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 eleventh 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!


You’ll continue to get stuck behind slow-moving vehicles on rural roads throughout November, but at least visibility at stop signs improves with the corn and beans down. That’s right, harvest is (finally) wrapping up!

This year’s crop:

  • snow-harvestHarvest: A farmer could still be harvesting his grain in November, especially if he’s in Northern Illinois or if the weather is uncooperative. Rain stalls harvest by making soybeans tough and difficult to cut, or by making the fields too squishy to drive heavy machinery through. As for SNOW… it’s not impossible to combine grain with snow on the ground, but it certainly makes picking, transporting, drying and storing it more difficult. Let’s just hope they don’t have to go there!

Farm Maintenance:

  • field-tileManage Break-Downs: As always, managing breakdowns is an ongoing task on the farm. Gotta keep the equipment in good working order to get the job done.
  • Install or fix tile lines: After the crop is out, it’s a good time to install or repair tile lines. Field tile is like a big underground gutter system that aids in field drainage. Sometimes tile can become broken or clogged and needs to be dug up and repaired. Or maybe the field didn’t have any tile to begin with. Post harvest is a good time to install it.

Next year’s crop:

  • Looking ahead: With “this year’s crop” being hauled away, it’s time to implement next year’s game plan. This is where things could vary greatly from farm to farm depending on the farmer’s individual preferences and management techniques. Some options could be:
    • empty-fields-landscapeFall tillage: working up the ground to break up plant matter and prepare the seed bed for next year’s crop
    • Fertilizer and other dry product application: Examples would be phosphorous and potassium (commonly referred to as P&K) and lime
    • Anhydrous ammonia can be applied in the fall.
    • If farmers are using over-wintering cover crops such as cereal rye, it may be applied post-harvest, depending on what is being planted.
    • Research and place 2017 seed orders

This year, USDA, NASS stated that harvest was at least 97% complete at Thanksgiving. What a relief for farmers and their families! With the crops out of the field, the Stewards of the Land were able to enjoy some much-needed family time around the dinner table giving thanks for the bountiful harvest!


Ashley Deal
Membership Administrative Assistant
IL Corn


Although it has not officially been announced, we’re waving the checkered flag on #harvest16 for Illinois corn farmers. The USDA-NASS reported 10 days ago that we were 97% completed. So based on the information we have, how does this year’s harvest timeline shake out compared to others? Let’s look at some quick facts while including some of our favorite photos from harvest:

9-23-16_rod1. Last year finishes first

Last year’s harvest took less time than it did this year. On November 14th, 2016, harvest was 97% completed compared to being 100% completed the previous year. However, the 5-year average at that point cited 96% completed, just above the average.

2. Productivity does not outshine pace

10-3-16_harvest_updateMoreover, we can see that the pace in finishing harvest was slower than last year. On November 14th, 97% harvest was completed compared to 94% on November 7th, showing a 3% increase in productivity. However, he previous year boasted a better pace with 100% in the second week of November and 99% during the first week.  Although anecdotal at this point, we can probably attribute this delay to the unpredictable weather over the last couple of months.

Clearly, we’re using the most recent numbers, but they indicate less efficiency based on previous years. However, there are numerous factors that can produce this result including intermittent rain and the need for replanting during the spring months after rain drowning out some crops.

As the final data comes in, we’ll dive deeper and identify more exact trends using crop data from the USDA-NASS, including the quality of the crops each week. Regardless of the slower completion time on harvest, we are still proud of the work our corn farmers have done this season. It gave Illinois another record-breaking year of yields! It looks like that sometimes quality just takes time.


As I sit down with my family at Thanksgiving this year, I will look around at all the food laid out in front of me. Mom’s mashed potatoes. Grandma’s pumpkin pie. Aunt’s green bean casserole. All prepared with love for us. But how did it get here? With the hard work by the agricultural industry. U.S. Farmers worked to provide the food in front of me and you. As you sit down to eat, here are five farm facts that will inspire both you and me to be more thankful for the food before us.


1) The agricultural industry employs more than 21 million American workers , which is 15 percent of the total U.S. workforce. A lot of people with a lot of family.

2) Today’s American farmer feeds about 155 people worldwide. This is compared to 25.8 people in 1960. How many people are in your family?

cranberries3) A barrel of cranberries weighs 100 pounds, and there are about 450 cranberries in a pound. So how many cranberries are in a gallon of juice? Approximately 4,400 cranberries. Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without cranberries.

4) Illinois is the number 1 pumpkin state where Morton, IL is the Pumpkin capital of the world. This means that Illinois produces more pumpkins than any other state. You can thank them for Grandma’s pumpkin pie.

5) Farmers receive only 16 cents out of every dollar spent on food. The remaining part of the dollar goes towards expenses beyond the farm gate that include costs in production, processing, marketing, transportation, and distribution. This number has fallen in the last 35 years from 31 cents in 1980. Farmers do a lot of work for little return.

