LEARNING BY DOING HELPS INDIAN AGRICULTURE THRIVE

On this blog, we talk a lot about agriculture in the U.S. and in Illinois, but we don’t often think about what agriculture looks like in other countries.  I found this article on Indian agriculture interesting.  We have to acknowledge where other farmers are and meet them there in order to raise all farmers to that very important level of sustainability and food security for all.

LEARNING BY DOING HELPS INDIAN AGRICULTURE THRIVE
this article originally posted at Global Farmer Network

Farmers must educate each other: That’s the best way we can learn to thrive, adopting the new technologies and sustainable practices that both conserve resources and improve productivity.

The fate of India depends on our success—and I’m trying to do my part to help from my farm in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

I grow three crops per year on about 50 acres near the village of Ulundhai. I use a common method of rotation, starting with cereals (such as corn), followed by vegetables (brinjal and broccoli), and finally by pulses (green, red, and black gram).

Like most of my neighbors, I’m always in the field with something, even though our climate brings the challenges of drenching monsoons as well as periods of drought.

Despite the hard work, Indian farmers operate at only a fraction of the productivity of farmers in industrialized countries. This means that for India’s population of more than 1 billion, food costs are high—and an unacceptable number of people are malnourished.

When people don’t eat enough, they suffer. This is especially true for children, who are in the formative stages of life. The irreversible damage to their physical and mental wellbeing scars them for life.

These impairments hurt us all. They hold back my entire country.

So we have to do better.

It starts with the sharing of information. I spend a portion of my time training fellow farmers and young people in proper agricultural practices. The main theme of my workshops is: Learning by doing.

People come to my farm and participate in the work. Then they take what they’ve learned and apply it to their own fields.

Books and classrooms are excellent sources of education, but nothing is better than the experience of doing something—and that’s how we approach our farming education here. This is doubly important in my region, where many farmers are illiterate. They can’t read books, so we distribute pictorial pamphlets in the local language that transmit knowledge in simple ways that can be understood and followed.

Mostly, however, we demonstrate. We have to move slowly, taking things step-by-step. At my workshops, for example, I like to say that knowing how to operate a tractor doesn’t mean that you can hop into a Ferrari and drive to the city. Without proper awareness and instruction, you’ll hurt yourself and others—and it won’t be the fault of the Ferrari!

A farmer’s tools aren’t as a fancy as a Ferrari, of course. Some are mechanized, like tractors. Others are made for traditional manual labor. All tools, however, require at least some education so that farmers can learn how to handle devices for seeding, weeding, and fertilizing. I believe strongly that tools will enhance our man-power efficiency. This is an absolute need for a productive farming sector.

Modern farming is a science. We have to analyze the soil for nutrients and balance the fertility levels for specific kinds of crops. We must be careful about where fertilizer is placed, making sure it goes into the root zone for efficient uptake. Then there’s the challenge of pest and weed management, which means defeating insects and invasive plants through the appropriate use of crop-protection products.

Most Indian farmers don’t yet enjoy access to GMO technology, except for cotton, which means that we can’t take advantage of this technology for any of our food crops. Personally, I’d love to plant GMO corn and brinjal. A good seed sandwiched with precise crop production techniques will enhance the yield to its optimum. I am confident it would boost my farm’s productivity and help feed my country.

We’d also have to train farmers in the proper use of this technology. This can be done—it would not be too hard—but we would have to commit ourselves to the project, and once again engage in the strategy of learning by doing.

As I conduct workshops for entrepreneurs, my goal is to present agriculture as a profession, lifting it up from being viewed as a lowly occupation to an industrial activity. If we gain better access to tools and technology and perform the education that must go along with it, farmers will produce more food and consumers will have the means to buy more of it.

All of India would be much better off.

Rajaram Madhavan grows three different crops a year on his farm near Ulundhai Village, Tamil Nadu, India. Madhavan has several patents for farmer-friendly farm tools, conducts workshops that encourage entrepreneurs to take up agriculture as a profession.

DOES YOUR SUMMER BUCKET LIST INCLUDE AG?

At my house, the summer seems like it is going to be over before we even turn around twice.  Sadly, we haven’t even gotten a vacation in!  Between work trips, church camp, the kids’ work schedules, and life, finding a day to just do something fun seems so difficult.

If you’re feeling the same way, I’d encourage you to take a quick minute and schedule a day trip to learn more about agriculture before the summer is over!  A day trip can be the perfect solution to so many problems:

  1. You need a break
  2. Your kids need a break
  3. You want your children to have one happy memory of you over the summer
  4. They haven’t learned anything meaningful since the end of May and it’s about time.

