THE FUTURE OF CORN-BASED ETHANOL

Bill Christ, Chairman of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, and Jeff Scates, President of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, along with Illinois Corn staff Rod Weinzierl and Dave Loos participated in an ethanol summit yesterday held in Chicago, IL and sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association.  The goal of the meeting was to look at issues impacting ethanol – short term, medium term, and long term – and develop strategies to address the challenges and opportunities identified.

Present at the meeting were the National Corn Growers Association Board of Directors, the Presidents of state Corn Grower Associations, the Chairs of state checkoff boards, and the Executive Directors of all state Corn Grower groups.  All in all, nearly 80 people were present for the discussion.  The National Corn Growers Association Ethanol Committee will review the discussion and make a presentation to the delegates of the National Corn Growers Association at their July meeting.

First, a little background:

  • Corn-based ethanol is made from field corn, not the sweet corn that people eat.  Farmers are not taking food directly out of the mouths of humans by supporting the corn-based ethanol industry.
  • Corn yields continue to grow.  Experts predict that by the year 2030 we can expect corn yields to grow to 280 bushel per acre.  In 2012, predictions are 160 bushels per acre.  Other markets for corn aren’t growing this quickly, so using the additional crop for renewable fuel seems a great solution.

The discussion at yesterday’s meeting focused mainly around the Renewable Fuels Standard II.  Currently, corn-based ethanol is limited to the extent that it can participate in the country’s goal of reducing foreign oil imports and reducing the environmental impacts of our fuel usage because of rulings in the RFS II.

Corn farmers continue to produce more corn.  This is a fact that is not disputed among experts in the industry.  Yes, challenges can arise when disease or weather pressures are uncontrollable, but the overall big picture is that we will continue to have more and more corn.  If the market opportunity for corn-based ethanol is limited, corn farmers must begin to look for other growing markets to absorb our increased yields.

Experts also predict no noticeable growth in other markets available for field corn like exports, livestock feed, and human consumption (corn flakes, HFCS, etc).  This isn’t rocket science; increased yields require increased market opportunities.  The challenge is to develop markets that can maintain a vibrant agricultural industry, the very same vibrancy that has kept rural America afloat during our recent economic downturn.

The current RFS II rulings arbitrarily preclude corn-based ethanol from fulfilling more than just 15 billion gallons of the renewable fuel mandate.  (Current corn-based ethanol production capacity is 14.9 billion gallons out of the 15 billion gallons allowed by 2015.)  This decision is based on emotion and not fact.  In reality, corn-based ethanol COULD qualify as an advanced biofuel and COULD help the U.S. achieve its energy independence goals if the rulings were based on corn-ethanol’s true potential.  This would offer a growing market opportunity in the future that corn farmers desperately need.

During the meeting yesterday, all these concerns were discussed and corn farmer leaders sent off to consider recommendations to address the mountains set before them.

Dave Loos
IL Corn Ethanol Guru

CENTRAL ILLINOIS CORN NEEDS A DRINK!

Central Illinois is expected to get some much needed rain tomorrow and Friday and it can’t come too soon.  The fields are dry, the crop is suffering, and the excessive heat here over Memorial Day weekend didn’t exactly help the emerging crop.

Is your lawn turning yellow?  Are your flowers receiving daily waterings from your hose or watering can?  Think of the acres of corn and soybeans burning up under our current scorching conditions!

Here are some of the latest crop reports from corn farmers around Illinois:

The chances for rain don’t appear to be destined to hit our farm this weekend. We are extremely dry and hurting for a rain. The yard is looking like the dog days of August. Thursday of last week we had 90+ degrees and 40+ MPH dry winds……..a bit eery as the sky looked dark in the afternoon filled with dirt. We’ll make knee high by the 4th of June* but if it doesn’t rain as plants determine ear size, those plants are feeling a little sick not wanting to support too many kernels. – Rob Elliott, Cameron, IL

*The old farmer adage is that the corn crop should be “knee high by the fourth of July.”  This year, because weather and soil conditions allowed farmers to plant much earlier than usual, the crop will be knee high by the fourth of June.