Farmers helped put the food before us during one of the biggest meals of the year and every other day of year. Thank a farmer for your food.baseball


Bonus: I don’t think anyone doesn’t know who won the World Series this year. The Cubs broke their 108-year losing streak with a World Series Win this year. But did you know that one pound of wool can make 10 miles of yarn? There are 150 yards (450 feet) of wool yarn in a baseball… That’s a 117 baseballs. Thank a sheep for the winning out.

maxley_jaylynnJaylynn Maxley
University of Illinois


7-14-16-gmo-labeling-lawOn July 29th, President Obama signed a bill into law that requires the labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients. It was vital for legislatures to reach across the aisle to pass a federal regulation on the labeling of genetically modified foods to prevent each state from following in Vermont’s footsteps and setting state rules for labeling. This would have created a disaster for food companies trying to package their products to be shipped and sold in 50 states with 50 different laws, and would have resulted in increased food prices.

However, bill S. 764 being signed into law was not the end of the decisions that need to be made. The United States Department of Agriculture is now at the decision making helm trying to work out the details. The USDA, particularly the Secretary of Agriculture, has been given a two-year time frame to finalize the regulations.  Secretary Tom Vilsack is tasked with moving quickly to get the process well underway before President-Elect Drumpf brings in a new Secretary of Agriculture that may have a different vision for this legislation than the Obama administration. The USDA’s Marketing Service is in charge of the implementation, but the internal USDA group working out the details includes representatives from the Foreign Agricultural Service and the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

gmos-most-testedThe USDA has many important decisions to make that will shape how the law is implemented. For example, they must determine the amount of genetically modified ingredients that must be present in food for labeling to be mandatory.  The USDA is also working to create a symbol for packages that signifies it contains GMO ingredients. The USDA also must decide whether to require labeling if the ingredients themselves have no trace of genetic modification but came from a genetically modified seed. According to the Food and Drug Administration, 93 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of corn are genetically engineered.

Although the law requires “mandatory disclosure” of genetically modified ingredients, companies can choose from a variety of methods to label their products. On-package labels, a link to an app or website, QR codes, or 1-800 numbers are some options companies will have. Because of the variety of options, consumers may not immediately notice dozens of products being marked as containing GMO’s because the labeling will take on various forms, some more discreet than others. An estimated 75 to 80 percent of foods contain genetically engineered ingredients.

gmofoodThe USDA has many decisions to make, but it is unlikely any major announcements will be made until everything is finalized, which could be up to two years.  Congress left many decisions on the labeling program up to the USDA, meaning this will not be a speedy process. The time span must allow for formal comment periods.  The USDA has a website set up for GMO Disclosure and Labeling, which includes a link to the full text of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law.

christy_allenUniversity of Illinois
Christy Allen


Some interesting data on the correlation between increasing amounts of corn used for ethanol and food prices.  You may remember that corn was blamed for the increase in food prices several years ago and the ag industry responded that food prices were much more tied to fuel prices than commodity corn.  

Turns out, we were right.

New Report Knocks the Stuffing out of ‘Food Vs. Fuel’ Turkeys

Millions of Americans preparing for Thanksgiving next week are undoubtedly noticing that dinner will cost less than it did a year ago. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, overall grocery prices are roughly 2% lower than at this time last year, and prices specifically for poultry products — like turkey — are down 1.5% compared to last fall. Meanwhile, the amount of corn used for fuel ethanol is primed to set a new record in 2016, up roughly 3% from last year.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), which released an independent analysis today on the impact of ethanol on food prices, says the current collision of falling food prices and record ethanol production should end the contrived “food vs. fuel” debate once and for all.

The new statistical analysis, conducted by Informa Economics IEG, retrospectively examined the effect of ethanol expansion on food prices, concluding that “…retail food prices were not impacted in any demonstrable way by expansion of U.S. grain ethanol production under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) over the past decade.” In fact, the study finds that food price inflation has actually slowed during the “ethanol era.”

The analysis shows that growth in food prices slowed cons10% ethanoliderably after passage of the RFS2, with prices for groceries advancing at roughly half the rate seen prior to the program’s adoption. “Prior to the passage of RFS2, food away from home [e.g., restaurants] grew at an average of 3.4%, versus 3.2% for food at home [e.g., groceries]. After RFS2, food away from home grew at 2.6%, versus 1.8% for food at home,” the study found. “The increase in the food [consumer price index] actually decelerated as the usage of corn in ethanol production increased dramatically.”

The study also examines the impact of ethanol on corn prices, and in turn the impact of corn prices on retail food items. While the authors conclude that corn prices were positively impacted by ethanol expansion, higher corn prices did not necessarily translate into higher consumer food prices.  “Statistical analysis shows that the link between corn prices and overall food prices has been weak,” according to the report, adding that changes in food prices are primarily driven by “…the costs of transforming farm products to retail grocery products, along with transportation and distribution at various levels of the supply chain.” The analysis shows that only 19% of consumer spending on food pays for the value of the farm commodities, with the remaining 81% paying for “…post-farm-gate activities (e.g., transportation, processing, marketing).”

