Waking up at 5:45 a.m. is the norm for me to be out the door by 6:00 a.m. and start my day before the heat sets in. The result of what the season will bring is my motivation to continue working strong even when impediments occur. I lace up my shoes and head out the door with a positive attitude, because I know I need one in order to overcome my 10 mile training run.

Growing up on a farm surrounded by agriculture has taught me a lot about running.  The most important lesson I have learned is that hard work does pay off.  Throughout my life, I’ve seen failures and accomplishments.  Too much rain or a windstorm may damage the crops, but that is not always the case.  With determination and lessons learned, alternatives eventually will bring success as the expected result.

There are good runs and bad runs.  I can’t decide which one I will have before mile one.  However, I know that there is a lesson to be learned from every mile marker.  Sometimes I fall and need to get up to try again.  Scraped knees and palms are like downed crops in a perfect field.  You’re not able to correct the problem immediately, but you know the scratch is temporary. 

Most people who did not grow up in a rural area or around agriculture do not understand it.  Questions arise about the production of livestock, way of living, and the ultimate question of “why?”   While the answers seem very simple to those of us who have been around agriculture our entire lives, they are a mystery to others.

Running is not so different.  Non-running individuals don’t understand the reason behind the pain and training it takes to run a marathon, or the time commitment involved.  It takes motivation to put one foot in front of the other for those 10 miles, just as it takes motivation for farmers to plant rows of corn and soybeans for hundreds of acres.

Farmers and runners alike are highly motivated individuals. No one is telling them to wake up at 5:45 a.m., or asking them to keep working although it may be time for a ‘snack’ break.  I have learned to become motivated from growing up on a farm, and it has stuck with me through my double digit miles on a perfect day to sleep in.

Everything I learned from running, I also learned from agriculture. Running and agriculture have a lot in common, and the situations and lessons I was faced with on the farm have helped me to become a better person all around.  Running forces me to work hard with the limited energy I have, just as agriculture works with its limited resources.

“The answers to the big questions in running are the same as the answers to the big questions in life: do the best with what you’ve got.” – Anonymous

Abby Coers
University of Illinois Student


We just had Holly Spangler guest post for us last week, and after reading her latest post we had put the spotlight on her again.

Show season is heating up, all across the Midwest and, honestly, across the better part of the rural U.S. countryside. The best cattle, lambs and pigs have been vigilantly selected. The careful feeding has commenced. The daily rinsing and grooming may have even already begun. Preview shows are about to be held, or have already been held.

But really, all that isn’t even the point. This is the point:

This is Campbell Martin, getting a last-minute bit of advice and a pep talk from his Uncle Nathan. Campbell was about to show a pig at his county fair a couple years ago, one of his first shows. Then, at this time last year, his uncle died of testicular cancer.

I think what strikes me so deeply about this photo is the number of times I’ve seen it play out in real life. How many of us have been on either the giving or the receiving end of that exact same talk? Campbell’s mom, Holly, shared this photo at the time of Nathan’s death, and it has clung to a corner of my mind ever since. Look at how that young man adored his uncle. “Some of the best times we had with him were in the barn,” Holly says.

This is what it’s all about. Families together, learning from each other and having a good time. If you think the point of showing livestock is to make money – and a lot of people do – let me just say, I think you are wrong. We all like to win, and I am absolutely among them. The livestock exhibition business is an industry unto itself.

But this right here? Time spent together, in a shared activity that engages multiple generations? This is a gift. We don’t recognize that enough in agriculture; that this thing we do with showing livestock gives us opportunities to spend time together that families outside our industry would kill for.

Holly Spangler
My Generation – The Blog


Deadline for fall 2011 social media and video intern applications is this Friday, July 15.  If you are a college student looking for a paid growth opportunity, consider the Illinois Corn Marketing Board!

The social media internship is an independent project, focusing on either Twitter, Facebook, or blogs. If you love agriculture and want to promote it – or even just want to learn more about how your food is grown – join us!

The video intern will be provided with specific projects that could vary by semester or by month as new issues/needs arise.  Success will be defined by completion of the projects within the given timeframe and by accomplishing the desired outcome for each individual video/project. 

