ALL WE WANT FOR CHRISTMAS: MORE CONSERVATION

[Originally posted December 14, 2016]

IL Corn and the ag industry has introduced some management practices and talked about some concepts that are different for farmers, trying to help them improve the water quality coming from IL farms.

Farmers are anxious to learn, some are trying out a few new practices, others are watching and learning from their neighbors, but …

WE NEED MORE FARMERS TO TRY MORE CONSERVATION PRACTICES.

Farmers are farming because they love it, but also because they need to provide for their own families.  So trying something completely new, and risking tens of thousands of dollars or more in the process, is a scary thing.

Research tells us that trying cover crops will cost *this much* and improve soil health *this much* while also decreasing nutrient loss *this much.*  But the research put into practice on some farms doesn’t always work out exactly the same.  Farmers get nervous to try new things … and that’s understandable!

But Santa, we’ve got to make our water quality better.  We’ve got to lose less of the expensive fertilizer we’re putting on our fields.  We’ve got to invest in our land and preserve it for future generations.  Farmers definitely want to do this!  It is their core value and the foundation of their farming business.

So one thing we’d love for Christmas is for more farmers to TRY a new conservation practice on their fields this year.  Maybe they just try it on one field, maybe they branch out to several.  Maybe they talk with a neighbor and try the same thing she had success with in 2016.  We’re making progress, but MORE progress would sure be nice.

Whisper in their ears – would you Santa?  We’ll keep providing the outreach, education, and programming in the meantime …

Note: In 2016, IL Corn offered several new educational programs for farmers!  These are just a few:

  • cover crop coupons – to try cover crops at a reduced cost for the first year
  • field days – to see how different management techniques were actually working on farms in Illinois
  • interactive maps – to help farmers understand when to apply nitrogen and when not to apply
  • Precision Conservation Management – a pilot program that helps farmers understand conservation practices AND the financial implications that correlate with them
  • water testing – to understand how much of the expensive fertilizer a farmer was losing from his/her field

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

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.”

 

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

ALL WE WANT FOR CHRISTMAS: MORE CONSERVATION

IL Corn and the ag industry has introduced some management practices and talked about some concepts that are different for farmers, trying to help them improve the water quality coming from IL farms.

Farmers are anxious to learn, some are trying out a few new practices, others are watching and learning from their neighbors, but …

WE NEED MORE FARMERS TO TRY MORE CONSERVATION PRACTICES.

christmas-list

Farmers are farming because they love it, but also because they need to provide for their own families.  So trying something completely new, and risking tens of thousands of dollars or more in the process, is a scary thing.

Research tells us that trying cover crops will cost *this much* and improve soil health *this much* while also decreasing nutrient loss *this much.*  But the research put into practice on some farms doesn’t always work out exactly the same.  Farmers get nervous to try new things … and that’s understandable!

But Santa, we’ve got to make our water quality better.  We’ve got to lose less of the expensive fertilizer we’re putting on our fields.  We’ve got to invest in our land and preserve it for future generations.  Farmers definitely want to do this!  It is their core value and the foundation of their farming business.

So one thing we’d love for Christmas is for more farmers to TRY a new conservation practice on their fields this year.  Maybe they just try it on one field, maybe they branch out to several.  Maybe they talk with a neighbor and try the same thing she had success within 2016.  We’re making progress, but MORE progress would sure be nice.

Whisper in their ears – would you Santa?  We’ll keep providing the outreach, education, and programming in the meantime …

Note: In 2016, IL Corn offered several new educational programs for farmers!  These are just a few:

  • cover crop coupons – to try cover crops at a reduced cost for the first year
  • field days – to see how different management techniques were actually working on farms in Illinois
  • interactive maps – to help farmers understand when to apply nitrogen and when not to apply
  • Precision Conservation Management – a pilot program that helps farmers understand conservation practices AND the financial implications that correlate with them
  • water testing – to understand how much of the expensive fertilizer a farmer was losing from his/her field

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF THE FARMER: NOVEMBER

Some people think that the only busy times of the year are planting and harvest and the rest of the year farmers spend their glorious amounts of free time vacationing or tinkering with antique tractors. This may be true for some, but not the majority. Today is the eleventh post in my one-year series which will give you an idea of a farmer’s workload throughout the year. Keep in mind that all farms operate differently and I am just providing one example of a year in the life of a grain farmer. There are several factors that contribute to the seasonality of the farm such as size and scale of the operation, crops grown, location, livestock, management style and general upbringing or personal work ethic! I hope this provides some insight to what versatile businessman farmers are.

november

Start at the beginning!

