TOP POSTS OF 2016 #5: THE HEAVY COST OF FARM MACHINERY

[Originally published March 14, 2016]

Here in Illinois, we are all fairly familiar with the big farm machinery in the fields during spring and fall, but have you ever wondered what kind of financial investment a farmer undertakes?

3-14-16Tractor
Photo Credit: Holly Spangler, Prairie Farmer

It’s mid-March, the weather is getting more pleasant, and all farmers seem to have one thing on their mind: planting.

The first field of corn was planted near Pearl, Illinois last Tuesday and it is expected that many farmers from all over the state will soon be following suit to start the long process of getting food to your dinner table. However, for farmers to get the food from farm to table, they need machinery to do it, and machinery costs money. Lots of it. But what exactly is the financial investment a farmer undertakes when it comes to their machinery?

Chad Braden, President and Chief Operating Officer of Arends Hogan Walker (AHW), one of the largest John Deere dealerships on the continent, says that the image created by the media about the cost of farm equipment is a negative one, but in reality, it is a necessary part of the production cycle. In order “to sustain a long-term farm operation, you must be able to invest in, and support, a reasonable amount of equipment to maintain the farming operation.” He also suggests that the general rule of thumb should be spending “$95-$100 per acre on machinery costs. This gives a 1,000-acre farm about $100,000 of cash flow to cover annual machinery payments and maintenance, insurance, fuel, etc. Only $70 per acre of this is direct machinery costs.“ Braden closes by adding, “$70 per acre is about 10% of the total costs of production in 2016 for an acre of corn.”

So, it costs $95-$100 per acre for machinery costs, but what about the expense of the actual machinery itself? John Spangler, my uncle, as well as a grain and livestock farmer from Western Illinois, states that this all depends on the size of your operation. A small farmer, who may have around 350 acres, needs nothing more than a $50,000 tractor, $20,000 planter, and a $50,000 combine. But, that is about as “minimum” as you can get. “A 1000 acre farmer is going to need a couple of tractors around $150,000, a $50,000 planter, and $100,000 combine.”

This may seem like lots of money, but Spangler mentions that it is better to keep the combine, planter, and sprayer up to date. “A lot of dollars flow through those machines and a breakdown at the wrong time can be expensive.”

If buying new isn’t something you want to do or can afford to do right now, have no fear. Leasing has become more popular in recent months. Also, there is a company called Machinery Link who connects farmers from all over the U.S. who need different types of equipment at various times. Some farmers even share equipment over two or more farm families. In reality, there are tons of other options to make machinery more affordable. “Everyone has their own philosophies on machinery,” says Spangler. “It basically comes down to what fits best in your operation.”

Kaity Spangler

 

Kaity Spangler
University of Illinois

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #4: 6 THINGS ABOUT FARMING I DIDN’T LEARN IN SCHOOL

[Originally published: February 23, 2016]

We all love our teachers, but looking back there are things we wish somebody had told us. Here are six things about agriculture that I wish were taught in school.

  1. Food is not easy to grow.

farmer in fieldOn TV you always see farmers portrayed as a bunch of uneducated hillbillies, but that is not the case! There is a lot more to growing food than most people realize; farming is a science. Farmers have to be masters of chemistry, agronomy, physics, mathematics, economics, and meteorology. In fact, there are over 70 colleges across the country that offer degrees in Farm Management. Who knew?

  1. Most of the corn we see in the fields isn’t sweet corn.

There are several different types of corn grown in the US, but the main type is field corn, also called dent corn. This corn is used for animal feed and also processed into ethanol, corn syrup, and other products like makeup and plastic. Less than 1% of the corn grown in the US is sweet corn! Check out this math lesson teachers could use to teach students about corn.

  1. Dirt is not the same everywhere you go.

soilHave you ever wondered why Arizona soil is so much redder than the dark black soils we have here in central Illinois? It turns out there is much more to dirt than meets the eye. All soil is made up of a combination of three components: sand, silt, and clay. The way a soil looks, feels, and even how well crops can be grown in it can all be predicted by looking at the age of the soil (some soils are thousands of years old!), mineral composition, topography of the land, and what the native vegetation was. There are even people whose whole job is studying soil!

