UNDERSTANDING HOW IMPORTERS VALUE U.S. CORN

The global corn market is increasingly competitive.  To adequately compete, U.S. corn has to be available, priced right compared to other corn, and of good quality.  This isn’t so different from how you chose one pair of shoes over another, is it?

To give the U.S. an advantage, we attempt to provide good information about the quality of our corn crop each year.  Because it’s usually very good, this information helps us compete with other countries selling corn to the global market.

The USDA also grades our corn.  You can see the requirements of each grade in the graphic above.  The general idea is that heavier corn with no heat damage is the higher grades.

In 2018, for the corn just now coming out of the field, we might expect higher grades because the weather has naturally dried out the corn and farmers likely will not have to artificially dry the grain in a dryer.  This means, less heat damage.  However, because the year was a pretty dry year, the weight of the corn might not be as heavy due to a lack of moisture.

It’s a balancing act to deliver the most perfect corn you can to your first purchaser.  But even after you’ve delivered perfect number 1 corn, the additional handling needed to get it to an overseas market might reduce the corn quality.

Farmers keep trying to raise perfect quality corn!  Some factors are outside their control, but they understand that perfect corn demands premium prices!

HOW MUCH CORN DO WE GROW AND WHAT’S IT WORTH?

Although corn (or maize, as it’s known throughout much of the world) is grown in nearly all 50 states, production is primarily concentrated in the northern and Midwestern states—collectively known as the U.S. Corn Belt.

Farmers in the Corn Belt grew quite a bit of corn in 2017 – enough to satisfy some pretty large markets with corn to spare!  Corn prices are low right now because farmers keep growing a lot of corn and the market demand isn’t keeping up.  U.S. policies about ethanol and trade are part of that impact.

For the market year September 2016 – July 2017, farmers sold Mexico 21.7 million bushels of corn for just over $6 billion.  They also sold 15.8 million bushels to Japan for $5.5 billion and 8.1 million bushels to South Korea for $2.8 billion.  These three countries are our largest corn importers.

Farmers are proud of the corn they grow and the economic activity they spur for our country.  With these numbers, who wouldn’t be?

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

 

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