5 ways that farmers prepare for planting fields and how they can relate to the everyday home gardener.

Spring is here! Which means that it’s time to start planting. Here in Illinois farmers are preparing thousands of acres to be planted with corn and soybeans, while gardeners are preparing a home garden to be filled with a variety of vegetables.  While it may seem like they have drastically different things to do to get their land ready to plant, they have the same end goal: to have a successful harvest. Here are a few things that farmers prepare to plant and how it can relate to gardening.

3-30-17plante 21. Getting equipment ready.  Getting the right equipment for the job is a vital first step for planting, and you must make sure all the equipment is in working order before you begin planting.  Farmers have heavy duty equipment they use to plant their acres.  Some farmers choose to use a soil finisher, which is explained later in the article. The next thing farmers need is a tractor with a planter for the actual planting. Farmers that plant crops are likely covering hundreds to thousands of acres so a tractor is necessary. Something farmers and gardeners would both need is a water source for their plants.  Most crop farmers get by on rainfall, but in some areas, special wells and large irrigation systems are used to get the appropriate amount of water to the plants.  Gardeners often must have a constant water source for their plants too, like a hose or sprinkler. Farmers usually get their machinery out of the sheds and start checking parts and repairing what needs to be repaired weeks before planting actually begins. Some other things gardeners may use that farmers don’t are a spade to dig the hole or cages for certain plants.3-30-17soil finisher (2)

2. Some farmers choose to use a soil finisher, which is a device attached to a tractor that makes the soil soft and workable, which allows more nutrients to reach the seed. A soil finisher would be very similar to a tiller, which gardeners may use to work their ground. Farmers don’t have to use a soil finisher, but gardeners typically do use a tiller since they do most of the planting by hand and need soft soil to work.

3. Deciding on the right seed. Farmers put many factors into choosing the right seed and some of them can become very in-depth. Agronomists and others who work in the crop science industry spend a huge amount of time and research to create different varieties of crops for farmers to choose from. Farmers would choose a seed that would have a high yield, or the amount of crop that will be harvested, plant durability, and a plant that will produce large seed pods or ears of corn. Farmers also choose what they will plant depending on what climate they are in. A gardener’s way of picking seed should be the same, they should make sure they pick a sturdy seed that will grow in the climate and area they are planting in.

4. When it comes to planting, timing is crucial in farming and gardening. Each plant as a set temperature and time of year that it grows best in so it is the farmer’s job to know those specifications. Farmers also choose when to plant by looking at how long it takes the plant to reach maturity, or how long until it can be harvested. Gardeners should time their planting in the same way, by knowing where, when, and how their plant will grow best.

3-30-17aerial view of planting

3-30-17corncomingup5. To create the perfect environment for growing, fertilizing the soil is something that gardeners and farmers should be taking care of and thinking about all year around. You also have to know if your crop needs a certain type of fertilizer. An example is how farmers rotate fields between corn and soybeans each year, and soybeans take almost all the nitrogen out of the soil. Nitrogen is crucial for corn to grow so anhydrous is applied before planting corn because anhydrous ammonia is rich in nitrogen and applying it ensures corn has the levels it needs to grow. Farmers may also use manure spread on their fields to add extra fertilizer as well all year around. Gardeners can use manure and chemicals as well.  Another source of fertilizer for gardeners is decomposing organic matter.  This can come from dead leaves, or other similar materials.

Jacey Wickenhauser
Illinois State University


Photo Credit: Illinois Beef Association

I sat down with third generation cattle producer, Jeff Dameron, to discuss his life raising Angus cattle. Although his daily tasks are very different than the average American’s, his family is not so different after all. He grew up on the family farm, and after a few years working office jobs he decided to go back to his roots and start a family.

KEEGAN CASSADY: What is your role on the farm?

JEFF DAMERON: I am part owner and part manager. I have been home on the family farm for about fourteen years, but I have been involved with the farm on a limited basis ever since I got out of college.

CASSADY: What do you do on a typical day?

DAMERON: I have three kids of my own, I usually get them ready in the morning and get them off to school. This time of year (spring), were doing a lot of calving (cows giving birth to a calf), so we’ll check on cows that have been in labor during the night or that morning. We want to make sure those calves get off to a good start. After that, I oversee the health of all the cattle on the farm and beginning feeding for the day. We run about 300 head of cattle, so it can take 3-5 hours in the morning to feed and check on all of the animals.

CASSADY: What is your favorite part about raising cattle?

