A new year begins next week. Did you know farmers are already thinking and planning for the next crop year? However, they’re not the only ones. Farm family members all have a part to play in the ecosystem of their family farm. Read a series that explores the farming year from a different perspective – from the spouse of a farmer.
A Year in the Life of a Farmer:
It’s the day after Christmas and we’re already thinking about the next farming season. Want to know what goes into a farming season in just a few short minutes? Check out virtual video series on farming!
#360Corn is a series of 360-degree videos featuring our own Illinois corn farmer, Justin Durdan. Justin lets us plant corn with him, spray for pests, fertilize those little baby corn plants, and even harvest and sell his crop – all while we can look 360 degrees around the tractor cab, the farm and even the field.
Have you ever stopped to think about the science that goes behind the gasoline that drives your car? If you’re anything like me- gears, engines, and any sort of chemistry don’t make the slightest bit of sense. When I go to the gas station, I swipe my card to get my ‘fuel points’, then always get the gas that is the cheapest. But, I’ve never really sat and thought about what makes up gasoline. How does this make my car run?
We’ll start simple. Corn is fermented to create a gasoline mixture. This is called ethanol. Most gasoline is made of 10% ethanol, and the majority of US cars can run on this amount. But, some cars are now being produced that can run on 100% ethanol fuel, which is better for the environment and uses less energy. Ethanol is a renewable source, unlike regular gasoline.
Ethanol is also known to have high amounts of octane. Octane is the power that makes your car go. The more octane you have, the more power there is for your car to run. Higher blends of ethanol offer more octane for the same amount of money. The Department of Energy states that having higher octane fuels are required for larger engines or ones that use more force.
The oil companies obviously want you to pay the ‘big dollars’ for high-dollar ‘aromatics’, which is a petroleum-based synthetic octane enhancer. They increase the octane, but are extremely harmful to the environment and are very expensive.
But, this is why we have ethanol.
The higher the ethanol content in your gasoline, the higher the amount of octane you have. This increases the power in your car, while also helping the environment. If car manufacturer increases the engine capacity of cars to be able to handle more ethanol content in cars, this can really help our environment. We can stop unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and increase the efficiency levels in our vehicles.
This only goes to show that agriculture really does “drive” everything forward. Ethanol is cheaper than gasoline, so why not try to produce more vehicles that have the capacity to not only help the environment but help us save some money at the pump every week.
Illinois State University
With the last few years of dry springs and summers, our crops are having a hard time getting the water they need. Just like us, they need water to prosper. Winter is coming (as they say in Game of Thrones) and with this comes usually heavy amounts of snowfall. In the Midwest last winter (fall of 2016 and spring 2017) we did not receive as much snow as years past. A lot of people wonder about dry fields does snow help the future crops or hurt them. 10 inches of snow only equals 1 inch of rain, it would take a lot of snow to make an impact. Just like driving to grandmas on Christmas to celebrate, snow can have some inconveniences too. (Insert photo of snowy field)
Snowfall can really dictate how things happen not only in agriculture but in life as well. Causing snow days and late days to work for parents is a huge impact. The snowfall can really help farmers during the spring. Even though snow can cause lots of issues for people getting to work and change of plans, it has helped farmers, especially during dry summers and fall.
Usually after harvest is complete most farmers till their fields to remove reused from other crops. Tilling is when farmers use a piece of equipment to dig into the land. When driving by fields you can tell if the field is tilled if the soil looks loose and more scattered across the top. (Insert photo of tilled field) This is a common thing to do once harvest is over to remove what is left from the crops before. The farmers who do not till their crops are at an advantage in this, the snowfall is better to be absorbed into the soil. This is important when thinking of crops such as winter wheat and how they need rainfall too. This is something that increases the water for the spring that will already be in the soil to help crops.
With snowfall comes tricky times for families. When living on a farm you have trouble with keeping animals warm and food out for them at all times. When you live in an urban area you have trouble with getting your car to work and making it to the store. We all face issues with snow big or small but they do impact agriculture. An industry that is very dependent on weather is easily disrupted by heavy amounts of snowfall and it can change the next season of crops.
Southern Illinois University
If you see Katie she probably has a camera in hand ready to snap that great candid photo of FFA members livestock judging or giving a speech. See, that’s her passion. Telling the story of agriculture and all it entails. Connecting the producers to consumers. Her passion for agriculture started pretty much at birth, coming from an agriculture community and family. Which makes her a great Young Person in Ag.
- What is your ag background?
I am originally from Coulterville, Illinois in Randolph County. There, along with my family, we grew corn, soybeans, wheat, as well as registered Polled Herefords. I was able to show those Herefords at the local, state, and national level.
- What were some of your high school experiences/involvement in ag?
I was a 10 year 4-H member and a 4 year FFA member. I attended Sparta High School. I was an officer for both my chapter and section in FFA. I was fortunate enough to receive both my State and American FFA Degree there. I was also very involved in the Illinois Junior Hereford Association and was the 2013 Illinois Hereford queen and went on to compete for National Queen and I received 2nd runner-up in Miss Congeniality.
- What college did you attend and what is your major?
