THE CONSEQUENCES WHEN TECHNOLOGY IS WITHHELD: A FARMER’S PERSPECTIVE

This article originally posted by Global Farmer Network.

How much would your life change if suddenly the government were to ban mobile phones?

It would alter everything, from how you work to how you communicate with your family. In time, perhaps, you’d get used to it: Our parents managed to survive without these devices in their pockets for most of their lives. I anticipate we’d figure out a way as well.

I, along with the majority of the population, do not want to revert to 20th-century technology. We’d lose so much.

Farmers, however, face constant pressure to go backward in time. Here in Europe, for example, politicians last year nearly banned us from using the world’s most popular crop-protection tool. This year, a court has released a judgment that will deny our access to several products that defend crops from pests whose activity damages or destroys.

All too often, people see technology as a threat rather than a resource. This is especially true when it involves a poorly understood technology that’s vulnerable to propaganda and misunderstanding. In my case, this means technology specific to agriculture, needed by farmers but also scorned by people who don’t understand or appreciate the difficulties of sustainable agriculture and take for granted that their food will show up at reasonable prices in grocery stores and restaurants.

An obvious example for Europeans is GMO food. Whereas much of the rest of the world has embraced this safe technology—Argentina, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, the United States, and more—much of Europe has rejected it. Most consumers don’t know what they’re missing, but we farmers do, because we know that our competitors in other nations have taken advantage of sound science to grow more food on less land.

The debate will only intensify, as gene-editing tools give farmers even more versatility—especially as consumers begin to clamor for near-future advances that promise to improve the nutrition and taste of what we eat every day.

But that’s to come. We’re presently in the thick of several controversies that affect how I farm and produce food right now.

Consider the case of glyphosate, a crop-protection technology that helps me fight weeds. In 2017, the European Union nearly banned it—and the activists behind this political agenda haven’t given up. They may yet succeed in having glyphosate outlawed

For two decades, glyphosate has helped us grow food sustainably on our farm, which is in the United Kingdom, in an area called the West Midlands. We raise bread-making wheat, malting barley, linseed, and more. We also set aside a small part of our acreage for salad onions and handpicked peas and have a flock of 1,200 grazing ewes.

If we were to lose glyphosate, we’d have to return to old-fashioned cultivation for weed control, which means using machinery to turn over topsoil. This would come with a steep environmental and economic cost. We’d suffer soil erosion, turn to stronger chemical controls, and produce less food.

Long experience tells us that glyphosate is safe. If it weren’t safe, I would refuse to use it on my farm. When it comes to chemical applications to fields, of course, farmers are on the front lines. We face the greatest risk of harmful exposure. It makes no sense for us to adopt products that pose threats to our health. That would be suicidal.

Better than experience is science—and science, too, tells us that glyphosate is safe. It’s toxic to weeds, but it breaks down quickly and does not enter the human food chain. Regulatory panels have confirmed this, including the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemical Agency.

The French-based International Agency for Research on Cancer is the single outlier. It claims a connection between glyphosate and cancer in people. Mainstream scientists have debunked its conclusions, and IARC has a reputation for pursuing scary theories rather than embracing scientific evidence. Yet its statement have prompted activist groups to turn glyphosate into an issue of politics, rather than a matter of science, agriculture, and consumer economics.

Some might say: Better safe than sorry. Initially, that familiar saying sounds reasonable, and it’s at the heart of the “precautionary principle,” which drives so much of the regulatory decision-making in Europe.  The idea is that if we can’t be absolutely certain about a product’s potential hazards, then we shouldn’t allow its widespread use.

In practice, the precautionary principle smothers innovation: nothing is ever safe enough to satisfy everyone. If we followed it in everything, we’d have to ban mobile phones, because the IARC has classified them as “possibly carcinogenic.”

Thankfully, we haven’t taken this step—but we’ve taken it in other areas, especially agriculture. This is partly because only farmers see the regulations that affect us. They in fact affect everybody, but they’re invisible to non-farmers, which is to say most people.