DAMERON: The lifestyle. It was something that I was raised in on our family farm. It’s a lifestyle that once it gets in your blood it’s hard to get out of it. I like the flexibility and being able to set my own schedule as well. I also enjoy being able to answer to myself. I have always liked working with animals along with the challenge and enjoyment that brings me as well. In general, I like working outdoors.

CASSADY: What made you decide to come back to the farm?

DAMERON: It’s what I enjoy doing. Regardless of the career you’re in, it is important to get a career that you enjoy. I’ve been involved with a couple different jobs off the farm. I was a farm manager, and I was involved with agricultural supplies sales for several years. The plan was always to move back to the farm when my wife and I had the opportunity. I worked on the farm as a kid, and my goal was always to get back here at some point. Fortunately, I was able to come back because the opportunity does not exist for a lot of farm families. Financially, the next generation cannot always come back and farm, but I was fortunate that I was able to do that.

Gary Dameron (left) and son, Jeff Dameron (right) – Photo Credit: Illinois Beef Association

CASSADY: What has been the most challenging part about raising cattle?

DAMERON: I think the most challenging thing about raising cattle, and farming in general, is not getting a weekly paycheck like many other jobs do. Income and expenses vary throughout the year, so you have to do a lot of planning and organization financially to make it work. In general, the commodity pricing changes frequently. On a broader scale, in agriculture we face the challenge of feeding an ever growing population with limited resources that being land, livestock, and, in some cases, feedstuffs. It is also a public relations challenge with different groups that challenge the different technologies we utilize to help feed that world.

CASSADY: With that said, what do you want consumers to know about beef production?

DAMERON: I think the biggest thing is that us, here in the United States, take a lot of pride in the beef cattle that we raise. We try to raise cattle as humanely and efficiently as we possibly can, and they should feel really confident that the beef supply provided in the United States is the safest in the world. They should know it is a great source of a lot of different vitamins and proteins and should be included in a healthy diet.

Jeff’s passion for what he does was evident during our conversation. Working on the farm comes with it’s trials and tribulations, but the love of the land and lifestyle brought Jeff Dameron back home to what he loves.


Keegan Cassady
Oklahoma State University


The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon has become an extremely popular night-time talk show due to Fallon’s humor and interaction with viewers, society, and those of higher social standing (famous people).

One thing Fallon does every Friday is a skit called Thank You notes. Jimmy thanks people, places, and things that have recently happened in the world, such as global warming, tacos, or kittens, just to thank them. So, in honor of his truth and hilarity, I feel it is only necessary to have an agriculture rendition called “Farmer Thank You Notes.”

Thank you, premature spring weather, for making farmers believe planting season is right around the corner, only to be bombarded with snow and freezing temperatures once again.


Thank you, halter-broke show heifer, for completely forgetting everything you learned during my showmanship class and making me look stupid.

Photo Credit: Matt Lautner Cattle

Thank you, duct tape, for being a quick fix to nearly all of my problems. Without you, I would have less time to complain about all the other things I need to get done.


Thank you, dairy cows, for making milk, one of the main ingredients in ice cream, allowing me to justify it being healthy every time I eat it.


Thank you, belt loop, for getting caught on every single thing as I walk by it but somehow never being there when I’m trying to put my belt on.


Thank you, WD-40, for being the national cologne of farmers everywhere.


Thank you, trailer hitch, for making it look as though my parents abuse me.


Thank you, baling hay, for allowing me to never have to set foot in a weight room.


Thank you, horses, for being independent and putting your foot down. My, how the tides have turned.3-27-17FTYN9

Thank you, goats, sheep, and llamas, for being so different and yet, always confusing the general public on what you really are.3-27-17FTYN10

Thank you, farm dog, for constantly barking all night, leaving me to question whether or not we are in any real danger.


Thank you, windmills, for making it a lot harder to do things outside with all the “wind you’re bringing in.”


Thank you, livestock, for finding the 3-foot hole in the fence and escaping into the field, but not running through the 20-foot gate opening when I am trying to move you.

Thank you, random object that’s been lying in the corner of the barn for 5 years, for continuing to remind me that you may be valuable and that I am sure I will find some sort of use for you some day3-27-17FTYN14

Thank you, weatherman, for telling me it wasn’t going to rain. Now my newly cut and raked hay is wet from the rain that you told me wasn’t going to come until next week.


Thank you, baling twine, for always being there and supporting me on days when I forget my belt.

