#TBT: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A FARMER: MARCH

[Originally published March 15, 2016]

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 third 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 into what versatile businessman farmers are.

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Bookkeeping

March 1st was the deadline for farm taxes to be filed. That chore is a load-off… Quite possibly LITERALLY. Also, a lot of Ag lenders also expect their prior year’s input loans (think 2015’s crop) to be paid in full by now.

Next THIS year’s crop

What we previously considered “next year’s crop” can now be called “This year’s crop”. The 2016 crop year is officially underway! There is lots of prep work to get done before the first seed can be placed in the ground – but nearly every task is weather permitting.

  • 3-15-16Ayear3The seed corn that was selected last December or January will likely be delivered to the farm by the end of the month. Better clean out a corner of the shed to store it for a bit.
  • Get machinery cleaned up and prepped for planting. Wash, wax, check tires, make sure the engine’s running smoothly, re-calibrate settings for depth and spacing, vacuum out the cab, etc.
  • There might be drainage or other “dirt work” to do before crops are put into the fields. The freeze-thaw of winter might have slightly shifted the lay of the land and new, or worse, wet spots may now be visible. It would also be a good idea to make sure tile line exists are free of debris and able to drain the fields properly.
  • Depending on how wet the fields are, there’s a possibility of working ground for seedbed preparation and fertilizer application.

Household and farm odd-jobs / repairs

As mentioned last month, in March the weather dictates your schedule. If the ground’s still too cold or wet, you might have some spare time to spend working on indoor projects. Then again… don’t count on it. If something needs doin’… Do it now!

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Ashley Deal
ICGA/ICMB Membership Assistant

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

CORN PHOTO CONTEST WINNERS

Did you know that every year there’s a corn photo contest nationwide? Every year, National Corn Growers Association invites its members to submit their best farming pictures in the Fields of Corn photo contest. Our farmers are mighty good at their job, but they’re not too shabby at snapping pictures either. You can view the winners of 2017 below.

#TBT: LESSONS LEARNED IN A BLUE JACKET

Originally published on KellyMRivard.com by Kelly Rivard, previously published here on February 22, 2011

It’s National FFA Week, which means that I HAVE to write a post about one of my favorite youth organizations!

I only spent one year in FFA. In many ways, I consider that year one of the best I’ve lived so far. I know that isn’t saying much, as I’m only 20. However, the lessons I took away from that FFA chapter are ones that you don’t readily forget.

Our chapter was brand new. I served as the President in its founding year. It was a wonderful, stressful, exhausting, amazing experience. It was a million different things, but it will never be something I regret.

So what lessons did I take away from my short stint in a blue jacket?

Responsibility. I had my job cut out for me, forging the way for a brand new chapter. Our advisor ran under the principle that the students should do most of the work, and learn from it. That meant I spent a lot of time dealing with adults to make things happen. Whether it was planning for trips, organizing banquets, or fundraising, we had to be on the ball. We had to be mature, because it was the only way things would get done.

Teamwork. Our chapter was a combination of three schools, all ran by one teacher. My local 4-H friends were easy to work with, but integrating a new group of kids I’d never met before, across different backgrounds, ages, and maturity levels, meant that we all had to put a little extra work into cooperating. Here’s a picture of our officer team and advisor at our first ever River Valley FFA Awards banquet.

Organization. Record books for projects, homework for class, paperwork for trips, minutes for meetings…we had to be organized.

Confidence. Nothing will boost a kid’s self-confidence like achieving something on their own. Whether it’s by successfully orchestrating an awards banquet or placing at agronomy contests, success helps shape young minds into strong leaders for tomorrow.

These are just a few of the lessons I’ll take with me from my time in a blue jacket. There are many, many more lessons that I could never possibly put into words. I could never possibly phrase them into something that means as much as they deserve. My FFA advisor is one of my heroes, and continues to be a role model for me, even well into my college career. My FFA memories will always be fond ones.

Now, rather than a blue jacket, I proudly wear a blue polo, that says “River Valley FFA Alumni.”

Kelly Rivard
Former IL Corn Intern

LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT’S ON YOUR TABLE

As farmers, we get a lot of questions about our passion. Consumers like you are taking a new interest in food and we absolutely love that! We get asked a range of questions almost daily and so our friends at Illinois Farm Families put together FAQs and answers to some of the more frequent questions we get. Use these as a starting point your education!

Are most farms today factory or corporate farms?

Today, the vast majority of farms are still family owned.  In Illinois 97 percent are owned by individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. For these family farms, being stewards of the land and caretakers of their animals truly runs in their blood.

Get to know some Illinois farm families by checking out our Meet the People page.

Should I worry about antibiotics in my meat and milk?

The USDA requires all beef, pork, poultry or milk destined for grocery stores or restaurants be tested and inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service to ensure there are no antibiotic residues. Farmers also are required to follow strict withdrawal periods for animals given antibiotics.

Read this post from a farmer who breaks down how farmers use antibiotics and how they ensure your food is free of all residue.

Are hormones in food making girls develop early?

There is no science-based research linking food to early development. Higher body weight has been suggested as a contributing factor. You might not realize it, but all living things contain hormones. Watch this video as Illinois farmers talk about hormones in dairy and meat compared to other food items.

Are GMOs safe?

The World Health Association, Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and American Medical Association, to name a few, have all deemed ingredients derived from a genetically modified crop as safe as ingredients derived from crops raised using other methods.

In this video, Paul Jeschke talks about the benefits of using GMO seeds in his fields.

What’s the difference between grass fed and grain fed beef?

  • Grain-finished – Cattle spend most of their lives grazing on pasture, and then spend four to six months in a feedyard where they eat a mix of grasses and grains
  • Grass-finished – Cattle spend their entire lives grazing on pasture

Check out this infographic on today’s beef choices.

Where can I find out more about what labels mean?

Read what this Chicago mom with a Master’s in Public Health learned food labels, or visit the USDA’s website to learn more about label requirements.

Is buying organic worth the extra cost?

While organic and non-organic foods are produced using different farming methods, nutritionally they are no different.

In this blog post, a Chicago mom discovers some of the differences, and similarities, between organic and traditionally grown produce.

Why do farmers use chemicals?

Plants use nutrients in the soil to grow. Fertilizers are natural compounds from the earth including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that give growing plants the nutrients they need. When farmers need to control a pest or weed problem, they use products judiciously to help protect the plants.

Get perspectives about chemical use from different local farmers here.

Do animals on small farms receive better care than on large farms?

The livelihood of livestock producers – whether large or small – depends on the health and well-being of their animals. Regardless of the size of the farm, caring for animals is a 24/7 job that requires knowledge, patience and the utmost devotion.

Read this blog post from a Chicago mom who toured local farms to witness animal care for herself.

Do farmers have a choice in what they plant on their farms?

Yes, just like consumers have choices in what they buy at the store, farmers choose what they want to plant in their fields. They spend a lot of time researching, reading, meeting and listening to industry experts to determine what’s best for their farms.

Get to know Paul Taylor, an Illinois farmer who grows both GM and non-GM crops and can share his perspective on both.

 What makes food local?

There is no set definition for “local” when it comes to marketing products. Many Illinois farmers sell their products directly to the public and others sell to brands such as DelMonte, Dean’s and Farmland that can be found in grocery stores throughout the state.

What’s the truth behind cow tipping?

The legend of cow tipping is mainly just that – a legend. In this video, Linda Drendel gives ones of many reasons as to why tipping a cow over would be quite the challenge.

This obviously doesn’t even scratch the surface of questions people ask. So to get more answers to your questions, check out Illinois Farm Families.