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:

1. 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, the 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.


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.

The 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


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.


Soil is a vital part of the natural environment; it influences the distribution of crops and plant species, and it provides habitats for many animals. When forests are cleared for farming and timber, the chance of soil erosion increases. Erosion is when the topsoil that contains the most nutrients is destroyed or carried away by wind, water, or ice. Luckily here in Illinois, we started as a prairie; our soils were always covered by something, and the deeply rooted grasses that cover Illinois prevents soil erosion from occurring. Agriculture became very popular and necessary as populations rose; farming practices became more intense to accommodate the population needs, and tilling the land – preparing the soil for crops by disturbing the soil, often inducing erosion – became a popular practice. When Illinois farmers began to see the negative impacts of tillage on not only their land but also on the surrounding ecosystems, they found new, more sustainable ways to protect their soil and the environment.

tillageHistorically, the uses of no-till and reduced-till practices were widely unaccepted around the nation because farmers didn’t believe that these practices would make a difference in their soil. No-till is a way to grow crops without disturbing the soil – when soil is preserved, it remains healthier and better supports crop growth. The benefits of no-till include an increase in water infiltration into the soil and better nutrient retention. George Elvert McKibben, an Illinois native and agronomist at the University of Illinois, made no-till practices acceptable to farmers by experimenting with no-till systems in 1966. The main concern of farmers was to save their soil; to show farmers the advantages of no-till, McKibben and his team planted corn into grassy plots around Illinois. The results vastly changed the way farmers thought about soil management practices; the corn thrived and reduced soil erosion on the plots. Once John Deere manufactured a no-till planter, no-till and reduced-till practices became even more widely supported and implemented by farmers.

Long-term sustainability has always been a goal of agriculturists. Farmers know that the key to healthy ecosystems and agricultural lands start with healthy soils. A healthy soil is one that sustains a diverse ecosystem that supports animals, plants, and humans. Other practices are being implemented by farmers in addition to no-till and reduced till to protect soil and the environment. Collecting runoff from soil nutrients is an important way that farmers are limiting the amount of pollutants that enter nearby waterways. Planting cover crops in fields that don’t have anything planted in them is another way farmers are reducing nutrient pollution runoff into nearby waterways.


The Soil Health Partnership, a National Corn Growers Association Initiative, is a project created to make agriculture more sustainable by focusing on soil health. The Partnership measures the benefits of best soil management practices and relays results to farmers. Farmers in Illinois and around the Midwest can join the Partnership to learn more about how to protect soil and the environment. Farmers in the Partnership either have been practicing no-till or reduced-till management on their land or have recently switched over. Farmers are stewards of the environment; from continuous education about soil and the environment to the adoption of best soil management practices, farmers are doing everything they can to sustain the environment and their land.

cleary_caeliCaeli Cleary
University of Illinois


We’ve launched a fun new way to experience Illinois agriculture from the city, across the ocean or just around the corner.

#360Corn is a series of 360 degree videos featuring our own Illinois corn farmer, Justin Durdan.  Justin lets us plant corn with him, spray for pests, fertilize those little baby corn plants, and even harvest and sell his crop – all while we can look 360 degrees around the tractor cab, the farm and even the field.

Check out the entire experience at www.watchusgrow.org/corn

Or just enjoy the latest video featuring corn harvest right here: