Although summer harvest may be over, harvest is still in full effect (well, maybe not with this rainy weather). Being corny people, we love to see when corn pops up in unexpected places. Today, we received a letter from a farmer who obviously knew his audience. So we thought we’d share it! The first picture is the stamp we received and the second from the USPS website. Turns out its part of the Summer Harvest Collection. We were hoping for a corn only collection, but we’ll take it!
Move out of the way gentleman. Here come the ladies in agriculture. These five farm women are making waves in the “agvocation” of agriculture by sharing their personal experiences and daily lives with others on social media. Between Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, these ladies in ag are helping tell their story about what farm life is like as mothers, wives, managers, farmers, and agvocates.
On Instagram you can check out two women from very different aspects of farming. Neither one is better than the other but both have beautiful photos that immediately capture your interest, making you wander… “Is it really that beautiful?”
Kristin Reese is a young mom of two who lives on a farm in Ohio where her and her husband raise and show sheep. However, they also raise other livestock and grain. Through posts about her life she explains production agriculture in easy-to-understand terms that help those who don’t have a farm background understand. You can check out more of how Kristin promotes and discusses ag on her Instagram account localfarmmom.
Offering an alternative approach to ag, farmersroots Instagram Joneve Murphy is an organic farmer who travels the world capturing organic food production through a lens that helps tell a story with magnificent photos. Her latest adventures in Nicaragua offer an insight into agriculture many aren’t able to experience.
While Instagram provides a beautiful backdrop to conversations about ag, Twitter is where those conversations can get started and grow.
Twitter Ag Queen Michele Payn-Knoper is the creator of the popular hash tag #agchat. Michele encourages everyone in the industry to share their story, and offers opportunities for people of all backgrounds to come together and to discuss ag topics ranging from nutrition to organic farming in #agchats. This plays a huge part in helping connect the gap between producer and consumer.
The other platform women use is Facebook — with more than one billion people using Facebook, women agvocates are able to help teach moms and women across the world about what their farm life is like.
In 2011, Dairy Carrie started sharing her journey of what life was like on her dairy farm in Wisconsin with her husband and their 100 dairy cows. Carrie shares on her Facebook page and website about everything dairy but also about ag in general. She says her “brain to mouth filter is the smallest known to mankind,” but this plays to her advantage as her honesty helps give the transparency needed in today’s agricultural production.
The second woman to watch on Facebook is The Farmer’s Wifee. Krista is a mom and first-generation dairy farmer with her husband in Washington with three kids and 150 dairy cows. She writes her own blog about daily life, shares facts about her industry, and shares articles that offer insight and knowledge for a range of ag topics for moms everywhere.
These women know how to make an impact with words. Thanks to them, many people are being educated while the women agvocate using daily life experiences. Different backgrounds, different parts of the ag industry, but all helpful in making a difference.
It’s National Voter Registration Day! Have you registered to vote yet? Organizations and plain-old politically active citizens are spending the day helping raise awareness about registering to vote and even helping people go through the process. Some might not think voter registration is all that important, but here’s a snapshot of voter history in Illinois during general elections since 1964:
A quick glance at the numbers might seem pretty good, but those percentages are based on registered voters who then went on to vote in the election. If you look at Illinois’ population of voting age individuals (approx. 9.7 million), the turnout percentage will likely be around 55% for this year. That’s not too great anymore, right? Voter turnout is even worse during election years where there is not a presidential candidate.
It doesn’t help that some states (like Illinois) don’t have automatic voter registration systems, meaning each person has to individually register to vote. Registration deadlines and requirements (like having a permanent residential address) can complicate matters even more. So National Voter Registration Day is both a helpful reminder but also a non-partisan campaign to ensure that eligible voters can participate in the democratic process.
Not registered? No problem (well I can’t guarantee that, but, hey, points for optimism)! We can fix that (maybe)! Many states have their own system for registering voters, but here are a few general resources:
Within these websites you can find information like:
- State-by-state deadlines to register to vote, to request an absentee ballot, and to turn in an absentee ballot
- A list of states that offer online registration
- A form to find out if you’re registered to vote
- Who will be on your ballot including national, state, and municipal candidates
- Election reminders via text message (super modern, right?)