In that vein …

Please enjoy this quick roundup of potential ways to learn more about where your food comes from before the summer is over!

Tour an alpaca farm in Amboy, IL

Alpaca’s are similar to camels, but with more charm and personality says the West Wind Alpaca farm in Amboy.  You can tour their alpaca farm by calling or emailing them.

 

 

Pick blueberries at Valley Orchard in Cherry Valley, IL

The blueberries, red raspberries, and currants are available for picking at Valley Orchard in Cherry Valley.  Your kids will love picking their own fruit, and if you plan ahead, you can schedule a tour of their orchard and learn something about how apples and other fruits are grown.

 

 

Experience the Children’s Farm at The Center in Palos Park, IL

During weekend visits, farm guides invite the public into each animal pen and are ready to supply information about the animals to inquiring visitors. Guests are welcome to touch, pet and groom many of our animals. Our barn animals change seasonally but we often have a variety of chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, pigs, goats, cows, sheep, horses, ponies and donkeys.  And if you’re looking for a longer term opportunity, they even take volunteers to care for the animals!

Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, IL

I learned something today!  Who knew that we had one of the premiere Japanese Gardens in the U.S. right here in Rockford, IL!?  Anderson Gardens is a  twelve-acre landscape of streams, waterfalls, winding pathways, and koi-filled ponds has been rated one of North America’s highest quality Japanese gardens for more than a decade.  Not your traditional agriculture visit, but definitely something to see.

 

Learn about grain marketing at the oldest grain elevator in Illinois

The M.J. Hogan Grain Elevator is the earliest remaining grain elevator built along the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The elevator, constructed in 1861-1862 by John Armour, allowed local farmers to ship their grain in bulk to Chicago markets via the canal, as opposed to transporting each load by horse and wagon.  You can take a tour of this treasure!

 

Experience modern agriculture at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, IN

Yes, this one isn’t in IL, but it still might be a possible day trip for you.  And it’s worth it!  This tour isn’t about history of agriculture or what used to be, but instead features the way farmers currently raise cattle, pigs, and how they use technology to do everything better.  This one is worth more than a day if you have the time to spare!

 

Hope you enjoy these fun places to learn more about agriculture this summer!  Please come back and comment if you visited any or have any others we should add!

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

 

INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES & THE FAMILY FARM #WISDOMWEDNESDAY

When I really think about it, I’ve lived off the farm longer than I lived on, but you know how it goes: You can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.

So, here’s a fun list of quotes from famous people that make my mind slip right back to the farm.

Innovation – wow.  Have you SEEN what’s going on on the farm lately?  These farmers are using GPS to map their fields.  GPS is turning on and off the planter boxes so that the planted rows don’t overlap.  GPS is controlling the fertilizer application so that the soil is getting exactly what it needs – no more and no less.  These innovative farming techniques are distinguishing the really great farmers from those that still need to improve.

This takes me back to spring planting.  The years when the soil was dry and hard, yet those little seedlings pushed through!  And, although I didn’t appreciate it fully at the time, the first day driving to church on Sunday when you could finally “row the corn” which meant that the little green rows of seedlings were finally visible as you drove by … those little guys saw strength and growth through continuous effort and struggle.  And in the end, they put me through college.  I’m so grateful little corn seedlings!

Optimism: some farmers have it more than others, but all farmers have it.  Think about it, when you put a field of seeds into the ground, knowing that at that present moment you are going to lose money on each and every one, hoping that the economy turns around before harvest?  That’s optimism.  Farmers are full of hope and confidence.  They hope for good growing seasons and good marketing opportunities.  They are confident in their own abilities as farmers and, usually, in God that they will take care of their families somehow.

This isn’t something that my parents said to me *exactly* but the sentiment is the same.  Don’t do a job halfway.  Always do it the very best that you can and look for the opportunities to learn to do it better.  I definitely remember conversations like this in regards to my school work, but also when it came to ironing, house cleaning, and picking up the yard.  In the end, it was a great lesson and one that I’m always teaching my kids too.  I definitely think of kid’s ag organizations like 4-H and FFA when I read this one.

Check out the 4-H motto: I pledge my head to clearing thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, and my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.  Hear the push to always be better, bigger, clearer … and more?

Me to my kid: Yes, you did clean up your room about 50%.  Is that your best work?  Did you understand that we don’t allow piles of trash on your floor?  Do you think you can do better?  Then go do it!  And don’t complain about being punished when you know you only did it 50%!