As it happens, there’s nothing safe about denying farmers access to the crop-protection technology of glyphosate—and doing so would deliver a series of unwelcome and unintended consequences on my farm and the farms of others.

The first is that our soil would erode, causing us to lose moisture, nutrients, and biodiversity. We’d resort to alternative sprays that are more toxic and stay in the soil longer. We’d also run our equipment over our farmland more frequently, increasing our emission of greenhouse gases.

The advent of glyphosate allowed us to abandon these harmful practices. Banning it would pressure us to take them up again.

We’d grow less food, too. If our crops face more competition from weeds, our acres would become less productive. This means that food prices would inch upward. It’s simple economics: Reduced supplies mean higher costs for consumers.

One of the miracles of modern agriculture is that we grow more food on less land than ever before.  This is a boon for conservation.  A ban on glyphosate would turn back the clock: We’d grow less food on more land, hurting our efforts to conserve.

Will we lose glyphosate? I’m not sure. But I do know that we’re losing crop-protection tools all the time. In May, for example, a European court approved a ban of “neonics,” a popular pest-fighting technology. The allegation—and it’s merely an allegation—is that neonics kill too many bees. The science on this is far from clear, and many factors stress bee populations, from parasites and diseases to a loss of habitat and nesting sites. None of these causes have anything to do with the crop-protection tools that farmers use, and yet we’re the ones who have to pay the price.

So imagine a ban that causes you to give up your mobile phone. The sensation is not altogether different from my experience as a farmer, forced to confront the possibility of losing the latest technologies and drifting backward in time.

Jake Freestone
Farm Manager at Overbury Farms, West Midlands, United Kingdom

#TBT: RAIN CAN BE A HUGE PAIN

[Originally published June 29, 2015]

We love this parody by Ohio Ag Net’s Ty Higgins.  Rain IS a big pain all over the Midwest.

On Friday, after leaving IL Corn’s rained out golf outing, I took this quick video (below). You can see clearly see the damaged caused to this corn by standing water and inadequate drainage. The dark spots are higher ground where the corn wasn’t trying to grow in standing water. The lighter green spots are lower ground where the corn is struggling to survive.

Here’s a photo I took today on my way back to the office after lunch. See how the corn is lighter colored where it’s excessively wet?

wet field

This damage is everywhere. Farmers are starting to get nervous. THIS is one of the reasons why farming is such a risky business.

Mitchell_Lindsay
Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

WHY YOU WILL FALL IN LOVE WITH ETHANOL (IF YOU GIVE IT A SECOND CHANCE)

When you are about to purchase a product at the grocery store, what things do you normally think about before you buy it? Is it a good price, is it locally grown, and is it environmentally friendly? These are questions as consumers we ask ourselves on a daily basis.

Ethanol actually answers all of those questions that people consider to be important moral purchasing decisions.

It’s Priced Right

5-27-16_EthanolOne gallon of ethanol is actually cheaper than one gallon of gasoline according to the Renewable Fuels Association. This means that a gallon of gasoline containing ten perfect of ethanol (E10) is virtually cheaper than a gallon of conventional gas. In 2010, a study showed that utilizing over 13 billion gallons of ethanol actually reduced the prices of gasoline by about 89 cents per gallon. This means that a typical American household actually spent 800 dollars less in gasoline in 2010. Also, an increase in the use of ethanol also decreases the demand for oil and the market prices. It is also a tremendous source of octane and it is much more valuable and cheaper for refiners compared to other sources of high-octane.

It’s Produced Locally

Ethanol brings more than just the agriculture industry in America together. It brings local farmers, environmental leaders, automobile manufactures, and economic and industry leaders together to achieve a common goal. The production of American-made ethanol serves a vital purpose of helping us to not be dependent on imported foreign oil. There are also other materials that can be utilized in the process of making ethanol such as specialty energy crops such as algae, forestry waste, urban waste, etc. Not only farmers can contribute to this American-made effort, but as a consumer yourself, you can get involved in locally produced ethanol as well!