Questions?  Contact Lindsay Mitchell at lmitchell@ilcorn.org.


So fun to come over from Prairie Farmer to guest blog today at the Corn Corps! Thank you, Illinois Corn Growers, for having me over.

I was cleaning out some old files in our basement the other day, much to the delight of my husband. (Part of the downside of working from home: file storage. Part of the downside of being a packrat working from home: lots of file storage. Enough said.)

Anyway, I came across a red file folder that held the notes and a rough draft of the very first story I ever wrote for Prairie Farmer, when I was but a college student. (See? Pack rat.) In fact, it was a test story given to me by then-editor Mike Wilson and used by him to decide whether to hire me. The story was on the independent seedsmen of the day, and it was published in December of 1997 as part of a larger package of stories on the Midwest seed industry.

I stood there in front of the file cabinet, reading this little story in 2011, and HOLY COW. There are, in this story, companies that no longer exist, people who are no longer in the business, a giant who’s but one among four, and a entire industry that’s changed. (How’s that for a massive understatement?)

Thirteen years ago, it was all about the chemistries. When I graduated from college, the “good jobs” were those as chemical reps, and they came with high salaries and Jeep Grand Cherokees. Roundup Ready changed all that. Now it’s all about the traits. The very year after this story was published, Monsanto bought DeKalb, and this industry began a consolidation of historic proportions. A couple years ago, I saw a presentation where a seed industry leader showed a graphic charting all the consolidations, mergers and buyouts. It looked like an organized version of a toddler’s crazy coloring page. To think, in 1997 there were 300 seed companies? Monsanto alone has bought 100 of them, rolling them into Channel Bio.

And I think, it’s largely been to the farmer’s benefit. Think of the options we have available now. Stacked traits, insect resistance, weed protection, refuges in a bag – we hardly knew what a refuge was in 1997. Today, we’re disappointed if we don’t average over 200 bushels. In 13 years, the bar has been, effectively, raised.

I’ve copied that original story below, which first appeared in the December 1997 Prairie Farmer. I’d link to it, but it was so long ago, it was pre-digital. Shoot, we barely had the wheel then.

Take a minute or two and give it a read. Think it over and let me know what you think. It’s always useful to reflect on where we’ve been.

Competitive edge for the little guys is no fairy tale
By Holly Hinderliter

Think of it as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One great big company – Pioneer Hi-Bred International – and several smaller, independent companies competing for seed industry market share.

That comparison was drawn by Frank Thorp, past president of Thorp Seed Co., who estimates that those eight companies fight for approximately 75% of the market share. He adds that more than 300 other companies struggle for the remaining 25%. Compound those figures with the amount of money it takes to develop a seed variety with the biotechnology and genetics that producers demand, and you are looking at a pretty tough arena for the little guy to compete in.

So how do the smaller companies survive and thrive in an industry driven by being first with the best technology? The leaders at Thorp Seed Co. believe in alliances to help offset the costs of technology. Frank Thorp, the third generation in the 61-year-old family company, calculates that approximately 10 alliances currently exist within the seed industry.

“Independents just can’t afford it. It’s easy to breed – you can breed seed corn in your back yard. It’s testing and sorting that’s costly,” he says.

To become competitive in the technology arena, Thorp See Co. joined forces with four other companies to form Golden Harvest. Thorp’s company benefits by creating a national name and obtaining a proprietary breeding program.

Chan Sieben, executive director of the Independent Professional Seedsmen Association (IPS), observes that smaller companies have competed with multi-national very well in the past. They’ve done so by selecting varieties that are highly adapted to their localized market and producing a high quality product that is supported by direct and personal service.

Munson Hybrids resident Bud Davis agrees. He believes personal contact is what can give the smaller companies the competitive edge.

“By and large, a lot of these companies are solidly entrenched in their regions and have a strong sense of loyalty built up,” he says. Munson’s strategy has been to increase germination from the 95% industry norm to 98%, a goal that they have reached in many areas.

Being open to change, rather than being fiercely independent, also is important to success for smaller companies, according to Thorp. Independents must look at their assets and see how they want to develop them, he contends.

