FARMING 101: PICKING SWEET CORN

Sweet corn is by far one of the most popular summer veggies! Have you ever wondered how the sweet corn you’re eating for dinner got to your plate? Yesterday, a couple of us from the IL Corn office were granted a day in the sweet corn field with a couple of Northern Illinois farmers. We picked approximately 1,500 ears of sweet corn that were donated to a food pantry.

As our morning began we asked farmers, Jim and John, for a quick overview of the sweet corn picking process. While they have been picking sweet corn their whole lives it was difficult for them to describe the art of their technique. We all began working and before long we were covered in mud and sweat along with cuts on our hands from the corn stalks. However, we all had a great time and were reminded the importance of our job promoting the agricultural industry!
Jim and John’s sweet corn fields were planted in late May and early June. While the weather in Illinois has been challenging this year the sweet corn crop was a success.

While every farmer has his own twist as to when the sweet corn is ready they typically revolve back to feeling the ear. The ear should feel full and complete all the way up to the top.

If you are just beginning your picking adventure it is important to pull the shucks back a little ways to check the kernels. This is usually done by puncturing the kernel and checking for a milky juice substance.

The sweet corn ear is then ready to be removed from the stalk. Simply pull the ear in a downward motion until it is disconnected.

Due to different maturity rates and to track your progress, it is often helpful to stomp down the stalk after you have picked the sweet corn.

Many sweet corn farmers feel that raw sweet corn fresh off of the stalk is the best and simply irresistible! Therefore, it is not uncommon for water and corn breaks on a sunny day on the farm.

The sweet corn that is left is gathered and sent to your local farmer’s market or grocery store. After a little cooking on the stove, grill, or even microwave the corn is then placed on your dinner plate! Bon Appétit!

Kelsey Vance
ICMB/ICGA Intern
University of Illinois student

E12 (12% BLENDS) ARE A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

For those of you just beginning your quest for more knowledge about Illinois agriculture (and maybe for some of you that work within the Illinois agricultural industry every day and just didn’t think through this particular issue), let me describe to you corn’s ethanol quandary.

Illinois farmers are really good at growing corn. They grow more and more corn every single year, using less inputs (less land, less water, less chemicals) to do it, and thus, they need more markets for this corn. This is one of the primary goals of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board – to develop markets for Illinois corn.

Corn-based ethanol is our largest Illinois market for corn and presents the most opportunity for growth, in turn, demanding more corn. This is good because we have corn coming out our ears. No pun intended.

Right now, nearly every gallon of gasoline that you purchase at the gas station is 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol; this product is referred to as a 10% blend. A 10% blend is the highest blend the EPA will allow. But we (Americans) have now reached the point where there are no more gallons of gasoline sold to blend 10% ethanol into, thus, the market is no longer growing and we have more and more corn that will be losing its value.

The ethanol industry has asked EPA to consider a higher blend of ethanol in every gallon of gasoline. They suggested 15%, which barely makes a difference per gallon of gasoline, but makes a huge difference to the ethanol industry and thus, to corn farmers in Illinois. This opens up more market space for ethanol and for the corn that creates it.

The EPA, being the EPA, has hesitated to approve a 15% blend. They argue that testing data from US Department of Energy on what a 15% blend really means hasn’t been provided to them.

In response to their stalling, the National Corn Growers Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol, and the Renewable Fuels Association sent a letter today asking US EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to consider an immediate move to a 12% blend which opens up a market for ethanol and allows existing plants to keep … well … existing.

The bottom line for corn farmers is that we need additional markets for corn or corn farmers will go out of business.

The bottom line for environmentalists is that we need a green, renewable fuel supply to address climate change and emissions concerns.

The bottom line for Americans is that we need domestic energy so we can reduce our oil imports and quit funding the countries that hate us.

The bottom line for the US EPA is that a 12% blend of ethanol moves us a step in the right direction. And frankly, if underdeveloped and developing countries can make an investment in green, renewable, domestic energy and Brazil can use up to 23% ethanol blends in their conventional vehicles with no problems … why can’t we?

Dave Loos
ICGA/ICMB Research and Business Development Director
(and ethanol guru!)

SILVER FIN AN ILLINOIS DELICACY?

