Enjoy this throwback post from February 7, 2012. Conservation practices never get stale!

energy conservation, wildlife habitat, reduce soil erosion, farm, farming, agriculture

Reminder: It’s Green Week.  Are you recycling more?  Refusing to throw away any food?  Considering every single drive across town to make sure it is completely necessary?

That’s what Illinois farmers are doing.  Every single trip across the field is given thoughtful consideration because farmers realize that every trip means more fossil fuels used and more air pollution in their neighborhood.

Remember the no-till practice that we talked about yesterday?  Its adoption has meant many fewer trips over the field to till the soil  resulting in

309 million gallons of fuel being conserved each year.

That’s progress.

Additionally, farmers now have GPS systems in almost every tractor.  Yes, non-farmers and farmers alike joke that they don’t even have to steer the tractors anymore, but that isn’t what GPS systems are about.

GPS within tractors means that while tilling the soil, applying chemicals, planting the seeds or harvesting, the tractor is traveling exactly where it needs to go with NO OVERLAP.

This probably sounds minor, but no overlap actually ends up meaning fewer trips over the field.  When you consider even 6 inches of overlap times every trip back and forth over the field, that’s potentially one or two trips saved if you can minimize the overlap.  That’s the technology farmers are using today.

Saving energy and using fewer fossil fuels is important to farmers.

And THAT’S how Illinois farmers celebrate Green Week.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


After summarizing the new proposed laws on GMO labeling on Tuesday, today I’m challenging you to learn about a new way scientists are making our food safer and looking ahead to helping manage food allergens. This technology could even help us cure cancer.

CRISPER stands for Clustered Regularly Inter-paced Short Palindromic Repeats. It sounds super complicated, but check out this video which makes it look pretty simple.


This article originally posted at

You may recall, in 2017 the government passed a national Genetically Modified Foods (GMO) labeling law to have one uniform standard for labeling GMOs, also referred to as BE (bioengineered).

Congress passed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard in 2016. This required the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a labeling standard for GM food. These requirements were originally set to take effect by July 2018. But the USDA extended the implementation two years after a public comment period. On December 20, the USDA released the official law, which they will implement at the beginning of 2020 and require food companies to comply by January 1, 2022. You can read the entire current proposal here.


In the near future, you’ll start to see GMO/BE foods labeled in a variety of ways. While companies aren’t required to use the label until January 1, 2022, you might start seeing the new labels sooner. Many companies have already started labeling their products and support this national labeling standard. The rule states, “bioengineered food … shall not be treated as safer than, or not as safe as, a non-bioengineered counterpart.” That’s because research has proven that bioengineered foods are safe. These new food labels are simply informative for the consumer, not indicative of safety or nutrition.


Once put into law, you will see three different labeling methods:

  1. Text on food packaging (example: Partially produced with genetic engineering)
  2. A symbol that represents bioengineering
  3. An electronic or digital link that can be scanned

Pictured here are the symbols the USDA will require on GMO foods packaging.

Bioengineered Food Labels

Smaller food manufacturers with limited resources may also choose to label their GM foods using a telephone number that can provide additional information or an internet URL.

The law requires labeling only on bioengineered foods intended for human consumption that contain more than five percent GMO ingredients. Instances where GMOs do not have to be labeled include:

  • Foods derived from animals, such as eggs, meat and milk
  • Refined ingredients like oils and sugars
  • Food served in a restaurant
  • Foods manufactured and sold by very small manufacturers (local shops, etc.)
  • Any non-food products

While food labels may be changing, the safety of our food isn’t. Just as before, food labels should guide to make the right choice for you and your family – not scare you into making a more expensive purchase. Farmers, parents and experts have shared their thoughts on GMOs and making the best choice for their family. Read their perspectives here.


Justin Durdan is a younger farmer, father of four, and volunteer farmer leader for the Illinois Corn Growers Association.  Numbers, data and analysis get him really excited about the future of his Utica family farm and what he can leave for his children. 

ME: Hi Justin!  Tell me a little bit about you and your farm.

JUSTIN: I’m working a multi-generational farm in LaSalle County.  My priority tasks on our farm are to handle relationships with our banks and landowners, and also to handle our finances and our books.  Of course, during planting and harvest, I’m definitely taking my turn on the tractor or in the combine as well.

My wife and I have four kids.  I’m working hard every day because I love it, but also because I’m hoping to build something I can pass off to them someday.

ME: I hear that you are a numbers guy.  What sort of analysis are you doing to benefit your farm?

JUSTIN: Weekly, I’m looking at budget to actuals – which means that I’m checking to see if we applied the budgeted amounts of inputs or if we’re over or under.  And I’m also watching to make sure that we’re recording data during the growing season that will be valuable to us later.  If every pass through the field isn’t recorded, I can’t analyze it later and make us better farmers.

ME: Tell me more.