It’s Environmentally Friendly

E85 fuel pump at Washington DCEthanol is a renewable fuel. Compared to conventional gasoline, ethanol reduces greenhouse emissions by 59%. If you drive a flex-fuel car, utilizing higher blends of ethanol-enhanced gas can assist in preventing greenhouse emissions even more! By utilizing American-made ethanol we are already replacing 661,000 barrels of imported oil. This prevents and decreases the amount of oil spills each year. By already utilizing the E10 standard that is served in a majority of gas stations throughout the country, ten percent ethanol currently decreases emissions that is equivalent to removing 7 million cars off of the road.

Ethanol should be what every consumer wants right now. It fits the mold of the moral and ethical decisions we make on a daily basis. Next time when you go to fill up the tank, remember that ethanol is a consumer-friendly resource that will bring Americans closer together.

Nicole Chance

Nicole Chance
University of Illinois

5 THINGS ABOUT THIS PHOTO: WHAT IT MEANS TO DRIVE A FLEX FUEL VEHICLE

We’ve got some great photos in the IL Corn library – photos that speak volumes about what we do and who we are as an organization as well as who the farmers are that we serve! This week, we’ll feature a few of those photos as well as share the lessons you can glean from them!

What it means to drive a Flex Fuel vehicle

IMG_00561.This is a photo of a Ford F-150 Flex Fuel truck that one of our board members currently drive. Flex Fuel means the vehicle can run on an array of combinations of gasoline and ethanol. The blends you will most likely see at your local fuel station range from E10 to E85. This acronym indicates the percentage of ethanol blended with the gasoline, 10% to 85%.

2.What is ethanol? Ethanol is an alcohol made from renewable resources such as corn and other cereal grains, food and other beverage wastes and forestry by-products. The corn-based substance is added to gasoline to reduce oil imports, reduce emissions, increase performance and reduce overall costs of transportation fuels.

3.Illinois Corn supports higher blends of ethanol in our gasoline because the higher blends create a higher demand of corn ethanol. Ethanol is made in the USA. Because ethanol is homegrown, every time you purchase it, you are buying local and supporting our farmers right here in Illinois.

4.One bushel of corn produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol in addition to several valuable food and feed co-products. Using only the starch from the corn kernel, the production process results in vitamins, protein, corn oil fiber and other by-products that can be used for food, feed and industrial use.

5.Ethanol is also cleaner burning and environmentally friendly. It reduces pollution risks for the environment and since ethanol has cleaner emissions, there are less greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that are responsible for climate change.

FIVE WAYS FARMERS FARM RESPONSIBLY

In this office, it feels like farmers being irresponsible is a primary headline in the media.  Intellectually, I know it isn’t.  I know that things like ISIS and the latest slip up by the President or Congress make the headlines far more.

But you know how you notice things that really bother you more?  How a personal interaction with something makes it appear more often to you?  Yeah, that happens to us when we hear how irresponsible farmers are.  Because for the majority of farmers, it just isn’t true.

(I know there are “bad actor” farmers.  But really, there are “bad actors” in any industry.  In your workplace alone, I know you can name at least two or three that don’t do their job appropriately or efficiently.  Don’t hold that against us.)

So today, I’d like to highlight five ways farmers farm responsibly.  If any of these are news to you, make sure you ask all your questions in the comments.  I would absolutely LOVE to clarify.

1. Farmers preserve their soil through tilage practices.

illinois, farm, winter, snow, cornOk, this sounds big and complicated, but it really isn’t.  Tilage: it’s the same thing as tilling your garden, but on a really big scale.  What this means is that farmers have actually quit tiling their soil so much to minimize soil erosion.  When the stubs of the crop before are left on the field over the winter, the roots and stalks help hold the soil in the spring when the melted snow and excessive rain threaten to wash it away.  Farmers are interested in preserving and building up their soil because it is their family’s income for the next year … and the next.

