WHY AG EDUCATION SHOULD BE A GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENT

Each of us has taken (or is in the process of taking) general education classes at school, whether it be at a middle school, high school, community college or a university. These classes vary by institution but usually include a combination of English, fine arts, math, science and Global Studies. I think it is fair to assume not everyone is extremely passionate about all of those basic general education courses. I can say from personal experience, I was not exactly the most excited about my Introduction to Theatre course. I’m not a fine arts major, so I did not receive many benefits for my future career from that class.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have required general education courses that we actually utilize in the real world? Not that things like the Pythagorean Theorem aren’t useful; however, theories like that one aren’t useful outside the walls of math class. That’s where agriculture education comes in. The agriculture industry offers many lessons to be taught to those who desire to learn. For example, many FFA members have projects and must keep accurate records of all transactions that occur each year. This teaches students how to balance a checkbook, budget accordingly and plan for the future – all of which are real-world skills.

At many universities, introductory agriculture courses offer many ways to help students grow professionally, for both agriculture and non-ag majors. For example, at my university, a class titled, “Introduction to the Agriculture Industry” (also known as AGR 109) requires students to create a resume, cover letter, and participate in a mock interview with real employers, all for a grade. Many students enrolled in this course, from college freshmen all the way to seniors, did not have a resume created for themselves. This class creates an opportunity for those students to make a resume and receive feedback as well. On top of that, the mock interviews allow for students to network with actual recruiters from many different companies. This basic agriculture class helps students prepare for the professional world, far more than my Introduction to Theatre class ever did.

General Education courses are important; they are considered a foundation for student education. However, when courses like AGR 109 offer professional development skills and put students in real-life scenarios, this helps prepare for life after graduation. Those classes are solidifying the foundation they will use for the rest of their lives. This is why everyone should take at least one agriculture education course as a student, from middle school all the way through college. The skills learned, knowledge gained and networking opportunities provided are very applicable to the working world – all the more reason to add agriculture as a general education requirement.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

ORGANIC VS CONVENTIONAL FARMING – WHAT’S THE SAME, WHAT’S DIFFERENT?

[Republished from Illinois Farm Families]

Organic versus conventional – it’s a highly debated topic. As a farmer who has employed both methods, perhaps I can offer a valuable point of view to help you make the best choice for you and your family.

What’s the same?

  • Pesticides – There are pesticides approved for use in both types of farming. Farmers use these to protect their crops from bugs and disease.
  • Soil health – Farmers use a variety of tools and practices to maintain soil and water health on farms of every shape and size.
  • Sustainability – All farmers think about sustainability. The tools farmers can use vary slightly between conventional and organic, but the desired result is the same.
  • Farmers care – We all care about growing safe food for our families and preserving our land for years to come.
  • Safety – Whether or not you’re reaching for an “organic” label at the store, the food you’re eating is safe. Furthermore, research shows very little difference between the nutritional value of organic and conventionally grown foods.

What’s different?

  • Pesticides – While there are approved pesticides for use in both types of farming, pesticides used on organic farms must be naturally derived whereas conventional farms can use synthetic pesticides.
  • GMOs – Genetically modified crops are not allowed in organic farming. GMOs can be grown in our conventional fields and help us avoid using pesticides among other benefits.
  • Cost – But you already knew that. Generally speaking, certified organic food costs more.
  • So, yes, there are some differences between conventional and organic farming, but there isn’t necessarily a “right” and a “wrong” way to farm. It all comes down to what is best for each individual farmer and their land. In my case, I’m comfortable growing both and I feed both to my family. I’m making what I believe are the best choices and I encourage you to do the same..

TRENT SANDERSON

Trent farms with his family in northern Illinois. He also enjoys learning and educating other farmers about the environmental benefits of cover crops. He lives on the farm with his wife, Elizabeth, and their son Owen. 

WHERE DOES ILLINOIS CORN GO?

If you’ve driven through Illinois, you’ll remember fields and fields of corn along our (sometimes dilapidated) scenic interstates and highways.  It’s true, corn is a very popular crop in our state and one that supports the Illinois economy in many ways.

