3 WAYS FARMERS HELP THE ENVIRONMENT

Taking care of the environment is something every person in the world can contribute to. Maybe you turn off the water when you brush your teeth or carpool with friends to work. Did you know that farmers also care about the environment? Farmers want to protect the environment so they can continue to feed the world.

Here are just a few things that farmers do to protect the earth we all live on:

  1. Cover Crops. Have you ever driven by a field in the dead of winter and wondered why something was growing there? A cover crop is planted in a field during winter when other types of plants can’t grow. The reason farmers plant cover crops is to reduce the risk of soil erosion, or the wearing away of the soil. Some common examples of cover crops are crimson clover and radishes. Soil erosion causes many problems such as poor drainage that could lead to water pollution. The cover crop helps eliminate soil erosion since the root of the plant is holding the soil in place. When wind and rain come along, the soil will not wash away. Cover crops also help keep organic matter in the soil, which increases soil health. Through this practice, farmers are ensuring the health of their soil, while also protecting the environment.
  2. No-Till. Farmers prepare for the planting season through tilling the soil. Tilling is a way of preparing the soil through digging, stirring, and overturning. On the other hand, no-till is a way of growing crops from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. The soil in the field is not disrupted and old corn stalks or leaves act as the “cover” to the soil. Because the farmers leave the soil intact, it is less likely to be washed away by water or blown away by the wind which would cause soil erosion. Farmers want to protect the soil so it can continue to be used in the future.
  3. Help Reduce Runoff. 

Agricultural runoff is water that leaves farm fields because of rain or melted snow. When the runoff moves, it can pick up pollutants, such as chemicals or fertilizers, which can then deposit into ponds, lakes, and sources of drinking water. Farmers can plant riparian buffers, which are vegetated areas that help prevent runoff into water sources.There are also programs in place to help protect water sources from agricultural runoff. The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) is one of those programs. The goal of MRBI is to work with farmers to implement conservation practices that help avoid and control runoff from fields, specifically into the Mississippi River. Farmers put a lot of effort into protecting the water that everyone drinks.

Laine Honneger
University of Illinois

ARE GMOs CONTRIBUTING TO THE DEATH OF BEES?

Are GMOs contributing to the death of bees and butterflies

Bees have a very big role to play in agriculture.  Farmers must have them to pollinate plants.

Experts estimate that honey bees are worth $15 billion to the U.S. economy because of their role in pollinating agricultural crops!

The good news is that despite what you may have heard, honey bee populations are at a 20 year high!  Read more about that here.

The buzz you’ve heard about bees about started in 2006 when Colony Collapse Disorder hit and reduced bee populations considerably.  This is a complicated issue that includes mites that attack the bees and inadequate nutrition that kills them, along with other factors we probably haven’t even figured out yet.

EPA et al recognize the bee populations may be challenged by a number of factors including pests and parasites, microbial disease, inadequate diet and loss of genetic diversity, as explained by Paul Driessen, a senior policy analyst and author, in this post.

When scientists and beekeepers first started studying this issue, many worried that GMO crops were among the causes to blame.  GMO crops include a protein that is indigestible for many insects, but after further research, the protein does not impact honey bees.

Paul explains that “the proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences indicated that bees may be dying not from a single toxin or disease, but rather from a variety of factors.”

Concerns have also been raised that a type of insecticide called neonicotinoids — or “neonics” – could be negatively impacting honey bee health. Sometimes the use of neonics are linked with GMO crops, but neonics are used on both GMO and non-GM varieties of crops, like corn, soybeans and canola.

So far, research shows that neonics do not have a significant impact to honey bees and that climate change has among the largest impacts on the bees, including narrowing the range of locations where bees can safely live and pollinate and thus magnifying the impact of the varroa mite.

Bee Ambassador for Bayer Chris Sansone, who has more than 30 years of experience as a professor and extension specialist at Texas A&M University, points to several scientific studies indicating this is not the case. He notes that “genetically modified plants and their impact on honey bees have been widely studied, and the results indicate that GM plants are not harmful to bees.”

