While the profession of farming only involves 2% of the population, the other 98% are still affected by it. Whether we’re driving on roadways or visiting farms, we all play a part in keeping harvest and the world safe for everyone.  In the spirit of DJ Khaled, I’ve included three Major Keys that play into keeping harvest safe and successful for farmers and consumers.

MAJOR KEY 1:  Be mindful of the SMV symbol on the back of equipment!


Tractors, combines, and other large equipment often has this orange triangle fixed on it.  This orange triangle with a border of reflective tape is called a Slow Moving Vehicle, or SMV symbol.  Any vehicle or equipment with this emblem means that it can travel at speeds of 25 miles per hour or less. SMV symbols are mostly found on large mechanical equipment, but they can be found on horse-drawn vehicles and equipment as well.

What Does This Mean for Me?

Roadways are meant to be shared by cars, trucks, and tractors alike.  As a driver, we can contribute to sharing this safely by not using a phone or device and keeping our eyes on the road.  By doing both of these, we can see slow-moving vehicles quicker and change adjust our speed accordingly.  Also, be aware of the blinkers and hazard lights on large equipment.  While driving normally, a tractor will have its hazards blinking the entire time.  However, the lights will change when it turns.  For example, if it turns right, the left-side lights will stop blinking and the right-side lights will continue to blink.  Above all, following defensive driving techniques will keep everyone safe.

objects-0055_largeMAJOR KEY 2: Don’t play in grain bins and on equipment!


Farms house a lot of large stuff—grain bins, tractors, harvesting equipment, and so on. A lot of times, this equipment can look like a harmless space to climb and hang out.  It’s not.

Grain bins hold thousands of bushels of grain.  From the outside, it could look like a swimming hole.  However, grain behaves a lot like quicksand—it will someone under and suffocate them in a matter of minutes.   Even though large equipment looks stationary and safe, it can easily be turned on and become life-threatening in a manner of seconds.

What Does This Mean for Me?

It’s best to stay clear of these structures and equipment.  They may seem harmless, but in the end, they’re tools made for harvesting and storing grain safely—not for play.

objects-0055_largeMAJOR KEY 3: Use common sense!

Above all, use common sense when interacting in the world around harvest time.  Symbols exist to highlight important features about tools.  Tools exist to help get jobs done in an efficient manner.  If we take the time to evaluate situations and then make decisions, harvest—and the rest of the world—will be a much safer place.

Molly Novotney
The University of Illinois


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 tenth 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.



Harvest is in full swing! If you’re married to a farmer (like me), or have many farmer friends, you KNOW you won’t be seeing much of him or her this time of year. Even once they’re done cutting corn or beans, farmers are still up early and out late this month.

This year’s crop:

  • general-harvest-1Harvest: Combines are rolling through the fields with auger wagons following closely alongside. Grain trucks, grain carts, and semis are bumping down gravel roads. Wives, kids, or a spare hired man is following in the pick-up truck to help move equipment from field to field. Farmers are constantly moving during harvest. They don’t want the grain to get too dry before hauling it to the elevator, and they certainly don’t want a bad wind knocking a stand of corn down before they can get to it. Farmers have been investing blood, sweat, tears, and MONEY in this crop for the last 11 months and it’s time to cash in on the literal “fruits of their labor”.
  • dumping-at-the-elevatorMoney in the bank: September and October are busy grain marketing months. As the trucks roll across the scales at the elevator a farmer may choose to sell it immediately rather than storing it there. As you’ve learned in past posts, elevators charge a small fee to store grain in their facility. You can think of it as paying rent. A downside to selling it immediately, though, is that since there’s such an abundance of it available, the price the farmer is getting is typically lower in the fall. (Sometimes a farmer just needs some cash, though, or has sold it ahead for a better price).

Farm Maintenance:

  • Manage Break-Downs: As mentioned last month, with all those moving parts there are bound to be breakdowns during harvest. Be it with combine, tractor, flat tire on a grain cart, an overheating truck, a jammed up grain auger or a miscalibrated dryer, breakdowns happen and then need to be dealt with in an efficient manner.

Next year’s crop:

  • Looking ahead: With “this year’s crop” being hauled away, it’s time to implement next year’s game plan.
    • Some farmers do fall tillage by working up the ground to break up plant matter and prepare the seed bed for next year’s crop, while others follow the “best management practice” of reduced-till, which leaves the ground intact, preventing soil erosion and compaction.
    • fall-fertRegardless of tillage decision, most farmers apply fertilizer and other dry products such as phosphorous and potassium (commonly referred to as P&K) and lime may be applied to fields. Some farmers may also apply liquid nitrogen in the fall, but The 4Rs of nitrogen management, per the The Fertilizer Institute’s 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program, recommends applying nitrogen as the crops need it:“By postponing a portion of the N treatment until the crop is better able to utilize the nutrient, plants take up the nitrogen more quickly and efficiently. That means growers get more from their fertilizer investment and fertilizer losses that can contribute to environmental concerns are lessened.”
    • If farmers are using over-wintering cover crops such as cereal rye, it may be applied post-harvest, depending on what is being planted.
    • Finally, this is the time of year winter wheat is planted in order to harvest the following summer.