- What to do if you’ve moved to another city in the same state
- How deployed military personnel and/or families can vote
- How to vote if you’re studying abroad, on sabbatical, or just don’t know when or if you’re coming back to the United States
- Requirements to vote early
- Official voting hours on election day
- Resources for college students away from home on election day
So why talk about voting on an ag blog?
Too often we think of Election Day being about the future president. Sure, it takes center stage. This election will be momentous for our country and its future direction, but other decisions are being made on that day. The candidates on the ballot for local, regional, and state elections are just as important as presidential candidates. These elections select the leaders of your community, the people who will have a direct and a tangible impact on your future and the health of the community in which you live.
Also, do research before you vote. It might seem tedious to learn about all of these people rather than just select a random name or not vote at all, but think of it this way: Your vote is one more towards making sure the right people are elected who can represent your interests, your farm, and your family.
It’s not impossible that your vote can be the one that makes the difference.
Near the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, there is an area the size of Connecticut that is completely void of any life. This area, which is known as the Gulf’s “dead zone,” is created by a number of environmental factors acting in tandem. One contributor is fertilizer runoff, which contains the macro-nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, is leached out of soils and into waterways (known as erosion), like the Mississippi River. The water pollution originates in all areas (both from cities and farmland), and these macro-nutrients are carried downstream and pour into the Gulf of Mexico. Because the nutrient levels become so high, algal blooms occur rapidly, depleting much of the oxygen in the area (this condition is otherwise known as hypoxia). Discharge from wastewater management systems is another large contributor to the hypoxia problem. This expeditious depletion of oxygen kills off any animal or plant that once lived there.
Scientists discovered the “dead zone” in the Gulf in 1972. It is the largest man-made hypoxic zone in the world, and in 2002, the zone became as large as the size of Massachusetts. Farmers today are doing everything they can to help decrease the hypoxic zone. One significant way they are minimizing their impact, as well as helping to improve waterways and promote general soil health, farmers have begun to use cover crops.
Cover crops include any crop that grows between periods of regular crop production. Cover crops benefit agricultural land because they enrich soil and protect it from erosion. Their extensive root system improves aeration in soil, allowing more air and water to infiltrate. Additionally, the root system creates pathways for a diverse array of soil animals that break down unavailable nutrients and make them available for crop uptake – an acre of healthy soil has the equivalent of 4 cows worth of microorganisms living in it! Cover crops create a more fertile and resilient agriculture field that can increase crop yield while also maintaining soil health.
Cover crops also reduce soil erosion caused by sediments, nutrients, and agricultural chemicals. The root system of these crops and the soil’s biological community take up or hold onto excess nitrogen, preventing it from leaching into waterways. Not only does reduced leaching mean less nutrient runoff into the Gulf (and therefore decreasing the effects of hypoxia), but this also improves the quality of drinking water over time.
Planting cover crops is very beneficial to both the environment and to crop production. When planting, it is important to use a cover crop that compliments the following harvest to maximize the benefits from the cover crop. You can even create cover crop ‘cocktails’ to achieve a multitude of benefits at one time; a field that uses a mix of cover crops is able to take up excess nutrients, suppress weeds, and create soil aggregation all in one area!
If you’re thinking of planting cover crops, whether it is on a small or large-scale, remember to do your research and start small. Additionally, if you want to learn more about cover crops you can attend an Illinois Demo Day, held in multiple counties throughout the summertime. If we all start to utilize cover crops within our agricultural lands, the soil will be more sustainable, and we may see a significant change in the size of the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s the end of another week and our office is winding down, but farmers across the country know that harvest doesn’t stop for the weekend. IL Corn understands and appreciates the work that growers put in, so we took a trip out to the fields to support IL Corn Executive Director Rodney Weinzierl. Employees and visitors had the chance to ride in the combine. First-time riders learned about combine technology, the importance of moisture percentages, and plans to test different cover crop strategies in the coming months. Although the novelty of combining has worn off for some of the well-seasoned veterans of the group, they used the one-on-one time to talk shop with Rod.
