ILLINOIS CORN’S CHRISTMAS LIST: PUBLIC AWARENESS

Illinois corn farmers are writing a letter to Santa; what’s on our list? Today we finish our Christmas list with the final item … public awareness! Thanks to Thomas Martin, SIU student, for this series focusing on IL Corn’s top priorities!

This week I’ve brought up four points that would strengthen the position of Illinois Family Farmers especially corn growers – investing in river transportation, keeping check on government regulation, getting benefits from an adequate Farm Bill, and progressing domestic fuels. In each case we returned to some foundational strategies such as education and public advocacy.

I know you are aware the Illinois Corn Marketing Board does wonders as a check-off association with research and promotion while the Illinois Corn Growers Association works tirelessly to compliment the ICMB and fill in gaps such as the more political reaches.

You may even be aware of some of the efforts that Illinois Corn has been pursuing to address the needs of all Illinoisans in understanding the role of corn and it’s potential. Over the past few years IL Corn has joined other commodity groups and the Illinois Farm Bureau to address the image of farming. The Illinois Farm Families initiative connects Chicago mothers with Illinois farmers and breaks down falsehoods, separations and assumptions. As I learned through my time in 4-H, FFA, PAS and FarmHouse – perception is reality regardless of the truth. We have an issue where people don’t believe that family farms exist anymore. We must show our neighbors that this is a baseless paradigm and that over 95% of Illinois farms are family farms.

Illinois Corn also has had a great program in the greater Chicago area to provide fresh produce for urban residents who live in food deserts without access to affordable fresh produce. These programs show a strong commitment to helping others and helping them to understand agriculture instead of just basing their opinions off of information from groups like HSUS, PETA, GreenPeace, etc.

We also see how the crew at Illinois Corn is ratcheting up this study of communication with their internship program, which allows college students the opportunity to manage social media pages independently and then collect data to determine strategies for improving the message of agriculture. This also provides a great experience for participants who learn about communication and evaluation.

These efforts even go a few steps further with sponsorship of Kenny Wallace in NASCAR and the Cornbelters Baseball team! NASCAR is picking up on the high-octane performance of ethanol and nothing says Central Illinois like corn and baseball! All of these impressive activities actively provide exposure for the work of farmers and additionally they provide data and experiences to further improve media strategies for the future.

The role of agricultural communications might be coordinated by those with degrees in it but the responsibility of communicating agriculture falls on everyone’s shoulders. We must communicate to our neighbors. We must communicate with those in urban and suburban areas. We must communicate with our elected officials and we must be heard! We must pursue ways, both traditional and innovative, to reach out to new and old audiences and engage the public in a deep and meaningful understanding of their food, fiber, fuel, horticultural products and more!

We need to support programs that provide such skill sets such as 4-H and FFA for youth; PAS, our agricultural fraternities and sororities and other collegiate groups and organizations like the Farm Bureau Young Leaders for young farmers. We need to participate actively in commodity groups like Illinois Corn Growers, as well as generalized farm organizations like the Farm Bureau. We need to seek out opportunities and develop them for others. We need to be prepared to show Aunt Caroline the light when she rants about factory farms at the dinner table this Christmas. We need to Agvocate!

Santa, how about helping the public understand more about farmers this Christmas?

Thomas Martin, Raymond, IL
Senior in Agricultural Systems
Southern Illinois University

Read about the other items on our Christmas list:
1. Upgraded Locks and Dams
2. Less Government Regulation
3. Improved Risk Management Tools
4. Ethanol Infrastructure

IL CORN’S CHRISTMAS LIST: ETHANOL INFRASTRUCTURE

Illinois corn farmers are writing a letter to Santa; what’s on our list?  Today we continue with item four… ethanol infrastructure!  Thanks to Thomas Martin, SIU student, for this series focusing on IL Corn’s top priorities!

Biofuels are simply amazing. When included as a part of a comprehensive domestic energy plan, biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel allow us to seek out alternatives to carbon polluting fossil fuels often sourced from outside of North America. It wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t mention the Grinch and there certainly have been some big Grinch figures battling domestic renewable fuels this year. So many have decided that it would be hip and cool to denigrate renewable energy and laud oil instead. While these party poopers want to keep us from the freedom to choose our own fuel, we’ve had some great successes as well as some wake-ups this year.

biofuels, energy independence, new science, alternative fuel
Cassava chips being made into ethanol!

