IS YOUR HALLOWEEN COSTUME A ‘GOOD’ OR ‘BAD’ FARMER?

Have you heard the kids talking about morphsuits? These stretchy garments are one-piece and cover the wearer completely from head to toe, taking away all distinguishing characteristics, leaving just a human form. They’re all the rage this year for Halloween costumes. With intentions unseen, morphsuit-wearing trick or treaters can ring doorbells and engage in Halloween hijinks with little worry about seeming odd.

Dressing as a farmer for Halloween? Well, you might as well put on a morphsuit. The characteristics that make you and your work what you are really have nothing to do with how you look. Or does it have everything to do with how you look? That’s more likely the case, as farmer attributes are being bestowed on anyone who wears a farmer-suit, which might as well be a morphsuit.

This type of insanity hit me full in the face last week at a conference I attended in Springfield, IL, called “Healthy Farms, Healthy People.” The room was full of more than a hundred public health and environmental health professionals, gathered together to listen to presentations about how better farmers grow better food which makes people who eat the better farmers’ better food, better people, apparently. Those professionals there actually received professional continuing education credits.

Here are a couple highlights from the conference that really ought to scare you:

  • Those guys that grow corn and soybeans all up and down Illinois. They’re not real farmers. They don’t grow food. They don’t even call themselves farmers. Just ask them. They call themselves producers. (From Dave Cleverdon, Organic Farmer, Kinnikinnick Farm; Board Member, Chicago Green City Market)
  • The way that we farm in Illinois drains hundreds of millions of dollars from the Illinois economy. Where could we, if not in Central Illinois, grow real food for local communities? (From Ken Meter, MA, MPA, President, Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis)
  • Farmers were better off in 1929 than in 2011, making more money and growing real food for their families and their communities. (Ken Meter)
  • October is now the official “Farm to School” month in Illinois, a signed Proclamation from Governor Quinn.
  • Locally grown, organic, fresh produce, is the only way to cure obesity and diabetes. (From a moderator in the discussion)

Now, on the outside quick glance, the bullet points above might not scare you, but they should. You should have a pretty decent Halloween-style creepy feeling crawling up your neck right now. That ominous feeling is public pressure, coming about from publicly-funded ‘public health’ professionals listening to scare tactics from other ‘professionals’ who are selling speaking gigs, research projects, and books.

Oh, but I’m saving the best part for last. To register for this event, you actually had to describe what kind of farmer you are. Apparently, there are good and bad farmers who either grow real food or they don’t, and that real food is only good food if it’s locally grown, fresh, and organic. It really has nothing to do with say, nutrition, or anything like that. That’s just a detail.

Good farmers (knighted as such by the ‘professionals’) grow real, good food (determined as such as long as it’s locally grown, fresh, and organic.)

All the rest of you? Well, you might as well just put on a morphsuit and go trick or treating tomorrow with the rest of the charlatans.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

ELECTION PREDICTIONS

With eight days to go, the Presidential election could not be closer.  Both campaigns are fighting hard to reach the magic number of 270 on November 6, that is, the 270 electoral votes that are required to win the Presidency.  The national polls have tightened and depending on which ones you look at, President Obama or Mitt Romney is ahead by one or two points, all within the margin of error. For example, on October 29, Real Clear Politics, which is a website that aggregates and then averages all of the national polls they can find on the race, has Mitt Romney ahead 47.9 to President Obama’s 47.0 percent.  While it is always possible that one of the campaigns could make a major gaffe or mistake or there could be some other last minute “October surprise,” it seems increasingly unlikely that there will be anything like that at this point, having now gotten past all of the debates.

Thus, since the national polls are effectively tied, the race will be decided by a number of battleground swing states.  Those swing states number as high as eleven, depending on how pollsters count them and they could include Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.  However, polling in a number of those states shows that several of them are leaning more towards one candidate than the other.  Governor Romney, as it stands right now, in our opinion, is likely to win Florida and North Carolina and President Obama is likely to win Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The remaining states of Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia is where the election will probably be decided.  Voter turnout will be critical in these states and may end up deciding the winner.  Both campaigns argue that they have excellent Get Out the Vote efforts, also called the “field campaign,” but the Obama campaign effectively never stopped this part of their campaign following the 2008 election and may have an advantage in this respect.  There are a number of conservative groups who have built strong voter turnout programs to assist the Romney campaign, so it is possible that these could offset the perceived advantage the Obama campaign has.  Several of these swing states have early voting which complicates the picture further.  It is the general consensus that the Obama campaign has an advantage with early voters, but probably not as great as his advantage with that group was in 2008.