Here’s a timely #tbt as farmers head out into the fields for #harvest16. Be safe out there!
[Originally published September 22, 2015]
Harvest has just begun at my house! For our family farm, that means Dad’s in the combine, Hubs is running the grain trucks, Mom’s occasionally helping in the grain cart, and I’m… in the kitchen. I wasn’t raised on a farm – I married into it. I can’t move the trailer, dump the truck, shift the 4455 or herd the calves that are grazing my front lawn while the rest of the family is shelling corn at the field furthest away. But I can give rides… and I can cook!
“Field Meals” are my way of contributing to the harvest effort. As a farm wife who’s got a nine-to-five (or 7:30 to 4:00) in town, I don’t have time to pack the folding table, crock pot, and picnic basket full of gourmet goodies requiring full table service to eat supper. My family likes to “eat with one hand and shift with the other,” as my farmer would tell you! In order to keep up with the fast pace whirlwind of the season, I have developed a strategic game plan to conquer harvest hunger:
I’m a meal planner. I’ve always sat down on Sunday afternoon with my calendar, recipe book and shopping list — Harvest is no different. I have an idea list of main dishes, sides, snacks, drinks and desserts to keep stocked at the house. Drinks are chilling in the fridge, ground beef is browned the night before. That way when I get home from work I already know what’s going in their supper sacks – which leads me to my next tip…
Make it disposable.
I learned early on that stuff that gets sent out to the field doesn’t often make it back to the house – and if it does, three days later, it’s extra gross and moldy. To save time and sanity (and dishsoap!) I package everything in baggies, plastic sauce cups with lids, tin foil and plastic grocery sacks. The guys get plastic cutlery when required (which isn’t often) and in recent years I’ve invested in those Styrofoam take out boxes which have been a huge help. Once everything is individually wrapped, I do my best to split it out into Dad’s bag and Hub’s bag. I’ll pack a thermal bag with the hot food and a cold cooler with drinks to put together at the last minute in the back of my vehicle.
It must be 1-handed.
Some farm families I know take the time to sit down and eat in the car with regular dishes and silverware. Not us. This is where you have to know your farmer… As I mentioned before, my husband likes to eat while he drives, therefore it can’t be anything too complicated (no spaghetti, no chilli, no packets of mayo and mustard to put on his own sandwich). He’s running the grain trucks to the bins and can barely keep up with the combine. His dad, on the other hand, doesn’t mind taking a break from combining to sit in the car with me and eat “like a civilized human being.”
I’ve come up with some pretty creative one-handed meals – some more successful than others. You’ve got your classic, hamburgers & brats, to the more contemporary pigs in blankets, pork chop on the bone, and grilled ham & cheese with a tomato Soup-At-Hand. Fresh fruit is always a win and veggie sticks with dip works out well. Some epic fails include Salad wraps (think: veggies wrapped up in lettuce leaves with dressing inside), go-gurt, and those kid-friendly applesauce pouches. Apparently food packaged in tubes is inappropriate for anyone over the age of 12.
Keep it clean.
Don’t forget to pack plenty of napkins, paper towels, and something to wipe their hands on before eating. My mother-in-law always sends out a wet rag in a plastic baggie for the guys to wipe their greasy, dirty hands with. (She too has learned the hard way not to send out her good washcloths – they won’t come back). I’ve tried to substitute the cloth for a wet-wipe but they just can’t withstand the rough, farmer, man-hands. Trust me on this one, just send an old sock or chunk of t-shirt.
Don’t forget Dessert.
This may or may not go noticed by my farmer, but I always try to include a treasure at the bottom of the bag. Whether it’s homemade chocolate chip cookie, a couple Reese’s peanut butter cups, or a cold silver bullet, it’s my way of making him smile as he works late into the evening.
So what’s on my upcoming menu, you ask?
- Stuffed French Bread sandwiches with carrot and celery sticks, ranch dip, grapes, and a pudding cup. Tea/water/soda
- Bratwurst on the grill, individual bags of chips, steamed veggies, apple slices, and banana chocolate chip muffins. Tea/water/soda
- Breakfast sandwiches (fried eggs with bacon and cheese between buttered English muffin halves) Rosemary roasted potatoes & onions, orange slices. Tea/water/soda… chocolate milk?