The summer 2010 issue of Our Mississippi brings silver fin (AKA Asian Carp) to the forefront, positioning it as both a delicacy and an important tactic to control the Asian Carp population.

According to Baton Rouge, LA chef Philippe Parola, the first step is “rebranding.” He says that the fish tastes like crabmeat and scallops and included several recipes for the readers at home to try silver fin which I’ve provided below.

Remember, the multitudes of Asian Carp in Illinois waterways and prevention measures to keep them out of the Great Lakes were a subject of much debate earlier in the year. In fact, the O’Brien Lock and Chicago Lock were closed for a period of time this year to keep the fish out, which also meant additional time and money to get needed products to the Chicagoland area.

Perhaps repositioning the fish, which is actually the oldest domesticated fish species in the world and has been farmed for at least 3,000 years in Asia, as a valued Illinois product (The state of Illinois has recently signed an agreement to export the fish to China!) is just the ticket to move the needle on this debate.

Silver fin fried strips

16 silver fin fish filets (boneless if possible, bones easily removed by boiling)
2 eggs
1 cup of half & half for eggwash
1 cup of Louisiana fish fry seasoned flour
Peckapepper mango sauce for dipping

Preheat fryer at 350, in a bowl beat eggs, then add half & half and stir well to make egg wash. Place the silver fin strips into egg wash, then coat each strip with the seasoned flour. Fry until done and serve with Peckapepper mango sauce.
Serves 4.

Silver fin with fresh berries

4 silver fin fish filets
2 ounces each: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and grapes
2 tablespoons pecan oil
2 ounces unsalted butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3 ounces white wine
1 lemon, juiced
1 orange, juiced
Seasoning to taste

Heat pecan oil and better in a sauté skillet until very hot. Brown seasoned silver fin on both sides, then add white wine and juices from lemon and orange. Bring to a boil, then add all the fresh berries and boil for 3 minutes over medium high heat. Stir in cream and season to taste.
Serves 4.

Silver fin cakes

1 pound silver fin white meat
4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 eggs
1 ounce bread crumbs
Seasoned flour
Seasoning and hot sauce to taste

Poach or steam silver fin meat until fully cooked, then break it up in pieces to remove bones. Place meat into a mixing bowl and add butter, mustard, 1 egg and lemon juice. Mix well. Add bread crumbs and season to taste. Roll into small cakes. To make egg wash, beat one egg with 2 tablespoons water. Dip fish into egg wash, then seasoned flour. Fry.
Serves 4.

Rodney Weinzierl
ICGA/ICMB Executive Director

WE MUST UNITE TO ADVOCATE OUR INDUSTRY AND EDUCATE THE PUBLIC

Throughout time we have seen struggles in American Agriculture. Every segment of the American Agriculture Industry has its distinct issues. From animal rights groups to the use of genetic engineering to develop better hyrbrids, agriculture is always under scrutiny. However, a more significant and prevalent challenge exists.

When I served as the Illinois State FFA President I was always asked the question, “What is the most important issue in agriculture?” Working for the Illinois Beef Association this summer, I realize the answer is still the same: Awareness and knowledge of agriculture in the American public. As more and more people become removed from where their food supply comes from, the basic understanding of our industry slowly diminishes.

We are all in this struggle together. From the landscaper in the Chicago suburbs, the central Illinois Corn Farmer, the Beef Producer in western Illinois and the southern pork producer, we must unite together to advocate our industry and EDUCATE the public. These people are more than our customers; they are our friends, neighbors, employers and fellow human beings. Cooperation and action will be the solution to this struggle, and will ensure the future of American Agriculture for generations to come!

I invite you to read this article on BEEF Magazine that encourages us all to change our mindsets and consider the end consumer in every single one of our conversations about agriculture.

Clay Zwilling
Illinois Beef Association Summer Intern
Former FFA State President
(Follow me on IBA’s FACEBOOK page!)

WANT TO BE HEALTHY? EAT MORE FRUITS AND VEGGIES, NO MATTER HOW THEY ARE GROWN

As a mom of a one year old who’s recently started to eat table food (and she now eats everything in sight!) I paid attention when the Dirty Dozen* list hit the entire popular media list. I just as quickly dismissed it as propaganda as soon as I read through the list, but that’s because I grew up on a farm and I know what conventional agriculture is all about.