After getting 6+ inches of rain the end of April and first week of May, we had gotten very dry. Beans that had been drilled had spotty stands because once the soil was opened up, it dried very quickly.*  Some beans took hold, some swelled before the moisture was sucked away, and some were just in dry dirt. On Memorial Day, we were teased with a shower in the morning that got the sidewalks wet, but were blessed with .7 inches later in the day,  – Tom Mueller, Taylor Ridge, IL

*Drilling beans means that a small trench was dug into the soil and the beans placed into the trench.  This act of “opening up the soil” allowed the moisture that was protected deeper in the earth to evaporate.

The corn planted March 30 looks the best. I replanted 250 acres of April 9th low ground corn on May 10th.  It really needs a drink.  The rest of the corn looks good today after a long hot Memorial weekend.  Mark Degler, Mattoon, IL

A REFLECTION AND A NEW RESPECT

Being a video editing intern at the Illinois Corn Marketing Board has been a fruitful experience. Being born and raised in Chicago, I didn’t have a clue about agriculture or farming. On the contrary, most of the Corn Board employees were raised on farms, own farms, or have relatives that are farmers. Although I didn’t have any knowledge of farming, I was eager to learn and felt that my urban perspective was valued by the Corn Board.

During the few months I spent visiting Illinois Corn Board farmers, I learned that farmers have quite a bit in common with city folk. The biggest thing we have in common with each other is family values. Just like most people, farmers have an obligation to provide for their families. Harvest after harvest, the farm is not only the home to crops but it’s home for the farmer, his parents, wife, children, grandchildren…and dog. So whether you live in an urban city surrounded by trains and buses, or in a rural town with a population of 500, you have a place to call home and a family to care for.

Also, I learned about the various uses for corn. Before I interned, I was under the impression that all corn was grown to be eaten by humans. However, after visiting and speaking with several farmers, I learned that corn can be used to make ethanol, feed livestock, and be used in other products as corn starch, corn syrup, etc. Most people immediately assume that corn is grown for consumption. Although this is true in some cases, it doesn’t mean that all corn growers are producing the kind of corn that will sit on your table.

The farmers on the Illinois Corn Marketing Board are passionate about their work. They take good care of their crops and treat them like their own children. Just like you, farmers want to protect their children, not harm them. The chemicals and fertilizers used when planting are safe and government approved. Not all chemicals are harmful – it’s no different than when people take medicine or get vaccines to prevent illness – crops need pesticides and fertilizer so they can grow healthy.

I am thankful for the opportunity to work with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. Lastly, this internship has given me a new respect for farmers. I didn’t know that farming was such a gamble. It takes a lot of guts to take out loans, buy expensive equipment, plant seeds, and pray that rain falls out of the sky. Agriculture is a risky business. You have to be passionate in order to be in this career, otherwise it’s not worth the effort. My advice for consumers and people who thought like me before I interned at the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, is to trust your farmer. They wouldn’t be in this profession if they didn’t have passion and dedication; and since this work is so risky and expensive, farmers can’t afford to harm their crop, which would consequently be harming themselves. 

Kamaya Thompson

SPRINGTIME ON OUR FARM

Even if your closest link to farming is the fields you see when you are driving down the road, you probably know that spring means a lot of farmers are getting their crops in the ground. But what does springtime mean for livestock farmers? This weekend, I took a few photos of our cattle farm. As you can see, springtime means lots of baby animals on our farm!

We choose to have all of our calves born in the springtime. The main reason for this is the well-being of our cows and calves. Springtime usually offers good weather for calving- not too hot, not too cold. Extreme weather conditions are a threat to newborn calves, so we try to avoid exposing them to these kinds of weather conditions.