JANUARY
FEBRUARY
MARCH
APRIL
MAY
JUNE
JULY
AUGUST
SEPTEMBER
OCTOBER

You’ll continue to get stuck behind slow-moving vehicles on rural roads throughout November, but at least visibility at stop signs improves with the corn and beans down. That’s right, harvest is (finally) wrapping up!

This year’s crop:

  • snow-harvestHarvest: A farmer could still be harvesting his grain in November, especially if he’s in Northern Illinois or if the weather is uncooperative. Rain stalls harvest by making soybeans tough and difficult to cut, or by making the fields too squishy to drive heavy machinery through. As for SNOW… it’s not impossible to combine grain with snow on the ground, but it certainly makes picking, transporting, drying and storing it more difficult. Let’s just hope they don’t have to go there!

Farm Maintenance:

  • field-tileManage Break-Downs: As always, managing breakdowns is an ongoing task on the farm. Gotta keep the equipment in good working order to get the job done.
  • Install or fix tile lines: After the crop is out, it’s a good time to install or repair tile lines. Field tile is like a big underground gutter system that aids in field drainage. Sometimes tile can become broken or clogged and needs to be dug up and repaired. Or maybe the field didn’t have any tile to begin with. Post harvest is a good time to install it.

Next year’s crop:

  • Looking ahead: With “this year’s crop” being hauled away, it’s time to implement next year’s game plan. This is where things could vary greatly from farm to farm depending on the farmer’s individual preferences and management techniques. Some options could be:
    • empty-fields-landscapeFall tillage: working up the ground to break up plant matter and prepare the seed bed for next year’s crop
    • Fertilizer and other dry product application: Examples would be phosphorous and potassium (commonly referred to as P&K) and lime
    • Anhydrous ammonia can be applied in the fall.
    • If farmers are using over-wintering cover crops such as cereal rye, it may be applied post-harvest, depending on what is being planted.
    • Research and place 2017 seed orders

This year, USDA, NASS stated that harvest was at least 97% complete at Thanksgiving. What a relief for farmers and their families! With the crops out of the field, the Stewards of the Land were able to enjoy some much-needed family time around the dinner table giving thanks for the bountiful harvest!

Deal_Ashley

Ashley Deal
Membership Administrative Assistant
IL Corn

LEARN THE STORY OF CONSERVATION

rogersy_Farmers are known as stewards of the land and many take that title seriously. Farmers like Roger Sy make it their mission to promote sustainability on their farms for the benefit of not only their land but also of their neighboring communities.  Farmers with this mindset follow the directive of the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy in order to reduce waste while maintaining profitability and productivity. Here’s a more specific explanation from the Illinois NLRS page on the EPA website:

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy guides state efforts to improve water quality at home and downstream by reducing nitrogen and phosphorus levels in our lakes, streams, and rivers. The strategy lays out a comprehensive suite of best management practices for reducing nutrient loads from wastewater treatment plants and urban and agricultural runoff. Recommended activities target the state’s most critical watersheds and are based on the latest science and best-available technology. It also calls for more collaboration between state and federal agencies, cities, non-profits, and technical experts on issues such as water quality monitoring, funding, and outreach.

Farmers who abide by the NLRS strive to implement best management practices (BMPs) on their farm. However, there is a wide array of BMPs to choose from, because conservation needs may differ from farm to farm. So how can non-farmers get familiar with what farmers are doing?

conservationstorymapThe Conservation Story Map is a place where anyone, whether a farmer or not, a person can explore what BMPs are being practiced across the state of Illinois while introducing real farmers who use them. The website gives farmers a chance to tell their stories and show off their farms while identifying what practices are important to their farm. The map even offers the chance to see how conservation practices differ in neighboring farms.

Whether you are a seasoned veteran or new to ag, the Conservation Story Map offers a wealth of rich data and resources to understand how modern farmers are stewarding agriculture into the future.