Another family-owned and operated company, Burrus Power Hybrids, has chosen to develop its assets and meet the competition in a slightly different way. To provide an alternative to Bt corn, Burrus will launch a new program in 1998 called “Scout and Save.” The program’s aim is to provide an alternative to paying up-front technology fees for insect control.

According to Tom Burrus, farmers will receive a $3 per bag refund if they us an integrated pest management approach, provided that the farmer purchased either 100 units or 100% Burrus seed corn. Producers will then use that money to hire a crop scouting service or to scout the field themselves. If necessary, the farmer can treat the field with a rescue insecticide, if infestations are above economic thresholds.

Burrus envisions the new program as a way for his company to compete while continuing to test the Bt technology. With its regional testing plots, the company hopes to produce varieties that will perform best for the Illinois and Missouri service areas.

“We may not be the first with a particular technology, but we have proven performers,” Burrus says.

Burrus sees his company’s future success lying in two main areas: satisfying the farmer and providing value-added products.

Though “value-added” may seem to be the latest buzzword in the industry, Wyffels Hybrids sees it as far more than that. Bob Wyffels, who owns the company with his brother, is very optimistic about the future of value-added products, especially the high-oil corn that their company has marketed for the past five years.

According to Wyffels, some 1 million acres were planted to high-oil corn this year, the most widely planted value-added product. He predicts that acreage count will double in 1998.

Why the popularity? Wyffels calculates that high-oil premiums will make $30-40 more per acre for farmers. Because high-oil corn makes such good animal feed, it is very popular among large swine and poultry integrators. Since Pioneer has yet to sell DuPont’s TopCross high-oil corn, and DeKalb only began to do so last year, it would appear that Wyffels has already beaten the competition to the punch.

The continuing challenge, Sieben feels, will be to select the right technologies for each company’s market and to deliver them through superior performance varieties.

“The ability to focus in on customer needs and to match those needs with a seed company’s ability will be critical,” Sieben says.

So perhaps the fairy tale will end happily for the dwarf seedsmen after all.

Holly Spangler
My Generation – The Blog


Illinois Corn is a founding member of the Corn Farmers Coalition which continues today as an even larger coalition of corn growing states and the National Corn Growers Association.  Please enjoy this update on CFC, positioned within the framework of a partner corn growing state that has faced considerable adversity this crop year, Ohio.

This year’s planting estimate numbers released by the USDA on June 30 show the dynamic capabilities of the nation’s farmers.  And the rain delays in Ohio set the stage for a Herculean effort that makes the 2011 planting season one for the record books.

America’s family farmers are the best and this year puts an exclamation point on that statement, as Natalie Lehner, Communications Director for Ohio Corn Growers Association pointed out in a news release in the wake of the crop report. Growers are remarkably adept. This year’s effort demonstrates how good these family owned and operated business ventures have become at using modern farming practices to get crops planted and harvested in record time even while facing tremendous challenges.

Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association reports farmers were delayed in planting due to an extremely wet spring –  one of the wettest springs in history ­- and had the numbers of days they could plant compressed to a week in some cases.

Yet the USDA estimates family farmers across the nation planted MORE corn this year than last year, with figures showing farmers put 3.5 million acres of corn in the ground in 2011, up from last year’s 3.45 million planted corn acres.

The Corn Farmers Coalition project is about showcasing key facts from entities like the US Department of Agriculture and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The goal is to let these facts reflect the importance of having a crop production system that is constantly improving, focused on safety, growing more with less and doing so in an environmentally sustainable way. Facts aside, this spring provided a case study in how human grit and determination along with innovation have made us the most productive agricultural nation in history.

“Thirty years ago this would not have been an option,” said Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers (OCWGA) President and Henry County farmer Mark Wachtman. Technology such as using GPS to guide in planting, allows us to plant quickly and do it right the first time. Also, biotech seeds make it possible to have a shorter growing season under adverse weather conditions.”

But, OCWGA CEO Dwayne Siekman says keep in mind the figures are still estimates.