  1. Hamburgers and milk don’t come from the same place.

eat mor chikinEveryone has seen the Chick-fil-a commercials where the black and white cows are telling you to eat more chicken, but besides being a cute marketing strategy it doesn’t actually make sense. Holsteins, like the Chick-fil-a cow, are one of hundreds of breeds of dairy cattle that are milked to make cheese and ice cream, but very rarely used for meat. A more accurate commercial would have a Black Angus because they are the most common beef breed in the US. These are the cattle that are raised for their meat to be processed into steaks, roasts, and burgers.

  1. Farmers do care about the environment.

The media is always pointing its finger at the agriculture industry for polluting the atmosphere or causing global climate change, but farmers really do care about the environment. In fact, they are affected even more than the rest of us by global climate change. As the climate patterns change over time, new pests invade our fields that they are not equipped to handle. This in turn lowers their yield and actually costs them money!

  1. There are chemicals in your food. Gasp!

Pyridoxine, Natamycin, and Carboxymethylcellulose, oh my! Find out what these chemicals are. Just because something has a long name doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, all food is naturally made out of chemicals called vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A chemical-free diet would mean that you couldn’t eat anything!

elizabeth brownElizabeth Brown
Purdue University

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #3: THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT FARMERS

[Originally published: May 12, 2016]

When you think of a farmer, what do you think of? Do you think of an intelligent man who knows various farming techniques or do you think of a hillbilly wearing bib overalls with a front tooth missing? Most people who do not live in rural America probably think of farmers as being dumb hillbillies that have strange accents and have mud all over their clothes from working in the fields all day. With this in mind, I think this is the biggest misconception about farmers.

Last Sunday, I was in Costco with my family doing our weekly grocery shopping and while we were checking out, the nice cashier lady asked what we did for living. As my mother and father told her we were farmers, she began laughing and said, “You guys sure don’t look like farmers!” My family and I looked at each other with surprise because we didn’t think farmers looked a particular way because we are surrounded with other farmers all the time and it’s simply our way of life. After our Costco trip, I began wondering what the main misunderstanding about farmers were and I think it’s that people think farmers are rednecks with no brains, but that’s simply not the case.

Idaho, A Farmer stands in his field of Soybeans.

Idaho – A farmer stands in his soybean field.

To begin with, farmers are a little more fashionable than what you may think. Farmers generally wear jeans, work boots, and a work shirt that’s appropriate for their job, certainly not bib overalls! If you drive down the road and see a farmer in a tractor, you will most likely also see him wearing a ball cap too. It’s just the fashion trend that farmers do!

Furthermore, farmers are really intelligent people. The average farmer in the state of Illinois handles over $600,000 to put in one crop, like corn, for one year. How many people do you know that can walk into a bank and borrow $600,000? Probably not many! So not only do farmers need to have financial skills, balance sheet knowledge and sales knowledge, he also has to know the biology of soils, crops, and plants.  Being an expert of soils, crops, and plants, allows a farmer to determine when the field is ready to plant, fertilize, and harvest. The agronomic information a farmer has today is in such demand that companies will pay the farmer for the data.

All in all, farmers are just like everyone else, just a different field of knowledge and interests. I encourage you to take a drive out in the country. Its prime planting season, so you will be able to see your local farmers planting away, putting their crop into the field. If it wasn’t for farmers, we wouldn’t be able to put more than half of the food on the table for dinner. Be sure to thank a farmer next time you see them because they do a lot more than what you may think!

kalie

 

Kalie Rumbold
Black Hawk East Junior College

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #2: WHY MY FAMILY FARM IS BIG BUT NOT A FACTORY FARM

[Originally published: October 11, 2016]

What is a factory farm? Is it a 5,000-acre grain farm supporting 3 families? Is it a 40 head dairy cattle operated by a dad his son? Is it a poultry farm operated by a family of five who contract out through a corporation who will sell the chicken in the store?