There was the loss of VEETC, which was a blender’s credit so … big deal. I don’t consider it

a loss to hear that giant oil companies aren’t going to be paid to blend ethanol into their gasoline. We finally got a great label that doesn’t demonize E15 and we will hopefully see this next step in energy independence come online soon. We continue to see leaps in the science of ethanol from a variety of sources including corn, sweet sorghum, and I even got to see a pre-operational tangerine ethanol plant in the Sunshine State of Florida and cassava based ethanol research at CIAT in Colombia.

alternative fuel, biofuels, ethanol, energy independence
Tangerine ethanol ...

Ethanol is at a crossroads where there is increasing sentiment that the government should let ethanol walk on its own two feet. While I generally agree, we can’t be too hasty either. Let us remember that the infrastructure is not in ethanol’s favor as oil has pipelines to efficiently transport it across the country. We have to ensure that ethanol truly does have level playing field and that includes infrastructure and ending government support of oil companies. It sounds easy enough but if it is as easy as it sounds why hasn’t it been done already?

While these seem like impossible challenges at times, we must continue to fight because the future is bright for our energy independence. We must educate and advocate. There is so much misinformation out there and we have to help people to know the truth. The truth is that studies in ethanol quickly become outdated as the industry perfects efficiency.

I absolutely love driving my flex-fuel Chevy HHR that we’ve affectionately named “Ethyl.” Ethyl is an alcoholic but unfortunately for her (and my wallet) the options to fuel up with higher ethanol blends is limited in several parts of the state. We need to keep the course and ask for E85/E50/E30/E15 etc. when we visit a station without it available. That’s why this Christmas I am asking Santa to bring another E85 station to Carbondale, as well as stations to Anna, Pinckneyville, Hillsboro, Carlinville, Raymond and every community in our state deprived of fueling freedom!

Thomas Martin, Raymond, IL
Senior in Agricultural Systems
Southern Illinois University

Read about the other items on our Christmas list:
1. Upgraded Locks and Dams
2. Less Government Regulation
3. Improved Risk Management Tools

IL CORN’S CHRISTMAS LIST: THE BEST RISK MANAGEMENT TOOLS

Illinois corn farmers are writing a letter to Santa; what’s on our list?  Today we continue with item three… risk management tools we can work with!  Thanks to Thomas Martin, SIU student, for this series focusing on IL Corn’s top priorities!

Farmers are a gutsy bunch.

It’s cliché, but farming is a gamble and farmers are putting their families and their livelihood on the line with every seed.  I’d relate it to my first casino experience which, although profitable (luckily), I could have just as easily lost my $20 bill.  Also luckily, I grew up on our family’s “casino” in Central Illinois.  This meant that we’ve had bad years and good years, but through good planning and a little luck, we’ve remained in the game.  For some farmers, it doesn’t always turn out so well and certainly fewer and fewer farmers are in the game today.

Historically, the government has helped to minimize some of the casino-esque qualities of owning a farm.  But, we also as a nation and a state face astronomically record-high debt which is unacceptable. We must change that and as any strategy should entail – we need to realize more revenues and cut spending.

So far we’ve established two things – reduce national debt and farmers need risk management. This is certainly an easy concept but the execution of such a concept is a little more difficult. I think we can establish that direct payments have been far from perfect in their very nature and have become a public relations nightmare for farmers. When Illinois Corn did a survey of farmers it became abundantly clear that we still need a safety net. We need to “ADAPt” to the changing times and that desire has created a proposal called ADAP – Agriculture Disaster Assistance Program.

Building on the original revenue-based safety net, ACRE, ADAP makes common sense modifications that better serve farmers and the government.  ADAP is simplier than ACRE for one.  It is also closer to the farm; payment triggers are determined on a more local basis instead of a state-wide basis.  This makes sense.  Just because weather has threatened a crop in northern Illinois doesn’t mean a farmer in southern Illinois needs a payment.

The chances of Illinois Corn actually receiving ADAP or its cousin, ARRM (Aggregate Risk and Revenue Management) proposed by Senators Durbin, Thune, Lugar, and Brown, are nearly squelched.  But what Illinois Corn still seeks is a program to cover farmers through a multi-year price decline when crop insurance doesn’t provide protection.