2. Farmers minimize trips over the field to use less fuel.

Sights of guys back in the fieldThis should make sense to everyone – fewer times up and down the rows in the field equals less diesel used equals less emissions.  But how do the farmers do it?

Well, the tilage practices I mentioned help.  If they aren’t tilling their ground, they also aren’t running a tractor up and down to till the soil.  But also, farmers are using GPS to cover their fields more efficiently.  Before, every trip up and down the field included a few feet overlap to be sure that no portion of the field was missed.  GPS eliminates that and allows farmers to minimize their fuel usage.  Technology is amazing!

3. Farmers “prescription farm.”

farm technologyNew technology is also allowing for another amazing advancement – “prescription farming.”  Farmers are able to look at soil types and soil tests to determine what each square foot of their field needs in order to be optimized for crop production, and then they only apply fertilizers on that area.  Gone are the days when farmers treated a whole field the same!  Now they minimize the use of inputs by applying only exactly what is needed in the single spot in the field where it’s needed.

4. Livestock are known as individuals.

6-24-11 cattleJust like your doctor knows you as an individual and treats your needs accordingly, livestock farmers know their animals as individuals too.  Each animal has a certain personality and demeanor – and farmers recognize changes when they see these animals every day that alert them to illness and other problems.

Some farmers even have ultrasound scanners that individually check each cow to determine weight and potential grade of the meat they will supply.  The health of each cow is a priority and the farmers strictly manage antibiotics (only given when the animals are sick!) and withdrawal times before they can enter the food supply.

You’ll definitely want to read this mom’s impressions of the livestock farm I’m talking about!

5. Farmers seek continuous improvement.

11-19-12 FarmerIf there’s one thing that is a priority to farmers, it is preserving the land and equipment they have for the next generation.  Farmers and their families spend their lives just hoping to build something they can pass on.

All the technology they use now helps.  They are able to gather data about their fields, harvests, yields, inputs, rainfall, etc and analyze that data in programs that help them understand their sustainability.  But the real key here is that all that data gives farmers a means to continually improve.

Think about it this way – if you are mostly healthy but not having a yearly physical, you probably don’t worry much about your cholesterol.  But the moment that you have your first blood test and your cholesterol is high, you eat healthier.  Farmers are the same way.  Having the technology to provide data about how they are farming helps them in their pursuit of continuous improvement and leaving something amazing to their children.

Want to know more?  Ask questions in the comments!!

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

 

FINDING A GOOD BALANCE IN THE CLIMATE CHANGE DISCUSSION

About halfway through my term as President of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, I can look back and realize that a good portion of our time has been spent on climate change and the idea that corn is somehow responsible for warming our planet. At the same time, I now have to wonder if the second half will be spent discussing whether or not corn is cooling the planet.

Check this out.

All at once, I am consoled that now I am no longer warming the planet and contributing to an apocalypse, but fueling a “cool hole” in the middle of the country.

To summarize, David Changnon, a climate scientist at Northern Illinois University, has used decades of research to prove that more densely planted corn and soybean fields scattered across the Midwest are changing the regional climate – raising the dew point and reducing the extremely hot summer days.

Is it just me, or do all the other Illinois farmers out there want the public, the researchers, and the government to make up their minds about how we affect the climate? It surely isn’t only me that wishes we were seen as a solution to the problem instead of the problem.

This article indicates that there’s hope.

“It’s a different type of human-induced climate change that has certainly played a role in the changes to Illinois’ weather,” said Jim Angel, a climatologist at the Illinois State Water Survey in Champaign. “It’s kind of an interesting way to look at all this.”

Interesting, but also crucially important, Changnon said, as climate scientists ponder two intriguing questions related to this research: Have Midwest farmers accidentally created a barrier to soften the most severe effects of global warming? And if so, can it be repeated elsewhere?

Finally.

Half a year spent discussing warming and hopefully half a year discussing cooling. Maybe I will exit my term as President with the needle still fully in the middle.

And I will consider it a victory.

Tim Lenz
President, ICGA