 

#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

APPLES TO ORANGES: WHY CROPS THRIVE WHERE THEY DO

Jennie is a Maryland farmer. She is also a registered dietitian who speaks about food and farming systems, sustainability and family farms.

[Originally published on CommonGround]

Drive through the Midwest and you’re likely to see field after field of corn and soybeans. Head down South, there’s cotton as far as the eye can see. And of course, Florida is synonymous with oranges and other citrus groves. Why are certain crops most prevalent in certain areas? And how do farmers decide what crops to plant on their farms?

The first is often dictated by climate and season length. Crops require a certain number of days before they reach maturity and are ready to harvest. Citrus fruits, for example, need more days of warmth and sunshine, which suits them well for states like California and Florida, while crops like corn can thrive in places like the Upper Midwest, where the days get shorter and colder in early fall.

America in Miniature

My home state of Maryland is sometimes called “America in miniature” because of our diverse ecology. From ocean to mountains, we have it all, along with a typical climate that’s somewhere between that found in the north or the south. We also have well-drained soil that’s not too dense, making it good for many crops. You see a wide array of crops grown throughout Maryland – just about everything, with the exception of citrus fruit.

As I write this blog, I’m in the middle of harvesting my twenty acres of wine grapes. You may equate wine grapes with places like Napa Valley, but grapes also thrive in Maryland, New York and elsewhere in New England. We have some great wineries! We often say that grapes don’t like wet feet, meaning they thrive in soil like mine that dries quickly and where the water table isn’t high. This keeps the roots from wet soil. In addition, on our farm we grow barley, wheat, tomatoes, green beans, corn and soybeans – which we harvest in that order, from June to October.

Climate and soil type aren’t the only factors that help farmers decide what crops to grow – things like infrastructure also play a large role, and I’ll talk more about that in my next blog. But if you’ve ever wondered why there’s a Corn Belt across the U.S. and orange groves in the South, you can bet that Mother Nature is the primary reason.

Amy Erlandson
CommonGround

SOIL LOSS: A CASE FOR REDUCED TILLAGE

Agriculture is a large portion of the economy in Illinois.  Every farmer in Illinois has their own method of planting and raising their crop.  Every farmer must make decisions on what is the best way to raise their crop with the conditions and location they have.  Tillage, which is when farmers dig into the soil and mix it, is one decision that farmers make every year.  Three types of tillage exist conventional tillage, reduced tillage, and no tillage.  This blog is going to focus on why farmers are utilizing reduced tillage.

Reduced tillage is sometimes referred to as conservation tillage and is just what it sounds like, less tillage than conventional tillage, but more tillage than no tillage.  Farmers may choose to utilize reduced tillage for a variety of reasons including prevention of soil loss, reduced soil compaction, improved soil’s organic matter, and decrease in labor cost.

Soil loss is a growing problem today. The soil is vital for agriculture, and we are losing our soil faster than our earth can make it.  It takes the earth 500 to 1000 years to create an inch of topsoil.  When we are losing an inch of topsoil every 20 years.  With the reduced tillage practice, we can reduce the soil erosion because of the crop residue and the roots. Think about weeding a garden, when you pull a weed usually soil will come up with the weed.  This is because the roots hold the soil.  With reduced tillage, the previous crops roots are still buried beneath the ground and are still able to anchor the soil in place to prevent loose particles from running off through water or the wind.

There are three sizes of soil particles, listed from largest to smallest, sand, silt, and clay.  Over time these particles can squish tighter together.  This causes a problem for the crops because the crops need air spaces in the soil to absorb water and other nutrients from the soil.  Heavy machinery such as tractors can compact the soil over time, and because reduced tillage requires less preparation for planting the soil is not driven over as much, and results in a decrease in soil compaction.  Look at this triangle showing the different steps and machinery needed for the different styles of tillage.  (Insert Tractor triangle photo)

Reduced tillage can increase organic matter because the decomposition process is slower when the residue is left on the top of the soil and will cause an increase in nutrients on the top layers of the soil, and overall increase soil health over time.

Less labor is another great advantage of reduced tillage.  Because there contains less steps in the process for reduced tillage less time will need to be invested as well as less money will be needed for equipment or labor cost.