“These are rough estimates from the US Department of Agriculture,” said OCWGA CEO Dwayne Siekman. “But this year has shown the tenacity of Ohio farmers to work round the clock to get the job done to provide corn for food, feed and fuel.”

While more acres are estimated planted, Ohio farmers are counting on good Growing weather this summer to bring quality yields; Ohio yields are generally higher than the nation¹s overall average with 165 bushels per acre. Ideal growing weather this summer would be warm temperatures with an adequate amount of rain.

Mark Lambert
Coalition Director


Originally published on the Gate to Plate Blog by Michele Payn-Knoper

A recently overheard conversation at a suburban grocery store between a person buying food with comments from a farmer who was visiting and knew how to meet people on common territory instead of talking “ag.”


Here’s the thing; I don’t really get why farmers are on the warpath. Really! We can get our food from anywhere. I just care that our family has food that’s affordable and safe. And I’ve heard some pretty bad things about you farmers.

You are poisoning water and soil by using pesticides and insecticides. Our family plays in the creeks and ponds on our land. Our kids chase fireflies through soybean fields, while playing hide and seek in corn fields. Do you really think we’re going to pour poisons in fields that surround our family home?  By the way, our well for water is between the house and the field. We understand that it’s not cool to use bad chemicals, which is why we rely on a whole lot of science, research and technology to ensure we’re using the right products.

Big farms are bad, and you all seem to be getting bigger. What size of school does your child go to? There are many different sizes of schools that offer options and choices for families. Likewise, we have a mix of large and small businesses in America due to our free marketplace. The same is true for farm families; some choose to farm a large number of acres or work with many animals, while others have small operations.  97% of farms in the U.S. are still owned by families; they deserve a right to choose the best option for their family and business like other Americans, don’t they?

Animals are abused on today’s farms. I’ve worked with animals my whole life. If you’ve seen the sensationalized videos from animal rights groups, I want you to know they probably impact me even more than you.  Animals that live in barns are actually in a lot better conditions – they get to stay at one temperature, avoid predators and have a environment that’s customized to their every need. Barns do look different today than in 1970, but isn’t the same true of computers, doctors offices and stores? Yes, animals die to feed humans, but we respect their sacrifice and care for them in the best way possible.

I’ve heard farm subsidies are making you rich on our tax dollars. There are a lot of mixed opinions on this, even within agriculture. However, the big thing people don’t realize about the “farm” program is that 86% of it is for mothers and children in need of food assistance. And I’m not asking for a handout from anyone, but we manage millions of dollars of risk every year – sometimes the safety net has kept our family in business – and is a tiny part of our national budget.

Biotechnology is evil. Do I look like Satan? Sorry, just joking. Our family chooses biotechnology because it’s the right tool for our farm. But more importantly, there are a lot of hungry people around the world, a problem that’s getting worse with a growing population. I was on a mission trip last year to Africa and saw some this myself. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a hungry child? It haunts me – and that’s why biotechnology is a tool that we choose.

Hormones are making our kids develop way too soon! I have a daughter, so I get your concern – we don’t want to have kindergarteners in bras. Kids are growing more and faster because our diets are better.  Did you know there’s more hormones in a serving of broccoli than in a steak? People need to remember that all food has hormones – and it always has.

It’s been interesting to talk with you.  Are you on Facebook or are there ways we can stay connected? Sure, would be glad to connect with you. Our farm’s Facebook page has a lot of pictures to give you an inside look on what’s happening.  I’m also on Twitter and will put up some videos to show you what we’re doing during harvest. I’d also suggest you check out these websites…

Cool. I like that we share the same values. We may not always agree, but I appreciate what you do as a farmer a lot more after we’ve talked.  And I’ll remember you when I shop for our food.


If you’re buying food, when have you sought out a person involved on a farm or ranch? Same for those in agriculture… when was the last time you truly made an effort to relate on human terms instead of ag terms?


Illinois Corn past Summer Intern, Sara Brockman, was hired as a County Farm Bureau Manager Trainee in the IFB Member Services and Public Relations Division effective Monday, May 23, 2011.