For a moment, let’s review that the corn you see growing in Illinois is not sweet corn.  Sweet corn, bred for its sugar content, is the corn you enjoy off the grill, out of a can, or frozen from the grocery store.  But this corn makes up less than 1% of the corn grown in Illinois.  Most of the corn is field corn or dent corn, bred for its starch content, and used to make corn meal (rarely), to feed livestock, and to fuel our vehicles.

So where does all this corn grown in Illinois go?

Well, according to the best available data we have on the 2016 crop – data from the 2017 crop isn’t finalized yet – most of that corn is exported out of Illinois and likely used to feed livestock.

To be fair, we can’t know exactly what the corn is used for once it leaves our state, but we do know that 41% of the corn grown in Illinois is exported.

Why is export the largest market in our state?  Because we have a unique position on the Illinois and Mississippi River that gives us very competitive access to transportation to get that corn out of the country.  Buyers and get our corn delivered to them more cheaply, so they tend to buy from us instead of from other states.

If a semi load of corn in Illinois isn’t leaving the state, it’s probably being used for ethanol production.  Thirty-one percent of the corn grown in 2016 ended up at an ethanol plant and became the cleanest burning fuel option American’s have.

Interesting to note, much of the ethanol produced in Illinois also leaves the state for other countries.  Those rivers, man!  They are a BIG advantage.

The rest of the corn is used for processing (23 percent) and livestock feed (5 percent).  Livestock feed is an easy one to understand.  Five percent of the corn grown in Illinois is fed to livestock living in Illinois.

But this 23 percent processing number is more complex.  It basically includes everything else that we use corn for.  This is where the human food use for field corn is (cornmeal, tortillas), but also where all the industrial uses are lumped.  Corn is used to make diapers, gum, lollypops, crayons, and many, many more products!  So many that 23 percent of Illinois corn goes into those markets.

Here’s the shocker though – fifteen percent of the corn harvest in Illinois is sitting unused in a pile or in a bin somewhere.  We grow more corn than we can use!  This is why we are always looking for innovative ways to incorporate corn into our lifestyles to make our products better.  And this extremely versatile crop delivers!!

Lindsay Mitchel
ICMB/ICGA Marketing Director

MY WEEKEND AT REEVERT’S FARMS

Does anyone remember learning in junior high science classes that heat rises? Well, I rediscovered that lesson this past September after spending a few hours at Reevert’s farms, the home of the Illinois FFA State Reporter, working in the hay mow.

Not growing up on a farm, I was extremely excited for that weekend feeding calves, hogs, and sheep. At the time, Ryan told me I was going to be putting hay in the mow. I originally thought this meant mowing hay in the field, but in reality, it was putting hay up in the mow. For those that don’t know, the mow is an upper section of the barn where hay is stored. Once we got to the farm, Ryan told me that I was not going to be mowing hay in the field, like I thought. Instead, I was going to be manually moving hay in a hot, sweaty, and cramped environment. Luckily, Ryan’s dad came in to save the day for me and told Ryan that was no way to treat his guest. He told Ryan, “You go up in the mow! Joey didn’t even have a clue what was going on! Don’t be rude!”

In the picture below, you can see Ryan, his dad, and me all posing for a picture. As you can tell, Ryan seems to be more tired than me. That’s because he spent over forty-five minutes in the mow moving hay while my job was putting it on the conveyer belt. Needless to say, I was having the time of my life putting hay in the mow, and so far, my first impressions of daily farm chores were very good.

I learned two lessons from that experience. First don’t trust Ryan and volunteering for farm work, and second, always bring an extra t-shirt.

After that tremendous experience, Ryan told his dad, “go back home! You’re being too easy on the boy! He needs some real work.” Once Ryan’s dad left, we walked over to the pig pen to feed the hogs. Ryan told me, “Get on in there Birrittier. Distract the hogs from the feeder while I fill their feed.”

