ground. Cover Crops can provide soil benefits to the fields in both “regular” areas as well as high erosion areas. Their roots help to hold the soil in place and reduce nutrient run-off as well as aiding in weed control. This best management practice is getting more and more popular in recent years as farmers have witnessed its benefits.

Farm Maintenance:

  • Prepare Equip for HarvestPrepare equipment for Harvest – It’s time to get the combine out and fire it up for its pre-harvest maintenance inspection and setting calibrations. Same goes for the grain trucks, semis, tractors, grain carts and gravity wagons.
  • Mowing and Odd Jobs – There’s always ditches and waterways to mow and, depending on the farm, this could be baled into hay to either sell or feed to livestock. It’s also probably time for another alfalfa cutting which would be baled for the same purposes. Finally, August is when corn silage is made. To cut corn silage you need a special machine called a silage chopper and wagon that go through the corn like a combine and basically mow off the entire plant: stalk, leaves, corn cobs and all. Everything gets shot into the wagon and taken to the storage area and put away to cure in long white bags, individually packed round bales or for larger quantities, bunkers or vertical storage bins. Corn silage is primarily fed to cattle – especially dairy cows.

Next year’s crop:

  • Planning ahead –Farmers are looking ahead to contract fall fertilizer, and considering what changes they’d like to make next year. There’s post-harvest projects to be thinking about as well such as tiling projects and dirt work to redirect water flow in problem areas. There are countless other projects on the back burner – these are just a couple examples.

Off Farm Commitments:

  • Meetings – August is basically the last month to get farmers together for organizational and informational meetings. Many farm organizations have their last group meeting in August and wait until harvest is over to have their next one, because they know it’s not likely anyone will show up when they could be picking corn! Lots of seed dealers are also having informational meetings to discuss the benefits of their brand of seed in preparation for next year’s planting season.
  • State FairFair Season – Finally, it’s County and State Fair time meaning town kids and country kids alike will be showing their 4-H projects. For many farm kids, this is the livestock they’ve been working with all summer long. They may be spending anywhere from three to seven days at the fair. Mom and Dad play a big role in the projects as well- transporting the livestock, tack, grooming chutes and feed, not to mention supporting their kids as they show. Adults can show livestock as well in the “Open Show”. This is a great chance to market your breeding stock and meet potential buyers.


Ashley Deal
ICGA/ICMB Membership Assistant