Enjoy this beautiful season and be thankful for all that is sown, Happy Harvest!

Ashley Deal
Membership Administrative Assistant
IL Corn


We talk a lot about food and food labels and how we wish all Americans felt comfortable buying all kinds of food (because all of it is safe!), but maybe we haven’t talked enough about how much some of your food is tested and vetted before it gets to you.

Of course we understand that a new car, a new iPhone, or a new medication are tested completely before they are allowed in the marketplace. But did you stop to think that the same rigorous testing procedures apply to … food?

People are nervous about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and that makes sense because we’re all a little worried at first about things we don’t know much about. But this video from Monsanto explains (in 60 seconds!) what a new GMO seed must go through before farmers can actually plant it.

Still have questions?

We’d love to hear from you!! Leave us a note in the comments below!


Here in Illinois, the harvest is in full swing. Over in western Illinois, it seems as though there isn’t much left to be harvested. Most of the corn and beans are gone, and it seems like everyone can take a small sigh of relief…for now.

However, for me, I’m sad that it’s all coming to an end. Sure, I’m glad it’s over because that means my dad gets to enjoy a less stressful Dad’s Weekend at the University of Illinois with me, but the harvest is easily one of my favorite times of the year. The picture below is one that I shot coming home from the University of Illinois a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes we can take this harvest for granted, but if you look a little closer at the photo, there’s a story to tell. So here are five things about this photo!


  1. As I mentioned, this picture was taken on my way home from school. I noticed a few family members in the field and decided to stop by. My grandma was ready with a field meal (complete with homemade bread and cake… she doesn’t mess around when it comes to this stuff), and the sun was setting on a long and relatively warm day. I enjoy being able to come home from school and spend a little bit of time hearing about how everything is going!
  2. The grain cart has an orange and yellow triangle; this shows to the people driving down the road that it is a slow-moving vehicle. This cart takes our corn from the combine to the elevator. It is important to notice these triangles while traveling on the road and to drive cautiously. These people are feeding you!
  3. If we look at the sky, we see it is a perfect day for harvest. The clouds are covering the sky just enough to ensure the farmer has shade to take a rest, but the sun for them to remember why they do what they do. In the FFA, the sun is the token of a new era in agriculture. As more and more technologies are brought into the agricultural industry, this new era is becoming one of the greatest we’ve seen. However, it’s important to trust the agriculturalists who are making these great strides!
  4. The field to the side of the tractor and semi show the promise there is still more to go. Agriculture is an industry that will always thrive and produce. The field in the background illustrates the essence of harvest, the work that never ends in the life of the farmer.
  5. This picture most importantly shows hometown agriculture. I am thankful for having the opportunity to grow up in a town that is so heavily reliant on agriculture and for it being such an important industry to my family. The sense of community is only strengthened by the bond of agriculture, and for me, it is always exciting to come home and witness this first hand.

Kaity SpanglerKaity Spangler
University of Illinois


It’s pretty simple to incorporate another subject into whatever lesson you are teaching. We do it all the time in agriculture education without even thinking about it. For example, in a BSAA (biological science applications in agriculture) class we practice surveying the lay of the land which includes being able to calculate slope, something that is learned in a math class. In an introduction to agriculture class we learn about the dust bowl which was caused in part by poor agricultural practices and without even thinking about it, we are incorporating a history lesson into an agriculture class.

As an agriculture education major who is currently student teaching, this seems like no big deal to me. I incorporate different subject areas into my lessons every single day, but I think it’s pretty rare to see agriculture incorporated into another subject’s lessons. So let’s talk about a recent experience I had that I know would have been one of the best ways to incorporate agriculture into a different classroom setting.

10-17-16organic-labelMy older sister is a high school and junior high health and physical education teacher. At a family dinner recently, she was talking about how she was currently teaching nutrition in her health class and was having students ask questions about whether organic food is better than non-organic and other topics of the such. As soon as she said this, a light clicked on in my head and I realized that would have been a perfect time to incorporate an agriculture-based lesson on teaching students to understand where their food comes from.

To incorporate this into her lesson, she could simply start the class out by getting a basic understanding of the class and what they know and believe. To do this, she could start out by asking students if they know where their food comes from. If the students understand that their food is grown by a farmer and doesn’t just appear in a grocery store, then she could move on to asking if they know how the food is grown or what it takes to grow a plant? 10-17-16my_plate_logoOn the Illinois Ag in the Classroom website there is My Plate activity that shows not only the correct portion sizes of food, but you can also click on each of the portions on the plate and learn how that food is grown and also do some activities with each food group. After explaining to the students how food is grown, she could go into a discussion of asking students who choose to eat organic food and why they choose to do so. She could then proceed to ask students what they believe some of the current buzz words and phrases me. One topic she could discuss is that of Subway’s current promotion of “antibiotic-free meat.” This marketing scheme actually doesn’t even make any sense as it is illegal for farmers to sell any type of meat or animal food product that has any trace of antibiotics. If this is a topic that she feels uncomfortable teaching, she could have students use their devices to go to the Illinois Farm Families where they can learn what all these buzzwords mean, actually meet the people who grow their food, and even personally ask questions to farmers and growers around Illinois.