One thing that Ryan forgot to mention is that his female pigs like to come up and smell the people around them. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t even like it when my dog comes up and smells me, let alone a pig! I suddenly became very scared as these two dark eyes start coming to me closer and closer. Now mind you, it’s dark out now, so all I can see are these two eyes coming right for me. I pin myself into the corner yelling out Ryan’s name. I’m screaming louder and louder until Ryan finally hears me.  He yells back at me, “Quit screaming! You’re going to scare the pigs!” “Scare the pigs!” I replied, “They’re the ones scaring me! Look how close this one is! Help me!” All Ryan could say was, “That’s just Beulah. She just wants to smell you. Relax you wimp.”

Five months later, I still get grief from the Reevert’s family about my experiences with pigs. In my defense, how else would a person react if their first up-close encounter with a pig was it smelling your face?

Although I might have embarrassed myself multiple times, the memories I made that night will last me a lifetime. Not only did I learn to always bring an extra t-shirt to the farm and never overreact when a pig smells your face; I also learned the hard work and dedication it takes day-in and day-out on the farm.

I have a huge admiration for farmers and their families now because of the memories I made at Reevert’s farms.

Joseph Birrittier
Illinois Association FFA President

WAYS YOUR FOOD IS KILLING YOU

The saying “you are what you eat” really goes a long way when you realize how much food influences your daily life. Here are some ways that food can actually be hurting us.

  1. Not eating more fruits and veggies because they aren’t organic.

Fruits and vegetables have an abundance of essential vitamins, minerals, plant chemicals, and fiber that are all vital to our health. While organic foods have their benefits, nonorganic foods have just as many – more consistency in taste, texture, and quality, they are cheaper, and sometimes they may even have less pesticide residue than organic fruits and veggies. Just because something is not organic does not mean it is any less nutritious, and avoiding fruits and veggies can do more harm than avoiding non-organic foods.

  1. Larger portions of “safe” foods do not equal good-for-you.

Just because the food you are eating is healthy, it does not mean that you can eat an unlimited amount of it! For example, fruit is extremely healthy and good for us, but a lot of it has loads of sugar. To put it into perspective, one mango has 50 grams of sugar, whereas one can of soda has 39 grams. Even the healthiest food options are best when eaten in moderation, and an extra intake of calories will end up getting stored as fat.

  1. Choosing Reduced fat/fat-free products

Making reduced fat and fat-free products involve adding many unhealthy ingredients and increasing other unhealthy components such as sugar and carbohydrates. In most cases, low-fat products are very high in carbs, contain trans-fats, and still have a high-calorie count. Trans-fats are very detrimental to our health, especially for our heart and cholesterol. There are many healthy fats out there, choosing the natural option may be the best way to go!

  1. Using Aspartame as a replacement for real sugar

Aspartame is a zero-calorie sweetener that is found in many low-calorie or zero calorie drinks. While it is a nice alternative that helps reduce your sugar intake, there are many controversies about potential ailments that may be caused by it, ranging from mild side effects such as headaches and digestive symptoms to potentially chronic illnesses such as cancer.

  1. Some vegan meat substitutes

Vegan and plant-based diets are extremely popular right now, and for many great reasons, but some vegan or vegetarian meat substitutes are often made in very unhealthy forms. Many substitutes have a lot of added sodium, and excessive sodium intake is often linked to high blood pressure and risk of heart disease. Also, just because it is vegan does not mean it is not deep fried, loaded with unhealthy sauces, and prepared as a junk food, such as vegan chicken nuggets or burgers.

It is our job to be aware of the reality behind the food we eat, so do your best to stay up to date with nutritional news so you can be the healthiest version of you!

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois

GET READY FOR THE SPRING SEMESTER WITH AG MAGS!

Repost from ilcorn.org

Illinois Ag in the Classroom provides teachers important, interesting and even fun classroom curriculum on agriculture for free!  Make sure the teachers in your life have incorporated an Ag Mag into their spring 2018 curriculum and get those requests to your county ag literacy coordinator today!

Ag Mags are 4-page, colorful agricultural magazines for kids. They contain information about agriculture, bright pictures, classroom activities and agricultural careers.

Many Ag Mags are interactive.  They are set up for smart board usage in the classroom and give teachers opportunities to engage their students with various videos, online articles, and real-world applications to help students understand how what they are learning in the classroom makes a difference in real-world discussions.