This.  Every planting season.  Every harvest season.  Every week of hauling grain.  Every calving season.  Every season on the farm looms large ahead of you and the work is overwhelming.  And yet, every farmer I know keeps moving forward, eyes only on the next thing – the next calf, the next 80 acres to harvest, the next 8 hour day of hauling grain – until they turn around and the job is done.  THAT feeling of satisfaction can’t be matched.

Are there quotes that make you think about your life and your upbringing?  Do these quotes give you any insight into what it is to grow up and work on a farm?  Let’s chat in the comments!

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

 

WHY GLOBAL AGRICULTURAL TRADE AFFECTS YOU

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

Do you remember that one thing you loved as a kid? Everyone else may have looked at it thinking it was silly. Maybe looking back, you do too, but, at the time, it meant the world to you. Twelve years ago, I found myself in the middle of a dramatic discussion about my one thing. This group of 8 or 9 kids would get together every day and argue to the point that people weren’t sure whether or not we were all friends. So, what was so important that 3rd graders were upset and that, at one time, were sent to the principal’s office?

Trade.

We’d gather in the gym, each with two or three LEGOs, hoping to trade for the one figure we needed. The ones everyone wanted were Star Wars characters (obviously), followed by aliens, and this little LEGO monkey we called Norm. Looking back, this is one of those things I view as silly. Even though our group eventually got shut down, we still practiced some trading basics.

If you have flipped on the T.V. in past months, you’ve likely heard of the trade war. Trade is very important for many people and has serious implications for many sectors, especially agriculture. According to the USDA, 20% of a farmer’s income is the result of global trade. With all that on the line, here’s a rundown of what trade issues are concerning people.

NAFTA

The North American Free Trade Agreement is the largest trade deal in the world. This deal between the United States, Canada, and Mexico was unlike anything we’d seen prior. Every state (except for Wyoming and Kentucky) trades at least $10 million worth of goods every year because of NAFTA. Just here in Illinois, over $2 million of ag goods are shipped to Mexico and Canada each year. To read more about each state’s relationship with NAFTA check out this Iowa State Publication.

TPP

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade deal that got a lot of people in agriculture excited. Expanding and increasing exports of ag goods is something that could pick up a down ag economy. The deal was set to involve twelve countries that border the Pacific Ocean. The deal was never ratified. Then, last year the U.S. pulled out of the deal. Now the remaining countries are still in negotiations under the name Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. Even though we withdrew from TPP, recent talks have mentioned the U.S. rejoining. If that happens, net farm income could increase by $6 billion (Michigan Farm Bureau). The renegotiated deal is expected to be signed soon allowing the United States to join later.

China

One of the hottest topics in trade has been the escalating discussions between the U.S. and China. According to the USDA, China is the second largest importer of U.S. ag products totaling $19.6 billion. With that much on the line, it is very important to agriculture that we continue to trade with China or find other markets to sell our products.

What a Regression in Trade Would Mean

The U.S. produces more food than we can use. So, we sell what food is left over. As I learned in 3rd grade making deals, to sell a product, someone must be willing to buy it. Ideally, many people will want to buy it (like Norm the LEGO monkey) and the seller can charge a higher price because of its value to so many people (I grossly overpaid for that monkey). If the U.S. successfully does creates a condition where many countries want U.S. ag products, the economy grows healthier. Additionally, when farmers receive fair prices and make money, they can invest in machinery, seed, technology, and practices that result in a healthier and safer food supply. This further stimulates the ag economy.

These reasons are just a few on the list of why trade is so important to farmers.

JC Campbell
Legislative Intern
Illinois Corn Growers Association

A FARMING FAMILY

I was walking into my final CHEM 102 lecture on Cloud Nine. The class which caused me so much stress and many late nights was almost over. Apparently, this attitude was noticeable as someone I’d never met chose the seat next to mine. I began making small talk when she suddenly stopped me, “What do you mean a family farm? Aren’t farms owned by huge corporations?” Her question caught me off guard. I always mention my upbringing when I introduce myself, so I don’t think about it much. To address her confusion, I began to tell stories of growing up on the farm. To her, the idea of a family farm is a strange one. This prompted me to reflect on family farms and the following three questions:

  1. How many farms are family farms?
  2. How does farming work as a business?
  3. Why do people pursue this lifestyle?

How many farms are family farms?

Today, it can seem most of our food is the result of science experiments and the profit invested interests of large companies. However, when we look at farms from a family perspective we find that conventional truths may not be very true.