In our opinion, this election could come down to one state, Ohio.  No Republican has ever won without Ohio.  Following the 2010 census, Ohio went from 20 to 18 electoral votes.  These 18 electoral votes could push one of the campaigns to or past the magic number of 270.  Most recent polls there show Obama with a slight lead, but it is still clearly in play. Both campaigns are also preparing for the possibility of recounts in close states and the smaller likelihood that there could be an electoral college tie of 269-269.  A tie would almost certainly go to Romney, as the newly elected House of Representatives decides the winner in the event of a tie.

As for the House and Senate, our expectation is not different from that of most pundits, we expect the House to stay in Republican hands, with the Democrats perhaps picking up 6-10 House seats and the Senate probably will stay in Democratic hands, with a breakdown of 51-49 or 52-48 looking increasingly likely.  In Illinois, we think that perhaps two or three House seats will change party control on November 6.  As you can gather, much is up in the air at this point, but election night is almost certain to be an exciting, late night.

David Beaudreau
DC Legislative and Regulatory Services

THE IMPORTANCE OF FARMER/CONSUMER DISCUSSION

There is no doubt that in recent years, consumers have become more and more concerned about how their food is produced, and why shouldn’t they be? Everyone wants to make sure that they are providing themselves and their families with safe, nutritious food that was produced in a way that they deem fit. I personally believe that one of the biggest contributing factors to this concern is the modern-day “gap” between the farmer who grows the food and the urban mom/dad who makes the purchasing decisions regarding food for their family. Many modern-day farming practices are simply misunderstood by many urban consumers because they have little or no experience with food production or farming.

So what do we, the agriculture industry, do about bridging this gap between farmer and urban consumer? Well, this is where the Illinois Farm Families program comes in. The Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Beef Association, Illinois Pork Association, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, and Illinois Soybean Association work together in this program to bring mom’s from Chicago, IL (called “Field Mom’s”) out to farms throughout Illinois to speak directly with the farmers who produce their food. This gives those urban moms an opportunity to ask their questions and voice their concerns about food production. It also gives the farmers an opportunity to explain not only how food is produced, but WHY we use different farming practices.

I think this program sets a good example of what should be happening in today’s society of food production concern. Consumers with questions should be asking FARMERS about the concerns they have! And as farmers, we should be happy to take their questions and answer them as honestly as possible. As a “real farm girl” I have often had friends ask me questions about food production and things they are concerned about, and more often than not, they leave the conversation with a better understanding and more positive opinion about their concern.

So, consumers with concerns: Ask a farmer! We are probably a much more reliable source than TV shows or news stories that are often biased one way or the other.

And farmers: Welcome those consumer questions! If urban consumers can’t ask the people who grow their food, who do you expect them to ask?

I love having these discussions with people, and I think it is discussions like these that will really make a difference in consumers having a better understanding of food production and modern farming practices.

To keep up with the IL Farm Families program, “like” them on Facebook or follow them on twitter!

Rosalie Sanderson

ICGA/ICMB Membership Administrative Assistant

THE HISTORY BEHIND ETHANOL

There has been a lot of discussion these days regarding ethanol as an alternative fuel. I’m not too familiar with the topic, but I know ethanol can come from corn, and I love agriculture. So what is the truth about ethanol? I decided to find out the basics.

I’m not going to lecture you on my beliefs or opinions. Instead, I invite you to consider the research I have done in order to be a better-educated citizen. (It is voting season, after all).  Here’s the deal on what it is:

Ethanol is a clear, colorless chemical compound made from sugars that are found in crops such as corn, sugar beets and sugar cane. The key element is fermentation (defined as the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms). I recommend checking out this video for a better explanation of the process.

One of the cool things about ethanol is that it biodegrades fairly quickly. It’s a non-toxic (harmless), renewable fuel. In fact, by adding just a little bit to gasoline, carbon monoxide emissions are reduced and the engine runs more smoothly.