Not everyone is that lucky.

Naturally, I was excited when the Alliance for Food and Farming released their new report and website last week. As opposed to the “science” the Environmental Working Group (EWG) utilized when creating their Dirty Dozen list, this is real science conducted by real experts – nutritionists, toxicologists, and risk assessors – and they say that organic produce is no healthier or safer than conventionally grown produce.

At safefruitsandveggies.com, they offer the time tested truth that if you want to be healthier, the key is to eat more fruits and veggies. It doesn’t matter if they are organic or conventional because each offers the exact same nutritional content. In fact, the report criticizes the Dirty Dozen for making it harder for the American public to consume the proper amount of fruits and veggies each day because consumers are scared and confused about what is safe to purchase.

The report also says that my one-year-old would have to consume hundreds of servings of conventional fruits and veggies in a single day in order to have any measurable effect from pesticides. And that’s only if I don’t wash the produce because the FDA says that rinsing fruits and veggies under cold or warm water removes any traces of pesticides that might remain.

My thoughts? Let’s stick with common sense. If you want to be healthy, eat a balanced diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. Wash them before you eat them. Aren’t these the things that our mom’s and grandma’s taught us when we were growing up?

That’s certainly what I’m teaching my daughter.

*I did consider linking to the Dirty Dozen list so that you can see what it’s all about if you haven’t heard of it. Then, I read that the EWG says that buying organic as much as you can is not only better for you, but shows that you support decreased soil erosion, safer water supplies, and protecting wildlife. Since conventional farmers actually do some of these BETTER than organic and certainly are as conscious as organic farmers of all, I just couldn’t give them a link in my story. I hope you’ll understand.

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

FARMVILLE OFFERS ORGANIC BLUEBERRIES

I’ll admit it – I’m a Farmville fan.

For any of you that think I’m talking about some small town in IL, let me clue you in.  Farmville is a game that people play on Facebook – over 80 million people in fact – and for the vast majority, it’s likely the only experience they get with farms, farming, or agriculture.

In the game, you are gifted with a small plot of land and a bit of money and with both, you grow, fertilize, and harvest crops as well as buy and receive animals and buildings to create on your virtual farm the little piece of paradise you always wished you had.

Well, this week, it appears that Farmville has released a new crop, Cascadian Farm® Organic Blueberries.

So before I open up this can of worms, I want to start the discussion by saying that I support the organic farming industry because I believe that more choices are never a bad thing.  The problem for me comes when people are disillusioned about their choices, when they don’t understand that those organic foods offer the same health benefits at a significantly higher price.

And when consumers don’t even understand what organic produce is in the first place.

Yes, I said it and I’ll say it again.  Consumers that swear by organic foods have no idea what organic foods really are.  I learned this when a colleague told the story of gardening with a friend who purposefully purchased organic plants for her garden and then doused them in MiracleGro and it was reinforced again today.  Because I’d be willing to bet money that the folks playing Farmville and planting these sweet little organic blueberries are going to fertilize them to get more “money” from the crop without ever realizing that fertilized crops are not organic.

The complete lack of information and the fact that consumers base their buying decisions on marketing hype really anger me.  And while I do understand that purchasing decisions based on marketing is the way of our world, a movement to pure organic is going to have much more drastic consequences than buying more Pepsi than Coke would have.

So Farmvillians, enjoy your farms and plant organic blueberries until your heart’s content.  In the meantime, I challenge Farmville to ensure that no fertilizers are used on the organic blueberries and that the yields on organic blueberries are much less than the conventional blueberries.  If this is the only connection back to the farm we’re going to get, we need to milk it for all its worth.

Lindsay Mitchell

ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

AMERICAN CORN FARMERS FIND CONSENSUS

During the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Corn Congress, corn farmers from 28 states came together in our nation’s capitol to debate issues and set policy for the organization.  The highlight of the week was the election of four members of the NCGA Board, one of which was our own Rob Elliott of Cameron, IL!  Pictured above is Paul Taylor (row 1, fourth from left) and Bill Christ (row 2) who represented Illinois during policy discussions at Corn Congress.
Of course, as mentioned earlier this week, we also visited with every member of Congress (or their staff) and both Senators while in Washington, ensuring that they understand the business of corn farming, the need for markets, and the sustainability of American corn farmers.