Sara graduated from the University of Illinois in May of 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Leadership Education, and a minor in Animal Sciences.

Sara’s work experience includes working at the Grundy County Farm Bureau, Imported Swine Research Lab, and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board.

 She grew up in Verona, IL, in Grundy County.

We wish you luck in your career Sara and enjoyed getting to know you!


On June 4, 2010, three high school students, two brothers and a fellow classmate were driving home on their last day of school.  The Illinois country road they were driving on became increasingly narrow.  The narrowest part of the road was at the top of the hill where an oncoming car was approaching.  In an effort to miss the car, the teen driver of the pickup truck swerved and hit a pot hole causing the driver to lose control and hit a tree.

Two of the teens sustained injuries and had to be extricated from the vehicle.  All three of the teens survived this horrific crash because they were wearing their safety belts.  They lived to tell their story because they took the extra few seconds needed to buckle their safety belts. 

Two teens await extrication from their pickup truck after hitting a tree in rural Illinois. The brothers and fellow classmate all survived the crash because they chose to buckle their safety belts. All three teens received Saved By the Safety Belt Awards from the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Division of Traffic Safety.

Unfortunately, not all crashes have a happy ending.  In 2010, more than 900 people were killed on Illinois roadways; many were traveling in rural areas.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), only 23 percent of the United States population lived in rural areas in 2008 but rural fatalities accounted for 56 percent of all traffic fatalities.  Speed, alcohol impairment and emergency response time may all factor into the increase in fatalities in rural areas, but the leading factor is lower safety belt use in rural areas particularly among pickup truck occupants.  In 2009, 68 percent of pickup truck occupants who were killed in traffic crashes were not buckled up.  Women are more likely to buckle up than men, especially young men.  In 2009, 66 percent of men ages 18 to 34killed in passenger vehicles were not wearing their safety belts.

Why are pickup truck drivers choosing to buckle up less than occupants of passenger vehicles?  Many feel pickup trucks are safer than passenger vehicles because they are large in size.  However, trucks have a higher center of gravity which causes them to roll over more frequently than smaller passenger vehicles.  The higher rollover rate combined with the lower use of safety belts is a deadly combination resulting in more ejections in fatal pickup crashes.  Safety belts offer the best protection in a rollover and can reduce the risk of dying by up to 80 percent.

During the month of May, the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Division of Traffic Safety (IDOT/DTS) will join forces with more than 450 local, county and state law enforcement officers for the Click It or Ticket campaign.  During this campaign, law enforcement officers will be on the lookout for unbuckled drivers and passengers and will issue tickets to those choosing not to buckle up.  Many agencies will focus their efforts on nighttime enforcement to combat the increasing number of fatalities occurring during nighttime hours.

Our goal is simply to prevent injury and death on Illinois roadways.  The loss of one life affects hundreds of people- husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, neighbors, friends, co-workers and the list goes on.  It is as simple as this.  When you get behind the wheel, choose to buckle up choose to put your child in a safety seat; choose to put your cell phone away; choose not to speed and choose not to drink and drive.   These choices will save you money and could also save you the ultimate price – your life.

Visit www.buckleupillinois.org today to learn how you can get involved in our Click It or Ticket campaign. 

Jennifer Toney and Megan Eairheart
Illinois Department of Transportation’s Division of Traffic Safety – Occupant Protection Program.


Even before your feet hit the floor in the morning, an industry we all take for granted becomes part of your day.  The sheets on your bed, the eggs on your plate, the milk in your glass, and the clothes on your back are all made possible through agriculture.  As you make your way down the hall to the shower room even the floor you walk on and the doors you open are part of an agricultural process.  You turn on the water, and you get in.  Did you know that your soap, shampoo, conditioner, and even the towel and washcloths you use are pieces of agriculture?  By the time you style your hair, brush your teeth, apply your makeup, and start your car, you have already used hundreds of modern agricultural products.