With all of the co-teaching and diversity within teaching happening right now, don’t forget to try to incorporate in the area that feeds, clothes, and fuels you and your students everyday!

ellen-youngEllen Young
Illinois State University


What is a factory farm? Is it a 5,000-acre grain farm supporting 3 families? Is it a 40 head dairy cattle operated by a dad his son? Is it a poultry farm operated by a family of five who contract out through a corporation who will sell the chicken in the store?

The term “factory farm” seems to have originated from the non-agriculture public and media about large farms in today’s agriculture industry. The only issue is that there is no real definition of a factory farm. A factory farm in some eyes are having over 20 animals in a herd, while others see it as large rows of buildings housing thousands and thousands of livestock.

But is there such a thing as a factory farm?

img_9035Many of the large farms seen from the flatlands of the Midwest to the hills of Texas are large FAMILY farms. Does this make them a factory farm? No. There are plenty of large farms in the country that might house more than 1,000 pigs, to help provide for two or three families.

Is that a factory farm? Somewhere with multiple families and generations raising livestock to help make ends meet? No. That is families trying to make ends meet. With lower margins than in years previous, families have to increase their farm size to help put food on the table.

What about my family? We farm 40 miles south of Downtown Chicago in one of the first farm towns south of the suburbs. We farm around 3000 acres of grain crop and milk around 75 dairy cows. To put an acre in perspective, one acre equals about the size of one football field.

Does that sound like a large farm to you? By some standards, it definitely is. However, let’s break down the numbers.

Three families are provided for on this farm. My family, along with my grandparents and uncle’s family all depend on the farm for income.

img_9036We all depend on the farm for food to be on the table.

We depend on the farm to pay for fuel to get the kids to soccer practice.

We depend on the farm to keep the lights on to study for the next big test in school.

We depend on the farm to keep life moving, just like everyone else relies on their job and income to pay the bills.

Does that make our farm a factory farm? I don’t think so. Just like every other family, we work hard to make money and provide for the family. We go past the bar, with every single member being active on the farm and helping with whatever that could be. Whether its running someone to a tractor, or helping out with feeding calves, the entire family helps out when needed on the farm.

So is that large farm you see on the side of the road a factory farm? No, it probably isn’t, because it is probably a family or two working hard to make ends meet.

Cowger_Dakota_IL CORN INTERN 2x3 16


Dakota Cowger
Illinois State University


What do Organic and GMO have in common?

Organic and GMO have at least one thing in common, and that is they both use Bacillus thuringiensis, also known as bT.

What’s the significance of bT?

In its simplest form, bT is a naturally occurring bacteria creating a protein that makes insects sick when they eat it. Therefore, bT is used for crops to kill off insects (as a pesticide), however it is completely safe for human consumption and safe for our environment.

Why is bT safe for humans and not insects?

When an insect eats this bT protein, it messes with their digestion/absorption of food and causes them to die off. However, bT is completely safe for human consumption and safe for our environment. Sort of like comparing the diets of cows and humans… if humans were to eat a bunch of grass like cows do, then it would cause serious digestive issues and other health risks. However, cows are perfectly healthy when they eat grass because their systems are made to consume it!

How is bT used?

BT is widely used in both Organic farming and GMO farming as a natural pesticide. However, the process in which it is used is where it differentiates. Organic farmers use bT bacteria as a spray onto their crops, whereas GMO farmers use the DNA from the bacteria that produces the protein that insects can’t eat which is then put into the DNA of the GMO plant so that the plant also produces the protein that insects can’t eat. This gene has been engineered to work in plants and is very effective in preventing insect damage without the pesticide sprays.

GMO is the way to go!

10-10-16cars-gmos_xvfxx5_rbsw23GMOs are a necessity for farmers and for the environment! In the United States alone, the majority of corn, soybeans, and cotton have been engineered in the soil of bT, which can also be considered a transgenic crop. This boom has led to more food production and lower prices for consumers. Basically, GMOs produce more with less! Altogether, genetic modification boosts crop yields by 21% and cuts pesticides by 37%. Due to this increase in yield, we get to save on land, therefore protecting the Earth more! With over 15 years of transgenic crops, there has never been a health danger.

10-10-16keep-calm-gmo-safeSo what’s the point?

GMO’s use the same protein pesticide that the organic farmers use to control specific insects. This pesticide is in no way harmful to humans or the environment. The only difference is the way it is applied. Organic sprays it on their crops, GMO farmers put it in the soil. GMO crops allow farmers to use less pesticides!


Katie Roustio
University of Illinois