THE LIVESTOCK LIFECYCLE

In our fast-paced society where options are plentiful, time is sparse, and the day-to-day grind can really wear a person out, there’s one daily constant that brings me some amount of joy — or at very least, satisfaction… Food. Luckily for me, life on the farm, in conjunction with my career in corn/agriculture advocacy surrounds me with opportunities to think about where food comes from and what we can do with it. Follow along throughout the spring, summer, and fall as I share my food-related thoughts here on Corn Corps.

Let me start by saying: I love GOOD food. Specifically: fresh, flavorful, home-grown, made-with-love, not-always-healthy, much-anticipated, home-cookin’! Though I grew up surrounded by farming in Northwest Illinois, I’ve only lived on a farm for about 7 years. In that time, I’ve come to understand why March is a love-hate time of year for My Farmer. Depending on the weather (a phrase that’s thrown around A LOT at my house) there are a plethora of things that could go on in March. If the fields are still frozen, cow manure can be spread. If the frost is out, you can think about applying ammonia. We’re likely still expecting the last few baby calves to be born, and in just a few weeks we’ll begin artificially inseminating next year’s calf herd. The numerous babies that have already been born will be exploring the area between their barns and pretty soon they’ll be turned out to pasture for the first time. For me, it’s a genuine springtime feeling of new beginnings! For My Farmer, it’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants work schedule.

For my kids, between afternoon visits to the barn to see the new babies, and suppertime around the table, we have some pretty frank conversations. Our four-year-old understands that the meat we’re eating is beef. Beef comes from cattle. The cattle right outside. Every so often we load a couple cattle into our trailer and take them to the butcher. (–Insert gray area here–) …And the beef comes back home and we cook it and eat it for supper. So far, there haven’t been any questions about what exactly happens at the butcher – but when he asks, I’ll explain it to him. We have similar conversations about vegetables. I’m no gardener, but we have a few vegetable plants outside. He watches those grow over the summer and helps harvest the produce. My little guy understands that what we buy in the store comes from a farmer somewhere. Last week I asked my little guy “where did this potato come from?” to which he shrugged and responded, “a farmer market – like both a farmer and a store”. Technically, he was right, despite the fact that I bought it at Walmart. He actually grasps the idea that numerous people worked hard for those mashed potatoes to end up on his plate. I like to think that this framework we’ve laid will result in a lifelong appreciation of both food and the effort it takes to produce it.

The lifecycle of our livestock truly makes a full circle, and that’s one of the coolest parts of farming. We grow corn, in part, to feed our livestock. We breed our livestock to have more livestock. We care for them by keeping them fed, doctored, safe both in the pasture and the barns, and then use their manure to fertilize the fields which will grow to feed them later. At some point along the way, some of them leave us only to return a few weeks later wrapped in white paper, ready to feed our family, which allows us to keep doin’ what we do!

This spring, as you feel the days grow longer and observe life coming back to the land, I hope you enjoy some fresh fruit and vegetables, along with a big, juicy, well-marbled, steak, and feel gratitude for the numerous hands it took to prepare it!

Ashley Deal
IL Corn Membership Assistant

THE IMPACT OF NAFTA ON FARMERS

For the past decade, the United States has had a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that has helped shape our economy today. A lot of people are reading the word NAFTA and wonder what does this even mean? Will it affect me?  NAFTA stands for North American Free Trade Agreement and was implemented on January 1, 1994, between Mexico, Canada, and the United States. NAFTA’s purpose is to encourage economic activity between the three major economic powers of North America. Let’s break down what exactly is a part of this trade deal and why it matters. About one-fourth of all U.S imports, such as crude oil, vehicles, fresh produce, livestock and processed foods, originate from Canada and Mexico. The U.S exports about one-third of products in machinery, vehicle parts and plastics, which are destined for Canada and Mexico. See the trend of our partnerships together with these Countries?