As you drive down the freeway to your destination, you rush past crowded shopping centers, restaurants, bus stops, subway stations, small businesses, and crowded streets.  Suddenly as you enter the dreaded traffic jam, you realize that the American population is growing at an excessive rate compared to when you first started your job a few years ago.  In fact, the United States Census Bureau estimates that the world population will grow between 50 million and 80 million people every year for the next 40 years (www.census.gov).  Scientists are already working to provide the ever growing population with enough food, clothing, and modern agricultural products, without having to take up more land.  Through genetic engineering, scientists are able to chemically and physically enhance plant seeds to produce higher yields and prevent insect damage.  This process is intended to increase crop production on existing farmland, and to provide more food for the large population of America. 

I’ll bet you have even seen agricultural businesses close to your community.  Some of these are agricultural cooperatives.  If you use these cooperatives, you not only have a say in their products, prices, and leadership, but you also give back to your community.  In return, agricultural cooperatives give back to the community too.  If they receive business, it draws consumers to your town and can also benefit other businesses your community has.  In Pleasant Hill, our local agricultural cooperative is FS.  FS gives back to our community by hosting an annual Field Day with our FFA members.  They inform us about new farming methods, growing processes, agricultural threats, and influences in Pleasant Hill.  We utilize this information to help us not only with agricultural assignments but also with FFA events and fundraisers. 

So the real question here is: “Where would you be without agriculture?”  Without agriculture you would be inconvenienced, naked, malnourished, unprotected, and most importantly, hungry.  The cotton that provided you with your sheets, your clothes, your towels, and your washcloths wouldn’t be processed into these everyday items.  The eggs and milk you had for breakfast wouldn’t be available without the chickens that produced the eggs and the dairy cattle that produced the milk.  The floorboards under your carpet and the doors made of wood in your home wouldn’t be accessible without the agricultural process of forestry.  The consumables such as your soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair products, toothpaste, and makeup would also be diminished because they are byproducts of plants, another important agricultural method.  And finally, the gas used to operate your car is made possible by distilling corn and soybeans into fuel.

As you can see, if agriculture wasn’t available, life would be greatly affected.  Everyday tasks wouldn’t be possible.  So the next time you wake up, eat breakfast, walk down the hallway in your house, shower, get ready for work, and head out into the every growing world, remember what it takes to give you the necessities you need to live life to its fullest.

Keirra DeCamp
2011 GROWMARK Essay Contest Winner


I do not own a pair of boots.  Nor do I rise with the sun and work well into the evening when the work is finished.  However, I do feel a connection to agriculture. 

Some might find this hard to believe since I was born and raised in a suburb outside of Chicago, but I have always had an interest in the environment.  Growing up in the suburbs, my education never included classes about agriculture.  Although we did have our basic science classes and the ability to take a cooking class in high school, the focus was never on where this food actually came from.  So, during my senior year of high school, I decided that I would tailor my education to what I was actually interested in, the environment. 

When I was accepted to the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, I enrolled under environmental economics and policy.  Beginning here, my friends and family couldn’t really see the importance of this topic.  Halfway through my sophomore year, I began to notice a pattern in my classes.  Professors would jokingly note how the classes seemed to be divided into two groups: kids from Chicago suburbs and everyone else.  This oversimplification began to intrigue me and helped me realize that I was not on the correct career path.  With my suburban background, my interest in both agriculture and the environment could help bridge a gap between these two “groups”. 

I decided to switch my major to Agricultural Communications.  Now, once my friends and family heard the term “agriculture” in my major, they became even more confused.  To them, agriculture is an entirely different world; one they feel absolutely no connection with.  I had a similar view for some time but the more I learned about the environment, the more I realized how agriculture plays such a large role. 

Agriculture to me does not just mean planting crops and raising cattle.  It does not just mean driving tractors and plowing fields.  I see agriculture as part of a larger process.  Without the environment there is no agriculture and vice versa.  For those who might be skeptical, farmers definitely understand the importance of weather on their crops. 

I would like eliminate these two “groups” and generate a better understanding for everyone involved.  I want people like my family and friends to be curious about where their food comes from and what processes are involved.  Just as well, I want those from rural backgrounds to understand the lifestyle suburbanites such as me grow up in. 

Agriculture is everything. 

Ashley LaVela
University of Illinois Ag Communications student