CORN IS A RECORD CROP

Out here in DC where many corn farmers from many different states have met to visit their congressmen and work on corn policy, one topic of conversation that bridges all gaps is this season’s crop. Fairly often, you hear one farmer walk up to another they barely know, and overcome any political or ideological differences with one question: “So, are you going to have a record crop this year?”

Unfortunately, extremely wet weather in IL makes most of the IL corn farmers answer no, but the subject of record yields and yields that trend upwards and offer less variability are a common topic in our congressional visits too. In fact, growing corn yields are addressed in the new Corn Fact Book that we are giving to each of our elected officials this week.

We as farmers understand that when we used to get 150 bushel to the acre, we’re now getting more than 200. Consumers, legislators, and thought leaders both in DC and in our communities in Illinois don’t know that.

This is one place where you can help. Explaining something as simple as Illinois corn’s yield trend to your neighbors and non-farm friends can help people understand that there is more than enough corn to provide for all our markets and that our efficiency and yields are still growing!

I am proud to be a part of the latest Corn Farmers Coalition ad campaign in DC and around our state and I am equally proud to share the below excerpt from the Corn Fact Book where we explain growing yields. If you could use a copy of the Corn Fact Book in your community work to educate friends and neighbors about corn production, please leave a note in the comments and we will be happy to help you obtain a copy.

Scott Stirling
ICMB Vice Chair

Record After Record

How do America’s family farmers out-produce everyone else? The roots of this success run deep and wide.

There’s know-how – the everyday working knowledge and understanding of how best to plant, raise and harvest a crop. This is not simply tossing a few seeds to the ground and hoping for the best. It involves high-tech equipment that places hybrid seeds at the desired depth in the soil and the optimal number of seeds per acre. It’s the ability to help keep that crop healthy during the growing season. The understanding of where plant nutrients are needed and when – and the technical savvy to do just that. The optimism to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into a crop Mother Nature can wipe out in an instant.

Then comes the continuing advancement of hybrid seed corn – every year means better hybrid seeds for farmers. Plant breeders today have advanced tools to better predict which desirable characteristics will come from its two parents. They can identify those with potential and run tests before a single seed is ever planted in the ground. Add the advances gained through biotechnology and the potential from mapping the corn genome, its DNA, and it’s safe to say today’s yields – unimagined a generation ago – are just the beginning.

TRAVEL TO A MODERN DAIRY FARM

Originally posted on the blog Trends and Tips by Sherri Schubert

On a beautiful day in Hilmar,CA, the quasi-sweet aroma of the land and the raw beauty of the neighboring almond trees and cornfields surrounded me in the day of the life of a modern dairy farm – a far cry from NYC. What I discovered this day influenced my views and thoughts about dairy cow care and food safety forever.

More and more we are questioning where our food comes from and how it is processed. Milk and cheese are two of the most scrutinized foods due to reports of inhumane treatment of cows, hormone and antibiotic use, dairy farming CO2 emissions, and nutritional misinformation.

I have to be honest. My family primarily drinks soy and almond beverages. About ten years ago I visited a dairy farm in New Zealand and stopped drinking milk. Unlike my experience in New Zealand, my trip to the Clauss Dairy Farm in Hilmar, CA, where 2000 light brown Jersey cows (each weighing 1200 lbs), was much more enjoyable and educational. Will I start drinking milk as a result? Probably not, but I what I learned must be shared.

Visiting the Clauss dairy farm was like visiting a spa for cows. Seriously! I was so impressed by the humane treatment of the dairy cows and how content they were. A typical dairy cow’s day includes many of the same activities we engage in.

REST – lay resting 12-14 hours per day (6-8 of that sleeping) in free stalls (50% of dairy farms use) vs. communal pens (30% of dairy farms use) and pastures (15%). Beds are made of almond shells, corn husks and wood chips fluffed 2 times per day.

EAT – eat 3-5 hours per day (9-14 meals), made of all non-organic corn, rolled corn, cottonseed and barely. Drink water 30 minutes per day.