The term “factory farm” seems to have originated from the non-agriculture public and media about large farms in today’s agriculture industry. The only issue is that there is no real definition of a factory farm. A factory farm in some eyes are having over 20 animals in a herd, while others see it as large rows of buildings housing thousands and thousands of livestock.

But is there such a thing as a factory farm?

img_9035Many of the large farms seen from the flatlands of the Midwest to the hills of Texas are large FAMILY farms. Does this make them a factory farm? No. There are plenty of large farms in the country that might house more than 1,000 pigs, to help provide for two or three families.

Is that a factory farm? Somewhere with multiple families and generations raising livestock to help make ends meet? No. That is families trying to make ends meet. With lower margins than in years previous, families have to increase their farm size to help put food on the table.

What about my family? We farm 40 miles south of Downtown Chicago in one of the first farm towns south of the suburbs. We farm around 3000 acres of grain crop and milk around 75 dairy cows. To put an acre in perspective, one acre equals about the size of one football field.

Does that sound like a large farm to you? By some standards, it definitely is. However, let’s break down the numbers.

Three families are provided for on this farm. My family, along with my grandparents and uncle’s family all depend on the farm for income.

img_9036We all depend on the farm for food to be on the table.

We depend on the farm to pay for fuel to get the kids to soccer practice.

We depend on the farm to keep the lights on to study for the next big test in school.

We depend on the farm to keep life moving, just like everyone else relies on their job and income to pay the bills.

Does that make our farm a factory farm? I don’t think so. Just like every other family, we work hard to make money and provide for the family. We go past the bar, with every single member being active on the farm and helping with whatever that could be. Whether its running someone to a tractor, or helping out with feeding calves, the entire family helps out when needed on the farm.

So is that large farm you see on the side of the road a factory farm? No, it probably isn’t, because it is probably a family or two working hard to make ends meet.

Cowger_Dakota_IL CORN INTERN 2x3 16

 

Dakota Cowger
Illinois State University

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #1: THE REASON FOR UTTERLY LOW MILK PRICES

We’re on the brink of finishing 2016 and we will soon add another notch on this blog. We decided to look back and find out what posts people found that most engaging.  For the next two weeks, we will be showcasing our best work each day.

Enjoy!

[Originally published: March 28, 2016]

3-28-16cows
Credit: Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune

Milk is one of the integral parts of my breakfast. Whether served as a full glass or mixed in with my favorite cereal, I have milk every day. Drinking milk is an old standby for parents: it develops strong bones and gives you the Vitamin D you need daily. This adage may gain new ground, because right now milk is incredibly cheap. Prices in places like Wisconsin are down a third from a five-year high. But why is it so cheap? Let’s take a look.

Shipping Out Isn’t Shaping Up

America exports roughly 15% of its milk production overseas. Yet, different countries have stopped importing American dairy. China, a major importer of American dairy, has an abundant supply that results in smaller milk purchases. It also does not help that economic sanctions against Russia have halted exporting to the Asian country. Exporting less creates a higher American supply than demand for milk. This overabundance of supply causes prices of milk to plummet.

Milk Means More…Competitors

While exports represent 15% of American milk sales, other countries are coming to play. China has begun producing more milk than it imports. Additionally, New Zealand is a major competitor, only adding to the growing milk production. Equally, this competition forces market prices to decrease. Therefore, the declining exports yet growing milk production by competing countries creates an atmosphere that demands unfavorable action to move milk off the grocery shelves (e.g. slashing prices).

The Cost of a Dollar

The rising strength of the U.S. dollar is another important factor to consider. A strong dollar may signal a stronger U.S. economy than seen in recent years, but that makes American dairy less attractive. Rather than spend loads of money on high-cost milk, importers might choose cheaper options from different countries. Reports of federal interest rates rising will only strengthen the U.S. dollar. Therefore, dairy prices may continue to drop due to less exporting.