During calving season, we need to check our cows more often to make sure that we know if one is in labor and whether or not she needs help. Ideally, cows have their calves without assistance and everyone is happy and healthy. Once in a while, though, cows need help giving birth. Problems such as a leg or head positioned wrong can make it almost impossible for a cow to have her calf. If it takes her too long, the life of the newborn calf is at risk. Once the umbilical cord is broken, the calf has no oxygen supply, so it becomes priority to get the head and chest of the calf out quickly.

Cows aren’t the only ones with new babies on the farm! These cute little guys live in our shed where we store our seed for the crops. Mice can cause huge problems and waste a lot of seed by chewing holes in the seed bags, so keeping cats around helps to keep our mice population down and ultimately saves us money on seed.

We used to have pigs on our farm before all of our pasture was used for cattle. Springtime always meant (you guessed it) baby pigs! My dad would bring my brother and I with him to care for the new pigs, so we would always sit on the roof of the hog huts and hold piglets while he worked. Sows are incredibly protective, so the roof of the hog huts was a safe place to us to be while we were out working with dad.

Spring is a critical time of year for both grain and livestock farmers… but it is something we look forward to every year!

Rosie Sanderson
ICGA/ICMB Membership Administrative Assistant
Unpolished Boots

MOTHER’S DAY RECOGNITION FOR FARM MOMS

Mothers do so much for their children and their family. I know my mother has had to take my brothers and me to school every day, she made sure that we were always safe, and she did her best to set us up for success in our future. My mother and many other farm mothers are particularly special in my opinion. Since we’re just past Mother’s Day 2012, I would like to give farm mothers some special recognition for mother’s day this year.

I don’t think that anyone appropriately expresses how much they appreciate their mothers. This is particularly true when it comes to mothers whose family farms. Farm mothers often go above and beyond to contribute to the happiness of the family and the success of the farm.

Recently, I interviewed Ruth Hambleton, founder of Annie’s Project for farm women. Annie’s project for farm women is a 32 state program designed to educate and empower farm women to improve as business partners in a farm business. Annie’s Project offers classes across the country to provide general information about finances marketing and estate planning as well as several classes that go in-depth into specific topics. Annie’s Project actually was named for Ruth’s mother, Annette Fleck. When describing her mother Ruth said, “She grew up in a small town and spent the weekends on her grandfather’s farm outside of the edge of the town and that is where she fell in love with the idea of being a farmer… She was the one who held the farm together, the family together. She was the center of the whole operation.”

Ruth recognizes that in different farm families, the mother has a different role, but all of the possible roles of a mother on a family farm deserve great recognition. Whether the mother is actively involved in the day-to-day operation of the farm, keeps the farms records, provides supplemental income to the farm by working at an off farm job, acts as a mediator for conflicts between family members, or serves any other sort of role on the farm, she deserves recognition for her indispensable contribution to the farming operation.

It is important for every mother to know how valuable they are to the farm. Some mothers may mistakenly believe that their contribution to the farm is minor if they spend most of their time working at a job away from the farm. This could not be farther from the truth. Ruth Hambleton put it this way, “Every dollar that they bring in for family living is a dollar that gets to stay within the farm. It is retained capital. Women who contribute to the family living through their off farm jobs have a huge contribution to helping these farms grow.”

I believe that most farms could not function and grow as they do if they did not have that farm mother holding everything together. I thank my farm mother who contributed to the farm through an off farm job as a speech pathologist at the local elementary school. I also thank all of the other farm mothers. No matter how you contribute to the farm, what you do is truly indispensable to your family’s farm business.

Nick Suess
Southern Illinois University student

CORNBELTERS EXHIBITION GAME AND EDUCATION DAY

Today, the Normal CornBelters hosted an exhibition game and their first education day.  Area schools were invited to attend the game, and many schools brought their students as an incentive to finish out the year strong.  If you remember being in school, you might recall that the nearer students get to summer break, the more distracted they become, so the baseball game incentive was a win-win for local schools.