Reduced tillage is a great option to help reduce soil erosion, reduce soil compaction, increase organic matter, and reduce time and labor. If you are interested in learning more about different soil tillage management systems, please review this document linked here: Soil Management and Tillage.

Mary Marsh
University of Illinois

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #10: WHAT DOES AN AG TEACHER DO?

[Originally published: May 26, 2016]

5-26-16agDoug Anderson has been an agriculture teacher for more than 30 years and has spent the majority of those years at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School (PBL) in Paxton, Illinois. He has played an instrumental role in building the Ag Program at PBL and has played an even bigger role in the lives of countless students.

AMANDA: What made you choose to pursue a career in Agricultural Education?

DOUG: I chose teaching agriculture because I love agriculture and I love young people.  Teaching agriculture allowed me to make the most of 2 interests I have.  Also, I enjoy the variety of what I do each day.  I enjoyed the practical skills that can be taught to students and being able to relate those to everyday life.  I have enjoyed the competitive aspect of Career Development Events, which I learned to appreciate well after I started my career.

AMANDA: What are some things that stand out that helped you get to where you are at today?

agteacherDOUG: I had 2 really good parents that supported me in everything I ever did.  My father farmed for the first 10 years of my life which developed my interest in agriculture.  When he quit farming, he went to work for a seed corn company and so I spent most of my older growing up years closely connected to the agronomy industry.  FFA had a huge impact on my life in helping me develop leadership skills and opportunities to compete outside of athletics.  My ag teacher really pushed me and helped me see opportunities that I would not have discovered had it not been for ag education.  Lastly, I have had the privilege of working with some great teachers, students, parents, alumni, and community members which all had a part in getting me to this point in my career.

AMANDA: Describe a typical day on the job.

DOUG: I’m not sure there is a typical day, which is a big reason why I have enjoyed my career so much.  I’m usually up by 4:30 or 5:00am and at school by 6:45am.  We often have an FFA practice for an upcoming contest or event.  I teach my classes throughout the day and 1 to 2 and sometimes 3 nights a week, we have some kind of FFA activity whether it be a contest, practice, meeting or leadership workshop, etc.

AMANDA: What has been the most rewarding part of your career?

5-26-16ag2DOUG: The most rewarding part of my career is seeing students succeed.  Success is different for nearly every student.  For some, it’s choosing a career that they really like and do well in.  For some, it is accomplishing goals in FFA.  For others, it’s finding a place to fit in and develop friendships.  It is very rewarding to watch kids mature into young adults with a purpose and goals for their future.

Anderson will be retiring at the end of this school year. He has loved the career that he has had and, if given the chance, he would not change a single thing. He is thankful for all that his career has given him and is excited to see what this next phase of life has in store.

Are you considering a career in Agricultural Education?

Diesburg_Amanda_IL Corn intern 2x3 16

Amanda Diesburg
Illinois State University
Ag in the Classroom Intern

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #5: THE HEAVY COST OF FARM MACHINERY

[Originally published March 14, 2016]

Here in Illinois, we are all fairly familiar with the big farm machinery in the fields during spring and fall, but have you ever wondered what kind of financial investment a farmer undertakes?

3-14-16Tractor
Photo Credit: Holly Spangler, Prairie Farmer

It’s mid-March, the weather is getting more pleasant, and all farmers seem to have one thing on their mind: planting.

The first field of corn was planted near Pearl, Illinois last Tuesday and it is expected that many farmers from all over the state will soon be following suit to start the long process of getting food to your dinner table. However, for farmers to get the food from farm to table, they need machinery to do it, and machinery costs money. Lots of it. But what exactly is the financial investment a farmer undertakes when it comes to their machinery?

Chad Braden, President and Chief Operating Officer of Arends Hogan Walker (AHW), one of the largest John Deere dealerships on the continent, says that the image created by the media about the cost of farm equipment is a negative one, but in reality, it is a necessary part of the production cycle. In order “to sustain a long-term farm operation, you must be able to invest in, and support, a reasonable amount of equipment to maintain the farming operation.” He also suggests that the general rule of thumb should be spending “$95-$100 per acre on machinery costs. This gives a 1,000-acre farm about $100,000 of cash flow to cover annual machinery payments and maintenance, insurance, fuel, etc. Only $70 per acre of this is direct machinery costs.“ Braden closes by adding, “$70 per acre is about 10% of the total costs of production in 2016 for an acre of corn.”