- Corn dogs, French fries, fruit cup, steamed veggies, drinks
- Aaaaaand probably a fast food run to Arby’s or Subway a couple times in between!
If you have any recipes that fit my criteria, I’d love to hear from you.
With nearly 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside the United States, world markets offer momentous growth opportunities for U.S. agriculture. IL Corn and it’s partners work to develop export markets for American farmers and agribusinesses.
But it’s not all about American farmers and agribusinesses. In fact, when you get down to the local farmer level, these guys and gals are very concerned with simply feeding people. And they take their jobs seriously.
Of course, farmers are engaged in all sorts of interesting programs with food pantries in their areas – including the Pork Power program where several Illinois ag associations work together to move significant amounts of ground pork into the food pantry system. Those programs are important.
But just as important is our efforts to pass free trade agreements, to figure out barriers to trade in other countries, and to help international customers learn how to use the cuts of meat we have to sell. Because although these efforts help the U.S. economy, they also feed hungry people.
Think about it. Most of the food is grown in a few select areas – of which the U.S. is an important one. Food is also grown in South America and in the Ukraine and surrounding regions. But most of the eaters are not in these countries.
The eaters are in China. In India. In other developing countries. In fact, developing countries are home to roughly 80 percent of the world’s population.
We need trade if the food is going to get from the places food is grown to the places where hungry people live.
Atrazine. This funny-sounding word might not sound like anything that pertains to your life, but it affects you more than you know. The EPA is currently investigating and is considering further regulating atrazine, which could be costly for farmers, and eventually, consumers like you and me.
But what even is atrazine, you ask? It can be a little tough to explain, so I’ll break it down the best that I can. The portions in bold should help things make sense.
Atrazine is a herbicide that is applied typically to crops with weed issues. There are many different ways to control weeds in farming, but for farmers, it’s a cheaper to purchase and apply this herbicide than it is to buy fuel and till up the weeds (pull them up by loosening the soil). Also, the continuous tilling of the weeds can add compaction to the soil levels deep underground, as well as cause erosion on the top soil.
Farmers need a way to feed the world safely and economically. Atrazine helps immensely with that. While tilling weeds under is often considered the “safer, chemical-free” option, it’s often worse for the soil in the long-term.
Previously, atrazine has been investigated thoroughly by the EPA and other government regulatory agencies for its environmental impacts and safety risks, and it has been approved for continuous use. Seriously, the EPA means business when it checks these things out. From water safety studies to human and animal cancer studies, the EPA and other agencies like it have put atrazine through the wringer to make sure it’s safe and sustainable to use on our farms and on our earth. Except this time around, the EPA is backtracking its endorsement.
It’s like if a friend had really great shoes that you wanted to borrow, and she said you could. Every time you ask her, she says yes. You use the shoes, take the utmost care of them, and return them in the condition you got them. Every time, she approves and is pleased with the condition of her shoes. However, for some reason out of the blue, when you ask her this time, she says she’s not sure.
This pullback and restriction of atrazine use can have some costly effects on farmers and consumers alike. According to a 2012 University of Chicago study, farming without atrazine could cost farmers up to $59 an acre. With the average family farm being roughly 231 acres, that adds up to over $13,500 in one year.
For the average family farmer, that can mean they can’t afford their child’s college tuition. This cost will eventually get passed on to the consumer, meaning higher prices for you at the grocery store and the gas pump. Yikes.
So what can we do to show the EPA that we’re ready to approve atrazine? Share this article and inform your friends about atrazine. Call your congressman or send them an email letting them know you approve atrazine for farmer’s use.
Together, we can keep an affordable, safe, and sustainable food supply for the world.
It’s that time of year again! All of your hard work over the summer is about to pay off…after a little more hard work. The end is in sight! (but let’s be honest – farmer’s work never really ends). Be safe out there and happy harvest! Be sure to give us your updates in the field on social media by using #harvest16 and #ILharvest16.