Crop insurance remains essential to ensuring that the gambles farmers engage in are a little less like gambling, while preventing the tragedy of families losing their farms as well as any exploitation of the previous systems.  In the surveys and listening sessions that Illinois Corn had on a variety of Farm Bill concerns, it became abundantly clear that crop insurance is essential to farmers in managing their risk.  But Crop Insurance is a risk management tool for any given year and the weather, disease, and insect pressures that exist within that year.  Farmers still need a program to cover them when prices of seed, fuel and fertilizer prices remain high while the prices they get for their crops continually drop.  That dynamic can put hundreds of farmers out of business without some sort of risk management tool.

So Santa, please send all of the Congressmen and women a warm and heartfelt reminder that farmers are willing to help balance the budget (giving up direct payments) if they can have programs that keep farming from being a game of chance (like ADAP and crop insurance).

Thomas Martin, Raymond, IL
Senior in Agricultural Systems
Southern Illinois University

Read about the other items on our Christmas list:
1. Upgraded Locks and Dams
2. Less Government Regulation

IL CORN’S CHRISTMAS LIST: LESS GOVERNMENT REGULATION

Illinois corn farmers are writing a letter to Santa; what’s on our list?  Today we continue with item two… less government regulation!  Thanks to Thomas Martin, SIU student, for this series focusing on IL Corn’s top priorities!

Initially it is easier to attack government regulations (it is like that fruit cake that nobody wants), than it is to take the moral “high ground” and stick up for government involvement (kind of like Pabst Blue Ribbon – not smooth or drinkable but it’s “cool” to claim you like it even though we all know you don’t). To me the truth is that government has a role to play but it is a delicate balancing act that, when off kilter, is either overly liberating or poisonous to business. No doubt about it, I consider myself woven with the same political cloth that makes up the Heartland of small constitutional government but as I like to think (perhaps oxymoronically), I’m a pragmatist first in politics.   I don’t think that this is a distant thought process for rural Americans because at our core, “pragmatic” defines us.

There is no doubt that the government does have a role to play in agriculture and business. Just as pure communism is impossible, pure unregulated capitalism is undesirable and perhaps dangerous. I appreciate having public roads, public waterways  – though they need major renovations – standard weights and measures, a justice system that is just, etc. I even think that we can agree that government has done a good job with starting agricultural research, developing infrastructure through cooperatives such as rural electric and telephone, promoting education in agriculture through 4-H, FFA, PAS, and other programs.

I grew up along Old US Route 66, a major endeavor of its time, which served as the progenitor (along with the German Autobahn) to the US interstate system that has made it to where I can easily reach Amarillo by morning from my home in Montgomery County! I certainly would be naïve and ungrateful to blindly attack the government. But whoever said I was wise or gracious? There are also lots of flaws in the government and regulations are like a hand tightening around the neck of farmers and small business.

For instance we have that ridiculous proposal to ban dust, or that rule the US Department of Labor wants to implement essentially strangling the future of agriculture by banning students from working through supervised agricultural experiences programs (aka “coop” or “work study”). Then there are the political traumas such as our bizarre trade barriers with Cuba (keep in mind that last I checked the Cold War is over and we’ve been trading with Russia and China for sometime) or the hold-ups to improve our crumbling infrastructure as outlined in yesterday’s blog post.

What’s next? Ban nitrogen applications and genetic research? There is no question that the underlying issue we must continue to grapple with is and will likely continue to be engaging logical conversations instead of idiotic rants about doomsday scenarios (GMOs after all are a conspiracy like the moon landing, John Lennon, JFK and Colonel Sanders).

When we write Santa this year and our congressional representatives about the latest stupidity to be translated into legal speak (like the proposal Senator Jim DeMint had to ban all commodity check-off programs) let’s remember that while we should be disgusted with the shockingly idiotic legislation, we do need to have the government investing in infrastructure and to provide a safety net.

We certainly have a strong gust of wind ready to push us over with regulations so we must stay vigilant! There are constantly proposals for legislative and regulatory measures that seek to destroy and cripple modern agriculture.

If you’re not a member of a commodity group or general farm/agriculture organization then take this time to help yourself and JOIN! Don’t be humble when it comes to public advocacy – write those letters and make those phone calls. Be aware of the constant threats to eliminate that meat from your table through legislation, rule changes and judicial activism.

Thomas Martin, Raymond, IL
Senior in Agricultural Systems
Southern Illinois University

Read about the other items on our Christmas list:
1. Upgraded Locks and Dams