Other factors that drive farm commodity and retail food prices were examined, with Informa concluding that core inflationary pressures, weather events (e.g., flooding and droughts), exchange rates, and energy prices all impacted commodity and food prices over the past decade. In fact, from 2009 to 2014, the impact of crude oil prices on consumer food price inflation was nearly nine times greater than the impact of corn prices.

View the analysis here.


rogersy_Farmers are known as stewards of the land and many take that title seriously. Farmers like Roger Sy make it their mission to promote sustainability on their farms for the benefit of not only their land but also of their neighboring communities.  Farmers with this mindset follow the directive of the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy  in order to reduce waste while maintaining profitability and productivity. Here’s a more specific explanation from the Illinois NLRS page on the EPA website:

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy guides state efforts to improve water quality at home and downstream by reducing nitrogen and phosphorus levels in our lakes, streams, and rivers. The strategy lays out a comprehensive suite of best management practices for reducing nutrient loads from wastewater treatment plants and urban and agricultural runoff. Recommended activities target the state’s most critical watersheds and are based on the latest science and best-available technology. It also calls for more collaboration between state and federal agencies, cities, non-profits, and technical experts on issues such as water quality monitoring, funding, and outreach.

Farmers who abide by the NLRS strive to implement best management practices (BMPs) on their farm. However, there is a wide array of BMPs to choose from, because conservation needs may differ from farm to farm. So how can non-farmers get familiar with what farmers are doing?

conservationstorymapThe Conservation Story Map is a place where anyone, whether a farmer or not, a person can explore what BMPs are being practiced across the state of Illinois while introducing real farmers who use them. The website gives farmers a chance to tell their stories and show off their farms while identifying what practices are important to their farm. The map even offers the chance to see how conservation practices differ in neighboring farms.

Whether you are a seasoned veteran or new to ag, the Conservation Story Map offers a wealth of rich data and resources to understand how modern farmers are stewarding agriculture into the future.


Illinois Farm Families is back with another edition of the Illinois Runs on Homegrown Corn video series using 360-degree video technology. IL farmer Justin Durdan takes us on quick journey to highlight what exactly harvest means when you’re a farmer. Be sure to catch the whole series!


Trump_Nom_072216After one of the longest, most surreal and arduous political campaigns in a generation, we have finally reached a conclusion.  Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States. This was one of the most divisive campaigns in history with more twist and turns and mudslinging than most people generally thought possible.

Republicans have retained control of both the House and Senate. The House of Representatives, as expected, will remain in Republican hands. The Republicans maintain at least 238 seats, with four more yet to be called.

From Illinois, all but one of the seats will remain in the hands of the incumbent party. The only new Member from Illinois is Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Indian American who will fill the 8th district seat vacated by Congresswoman Duckworth.  Brad Schneider, who was formerly a Member, defeated Rep. Bob Dold to take back his old seat in a 10th district rematch.

tammy_duckworthThe Senate will remain in Republican control with 51 votes. Control of the Senate went down to the wire, with a number of races too close to call.  Senator Kirk, long viewed as the most vulnerable Senator, lost re-election last night to Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth has had a good relationship with agriculture in Illinois and has been supportive of the Renewable Fuel Standard and needed infrastructure improvements to our inland waterways.

Republicans will also continue to hold the majority of governorships across the country. Here are a few key statistics as of Wednesday morning:

  • 013-04-18t201616z_2132165920_gm1e94j0bon01_rtrmadp_3_usa-immigration-visas_1f814cd4ecf72d45a2bb0dd23993fdf5-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Senator Schumer (D-NY) is expected to replace Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) as Senate Minority Leader.
  • Senator Inhofe (R-OK) steps down as the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Senator Barrasso (R-ID) will likely replace him.
  • Committee Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is retiring and will likely be replaced by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE).
  • House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers is term-limited and will likely be replaced by Rep. Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) or Aderholt (R-AL).
  • We are not expecting changes to the leadership of the House and Senate Ag Committees.

Donald Trump’s campaign did not provide significant information on agriculture in the primaries or general election. Because of this, it is difficult to say what USDA priorities will be in a Trump Administration, as they did not make their positions well-known. He has vowed to rescind many of the regulations enacted by the Obama Administration, which could include the Clean Power Plan, the WOTUS rule, among others.  Additionally, Trump’s anti-trade agreement message seems to have resonated well with many of his supporters. Look for a President Trump to either abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or begin to negotiate a new trade agreement. He may also make efforts to change aspects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Agriculture stakeholders should begin doing outreach to the new Trump Administration political appointees as they start to take their new positions.

Congress returns to Washington next week and will begin to address appropriations past December 9 and also hold leadership elections for the 115th Congress.