Photo Credit: My Maple Hill Farm Blog

Thank you, farmer tan, for giving me the gift of a permanent shirt.


Thank you, baby lamb, for taking 3 hours to finally catch on to nursing, the ONE thing you were put on this Earth to do.


Thank you, cattle, for making me a revolutionary and tagging things before it was cool.


Thank you, goats, for beginning to do yoga making my children beg me endlessly to get one.3-27-17FTYN20

Thank you, pasture-grazing cattle, for tearing up the fence I just fixed because you were going to starve to death if you didn’t get that blade of grass on the other side.


Thank you, baby pigs, for being absolutely adorable. Until someone tries to touch you. Or look at you. Or thinks about holding you. Or breathes wrong.

Thank you, livestock, for not judging me when I sing and dance at you during chore time.3-27-17FTYN23

But most importantly, Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with the life of a farmer.

Photo Credit: April Pizana

Jess Manthe
Iowa State University


3-20-17Bill FamilyAs spring approaches, the tractors will begin filling fields as they prepare for planting. We often pass these without thought of who might be in them, but each of these farmers are working long hours to provide for their family. One such farmer in the tractor could be member Bill Long. Bill is the Illinois Corn Marketing Board District 10 Director. If you are given a chance to talk to a farmer, I would encourage you to take it! They have some of the best advice.

3-20-17GrassrootsBill started farming in 1980. Today he runs a corn and soybean operation in Franklin. His father has been his biggest influence in his life – even the one who inspired him to be a farmer. He experienced farming from a grassroots level, which helped him find his drive to farm. His father gave him some of the best advice… “Treat the land as you want to be treated, and it will take care of you in the end.” It has worked for Bill because he is still farming today!

3-20-17Farm PictureFarming isn’t always easy. There are periods when everyone struggles, such as now with $3.00 corn. I asked Bill how he would define success as a farmer. The answer? Longevity. Farming is a crazy field to be in. Being able to last is a big thing because you have to ride the ups and downs to survive. That is one important lesson that farming can teach you – Don’t take things for granted. You have to be flexible. There is a lot you can’t control with farming, so you have to roll with the punches.

3-20-17Bin ShadowsFarming isn’t always hard. Sometimes there are favorite parts. Such as photo opportunities, new life being born, and watching the crops grow. Bill’s favorite season is planting and harvesting. When he plants, he is putting the seeds in the ground. Watching them grow is his favorite part because that is the future of the farm. Harvest is when he gets to reap the benefits of his labor. A lot of hard work, sweat, and time has gone into getting that crop ready. Sometimes there are lots of smiles involved to go with the hard times.

So, next time you drive past the tractor plowing a field or planting the crop this spring, think about who they are. Each of them has a story to tell and much advice to give. They are more than machine operators. They are family… fathers, grandfathers, sons, daughters, wive, granddaughters.


Jaylynn Maxey
The University of Illinois


James Kennedy, a Genoa-Kingston High School Graduate is now living in Hampshire, Illinois with his wife Allison, and 20-month-old daughter as well as a 3-month-old son. James has been employed as an agronomist with Advanced Crop Care since February 2008 and is now titled a Senior Agronomist.


3-16-17James Kennedy 2
James, his wife Alison, daughter Ella, and son Clark


Bridget: What made you want to become an Agronomist, and how did you get there?

James: When I grew up, I grew up removed from agriculture. Throughout high school, I took agriculture classes and became very interested in the agriculture industry and opportunities within. I decided to attend Western Illinois University majoring in Agriculture Education since I didn’t know what area of Agriculture I liked best- Ag. Ed. gave me a wide area to study. Both the summer after freshman year and sophomore year I spent interning with Advanced Crop Care. Then my junior year summer I interned with an independent corn research company in Iowa. Upon graduating I had 2 job interviews- 1 for teaching and 1 with Advanced Crop Care. I chose Advanced Crop Care.

Bridget: What would you say is a day-to-day role of being an agronomist for Advanced Crop Care?

ag careers agronomistJames: I like to think of my job in terms of thirds. One-third of the time- such as in the winter months, us agronomists spend a solid 2-3 weeks attending classes and seminars put on by different Universities. Attending these seminars is required for all of the Advanced Crop Care employees to maintain Crop Advisor Certification. Another third of my time is spent soil sampling. Here, I am pulling samples and sending to the lab to figure out the needs for the growers of that field with that soil. The last of the third is the crop scouting part, where I am physically in the fields and hit every farm. I see the different insects, weeds, and help the farmer find the most economical ways to assess the needs of each individual field.

Bridget: What is the most rewarding part of your career?

James: A lot of things in my career have been extremely rewarding. From a professional standpoint, it is rewarding to know that it is the growers’ option to hire me year-in and year-out. It is nice to know that I am doing things that make sense for both the grower and the ground, making them want me back. That is extremely rewarding. But most of all the most rewarding part of my job is picking up brand new customers. It is always great to build new relationships.

Bridget: What are good skills needed to be a good Agronomist? What about to become a senior Agronomist?

3-16-17James Kennedy 1James: From my perspective, people are hearing sales pitches from people all of the time. With Advanced Crop Care, we help the growers with sifting through facts and fiction. We understand the growers’ farms, goals, and have to help their fields reach potentials. We are an independent company that wants the best for the grower- to set their farms up for success. As for being a senior Agronomist, you start out as an entry-level agronomist and work your way up. Each individual has 1-2 Interns under them that help tremendously during the summer months. Being a senior agronomist means not only do I work with my customer base, but I have other employees under me and help them manage/maintain their customer base, as well as interns on top of that. It is a lot more responsibility on top of managing my own customer base.

Bridget: Do you think young people should be considering a career in Agriculture?

James: Yes. I am a prime example- I came with a background removed from production Agriculture, and look at me now. There are so many different aspects to being a part of the agriculture industry; the opportunities are endless.

Bridget Halat
Iowa State University


Grocery shopping is one of the inevitable tasks everyone has to complete. I find myself buying groceries once a week and each visit I find myself dreading the store more and more. Every time I go to the store there’s an abundance of people, I can never find what I’m looking for, and more than likely I’m pushing around the jankiest cart the store has. Strangely, though, for someone who hates grocery shopping as much as I do, I’m obsessive about the process.

3-14-1720170307_185307Before I’ve even left to go to the store, I have searched ads and websites for the best deals that week. This week it happened to be Hy-Vee because I only needed a few things and there were really good gas points on the items I needed. I’m normally a strict Aldi buyer, especially when I’m in the market for meat and produce, but Hy-Vee was a quick stop after work and I could save myself fifteen cents a gallon with my purchases.As soon as I walked through the doors of Hy-Vee I was quickly greeted by a sign stating, “Today we have 116 fresh, organic produce items.” Being someone who grew up on a farm and has always eaten conventionally raised vegetables out of my dad’s garden, I have never been concerned about eating organic. If the food has been properly inspected and is on the store’s shelves then I know, regardless of organic, conventional, GMO, or non-GMO, that my food is safe; I trust the USDA.

3-14-17PicsArt_03-08-01.54.08 (1)I perused the produce section for a bag of salad mix and was quickly astonished by the range of prices. The salad I bought was 2 bags for $4, and with a coupon were only 99 cents a bag, but right next to them were the organic greens ranging from $3 to $8 a container. In the fresh produce section, conventional baby carrots were priced at $2.74 and cucumbers were 79 cents apiece, but if you wanted organic vegetables you had to pay $3.49 for the baby carrots and $2.50 for one cucumber. The price difference was even steeper in the meat department, and I was not about to pay $10 for a pound of anything.

3-14-17PicsArt_03-08-02.00.06 (1)What infuriated me the most though was when I walked by the popcorn selection. A regular 12 pack box of Orville Redenbacher popcorn was $3.48, but just two rows below was a 3 pack box of Black Jewell natural, non-GMO verified popcorn for $3.99. I was appalled that this popcorn had a Non-GMO Verified Project label on the front of the box because no form of popcorn is genetically modified. The only varieties of corn on the market that can be genetically modified are field and sweet corn, so why is this company, and many others, misleading consumers with this label? As a consumer, if you are spending extra money for non-GMO products because you believe they are safer (even though there is zero proof non-GMO is safer or healthier for you), be aware that there are only nine genetically modified products on the market, which you can learn more about from GMO Answers.

All throughout the store, I kept finding huge differences in prices. There is an entire section in Hy-Vee dedicated to healthier choices, and almost every product on those shelves contained an organic or Non-GMO verification label. Eating organic and non-GMO products does not constitute as a healthier meal; there is zero evidence stating it is healthier yet there is an abundance of evidence that GMO products are safe. As consumers, we should be aware of what we are buying and stop paying more for scare tactic marketing.

Rebecca Klump
Illinois State University