So, it costs $95-$100 per acre for machinery costs, but what about the expense of the actual machinery itself? John Spangler, my uncle, as well as a grain and livestock farmer from Western Illinois, states that this all depends on the size of your operation. A small farmer, who may have around 350 acres, needs nothing more than a $50,000 tractor, $20,000 planter, and a $50,000 combine. But, that is about as “minimum” as you can get. “A 1000 acre farmer is going to need a couple of tractors around $150,000, a $50,000 planter, and $100,000 combine.”

This may seem like lots of money, but Spangler mentions that it is better to keep the combine, planter, and sprayer up to date. “A lot of dollars flow through those machines and a breakdown at the wrong time can be expensive.”

If buying new isn’t something you want to do or can afford to do right now, have no fear. Leasing has become more popular in recent months. Also, there is a company called Machinery Link who connects farmers from all over the U.S. who need different types of equipment at various times. Some farmers even share equipment over two or more farm families. In reality, there are tons of other options to make machinery more affordable. “Everyone has their own philosophies on machinery,” says Spangler. “It basically comes down to what fits best in your operation.”

Kaity Spangler

 

Kaity Spangler
University of Illinois

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #4: 6 THINGS ABOUT FARMING I DIDN’T LEARN IN SCHOOL

[Originally published: February 23, 2016]

We all love our teachers, but looking back there are things we wish somebody had told us. Here are six things about agriculture that I wish were taught in school.

  1. Food is not easy to grow.

farmer in fieldOn TV you always see farmers portrayed as a bunch of uneducated hillbillies, but that is not the case! There is a lot more to growing food than most people realize; farming is a science. Farmers have to be masters of chemistry, agronomy, physics, mathematics, economics, and meteorology. In fact, there are over 70 colleges across the country that offer degrees in Farm Management. Who knew?

  1. Most of the corn we see in the fields isn’t sweet corn.

There are several different types of corn grown in the US, but the main type is field corn, also called dent corn. This corn is used for animal feed and also processed into ethanol, corn syrup, and other products like makeup and plastic. Less than 1% of the corn grown in the US is sweet corn! Check out this math lesson teachers could use to teach students about corn.

  1. Dirt is not the same everywhere you go.

soilHave you ever wondered why Arizona soil is so much redder than the dark black soils we have here in central Illinois? It turns out there is much more to dirt than meets the eye. All soil is made up of a combination of three components: sand, silt, and clay. The way a soil looks, feels, and even how well crops can be grown in it can all be predicted by looking at the age of the soil (some soils are thousands of years old!), mineral composition, topography of the land, and what the native vegetation was. There are even people whose whole job is studying soil!

  1. Hamburgers and milk don’t come from the same place.

eat mor chikinEveryone has seen the Chick-fil-a commercials where the black and white cows are telling you to eat more chicken, but besides being a cute marketing strategy it doesn’t actually make sense. Holsteins, like the Chick-fil-a cow, are one of hundreds of breeds of dairy cattle that are milked to make cheese and ice cream, but very rarely used for meat. A more accurate commercial would have a Black Angus because they are the most common beef breed in the US. These are the cattle that are raised for their meat to be processed into steaks, roasts, and burgers.

  1. Farmers do care about the environment.

The media is always pointing its finger at the agriculture industry for polluting the atmosphere or causing global climate change, but farmers really do care about the environment. In fact, they are affected even more than the rest of us by global climate change. As the climate patterns change over time, new pests invade our fields that they are not equipped to handle. This in turn lowers their yield and actually costs them money!

  1. There are chemicals in your food. Gasp!

Pyridoxine, Natamycin, and Carboxymethylcellulose, oh my! Find out what these chemicals are. Just because something has a long name doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, all food is naturally made out of chemicals called vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A chemical-free diet would mean that you couldn’t eat anything!

elizabeth brownElizabeth Brown
Purdue University