SOCIALIZE – social interactions, like estrus and grooming 2-3 hours per day.

MILK – 45 minutes- 3 times per day. Watching this was the most fascinating part of the day. I was completely amazed by the technology, the process, and the happy behavior the cows exhibited through it all. Allow me to elaborate.

Milking Process

Step 1– 250 cows enter the washing area where sprinklers mist them for 2 minutes. They dry as they wait to enter the second area.

Step 2 – the cows enter the waiting pen (area 2) directly in front of the washing area where they wait to move onto the carousel milking parlor (rotary platform).

Step 3 – 50 of the waiting cows excitedly(really!) usher themselves onto a highly technical rotary platform. One cow enters an individual stall on the carousel at a time. Each are quickly checked by a milker for mastitis, and then connected to the pulsating/vacuum machine. They ride the carousel for about 5 minutes (from start to finish) during which time they are electronically monitored by sensors to evaluate how much milk is being extracted (4-5 gallons of milk per cow, per milking – totaling 20,000 lbs. of milk per cow per year).

Step 4 – the cow comes to the end of the carousel, a milker removes the electronic connectors and puts iodine on the teets to ensure no bacteria enters. One cow at a time is prompted by a mist sprayer located at their feet to exit (in reverse) the carousel.

Step 5 – return to their stall for water and rest.

Now that we are comforted by the fact that the dairy cows are well-cared for, let’s look at food safety.

During my conversation with Kim Clauss, second generation dairy farmer, and their veterinarian, I learned that the Clauss Dairy farm is a conventional farm. This means that the cow feed is non-organic and the cows are treated with antibiotics and administered BHT (growth hormone). I was a bit surprised to hear this given the trend to buy organic, antibiotic and hormone free dairy products today. What I discovered; however, is that you may be buying antibiotic free when the packaging doesn’t indicate it. How is this possible? What I am about to share is important, so read on.

When a cow is treated with antibiotics, it is isolated and the milk is pumped and discarded. When the cow has recovered, it returns to the herd. Each truck carrying some 50 thousand gallons of milk is tested for antibiotics before entering the plant. Any milk testing positive with antibiotics is rejected – a dairy farmers worst nightmare because they stand to lose a lot of money. Rejecting milk with antibiotics is a standard practice across the US. Knowing this, we could assume that all US milk and cheese are without antibiotics. Right? It would seem that way to me. Then why don’t all milk and cheese packages indicate that they are antibiotic free? Is it a scam to get us to spend a few more dollars for products that say no antibiotics?

Something else to ponder….According to the veterinarian at Clauss Dairy Farm, the levels of naturally occurring BHT in cows is the same as in cows who are administered BHT. “So why give it to them,” I asked. The answer: Because the cows produce 10-15% more milk. Question? If the levels of BHT are the same in both cows, then why does some packaging indicate BHT free and others don’t?

Other tidbits:

1. Livestock production (including dairy, eggs, and other animal protein), is responsible for 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (March 2010), NOT 18% as reported in the 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Report.

2. The dairy cows life span is 6-8 years. They are bred every 13 months. Dairy cows with low production or no longer lactate are sold to other dairy farms or to beef factories.

If you want to learn more about what happens to the milk when it leaves the farm, check out this really cool three-minute video (http://www.hilmarcheese.com/CowTour.cms#) from the Hilmar Cheese Company (http://www.hilmarcheese.com/), largest cheese plant in the world, producing 1.4 million pounds per day.

We ended our amazing day at the home of Richard and Sharon Clauss who hosted a culinary delight with food made from Real California Milk (http://www.realcaliforniamilk.com/) and created by Chef Ryan Scott (http://www.ryanscott2go.com/). My favorite was the Cucumber and Yogurt Gazpacho with Caraway Seeds and Honeycomb and Panna Cotta with Bing Cheeries. Yummy.

Many thanks to the California Dairy Association Board and Real California Milk, sponsors of the dairy farm and cheese factory excursion, for extending an opportunity of a life-time to educate us about how modern dairy cow’s live, how milk and cheese are produced, how dairy farming is eco-friendly, and how milk and cheese are nutritional choices.