Ultimately, low prices may be good for consumers, but American dairy farmers are already feeling the effects.

McDonald_Taylor

Taylor McDonald
Communications Assistant
IL Corn

AG CAREER PROFILES: WHAT DOES AN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR DO?

mindy-bunselmeyerMindy Bunselmeyer is the Illinois FFA Center Executive Director.  She got to this position by first getting a B.S. and M.S. at the University of Illinois and teaching ag education in Monticello for eight years.  She moved from a teaching position to a leadership position when she served as the District 4 Program Advisor for Facilitating Coordination in Ag Education for ten years.

FFA, formerly Future Farmers of America, FFA is a local, state, and national organization that provides a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education for each student in its membership.

Mindy’s professional life has always been about helping young people understand more about agriculture and themselves, whether that is directly, or by helping other ag teachers who are helping young people.

She and her husband, Mark and their son Gehrig and daughter Emery, live on a farm near Decatur, Illinois, where they raise corn, soybeans and horseradish.

Lindsay: What are your primary responsibilities?

ag-careers-executive-directorMindy: I am responsible for organizing, coordinating and/or supervising the day-to-day activities of the FFA, FFA Foundation, Illinois FFA Alumni and Illinois PAS.

Lindsay: What made you decide to pursue a career in this field?

Mindy:  I was most inspired to become an agriculture teacher and FFA Advisor by my agriculture teacher, Mr. Richard Watson and my parents who were live long 4-H leaders.  I saw the impact that they made and of course benefited greatly from the time they dedicated to me and other members.  I wanted to give to others as they had given to me.  While serving as an FFA officer at the state level, I was truly inspired to serve at the state level by seeing the impact those who served in my position prior to me had made and once again, wanted to give back and give more.

Lindsay: What three things stand out to you as skills that are vital for a career in this area?

Mindy: Open minded – open to ideas, looking for ways to keep us always keep us moving forward, open new opportunities for young people involved in agricultural education, open to news ways of doing things.  Flexibility and problem-solving skills – when working with so many people and so many moving parts – there are bound to be times when things don’t always go as you have planned and being flexible, quick on your feet and able to solve problems is essential in this job and most likely any job.  Friendly and outgoing – This is a people person job, God blessed me with the ability to chat with anyone, anywhere, on just about anything…all the time, so I love working with and meeting people.

mindy-at-work

Lindsay: What’s a typical day like in your job?

Mindy: That is what’s so great about my job, no two days are the same.  Much of my time is working with our State officer team on coordinating events that they plan and put together, such as STAR conferences, chapter visits, speeches, state convention and so much more.  I work a great deal with our teachers on programming and events that are offered to FFA members throughout the state.  So one day, I am in the office all day working on those programming pieces and the next day we are out of the office putting on those events. Many times I am meeting with friends of FFA to talk about and represent our interests in agricultural education.

Lindsay:  Do you think young people today should be considering careers in agriculture?

Mindy: ABSOLUTELY!  I can’t begin to tell you the number of events that I have attained and research that I have read that we have so many opportunities in agriculture that are going unfilled by applicants with experiences in agriculture.  Those opportunities vary a great deal in areas of the industry, it’s amazing how much opportunity is out there for young people interested in agriculture.

LMitchell_Lindsayindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

3 THINGS YOU AND A COW HAVE IN COMMON

Cows are some majestic creatures. Weighing over 1,000 pounds, they aren’t close to being the same as a human. However, we do share some similar traits with cows!

bestfriend1. Cows miss their best friend.

In dairy herds, cows typically have their best friend. These two cows are just what you think best friends would be. They hang out, assist each other in birth if necessary, and even like to stand next to each other in the barn while being milked! However, when they are apart, they miss their best friend and become stressed. It is weird to think, but cows do have best friends and miss them while apart, just like we humans do!

silly2. Cows like to have fun and be silly!