So if ethanol is so great, why haven’t we been using it since day one? Let’s look at the historical background:

Back in the 1400’s, ethanol existed for use as Moonshine Whiskey. People used it to fuel lamps in the mid 1800’s. However, people switched over to kerosene and methane when Congress started taxing it to cover Civil War funding.

In 1906, after the tax had been lifted, Henry Ford declared ethanol would be the “fuel of the future.” For the rest of the century, production varied a lot due to war supplies needed by government. Foreign oil was also relatively cheap at the time, so farmers mostly exported their grain to feed other countries – instead of  using the corn to make ethanol.

As time has progressed, and oil prices are rising (incase you haven’t noticed), corn ethanol has received more attention. Many people see it as a way for our country to be less dependent on foreign oil.  Confidence has been so high that in the past decade that United States ethanol production was up $9 billion between 2000 and 2009.

Farmers have shifted crop acreage to allow for a greater ratio of corn over soybeans. The increase in demand for corn has partly been a response to bioenergy policies. As you can see, opportunities for ethanol are so great that farmers have adjusted cropping patterns.

Opposition to the ethanol fuel alternative will argue it takes just as much energy to produce the ethanol as it does to directly import oil from other countries. My response is that 1) ethanol production creates jobs – locally, and 2) we are better off to create something ourselves than be as dependent on others as we are currently.

Ethanol production will only become more efficient. I compare it to the famous quote by former IBM chairman Thomas Watson in 1941:  “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Obviously, that prediction proved completely wrong. Had computers never improved, Watson may have been correct. Computers wouldn’t be nearly as common if they still weighed 1.5 tons. This could be the optimist in me speaking, but with all the technological advances happening I only predict ethanol production to make more and more sense with time.

Henry Ford thought it was a good idea. What about you?

Natalie Edwards
Illinois State University student

 

 

 

AG HISTORY: A LITTLE ON GMOs

I have a very limited background in agriculture and I am always learning more because it is a complex topic to understand completely. I mean, I can barely wrap my head around what has changed in the last few decades, let along everything has occurred since its instigation over 10,000 years ago. Things are a whole lot more complicated these days, more people to feed, less natural resources and more advanced technology, so I am only going to talk about one topic today… GMOs.

For those of you that don’t know, GMOs, also known as genetically modified organisms, have caused quite a controversy and are an interesting topic to look into. Some argue that this development is a symbol of progress while others argue that they have harmful effects on the environment and people.

Biotechnology, the larger concept that encompasses GMOs, in theory, has been around as long as agriculture has been. Very basically, it is the changes made in the processes for growing plants and animals, of which people have been adapting over time. One of the newer developments, GMOs, is a process where engineers combine DNA from different species to create new organisms with particular genes. This modification of genetics has allowed for the development of crops that can tolerate herbicides or insecticides (controls for weeds or pests, respectively) making the growth of the crop more efficient. This efficiency either makes weed control easier or makes it less necessary to use synthetic pesticides to control for pests. In addition, the development of drought resistant crops have allowed for a more secure survival of crops, especially during recent drought conditions. Since crops do not need to be monitored as often, their use has increased over time, to about 46% of corn, 76% of cotton, and 85% for soybeans as of results in 2004. The apparent success of these items has lead to further development of GMOs.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulators of GMOs, there are a few benefits and safety concerns of biotechnology used for the purposes of agriculture. Biotechnology in the form of these GMOs has allowed researchers to increase their knowledge of the biology of living organisms, improve efficiencies (mentioned earlier) which has made agriculture a more lucrative business, and it is also argued they help solve issues of food security or hunger.

Safety concerns include the posed risk to the environment and to consumers. For example, it has been noticed that bugs have become more resistant to pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, as a result of the prominence of these GMOs. This, in theory, would require more pesticide use. Furthermore, it is argued that high levels of pesticide use as the result of application on conventionally grown and GMO crops have been known to cause harm to human health and the environment. At the same time, these pesticide levels are monitored by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for human safety, all pesticides are regulated and are only applied at approved levels by professionals. Therefore, concerns can be difficult to determine. Other safety concerns include ethics and labeling. The latter has been particularly controversial, labeling is required in a number of countries and increased labeling is being asked for in California.

From just this brief introduction, it may have become apparent that there are a number of benefits and potential risks with GMOs. Until anything is proven, their use will most likely continue to increase because of the perceived benefits for agriculture. Nevertheless, the push for accurate labeling shows that there is a resistance to this technology. I know I plan on keeping with current events and following what happens.

Jennifer Long
Illinois Wesleyian University student

WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE THROUGHOUT HISTORY

This week on Corn Corps, we’re celebrating ag history!  Come back everyday to learn more about where we’ve been and where we’re headed! 

Women have always been a part of the agriculture industry, but most the time have been overlooked. However, this trend is changing, and women are becoming more prevalent on farms today. Do you know any women in agriculture, either on farms or in the industry?

In early American history, a woman’s job on the farm typically meant bookkeeping for the farming operation. Women also tended to the family garden, which was most likely a major food supply for the farm family. Even though women did contribute to the farm, their work was never recorded by the Department of Agriculture, thus making women seem non-existent in the agriculture world.

The growth of the women’s movement in the 1960s-1980s made clear that women participating in agriculture were very important to the well being of the farm. This change in roles was very hard for some male farmers to handle. Did you know that crisis hotlines were set up so men could call in and deal with no longer being the sole provider in the family? There was also an increase in alcohol use and abuse reported during this time in American agricultural history.

In 1981, Sherrod Perkins, a rural mental health counselor, said, “There is a confusion of roles and rural women are caught with one leg in each camp…What happens to these women?” This did not discourage women from joining in on the agriculture trend, as we can see today in our modern agriculture industry.

Recently, the 2007 census recorded that a woman operates two out of every ten farms in the United States. Also, the number of farms run by women has doubled from 1978 to 2005, from 100,000 to 250,000 farms; how awesome is that?! We have also found that 65 to 75 percent of all the food grown worldwide is grown by a woman. There is a good chance that some of the foods you will consume today have been raised by women!

This number of women farmers is increasing because a lot of women today want to be involved in organic farming as well as community based agriculture. These tend to be smaller operations, but farms none-the-less! Also, many farmers are starting to age, and these farms, some being larger operations, get handed down to wives, daughters, or other female family members. Taking on a farm is a huge task, but these women are up for the challenge!

Executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, Karen Anderson said, “I think that food is really a women’s issue. It’s a healthy sign of a reconnection between food systems and agriculture that women are interested in farming, not just cooking.” Next time you see a woman involved in the agriculture industry, say thanks! And know that she has fought hard for her respect in the agricultural world.

Erin Palm
Illinois State University student

CUTTING BY HAND TO CUTTING BY COMBINE: HISTORY OF HARVEST AG MECHANIZATION

This week on Corn Corps, we’re celebrating ag history!  Come back everyday to learn more about where we’ve been and where we’re headed! 

“It’s harvest time in this little town, time to bring it on in, pay the loans down.”  Luke Bryan’s new song “Harvest Time” explains this time of year perfectly.  However, not so long ago, harvest was done completely different around here.  Instead of the combines, tractors, grain carts and the semi-trucks we use today, farmers harvested with much simpler tools.  Farming has seen numerous changes over the years, but none of them have been as impactful as the mechanization of harvest equipment.

Since Egyptian times, farmers have been harvesting their crops with sickles or scythes.  This process was extremely labor intensive and therefore made large farms nearly impossible.  Even in the early days of the United States, farmers had to have lots of help to plant, grow and harvest their crops.  The invention of the threshing machine by a Scottish man named Andrew Meikle in the 1780s, improved harvesting, although numerous people and horses were still required.  His machine mechanically separated the grain from the stalk of wheat and oats, the major crop of the time.

This machine was so revolutionary; our founding fathers ordered one of Meikle’s machines to use on their own farms.  Thomas Jefferson used three on his farm making one stationary, ran by steam and two that could move and be powered by his horses. George Washington wrote Jefferson stating the following about the machines,

“If you can bring a moveable threshing machine, constructed upon simple principles to perfection, it will be among the most valuable institutions in this Country; for nothing is more wanting, and to be wished for on our farms.”

It is easy to see that making farming more feasible was a key principle throughout the farming community.  Over the years modifications of the machine were made so it could be more maneuverable and be able to reap, thresh and winnow the crop all in one machine.

Luckily for today’s farmer, mechanical advancement of harvest equipment continued past the horse drawn machines.  In 1923, the Baldwin brothers of Kansas invented the first self-propelled harvester in the MidWest.  This machine, unlike the threshing machines, could be run with one person and no horses.  This harvester, called the combine, incorporated numerous advancements including augers to move the seed from the machine to storage equipment.  This galvanized metal combine, known as the Gleaner combine, changed harvesting forever.  The brothers sold their company to Allis-Chalmers in 1955, which is now part of the AGCO Corporation.

On our farm, we still have our old Gleaner combine, but she has been retired for the most part.  In her place is now an Illinois designed green machine, a John Deere 9510.  Today on our farm, instead of having dozens of people reaping by hand, we have one person in the combine, and another driving the semi-truck to the elevator to deliver the grain or someone driving the tractor and grain cart.  Harvest equipment sure has changed over the years, making harvest a little less time-consuming and little more enjoyable for everyone.

Miranda Morgan
University of Illinois student

IL CORN LOOKS FORWARD TO NOVEMBER 6!

A top priority for IL Corn is the upcoming election.  IL Corn Growers Association is diligently encouraging farmers to vote, encouraging farmers to make local and federal legislators earn their vote,  and encouraging the candidates that our leaders support with our Political Action Committee funds.

In many ways, because agriculture is so much smaller and has significantly less funding than our foes, we turn to our elected officials to keep agriculture a viable industry for our children.

ESTIMATED CORN YIELDS ARE DISAPPOINTING

Although I didn’t advertise it as such, I commissioned the guys in the office to help me write about current issues we’re working on here in the IL Corn office this week.  We started out the week discussing nutrient runoff, which will become of increasing importance as the temperatures drop and farmers start applying nitrogen for next year, and we’ve talked about the EPA’s obligation to issue or not issue a Renewable Fuels Standard waiver, releasing the nation’s gasoline suppliers from a mandate to blend renewable fuels.  The deadline for comments on the latter is today, by the way, if you were considering speaking out on that topic.

The issue of today is (drumroll please!) … corn yields.

It’s an issue that IL Corn can’t really do a lot about, but it’s something that we are keeping our eyes on.  And today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report which gives us the official prediction for average yield both by state and for the entire U.S.

The numbers are sad.  Illinois is predicted to have yields averaging only 98 bushels per acre when 2011 and 2010 averages were both 157 bushels per acre.  In 2009, Illinois yielded 174 bushels per acre.  Truly the drought has had a major effect on our harvest.

The U.S. averages aren’t a lot better.  Today’s WASDE report estimated 122 bushels per acre when last year’s average was 147.2 bushels per acre.  Even the 2011 average was down … 2010 saw 152.8 bushels per acre and 2009 saw 164.7 bushels per acre.

Some in our office think that the USDA estimate is low.  It is, after all, only an estimate and harvest is still underway in many Illinois counties.  However, we will have a low yield this year … lower than what we expected in the spring … and the low yield will have an impact.

  1. The laws of supply and demand will dictate that the price of corn will be high.  Higher priced feed may lead livestock producers to liquidate some of their herd in order to make it through the year on budget.
  2. Ethanol markets are similar.  Regardless of whether or not an RFS waiver is granted, the ethanol plants will have to buy much higher priced corn.  Ethanol will become more expensive as a result and won’t compete as well against petroleum.  Ethanol plants may have to scale back their production.
  3. Foreign buyers may be able to purchase corn from other countries cheaper than they can buy it in the U.S.  Exports might drop substantially.

All these forces – basically supply and demand – will cause a “rationing” of the corn supply.  All of the markets for corn will just have to make it through the year until next year’s harvest can be marketed.

Interestingly enough, farmers are already looking forward to next year.  That’s what’s great about farmers.  This year has been horrible, but once the crop is out of the ground, they begin to look with optimism towards a new year, a new crop, and a new opportunity.  So we’ll keep an eye on the yield predictions, but we’ll just deal with them and try to keep the same healthy optimism that our farmer leaders exhibit for us.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director