Best of all, Ag Mags are designed to meet specific learning standards.  As an example, the Corn Ag Mag includes the following note:

This Ag Mag complements, and can be connected to, the following educational standards:

Common Core State Standards:

  • ELA-Literacy – RI.4.2; RI.4.4; RI4.7; RI.4:10; W.4.7-4.9; SL.4.1; SL.4.4; L4.1; L4.6
  • Mathematics – 4.MD; 5.MD
  • Next Generation Science Standards:
  • Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems: 3-LS4-3; Energy: 4-ESS3-1; Structure,
  • Function, and Information Processing: 4-LS1; Structure and Properties of Matter: 5-PS1-3;
  • Structure and Properties of Matter: 5-PS1-4

IL Social Science Standards:

  • Human-Environment Interaction: Place, Regions and Culture: SS.G.3.4; Human Population: SS.G.3.4;
  • Exchange and Markets: SS.EC.2.4; Causation and Argumentation: SS.H.3.4

There are tons of other free resources available to teachers to incorporate agriculture education into their classrooms AND meet state learning standards.  For more information, check out the Ag in the Classroom website here.

ILLINOIS FARM FAMILIES: LEARN THE LABEL LINGO

Originally published on Illinois Farm Families

In a world filled with choice, a food label can be like a beacon of fluorescent light in the middle of a grocery aisle. Nutritional content, ingredients – this is information that helps. But then there are labels that mislead or confuse rather than clarify, hindering your ability to pick out healthy, nutritious food for you and your family – no matter the claim.

We want to help you wade through the words. So when labels lie, you know the facts behind how your food is grown and raised.

HOW TO BECOME A FARMER: LIVESTOCK COULD BE KEY

Periodically, I review the list of terms that bring people to our blog.  Among the front-runners, every single month, are searches of people wanting to become farmers.

“How to become farmer”
“How to start farming”
“Can I buy a farm”

I’m guessing what they eventually find is that it’s super hard to “get started” in farming.  You don’t just quit your job one day and decide that you want to be a farmer because the startup income you’d need is prohibitively large.

To start farming, a young person typically needs to begin working for a farmer and learning the ropes.  After all, there’s so much about taking for the land and animals that is intuitive and based on years and years of experience.  A first-time farmer needs a few years of experience under his or her belt AND the wisdom to listen to his farmer employer and learn from her experience as well.

But after you’ve put your time in, building a livestock barn could be the key to becoming a farmer if that’s what your heart desires.

In the pig farming industry, there are several larger companies that are often looking for “pig spaces,” or barns to house their pigs and farmers to care for those pigs.  If you are interested in starting a farm and you can get the bank to loan you the money to build a barn, you just might be able to secure a contract with a larger company to fill that barn and guarantee you enough income to get started.

That’s exactly what Chad and Julia Krogman did when they opened their first wean-to-finish pig barn earlier this month.  (Wean-to-finish means that they will take piglets into their barn as soon as they are weaned, and the pigs will grow and live there until they are harvested for meat.)

Chad and Julia grew up and rural communities and have worked on farms and in the ag industry their entire lives.  They have saved their pennies and eventually moved some pigs into an existing empty barn in their community.  Further saving meant that they were able to build their own barn.

“We enjoy raising and caring for livestock and the environment. As first-generation farmers, we see raising hogs as an opportunity to work in an agricultural realm that is very capital intensive.  We feel blessed to have the opportunity to pursue our goals in agriculture and desire to be good stewards of what we’ve been given,” said Chad.

So, if you are really interested in becoming a farmer, first find some seasonal work for a farmer and learn a few things.  Then, consider livestock.  It’s hard work that never quits, but worth it for a life you love.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

A YEAR-LONG FARMING SERIES

A new year begins next week. Did you know farmers are already thinking and planning for the next crop year? However, they’re not the only ones. Farm family members all have a part to play in the ecosystem of their family farm. Read a series that explores the farming year from a different perspective – from the spouse of a farmer.

A Year in the Life of a Farmer:

January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November

TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF A FARMING SEASON

It’s the day after Christmas and we’re already thinking about the next farming season. Want to know what goes into a farming season in just a few short minutes? Check out virtual video series on farming!

#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 here.