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?

10-10-16url1When 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



Did you know we have a podcast section to our website? During planting and harvest season, we know you’re out in the fields and don’t have as much time to read, but you want to keep up with the news. So catch up and fill your time in the combine by listening to news updates and original industry updates from our office.


leslie-vangeisonLeslie Vangeison, Controller – WILD Flavors & Specialty Ingredients – Americas at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) uses math skills and agriculture knowledge every day to help an agricultural company make business decisions.

Her work over 17 years with the company to prepare monthly results, reporting, and internal controls for grain elevators and the transportation network (truck, rail, barge, and ocean-going vessels), helped the company remain profitable and make important decisions – decisions like acquiring new business ventures of which Leslie is now Controller!

Lindsay: What was your path or journey to this career?

Leslie: I grew up on a farm, and was active in 4-H and FFA growing up.  This background knowledge of the ag industry was very valuable as I became an adult and started working as an accountant for a major agribusiness.

I started with ADM in an internship position during my Junior year of college at Millikin University in Decatur.

The first 14 years of my 17 years with the company was in the Ag Services segment.  This segment includes grain elevators owned by ADM that purchase grain from farmers and the transportation network that we use to move the grain all over the world to the end buyers.  During my time in the Ag Services segment, I also had the opportunity to work from our office in Hamburg, Germany for about 5 months to lead the Global Ocean Freight accounting team when it began.

The past 2 years I have been a Controller in the newly formed WILD Flavors & Specialty Ingredients segment.  This new segment was formed in January 2015 after ADM completed its largest acquisition to date, WILD Flavors.  Since then there have been other acquisitions of food ingredient companies which have become a part of this segment.  This segment also includes several food ingredient businesses that ADM has been operating for several years.

Lindsay: What is the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of your job?

Leslie: accountantThe most rewarding part of my job is working for a company that actively seeks to provide new and innovative food options for an ever-growing global population.  Also in my current role I have the opportunity to work on acquisitions.  As each one comes together a little differently that work is both rewarding and challenging.  Another challenging aspect is that frequently we are presented with something we haven’t encountered before.  Accounting standards change and business needs change so there is really a lot to stay on top of.

Lindsay: I like that you seem passionate about using your math and accounting skills to feed the world.  That isn’t a combination that most people would think of.

Leslie: I guess not!

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

Leslie: Hard work, determination, ability to manage multiple priorities, and willingness to do more than what is expected are all key factors for success.  A Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting is required for Accounting positions at ADM.

Lindsay: Describe a “day in the life” at your office.

Leslie: My role is very different from an accounting role that someone would come into out of college and for their first several years of their career.  As I manage roughly 30 people in multiple offices, a lot of my day depends on what issues or questions others have and consists of providing guidance to ensure that we are meeting our overall objectives.

Depending on the day, I usually have several meetings to attend or join online with colleagues in the U.S. or around the world.  I am based out of the North America Headquarters in Decatur, IL where we have almost 2 floors of accountants.  Something I have really enjoyed in my career is the opportunity to work with the business whether it’s those that manage the facilities, those that are focused on buying and selling products, or those that have overall responsibility for results of a business.  So I frequently get requests and questions from other areas.

Lindsay: Do you have advice for someone that might want a career like yours?

Leslie: It is important to work in an industry that interests you.  While as an accountant, the day-to-day tasks are finance related, you have the opportunity to be involved in a lot of different things.  It really will make a difference in how you feel about coming to work every day if you’re working in an area that you enjoy, and I definitely have a heart for agriculture and providing food to the world.

Lindsay: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today!

Leslie: No problem.

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


1. Illinois corn farmers are growing field corn, not sweet corn.

I know this is confusing – but 99% of the corn grown in Illinois is not the corn you eat on your dinner table.  That corn is sweet corn, bred for its sugar content so that it tastes so amazing!  The corn we grow in Illinois is field corn (or dent corn) that is bred for starch.