If you’re into writing, reporting, photography, and journalism, great careers await you in agriculture and Holly Spangler is proof of that!
Holly is editor of Prairie Farmer magazine, having worked for Prairie Farmer before graduating from the University of Illinois. She also writes a monthly column, My Generation, and a blog, and manages editorial throughout the eastern Corn Belt for Penton Agriculture.
And if all that wasn’t enough, she and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle with John’s parents, and their three children. Of course, being a mom in a small community, Holly also volunteers with the county 4-H program, the school district, and their church’s youth and music ministries.
Whew! It’s safe to say that Holly grew into the extreme busyness that makes up her life, but it’s also apparent from her writing that she’s loving every minute of it. I was elated to get the opportunity to ask her more about her journey and her career.
Lindsay: What was your path or journey to this career?
Holly: When I started at U of I, my goal was to be a doctor…which didn’t last much further than Chem101. I discovered ag communications through my roommate at 4-H House and immediately knew I’d found my people. I doubled down and did every ag com internship I could find, including one before my senior year that took me to Washington, D.C. to work with the ag communicators at various national organizations. That summer, I learned there was an opening at Prairie Farmer. I was encouraged to go to the American Ag Editors Association meeting that fall in Chicago (now known as the Ag Media Summit) where I met Prairie Farmer Editor Mike Wilson. We sat down and had an interview, I wrote a test story and was offered the job. I started as a field editor in January of my senior year, and went to full-time after I graduated in May. I’ve stayed with the company ever since, as field editor, associate editor, a brief diversion as a national special projects editor, then came back as editor of Prairie Farmer and senior content director for our eastern Corn Belt edit team. Prairie Farmer has been a wonderfully flexible home for me here on the farm; they’ve let me work from home from the beginning and let me transition to part-time when my kids were born, then back to full-time when everyone went to school.
Lindsay: What is the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of your job?
Holly: The most rewarding part is the people. I love the people in agriculture. They are good and they have good stories, and they’ve made my life richer. The most challenging part is making sure we’re covering Illinois agriculture to the best of our abilities. There’s a lot going on out there!
Lindsay: What skills/education do you believe have helped you to be successful?
Holly: I grew up on a farm and showed cattle all over southern Illinois with my family, and two of the biggest lessons from those experiences were to work hard and to work with people. There are a lot of ways to get things done, but very few right ways. I want to work diligently until the job is done, and I want to do it in a way that honors the people around me. Every day in my job, my goal is to love God and love people.
The biggest skill set in my job is writing, writing, writing, and I’ve always tried to take good advice from good writers. Mike Wilson would send my early stories back to me with red ink all over them and I’d pour over them and learn from what he did. I read good writing all the time to get inspiration and ideas – I read stuff Mike writes, and stuff from Pam Smith and Marcia Zarley-Taylor and more. These are the people who win AAEA writing awards every year and I want to soak up and learn from them!
Lindsay: Describe a “day in the life” at your office.
Holly: Oh, it’s very glamorous when you work from home! Today for example, I sent my kids off to school, exercised, returned emails, talked through a column idea with a columnist, and later I will edit a couple of stories from another writer, make phone calls for a waterhemp story, handle some Prairie Farmer social media, track down information for a political piece, (continue to) sort 1,200 Farm Progress Show photos, study a new set of production deadlines and this afternoon I’ll leave for the Illinois Harvest Dinner, which I get to both participate in and cover. Tomorrow, I’ll come back and write-up that story and pull photos for it. And I’ll need to write a blog. Every day is different, which is really nice. And you can’t beat the commute.
Lindsay: Do you have advice for someone who might want a career like yours?
Holly: Get lots and lots of experience and write every chance you get. When I got my first job, it technically required 3-5 years of experience, which is the worst when you’re in college. BUT, I’d done so many internships that my boss decided they made up for it and I got the job anyway. So don’t be afraid to go for it, and don’t be afraid to pursue writing opportunities. I know there aren’t many writing internships out there, but I will work with any young person who’d like to give it a shot! Call me. We’ll talk.