To begin with, large companies have a very small stake in the production of food. While many companies who buy and sell agricultural products may be quite large, the actual growing of food is a family experience. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, only 4% of all farmland is not owned by family farmers. Even more surprising is 45% of farmland is owned by small family farms. The remainder is owned by mid-sized to large family operations. The apparent follow-up question seems to be who makes up that 4%? Well, we find that most of that farmland is owned by universities and companies for research purposes. More information on this topic can be found here.

How does farming work as a business?

At their core, all farms are businesses. A farmer’s most basic goal is the same as an accountant or nurse, to establish a means of providing for themselves and their family. However, unlike an accountant or nurse, family farms involve more than just adults working. In my household, everyone was wholly invested in providing a living for our family. However, when it comes to farming the way this living is made is quite unique.

One of the most difficult concepts of farming to understand is the markets. When referencing the markets, we often are discussing the factors which dictate the price at which farmers sell their crops. To fully understand the markets and all the nuances one would need to study this area for most of their life. To keep things simple let’s just briefly discuss two overarching concepts, the futures and cash prices. The futures market is where individuals exchange contracts of commodities for sale at a future date at a set price. Cash prices are what a farmer could get right now for the grain he currently has in storage. The dollar amounts of both futures and cash prices are constantly changing. This means is a farmer never knows how much money they will earn. As a business farming is one of the most turbulent. Imagine you work at grocery store and at the end of your first 40-hour week, your boss pays you $600, or $15 an hour. But the next week consumers decide to stop buying bananas, so your boss pays you $360, or $9 an hour, for your second 40-hour week because of the loss of profits. Due to factors beyond your control, you got paid $240 less than you expected. That is like the stress farmers feel as they watch the grain prices fluctuate daily.

Why do people pursue this lifestyle?

It’s hard to explain the way farmers work. It takes a unique person to want to submit themselves to this lifestyle. So unique, that only 2% of the U.S. population finds work as farmers. This 2 % provide enough food and resources for the U.S. and a large portion of the globe. However, if you ask them, there isn’t anything else these people would rather be doing. They serve the world by raising the best crop they can. Despite the highs and lows of the markets, the turbulence of everyday farm work, or the potential troubles looming on the horizon, our farmers continue to labor producing the safest and highest quality crop they can because they know your family depends on it.

J.C. Campbell
IL Corn Legislative Intern

TOP TEN FARM CHORES I LOVE TO HATE

TOP TEN FARM CHORES I LOVE TO HATE

Let’s face it – no one enjoys chores. Whether it’s taking out the trash, cleaning dirty dishes, or finding matches to the ever-growing pile of socks, we all have at least one chore we dread doing. Think about living on a farm, where chores are an everyday occurrence… could you handle it? From someone who grew up in a suburban neighborhood to now living on a farm, I’ll be the first to say that farm life was quite an adjustment. However, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Without further ado, here’s the top ten list of farm chores I love to hate:

Filling up Water Troughs: While this may seem easy and painless, dragging the hose from one pasture to another, attaching it to the hydrant, and waiting for each 100-gallon trough to fill can be a struggle. But, seeing the animals stare at me, then snort and run away (because as we all know, hoses are VERY scary) always leads to a good chuckle.

Cleaning Stalls: A daily chore that is easier on some days compared to others, it isn’t the chore to “stop and smell the roses”. At my house, my sister and I clean stalls together. So while some may dread it, that’s the time my sister and I share our days with each other. That sister bonding time means the world to me, even if we are surrounded by “brown roses”.

Unloading Feed/Bedding: This chore isn’t bad, but when the weather is not in our favor, such as this recent spring, it can be dreadful. Good news is, this isn’t a daily chore – once we unload the truck, we are stocked for over a week!

Washing Animals: Animals, like humans, can be moody. So some animals may be a challenge, but I love the smell of the shampoo and the refreshing feeling of water spraying back at me on a hot summer day!

Cleaning Show Equipment: Before and after shows, such as the county fair, it is important to clean all the equipment we take. This is much more fun when there are siblings around to chat with, it makes time fly by!

Holding Animals for the Vet: This can be tough, especially when we can’t just tell an animal to “hold still”. I’ve learned to love this chore because I always learn something new!

Filling Hay Feeders: This one doesn’t take long, but let’s be honest: bales of hay aren’t easy to carry. Once we make our way over to the feeder and hoist the bale up into the feeder, the job is done. The best part about this is when the hungry animals come walking over, they are always happy to see the person bringing them more food!

Clipping Animals: Most of us have that specific haircut we prefer. Animals have certain haircuts too, especially in preparation for a show. This is the perfect opportunity to play hairdresser and treat the animals to a fresh haircut!

Fixing Fences: Depending on the size of the farm, this can go really quick or really slow. However, it’s always a bad day when you see a cow walking down the road. So, fixing fences is a chore to prevent those bad days!