JUSTIN: As an example, during the growing season, we’re recording every fertilizer application on every field.  We’re applying variable rates, which means that each location within the field is going to get a specific amount equal to what that location needs.  If, when I’m applying fertilizer, I’m not recording that or there’s an error with the technology, if leaves a gap in my data.

ME: Pretty high tech.  What other sorts of data and analysis are you doing?

JUSTIN: Now that we’ve been recording all our information for long enough, I’m able to check out our fields, applications, management and such on a year over year basis.  What gets interesting is to group three or four years of information together and get a good feel for productivity and profitability on a farm.

ME: How do you think these pieces of data change the way you farm?

JUSTIN: I think that every time we’re making management decisions for each field, we have information telling us what fertilizer to apply, how much to apply, what the seed density should be, etc. 

Basically, we have all this information now that helps us make better decisions.  Before the data was available, we made the best decision we could make based on our memory of the past year.  Now, we can see hard data on the productivity of this specific section and how much fertilizer we applied there for the last four years and we make a very informed decision about what to put on that section this year.  Our farm management is much better informed.

ME: Do all farmers operate this way?  Are all farmers using and analyzing the same data?

JUSTIN: There’s a lot of room to grow here and I think suppliers could provide more service in this area to help other farmers acquire the data, analyze it, and apply it to their fields.  We are lucky because on our family farm, this is just something that I really get into and I really focus on.  But not every farm has a data geek. 

ME: What’s agriculture look like down the road with this data and even more available?

JUSTIN: I think having all this data available makes farmers more competitive locally.  As an example, if you’re a young farmer looking to expand your farm and rent more acres, you can get an estimate of soil productivity and gage what your budget and potential cash rent offer could be without even setting foot on the farm.  That gives you a leg up. 

Knowing all this without seeing the farm is also scary.  But this is the world we’re living in now and I think we can either ignore the data available or we can use it to our advantage and get better.  I hope I’m helping our family farm to get better.

I also love the idea that I’m leaving digital records and data points for my kids, if they want to take over the farm.  When I started farming, there was just no way for me to pull everything in my dad’s head out and to make use of it.  Now, I have digital files for my kids to pull and analyze.  I think having this knowledge will make them better when they are ready to take over the farm and set them ahead of where we started out in previous generations.


The Illinois Corn Growers Association excitedly looks forward to pursuing the following federal legislative goals in 2019:

  1. Support ratification of the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) for trade
  2. Support multiple pathways that improve market access for higher ethanol blends
  3. Support a federal infrastructure bill that includes funding to upgrade locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi River system

Why ratification of the USMCA matters

In Illinois, 41 percent of our corn leaves the state for other markets.  Including ethanol and dried distillers grain with solubles (DDGS) exports, well over half of your corn is leaving the state.  That means that all international markets matter to Illinois corn farmers.

Mexico and Canada are now our top markets because of the extreme success of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), markets that corn farmers absolutely cannot afford to lose.

Exports of grains in all forms (GAIF) – including U.S. corn, barley, sorghum, DDGS, ethanol and certain meat products – have increased 279 percent to Mexico and 431 percent to Canada since the NAFTA went into effect.

Mexico has recently topped all other markets in GIAF imports, with total marketing year shipments growing 6.3 percent year-over-year to a new record of 25.2 million metric tons (almost 1 billion bushels in corn equivalent) between 2016/2017 and 2017/2018. Mexico is the top international buyer of U.S. corn, barley and DDGS as of the last full marketing year’s data, with sales in each category increasing from the prior year.

Canada set a new record for imports of grains in all forms in 2017/2018 and is the second largest buyer of U.S. ethanol and barley, in addition to the eighth largest market for both U.S. corn gluten feed/meal and DDGS and the ninth largest U.S. corn market.

The impact of improving market access for higher ethanol blends

Higher blends of ethanol at pumps all over the nation means additional ethanol demand and corn demand for Illinois farmers.

Establishing a higher octane minimum standard fuel for all vehicles using E-15 and E-20 blends would conservatively create an additional domestic ethanol demand of 3.4 billion gallons by 2030.  This is equivalent to an increased demand for corn of 1.11 billion bushels by 2030. 

This increase in demand for corn represents approximately half of the expected increase in corn supply by 2030 due to yield increases based on a 1.9 bushel per acre trend yield that we are seeing now.  

Why Illinois farmers need upgraded locks and dams

The lock and dam system on the Mississippi, Ohio and Illinois Rivers was built in the 1930s for a 50-year life-span and a significantly less barge traffic.  Now, 80-90 years later, the system is well past its useful life with several dams seeing critical infrastructure simply crumbling and falling into the river. 

The performance we expect of these locks and dams has changed as well.  The world has changed, offering an international marketplace of which Illinois farmers are well poised to take advantage.  As volumes of grain, ethanol, and by-product exports increase, the efficiency of the locks continues to decrease.  Larger barge tows now have to split into two because the lock chambers aren’t large enough.  Efficiency lags cost money – money that is critical to the farm economy in a time when every penny counts.