Recently our President has had some concerns with the current trade deal of NAFTA and would like to renegotiate in May on them. With this possibility, it would change not only the current economy but also prices on products involved in this deal. We currently have had a successful trade agreement with Canada and Mexico and many are afraid this negotiation might jeopardize that. We are currently a part of the world’s largest free trade agreement, which is something other countries would like to be a part of. This has given our farmers a way to sell their products on their terms, which keeps the cost of the goods reasonable for consumers.

The current United States Economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, almost 30 percent. When we started this deal in 1994 from then to 2007 US exports grew 156 percent, which is a great thing for us. Products like corn have no tariff currently in this trade deal. An example of the use of a tariff is in cars, which is 10 percent of the levied based value on an item. Having a tariff on products such as corn can hurt domestic consumers since the lack of competition tends to push up prices. This opened a way of an increase in income for families to have a wider range of places to sell. Only so many farmers can sell to supply places such as Walmart and Aldi, this opened a market for all farmers. Thinking of the impact of NAFTA today we have seen a rise in the economic growth in all countries involved in this deal, also an increase in higher wages to people in the industries affected by this.

If you live in a state that a majority of your economy is from agriculture, it will be hurting you the most. Over 13 million jobs depend on NAFTA in the U.S currently which means this could put a lot of people out of work and would hurt many families across the U.S.

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University

#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

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.

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.

MY WEEKEND AT REEVERT’S FARMS

Does anyone remember learning in junior high science classes that heat rises? Well, I rediscovered that lesson this past September after spending a few hours at Reevert’s farms, the home of the Illinois FFA State Reporter, working in the hay mow.

Not growing up on a farm, I was extremely excited for that weekend feeding calves, hogs, and sheep. At the time, Ryan told me I was going to be putting hay in the mow. I originally thought this meant mowing hay in the field, but in reality, it was putting hay up in the mow. For those that don’t know, the mow is an upper section of the barn where hay is stored. Once we got to the farm, Ryan told me that I was not going to be mowing hay in the field, like I thought. Instead, I was going to be manually moving hay in a hot, sweaty, and cramped environment. Luckily, Ryan’s dad came in to save the day for me and told Ryan that was no way to treat his guest. He told Ryan, “You go up in the mow! Joey didn’t even have a clue what was going on! Don’t be rude!”

In the picture below, you can see Ryan, his dad, and me all posing for a picture. As you can tell, Ryan seems to be more tired than me. That’s because he spent over forty-five minutes in the mow moving hay while my job was putting it on the conveyer belt. Needless to say, I was having the time of my life putting hay in the mow, and so far, my first impressions of daily farm chores were very good.

I learned two lessons from that experience. First don’t trust Ryan and volunteering for farm work, and second, always bring an extra t-shirt.

After that tremendous experience, Ryan told his dad, “go back home! You’re being too easy on the boy! He needs some real work.” Once Ryan’s dad left, we walked over to the pig pen to feed the hogs. Ryan told me, “Get on in there Birrittier. Distract the hogs from the feeder while I fill their feed.”

One thing that Ryan forgot to mention is that his female pigs like to come up and smell the people around them. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t even like it when my dog comes up and smells me, let alone a pig! I suddenly became very scared as these two dark eyes start coming to me closer and closer. Now mind you, it’s dark out now, so all I can see are these two eyes coming right for me. I pin myself into the corner yelling out Ryan’s name. I’m screaming louder and louder until Ryan finally hears me.  He yells back at me, “Quit screaming! You’re going to scare the pigs!” “Scare the pigs!” I replied, “They’re the ones scaring me! Look how close this one is! Help me!” All Ryan could say was, “That’s just Beulah. She just wants to smell you. Relax you wimp.”

Five months later, I still get grief from the Reevert’s family about my experiences with pigs. In my defense, how else would a person react if their first up-close encounter with a pig was it smelling your face?

Although I might have embarrassed myself multiple times, the memories I made that night will last me a lifetime. Not only did I learn to always bring an extra t-shirt to the farm and never overreact when a pig smells your face; I also learned the hard work and dedication it takes day-in and day-out on the farm.

I have a huge admiration for farmers and their families now because of the memories I made at Reevert’s farms.

Joseph Birrittier
Illinois Association FFA President