Field corn is a grain.  Sweet corn is a vegetable.

2. Illinois planted 88 million acres of field corn and 555,000 acres of sweet corn.

We also grew 13.6 billion bushels of field corn compared to 137 million bushel equivalents.(Equivalents because sweet corn is weighed still on the cob so we have to remove the cob to make them comparable.)  And the crop value of Illinois field corn is $49 billion – considerably more than sweet corn’s $1.02 billion value.

field-corn-sweet-corn3. The two plants even look completely different in the field.

Sweet corn is shorter, has larger tassels visible, and is often a lighter green.  Field corn is taller, has smaller visible tassels, and is darker green.  We harvest sweet corn in the milk stage in the middle of summer.  We harvest field corn in the fall when the plant starts to die and the corn kernels dry up.

4. Illinois is in the top five states in ag cash income and crop cash receipts.

In English, this is code for the Illinois economy is built on ag.  It’s one of our top industries.  Illinois is the number 2 corn producer (behind Iowa), the number 3 ethanol producer, number 2 in pork production, and the largest exporter of corn in the country!

5. Most of the corn grown in Illinois is exported out of the state.

where-does-corn-goIn Illinois, 47 percent of the corn is exported out of the state.  Of the remaining corn, 27 percent is made into ethanol, 21 percent is used for processing (corn plastic, high fructose corn syrup, etc), and 5 percent is used to feed cows, pigs, and chickens.

Of that 27 percent used for ethanol, 1/3 is sold as a by-product of ethanol production that makes an excellent livestock feed.  So some of the ethanol corn is actually used twice – by the ethanol industry and the animal agriculture industry.

6. Want to know more?  Follow us on social media!

IL Corn has many ways you can learn more about corn grown in our state!  Check us out on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube!


Harvest season is in full effect, but it doesn’t work like most seasons do: there isn’t always a concrete timetable or schedule for the farmer to follow. Farmers start and finish at different times. Why does this happen? There are multiple factors that influence harvest progress, but weather is arguably the most important factor. Late summer and early fall weather forecasts are notoriously unpredictable in the Midwest. Sometimes harvest can be delayed for days due to unwelcome rain and then even more time may be needed to let the crop dry. If you add in a planting season so wet that many farmers had to replant crops that were washed out, some farmers are further ahead than others.

As of last Friday, here’s where farmers around the state were in their harvest:

*Note. Important term below: “the historical average” – the average yield of a crop that a farmer’s own land has produced over a certain period of time. Think of it like a baseline for what is normal for that land to produce. (Ag people know this as the actual production history – a component of crop insurance)

10-3-16_harvest_updateDirk Rice, Philo: Corn is 20% done. At this point, I would guess 5-7% above the historical average. Stalks are getting brittle; we aren’t getting discounted, but we have fairly significant percentages of discolored kernels. Still going to likely end up being my 3rd best corn harvest year.

Jeff Jarboe, Loda: We’re 20% complete and our yield is 15-20% above the historical production average.

Jim Reed, De Land: As of this evening (10/1), I will be 60% done with corn. Yields are around 30 bushels per acre better than the historical average.  It looks to be the third best crop ever after 2015 and 2014 (so maybe it’s average?). Corn is really dry. Have yet to see a load with over 19% moisture.

10-3-16_harvest_update2Justin Durdan, Utica: We’re 50% completed with corn, yields average 15% above the historical average. Stay safe!

Mike Wurmnest, Deer Creek: We are 65% done with corn. Moisture is running about 18% with some stalk breakage. Yields are 20% above the five-year average.

Paul Jeschke, Mazon: We are 40% done on corn and our yield is 15% above the historical average.

Randy DeSutter, Woodhull: We are about one-third (33%) done with corn. So far, this year’s corn harvest is our best ever. The yields in 2014 were not out of this world for us. So, I guess this is our 2014. At this point, our yield is 10-15% better than the historical average, at 230-260 bushels per acre.