Stacking Hay: My number one chore I love to hate. In the summer heat, unloading hundreds of hay bales weighing about 50 lbs. each, this is not appealing to the average Joe. But, this is a GREAT way to get a workout! Go ahead and skip the gym after stacking hay, you deserve it!

Farm life may be filled with chores, but from personal experience, I can say I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is always something to be done, keeping me occupied and entertained 24/7!

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

PLANTING IS OVER, WHAT’S NEXT?

As many of us have seen this spring, farm machinery is moving all around. Farmers are busy planting the fields during this time of year. Depending on the time of year, most farmers can have their fields planted by end of May or early June. Of course, everything depends on the weather too. Some of us in northern Illinois saw snow on Easter Sunday, which fell on April 1st. A cold spring makes for less than ideal conditions to plant in the field, as farmers must wait until the ground is thawed for good. In the fall, growers are fully occupied harvesting their fields and finishing for the season, hopefully before the winter weather arrives. So, what do farmers do in between planting and harvest? Let’s dive a little deeper!

After the seeds are in the ground, a farmer’s job is not done. The period between planting and harvest is a great time to get farm machinery into tip-top shape. By taking time during the summer to ensure all equipment is cared for and ready to operate, it allows the farmers to have a smooth transition into harvest when the crops are ready.

Another task farmers often face between planting and harvest is plant care. Just as we take care of our pets, crop farmers must care for their plants. If there are pests infesting a portion of the field, or a fungus invading some of the plants, it is up to the farmer to solve those problems. A farmer walks through each field and checks on the plants periodically through the growing season, also known as crop scouting. The health of the plant plays a big role in the harvest yield in the fall. The healthier the plants, the higher quantity of crops that will be produced. The farmer also must care for the soil. Just as many of us take vitamins to ensure we receive key nutrients, it is the grower’s responsibility to make sure the soil is getting the proper nutrients too. With a healthy soil foundation, a farmer is setting up for a fruitful harvest.

Growers are also tasked with the responsibility of planning for the future. Just like any other business, these operators are looking ahead and making decisions to better their farm for the following year. Important choices include types of crops to plant, what soil treatments should be applied, any machinery that should be fixed or purchased, and many more. The countless choices that go into each decision can be daunting to non-farmers. However, with experience and resources from experts, farmers can make the best-educated decisions for their farm and their family.

Farmers are some of the most hardworking individuals. They work year-round to ensure the best quality crops for a bountiful harvest, and to keep feeding us, the consumers.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

HOW MY INTERNSHIP EXPANDED MY KNOWLEDGE OF FOOD

Throughout this semester, I have been exposed to a new perspective on food. I have always been interested in the health aspect of it, as well as what goes on inside our bodies after we ingest it, but this internship influenced me to focus more on the source of it, as well as the work behind the entire process.

While I had a decent understanding of common misconceptions, such as people being against biotechnology and food that is inorganic, I began to learn that many of us do not truly understand the reasoning behind making these food choices. Throughout the internship, I would talk to some of my friends, or catch them in moments at the grocery store when they would say “wait, but choose the organic one,” and after asking why, it typically resulted in an answer along the lines of  “it’s healthier” or “I don’t know, it’s better for you.” There have been many examples of consumers purchasing an item merely because it contains the words “vegan, organic or gluten-free.”

My very first post on the Instagram Gate2Plate highlighted the craze about GMO-free water. After reading a few articles, it became evident that companies try to take advantage of the knowledge gap between consumers and their willingness to pay a higher price for a “premium” product. While the water bottle does look fancier and more official, in the end, there is no true difference in the quality or safety of that water, but there is in the price. Gate2plate contains a multitude of fun photos that include facts, tasty meals, artsy recipes, and more, and it has helped me and many others expand our knowledge of all the different realms of food.

Through my experience with this internship, I learned about food insecurity and programs created to fight it, such as Food Corps. I have also learned that there are so many fun food holidays, and they are almost every single day! I have also learned the details that go into many of the intricate processes of creating certain foods, such as whey protein, beef, and coffee. While I have always followed basic trends of eating in season, I learned a lot about why it’s important, such as more flavor and nutrition, the fact that it helps you save money since the food is at the peak of its supply, and it is also better for the planet because eating within the seasons helps reduce the number of miles our food has traveled, hence reducing amount of fuel used to get it to us! Overall, I have learned that the process that comes before our food reaches our plate involves so much dedication, knowledge, patience, and hard work, and it is a step in the process that should be known and recognized by everyone because we would be nowhere without it.

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois