G-M-OKAY, I FEEL BETTER NOW

GMOs and biotechnology are among the most asked about topics on watchusgrow.org. Recently, a group of IFF City Moms, who have toured Illinois farms and wanted to ask additional questions about Monsanto, were given the opportunity to visit their Biotechnology Research Center. The tour was provided by IFF,  with additional support from the Illinois Corn Marketing Board.  Here is one mom’s take on the tour and the experience.

On April 25th, I was fortunate enough to tour Monsanto’s research center in St. Louis, Missouri, with a group of Mom’s dedicated to learning about food and farming. We boarded a plane early in the morning, and hit the ground running. I was a nervous wreck…not just because I hate to fly, but also because I felt intimidated, and I felt overwhelmed at the prospect of the million different questions that were bouncing around my head. I was worried that even if we asked the truth, we wouldn’t get it, it would be smoke and mirrors in an attempt to appease our concerns.

I am happy to report…..I was WRONG. Much to my surprise, they were MORE than transparent, and they answered our questions with incredible knowledge of fact, incredible displays of science, and incredible rebuttal to fiction. I left,feeling more overwhelmed than ever, but now, it was because nearly every argument I had set out to have, had been laid to rest. And really, who likes admitting that they’re wrong?? Certainly, not  ME.

So, where do I start ? How do I begin trying to educate my readers on a topic as hot and explosive as biotechnology ?? How do I break it down to its basics, in hopes that you will keep reading ? Willing to put your opinions aside ? As many have expressed, quite loudly, when I signed up for this tour, I had sold my soul to the devil. I assure, I have done no such thing. I went with an open mind, and I listened, and I talked, and I learned. I sat before four incredibly intelligent women, also Mothers, give me the facts on GMO technology. I set aside my pre conceived notions and embraced the science behind the madness. I went in with a willingness to get both sides of the story. And guess what I heard ? I heard the things no one talks about on the internet, the things that no one reads (even though they ARE out there….check out http://www.GMOANSWERS.com ) I learned answers to questions I was afraid to ask, I learned that ever so valuable lesson, that NOT everything you read on the internet is true. Who knew?

Our Q & A Panel

SO…let’s get down to brass tacks….shall we ?

What exactly ARE GMO’s ?? Those in the field, prefer the term biotechnology, but tomato, tomAHto…..In essence, GMO’s in plant agriculture in the most basic of terms, means intentionally taking a gene for a trait you want or need from one plant and inserting it into another. Are you asking yourself  BUT WHY ? I did…..and the answer was both complex and simple at its core. It all boils down to what’s best for the farmer : Farmer’s select GMO’s to aid in things such as pest control (this means LESS pesticide is sprayed topically, which means less drift, less use, less impact), GMO’s help to protect from extreme drought, disease and they also allow a farmer to plant more food on less usable soil. Remember, only 1/4 of the Earth has available land and 1/2 of THAT is unusable. So more for less, goes a long way. GM crops also help a farmer with soil conservation by allowing to take a no – till approach, this is important because it takes over 100 years to create 1 inch of topsoil. It simply cannot afford to be lost.

There are only eight crops that are available from GMO seed : Field corn, Canola, Soybean, Alfalfa, Cotton, Sugar beets, Sweet corn, Summer squash and Rainbow papaya. My favorite little factoid ?? Without biotechnology, the papaya would be EXTINCT…no more…gone forever….and I don’t know about you, but man….I would MISS IT. Eating a ripe papaya is like taking a mini tropical vacation with each bite.

GM cotton

You see, genetically modified crops have been around long before a scientist ever thought of gene insertion. 10,000 years ago, yes 10,000….humans began crop domestication using selective breeding, Every fruit, vegetable and grain that is commercially available has been altered by human hands. EVEN ORGANIC. How about that ??

And in the 1700’s farmers and scientists began cross-breeding plants within a species Without crop domestication, Brussels sprouts, Romanesco cabbage, Broccoli, Kale and Bok Choy would not be available for our dinner plates, as these all are genetic relatives of wild cabbage !! It has always been done. It’s just that now, it’s done more precisely.

I truly could go on and on, but at the risk of boring you to tears, I won’t. I promise.

I asked many of you, what questions do you want answered ? And the question that came up most was… ARE THEY SAFE ??

The simple answer….Y E S.

The more complex one: Biotech crops are the same as their non – GM buddies !! Nutritionally as well as broken down to its most basic structures. GMO foods have been in the marketplace for 17 years. They have been found, through repeated testing to be NO different from their NON GM counterparts. GM crops are subjected to more testing than any other new crop variety, therefore, we know more about them than any other crops that have been developed over the past few CENTURIES. GM crops are assessed by two, and sometimes three Federal agencies: the FDA, USDA and EPA. They don’t reach your grocery cart until they have been deemed safe and nutritious.

So, what does biotechnology hold for the future?

It has been demonstrated that this technology can increase the amount and stability of pro-vitamin A, iron and zinc and improve the digestibility of sorghum. What is so important about that ? It is anticipated to benefit Africans who rely upon sorghum, which is normally deficient in key nutrients.

Another example ? Golden Rice.

Golden Rice is another biotech crop which is nutritionally improved. The amount of beta carotene has been increased and could provide half the daily required provide HALF the required pro-vitamin A for a 1 to 3-year-old child. That can save lives.

But the most important example ?? Biotechnology can help us meet the growing demand for food, despite the influences of drought, poor soil, and B U G S. More full bellies.

To me, helping to produce more food, and improve the crops that those in developing countries rely upon, well, that has the power to change the World.

That is worth its weight in science !!

I encourage each of you to read , to research, to ask honest questions and open your mind to honest answers. The future truly is now.

Check it out:
http://www.biofortified.org
http://www.findourcommonground.com

Travel expenses within St. Louis and lunch courtesy of Monsanto.

Originally posted on Three Little Birds and One Messy Nest.

Katie Grossart
Chicago, IL

RAIN CAN BE A HUGE PAIN!

We love this parody by Ohio Ag Net’s Ty Higgins.  Rain IS a big pain all over the Midwest.


On Friday, after leaving IL Corn’s rained out golf outing, I took this quick video (below). You can see clearly see the damaged caused to this corn by standing water and inadequate drainage. The dark spots are higher ground where the corn wasn’t trying to grow in standing water. The lighter green spots are lower ground where the corn is struggling to survive.


Here’s a photo I took today on my way back to the office after lunch. See how the corn is lighter colored where it’s excessively wet?

wet field

This damage is everywhere. Farmers are starting to get nervous. THIS is one of the reasons why farming is such a risky business.

Mitchell_Lindsay
Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

ILLINOIS LIKE INDIA DURING MONSOON SEASON

instagram post - rainThis Instagram post is funny – and I laughed.  Then I cried.

It’s pouring right now in Central Illinois.  And I’m sad that our IL Corn “Greater Ethanol Open” Golf Outing is getting rained out for the first time in 23 years.  And I’m sad that my kid’s 7-10 pm private pool party will surely be cancelled. And I’m sad because all this gray weather puts a damper on my mood.

But think about the farmers out there.  Their corn and soybeans are drowning – IF they got the chance to put them in the ground in the first place.  On some fields, crops have been planted, replanted, and replanted again in an attempt to grow something on those acres this year.  The plants are being starved of oxygen because the soil is so saturated.

Some farmers will see significant loss.

Pray for relief.  For a few weeks of dry weather.  Definitely because your mood could use it and because your kid wants to play a few baseball games this year that aren’t rained out, but also because the farmers and the crops are suffering!

 

WOULD YOU PAY YOUR BOSS $6,000 TO WORK FOR ONE WEEK?

Originally posted July 22, 2014, but a great throwback considering the great response we had to our article Tuesday.   Do you have comments?  We’d love to hear them!!

 

dollarsCan you imaging paying your boss around $6,000 for the opportunity to work this week?  Getting no benefits?  No paycheck?  No time off or contribution to your 401K?  That’s what farmers are doing this year …

Corn prices are right now below the cost of production.

It’s one thing to say that, and another to understand what it really means.

First, you have to realize that every farm is a small business and every farmer will opt to run his farm a different way.  Some will own their land, others will rent it, and others will crop share with their landowners.  Some farmers will get rain or drought or disease on their farms and others won’t.  For every farmer and for every farm, the production practices and input costs can vary SIGNIFICANTLY.

Still, understanding that, we can make a few assumptions.  An average cash rent price per acre is $350.  Average production costs per acre are around $500 (this includes fuel, seed, fertilizers, etc).  We can assume that for many farmers, they paid around $850 per acre to put a crop in the ground and get it to grow.

Corn prices today are around $3.50 per bushel.  A reasonable Illinois average is 180 bushels per acre so we can calculate out that a farmer could make $630 per acre if he sold his crop today for cash.

It doesn’t take a mathmetician to figure out that a farmer is losing around $220 per acre on his crop this year.

He is actually paying his farm for the privilege of farming.

Taking that a step further, if an average Illinois farmer is farming 1,500 acres, he’s losing $330,000 this year.  Money that should be going to make payments on tractors and combines.  Money that should be paying for his family’s insurance coverage.  Money that could be buying next year’s seed.

A loss like that puts a gain in previous years in perspective, doesn’t it?  Farmers must save in the good years to cover the bad.  Thus, farmers never really “get rich.”  They just try to make enough to raise their family year after year.

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

ARE FARMERS RICH?  UPDATED!!

Our most popular blog post is this one from September 30, 2014.

Right now, on June 23, 2015, farmers are looking at a pretty bleak picture so I thought it was worth an update.

INPUT COSTS

-nitrogenBy way of review, farmers must buy things to plant a crop.  Seeds, chemicals, fertilizers, equipment, and labor are called non-land input costs.

According to the University of Illinois, the 2013 non-land input costs were $615 per acre.  The projected number for 2014 is $588.  But, as I reported in September last year, they are still going to average about $600 per acre.

By the way, land is still expensive.

Average land costs in Illinois are still increasing.  The U of I reports an average cost of $290 in 2013 and a projected average of $293 in 2014.  Three dollars probably doesn’t sound like a huge difference until you multiply it times 1,000 acres or 3,000 acres … but for the sake of argument and round numbers, we’ll increase the average to $290 instead of the $250 we used in September.

Based on the projected income for 2014 of $823, the average central Illinois farmer with highly productive farm land is losing $67 dollars per acre in 2014.

SO HOW MUCH DID THIS FARMER BANK?

If he’s farming 1,500 acres, he lost $100,500.
If he’s farming 1,000 acres, he lost $67,000.
If he’s farming 500 acres, he lost $33,500.

So … he’s in the red after a full year of work, toil, sweat, and stress.

2014 is what a bad year looks like.

WHAT’S A WORSE YEAR LOOK LIKE?

too much waterI made some predictions in September last year.  Here there are and I think you’ll see that I came pretty close.  I thought input costs and land costs would come down a little and they didn’t really.  But farmers made a little more than I predicted too.

2014 Predictions (September 2014):
Total Input Costs = $575 per acre
Total Land Costs = $250 per acre
Total Expected Income = $800 per acre
Net Expected Income = -$25 per acre

It’s a sad story, but 2015 looks even worse.

The cash price today for corn is $3.30.  Let’s bump that up to $3.50 just to get a really good average picture of where farmers might end up this year.  I’ll also use an average yield of 190 – a little below 2013 and 2014 because of all this rain we’ve been getting.

Everything else staying the same, this farmer makes $665 per acre projected income in 2015.  After he’s paid for his land and input costs, he’s losing $225 per acre.

2015 Predictions:
Total Input Costs = $600 per acre
Total Land Costs = $290 per acre
Total Expected Income = $665 per acre
Net Expected Income = -$225 per acre

are farmers richSO ARE FARMERS RICH?

These are the years farmers save for.  Sometimes they make good money, and they reinvest that in their farms by building or repairing sheds, buying or repairing equipment, installing tile lines in their fields, and more.

Sometimes they lose big money and those good years and the investments and savings they’ve built up are all that get them through.

Are farmers rich?  Not in 2014 and it’s not looking good for 2015 either.

Mitchell_Lindsay

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

Source: I used this table (page 6) for my numbers and I think you’ll see that I was rather conservative, though there are many more details included here that you may want to investigate.

RAISING THE BARN QUILT

This blog post was originally posted here and was written by Brian Scott on his blog called The Farmer’s Life. 

Brian Scott is an Indiana farmer and a graduate of Purdue University’s College of Agriculture.  His blog takes you through daily activities of a farm (with crops including corn, soybean and wheat) as well as explores emerging technologies in mobile and biotech.  

We just installed a barn quilt on the barn at our farm. My Photo 1sister describes the history of the quilt as follows. “In the early 1900s, my maternal great-great-grandmother Inez Newton made a quilt using her own variation on the Whig Rose Pattern. Around that same time, a barn was being erected on the ground that would eventually become the heart of our family farm. Yesterday, those two creations came together and Scott Farms raised this beautiful barn quilt – with the original quilt as a special guest! Tremendous thanks to the talented Ed Ward for painting the piece!”

My sister provided most of the photos seen in this blog post. Check her out on facebook at Goodnight Irene Photography.

For anyone reading who has visited or is from the Monticello, Indiana area you probably have seen Ed Ward’s work if you have ever stopped at Indiana Beach. If there’s a hand painted sign there, and there are many, Ed probably has painted and repainted it. Read on for more pictures of the quilt!

What is a barn quilt?

Barn Quilt Info describes a barn quilt.

“Barn quilts are painted quilt squares-usually fashioned on boards and then mounted on a barn or other building. While cloth quilts are usually made up of a series of squares of the same pattern placed together, a barn quilt is almost always a single square.”The original quilt on display with the newly raised barn quilt. We still have to get that door fully closed in the hay mound. It was nailed shut years ago, and it’s a tight fit with tight hinges.Photo 2The original quilt on display with the newly raised barn quilt. We still have to get that door fully closed in the hay mound. It was nailed shut years ago, and it’s a tight fit with tight hinges. Photo 3The original quilt made by my great-great grandmother.

PreparationPhoto 4

The quilt is actually two pieces. The quilt itself is mounted on an aluminum frame we had built at the local welding and machine shop. We attached a u-bolt from a large exhaust clamp as a point to hook on and pull the quilt up the side of the barn.Photo 5

The old Scott Farms sign had to come down in order to make room for the barn quilt. Obviously this meant there was some painting to be done! I think we’ll be moving the sign across the drive to the newer tool shed.

Raising the Barn Quilt

Photo 6My son and I securing the rope to a chain hooked on the u-bolt. We used the chain so we would have an open hook rather than a knot to untie while hanging out of the door high above the ground.Photo 7Going up! I’m giving it a boost off the ground while Grandpa steadies the load. Dad is up in the hay mound pulling the rope with help from a pulley.Photo 8

Dad straining to pull the heavy load! I had to leave the ground crew and head up into the barn to add some more muscle. It was hot and dirty up there!Photo 9When Dad and I needed relief the barn was there to help. Tying the rope off to the wood beam gave us a few minutes to get our strength back.Photo 10Once high enough we were able to use a ratcheting come along to take the weight and lift the quilt into the final position where we could bolt the frame to the barn.Photo 11Almost there!  We had a little trouble getting caught on the ledge just below the door. I had to reach out with one hand to push the hanger away from the ledge while we pulled higher.

What do you think about our quilt and its story? Leave me a comment below!

 

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO

Grant Noland Father's DayIt’s time to celebrate Dad! This Sunday is Father’s Day.

These are pictures  of one of our board members, Grant Noland, with his children. He is currently serving as one of our At-Large Directors on the IL Growers Board.

Don’t forget to tell your dad how much you love him this Sunday (and everyday!)

Happy Father’s Day to all of our Dads!

COLOMBIA’S IMPACT ON ILLINOIS ECONOMY

colombiaWe talked a little bit about trade last month during World Trade Month and hopefully you learned something about Mexico that you didn’t know before.

Since trade is a all over the news lately (while Congress debates/argues/discusses Trade Promotion Authority and Trade Adjustment Assistance) it seems like the right time to help you understand just how important trade is.

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) basically allows President Obama to negotiate free trade agreements.  Congress then gets to vote yes or no on the deal he’s negotiated.  For more on the ins and outs of TPA, read this.

COLOMBIAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT

One free trade agreement that has hugely benefited Illinois in the last couple of years is the Colombian Free Trade Agreement.  This agreement was passed by Congress in October 2011 and effective in May 2012.

colombia-chartSince that time, trade with Colombia is booming.  Colombia is importing a similar amount of U.S. corn in the first four months of this calendar year as last year and will likely exhaust its duty-free quota soon. This is in stark contrast to just two years before when only 18,500 metric tons (728,000 bushels) of U.S. corn were imported by Colombia from January to April 30.

This large increase in the past two years was made possible by both greater availability and the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA).

The FTA gives U.S. corn imports up to 2.43 million tons (95.6 million bushels) duty-free treatment, which has been advantageous so far this year. U.S. corn will likely continue to see a price advantage over other competitors even when the country is forced to import outside the duty-free treatment. The quota increases 5 percent every year until 2024 when U.S. corn will not have a duty to enter Colombia.

THAT’S A LOT OF NUMBERS.  WHAT’S IT MEAN TO ME?

For the average Illinoisan, this means significant economic stimulus in Illinois.  (Do I have to remind you that we are in desperate need of economic stimulus?!)

Illinois corn is a natural to ship to Colombia.  We have easy access to the Mississippi River and from there, easy access to Colombia.  We also have a plethora of the golden goodness that Colombia needs.  And the price is right because of the duty free status.

Extra money in Illinois means more money changing hands, more jobs, more of everything.  And while trade can’t fix Illinois’ problems over night, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

BUT I’M NOT FROM ILLINOIS!

Trade is good for ALL Americans.  Free trade agreements are often really beneficial for trading farm products like commodity corn or meat because that’s what America is good at, but also includes other stuff from the manufacturing sector.  Products leaving America, no matter the product, is good for Americans.

Even farm products leaving Illinois benefits the rest of the country as Illinois citizens buy products from other states and barge and rail employees benefit from the increased traffic.

Also important to note: if Illinois is absent from trade negotiations with other countries, they’ll enact their own free trade agreements without us, leaving America at a disadvantage.  We really can’t afford to miss out on the economic benefits that trade provides.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS ABOUT TRADE?

I would love to chat with you about them in the comments!!

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

 

DON’T FORGET TO EAT YOUR VEGETABLES

Today is fresh vegetables day. It is the perfect time of year to purchase fresh veggies from your local farmer’s market or grocery store. Many vegetables are coming into season this time of year, which means the best product for the best price.

To stretch your dollar and prolong the life of your produce, here is a list of the best ways to store your vegetable. I have hand selected my favorite veggies for this list.

Here is a printable version of this list which also includes best storage practices for fruits and some other vegetables not on this list.

asparagusAsparagus- Place them loosely in a glass or bowl upright with water at room temperature.

Beans- Put in open container in the fridge, eat ASAP. Some recommend freezing them if you’re not going to eat them right away.

Broccoli- Place in an open container in the fridge or wrap in a damp towel before placing in the fridge.

Carrots- If you cut the tops off, they stay fresh longer. Place them in a closed container with plenty of moisture, either wrapped in a damp towel or dunk them in cold water every couple of days.

Cauliflower- It will taste best if eaten the day it is bought, but it will last awhile in a closed container in the refrigerator.

 Celery- It does best when simply placed in a cup or bowl of shallow water on the counter. This is one vegetable I always make the mistake of just throwing in the crisper drawer in the fridge and leaving.corn-on-the-cob-unhusked

Corn- OUR FAVORITE VEGETABLE AT IL CORN! Leave unhusked in an open container if you must, but corn really is best the day it’s picked.

Lettuce- Keep damp in an airtight container in the fridge.

Onion- Store in a cool, dark and dry place. It is best if they have good air circulation (don’t stack them.) Some people place them in hanging baskets. Onions that have been peeled or cut will need to be stored in the refrigerator.

onionsSpinach- Store loose in an open container in the crisper, cool as soon as possible. Spinach loves to stay cool.

 

Hannah ZellerHannah Zeller
Communications Assistant

THE THINGS WIKIPEDIA CAN’T TELL YOU ABOUT FARMERS

They can fix anything.

duct-tapeYes, anything.  The sole of your boot, your ailing pet, the half million dollar machine you use to harvest your crops – if any of them breaks, a farmer can figure out a way to get it up and going again.  Guaranteed.

This is why farmers are teased about needing duct tape and bailing wire everywhere they go.  Both are often useful in fixing whatever ails you.

They are extremely intelligent.

I consider myself a smart person, but the depth and scope of the issues and topics that farmers must truly understand baffles me.

1-smartfarmingI know about writing (sometimes) and raising kids (but do I do it well?) and I might even possess a bit more Biblical knowledge than I had last year, but farmers understand complex economic principles and the chemistry of their crop applications, not to mention soil tests, plant population, mechanization, and a host of other things that I’m certain none of us have even considered.  Computer science is the latest skill du jour … and while the younger guys might be better at running the drone to scout the fields, even the older guys are well versed at manning the mapping devices with ease.

They are mostly all deeply religious.

Farming is a very risky business.  I would liken farming to living in Las Vegas with the entire content of your life savings out on the table every single day.  The decisions farmers must make are scary and concern thousands and millions of dollars in and out every day.

country churchOne mistake flattens their family for the year, two mistakes might lose the farm.

When you’re gambling everything on Mother Nature and the commodity market, it pays to be good friends with the man upstairs.

Farmers rely on their faith in a way that most of us can’t conceive of – they are dependent on weather and God’s good grace to farm again the following year.  Faith and prayer are an important part of the daily and weekly routine.

They are in touch with life and death.

As a farmer’s daughter, I will tell you that one of the biggest differences between the way I was raised and the way others in town were raised was this: I understand the circle of life and it doesn’t scare me.

at-the-fairIn the country, you loved your pets (kittens, piglets, rabbits or calves – species is of no importance here) fiercely – until the day they died.  And while some pets nourished your bodies while the memories of others nourished your spirit, it wasn’t something to be sad over and certainly not something to fear.

To be alive, means to be constantly facing death.  We understood this as little kids because we saw it every day in a way that folks from the city just don’t and can’t.

Farmers love the animals in their care, but they accept the circle of life and the purpose each and every animal serves on earth.

They give directions in slang.

country roadsA farmer CAN give you good directions to where ever you might be going in the country.  But you are more likely to hear:

“Go down here about a half a mile and turn right onto Lover’s Lane.  At Pickwick’s Curve, don’t take the curve.  Just keep on.  When you get to the Old Hatchet Place, you’ll see what you’re looking for kitty corner from the silo.”

And I can promise you, every single one of those names has a story.  A pretty good one.

They were ornery (even rotten!) little boys and girls.

Almost every adult farmer I know has at least a couple of stories about the mischievous antics of their younger years.

country girls get scarsMy own grandpa talked about leaving brown paper bags of cow poop on the neighbors doorsteps and setting them on fire.  A friend’s sister tried to repeat Woodstock in their home pasture when her parents were gone.

And every farmer has at least a couple of near death experiences that range from bee stings to grain bin elevators to manic livestock attacks.

Is this tendency to create harmless fun in their genes?

Lindsay Mitchell 11/14Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director