Cows seem to always be silly and have some fun while around the farm. They like to stick their tongues out, throw their head, and play with each other in the pasture! Just like you might want to run around and have some fun, cows enjoy having their free time and fun!

 

diverse3. Cows are diverse!

Just like humans, cows are very diverse. There are numerous different breeds of cows, both in dairy and beef varieties. These cows range in size and color. Some cows are white, red, black, and a mix of everything. While they all have their certain size and color, they either are raised for milk or beef purposes.  Fun Fact: Chocolate milk does NOT come from red and white dairy cows!

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Dakota Cowger
Illinois State University

5 THINGS TO RE-PURPOSE INTO A REDNECK SLED

12-20-16-redneck-sleddingTis the season for snow days, family time, and sledding. But what happens when you combine all three together? The Annual Spangler Family Redneck Sledding Adventure. The day where safety really becomes just a suggestion and the day isn’t over until you can’t feel a single part of your body. Quotes like, “I could really get hurt on this thing, but it’s going to be so fun” and “We’re going to die” can be heard on the way down the hill. Followed by nervous laughter from the bystanders at the top.

It seems as though each year we get more and more creative with our sleds and what is tied behind the Polaris RZR with a heavy-duty tie strap. So, as a gift from my family to yours, I present you with five things to be repurposed into a redneck sled for your next adventure down the snowy hill!

 

12-20-16-picture-1The Top of a Poly Tank

As you can see in the picture at the head of this post, our sled of choice is the top of a poly tank. Generally used to haul water to different places, the top of the tank is a perfect sled to tie behind an ATV. Just make sure you abandon ship before hitting the fence at the bottom!12-20-16-picture-2A Deer Sled

Pro Tip- An old baby crib mattress fits perfectly inside the sled. This helps soften the blow of hitting frozen cow pies on your way down the hill.

12-20-16-picture-3Pickup Truck Hood

Really, what is more redneck than using a pickup truck hood for a sled? That’s right. Nothing.12-20-16-picture-4An Old John Boat

I recently watched a video of a group of people literally rowing down a hill of snow. Helmets were included, and I think that would be a safe thing to throw in if you’re going to try out this method. However, the best part about the boat is that you can literally fit the whole family as you dash through the snow!12-20-16-picture-5A Kiddie Pool

It’s not just for summer anymore. Use this puppy all year-long and get more bang for your buck.

Good luck, and remember we are not held responsible for any injuries!

Kaity Spangler
Kaity Spangler
University of Illinois

ALL WE WANT FOR CHRISTMAS: FARM PROFITABILITY

christmas-listWe actually asked for more stable farm profitability last year, but Santa hasn’t brought it yet!  In fact, farming has gotten harder with more farmers losing money and more bankers refusing to loan farmers the cash to put in a crop based on their precarious budget sheets.

WE NEED FARM PROFITABILITY!

If you haven’t already read our Are Farmers Rich post, you’ll want to start there … remembering that this particular article and the economic conditions it presents are two years old.

The bottom line is, farmers are losing money.  Lots of it.  In fact, for many farmers, the more acres you farm the more you’re losing.  Luckily, this was a good year for crops and higher yields started to offset the extremely low prices, but that might not always happen.

Think about it: for every other business that creates something, they name the price for that product that includes how much it costs to produce it.  Competition in the marketplace might force them to lower their product cost to a lower margin, but they can always guarantee they are making at least a bit of profit.

Farmers are price takers, not price makers.  They don’t get to determine how much it cost them to grow a bushel of corn and set their price from there.  They have to just take whatever price the commodity markets dictate.  And right now, that cost is well below the cost of production.

Most of the other things on our list will help us price prices because they are about creating demand or minimizing costs of production.  Trade opportunities and that darn RVP waiver will create more demand in terms of selling more corn overseas or selling more ethanol in the summer months.  Better locks and dams will decrease the cost of getting corn to an international market.  More conservation will prevent regulations that will cost farmers money.

I swear Santa, we aren’t asking for much.  Please … farm profitability for 2017?

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director