And a win for Illinois farmers, as it turns out.  Illinois Corn staff was present at the game to provide teachers with packets of corn Ag Mags, featuring the Normal CornBelters, to share in their classroom.   The benefit of the Ag Mags is that they often make their way into the hands of the parents, teaching the young and old alike about corn farming in Illinois.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does seeing an Ag Mag interest you?  Click here to view a smart board ready version of the Corn Ag Mag and click here to see the list of all the Ag Mags available FOR FREE to Illinois teachers!

Becky Finfrock
IL Corn Communications Assistant

CELEBRATE AND THANK AMAZING AG TEACHERS!

Did know you that today is National Teacher Day? Today students, parents, school administrators, and communities nationwide will take the time to honor the crucial role that teachers play in the lives of their students.

Where would our world without teachers? My personal favorite quote about the importance of teachers is by Henry Adams, an American historian and journalist:

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

If you are reading this, you should thank a teacher, but if you also understand the significance of the agricultural industry and where you food comes from, you should probably thank an agriculture teacher. On a day like today, I think it’s appropriate that we recognize these unique educators who make a difference in the lives of so many of their students.

Teaching agriculture is a difficult, yet rewarding career, so it is imperative that these teachers have a passion for what they do. If asked, most agriculture instructors would tell you that even though the school day is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., their job doesn’t stop there. Ag teachers not only teach in the classroom, but also have several other duties including overseeing student Supervised Agricultural Experience projects (where students gain real-world experience in the industry), advising the school’s FFA chapter, maintaining a school greenhouse or land lab, and other non-teaching assignments (i.e. Class sponsor, cafeteria supervisor, etc.) for the school. These responsibilities can easily result in a 12-hour workday. In my personal high school experience, I remember one specific example where there was a 6:30 a.m. FFA officer meeting, then a FFA contest later that evening and we did not return home until 10:30 p.m. that night. That example alone resulted in a 16-hour workday.

Unlike most other teachers, agriculture instructors are able to develop closer relationships with their students since most are enrolled in the agriculture program over multiple years. Because of this, students often turn to their agriculture teachers for advice about college and career choices. With more personal relationships, students are also more often to seek help from their agriculture teacher for tutoring in other subject areas, thus creating an additional role for the teacher.

Agriculture teachers are committed to the students they teach and recognize the “bigger picture” of WHY their role in the agricultural industry is important. In fact, part of the Agriculture Teacher’s Creed, as quoted from the National Association of Agricultural Educators website, reads: “I am an agricultural educator by choice and not by chance. I believe in American agriculture; I dedicate my life to its development and the advancement of its people.” In Illinois, nearly 1 in 4 jobs is directly related to the agricultural industry, and teachers recognize the importance of developing leaders for the state’s largest industry.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank my own agriculture teachers, Mr. Jesse Faber and Mr. Parker Bane, for the impact they have made on my life. It was because of them that I decided to (in their words) “join the fast-paced world of ag education” and study to be an agriculture teacher myself.

Feel free to use the comment box below to thank the teacher(s) who have impacted your life…

elizabeth harfstLiz Harfst
Joliet Junior College

AGRI-TOURISM GOES VIRTUAL

We learn more when we have a first hand experience.

This fact is really just a matter of common sense really.  You learned math as a kid by manipulating blocks or coins.  You learned how to drive by driving.  You learned how the world works by whatever “hard-knock” experience you had as a teenager or young adult.

The same goes for the farm.  If we want people to understand the truth about food production and how farmers farm, our best option is to give them a first hand experience.  Except with less than two percent of the public actually farming, it becomes difficult to provide the other 98 percent who would be tourists an actual experience on the farm.

So, we go virtual.

Illinois Farm Families are trying to provide virtual on-farm experiences to interested city-dwellers on their site, www.watchusgrow.org.  Have you checked it out?

Here’s a taste – do any of these videos answer your questions?