I first attended Lake Land College where I was on the Livestock Judging team. After LLC I went on to the University of Illinois where I was on the judging team there as well. I majored in Agriculture Science and Leadership Education.
- What was your involvement at the U of I?
The Livestock Judging team kept me pretty busy, but I was also on the Meat Evaluation team. I also was a part of Sigma Alpha as the Ag in the Classroom Chair, Ag Ed Club, and Hoof and Horn Club.
- What were some of your internships?
For the first two years of college, I went back to the family farm and worked because that was where I was needed. In between my junior and senior year, I interned for Gale Cunningham at WYXY Classic 99.1 as a farm broadcasting intern.
- What is your current job?
I am the Communications Specialists for the Illinois FFA Center. I wear a lot of hats with that position. Not only do I work with the Illinois Association FFA, but I also work with FFA Alumni, FFA Foundation, IACCAI, PAS, IAVAT, ILCAE, and ICAE. With that, I have learned to wear many hats. I am responsible for the communications and promotion of all those organizations. That is anything from up keeping their websites, posting for their social media pages, and designing graphics for them. Another part of my job is for the Foundation. The Foundation helps pay for all those entities I mentioned and fund things that we do. I work with businesses in Illinois and surrounding areas to establish relationships that are then used for donations to help fund all the different leadership and CDE events that we do for FFA members.
- What is your dream job?
I can’t pinpoint one dream job that I want to do for the rest of my life. However, my dream is to tell the story of agriculture and the people involved in it. I was very lucky that I was born into this industry and surrounded with people in the agriculture industry. But I want to tell those stories and experiences to other people who maybe aren’t in the industry and connect them to what we are trying to accomplish.
- Do you have any mentors?
Growing up my parents and grandparents had a big impact on my life. They allowed me to have many opportunities like go and showing all over the nation in cattle shows. In college, I had different people who were always there with advice and encouragement. My judging coach at Lake Land, Ryan Orrick really believed in me. A small-town girl from Southern Illinois who had never given reasons before. I really credit Livestock Judging to much of my success. At the U of I, Dr. Korte and Dr. Keating were both two people who really helped me develop my leadership skills.
- Do you remember anything that has really changed in the agriculture industry?
There are two things that instantly come to mind whenever I hear that question. When I was little riding in the tractor with my dad and grandpa, we didn’t have GPS in the combines and tractors. The technology movement has been amazing. I am so excited to see what it will continue to do. More at home in Illinois, I think one thing that changed many farmers was the drought of 2012. It didn’t rain the entire month of July. I remember digging out ponds and our corn that year didn’t make anything. It was really a hard thing to overcome. But it is so good to see the bounce back that our industry can and has made.
- You work for and advocate for FFA members every day, do you have any advice for them to become more involved or those who are thinking of going into the agriculture industry as a career?
I know it is so cliché and obvious, but get out of your comfort zone. You don’t know if you like something until you try. Take advantage of all the opportunities that are presented to you. There were many times I could have said no to an opportunity, but if I had they would not have helped me become the person I am today.
- What do you think sets the agriculture industry apart from other industries?
We as an industry can network and make connections, which will only make our industry better. Meeting those people at conferences and workshops and exchanging ideas is what is going to keep our industry thriving.
Lake Land College
[Originally posted December 16, 2016]
We 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?
[Originally posted December 15, 2016]
This Christmas list item gets complicated, so bear with me.
A RVP waiver – Reid Vapor Pressure waiver – is what Americans really need to use more renewable fuels and capitalize on the domestic, clean-burning fuel we have right at our fingertips.
SANTA, BRING THAT WAIVER FOR E15!
The back story on this request is that when it’s really hot, bad stuff (emissions) evaporate from your fuel (evaporative emissions) and can cause summertime air pollution. The EPA doesn’t want that to happen.
They measure the evaporative emissions using the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) standard. The higher the RVP of a fuel, the worse its emissions are.
The RVP of pure ethanol is 2. The RVP of gasoline can range from 7 to 15.
But when blended, the RVP of an ethanol/gasoline blend can exceed the RVP standard. The RVP of a 10% blend of ethanol into gasoline (the standard fuel today) is about 10.
In 1990, Congress amended the Clean Air Act to allow E10 a waiver – in other words, Congress gave EPA the authority to allow the use of E10 during the summer months. But we’re still waiting on the waiver to allow E15 in the summer months, and the absence of that waiver is what makes E15’s movement into the marketplace so complicated.
By the way, the RVP of E15 is actually lower than E10 and straight gasoline.
So, Santa, I’m not sure if you understood all this, but we could really use that waiver in our hands on Christmas Eve. The world stands to benefit from cleaner air, and consumers will definitely enjoy the extra cents per gallon in their pockets.
[Originally posted December 14, 2016]
IL Corn and the ag industry has introduced some management practices and talked about some concepts that are different for farmers, trying to help them improve the water quality coming from IL farms.
Farmers are anxious to learn, some are trying out a few new practices, others are watching and learning from their neighbors, but …
WE NEED MORE FARMERS TO TRY MORE CONSERVATION PRACTICES.
Farmers are farming because they love it, but also because they need to provide for their own families. So trying something completely new, and risking tens of thousands of dollars or more in the process, is a scary thing.
Research tells us that trying cover crops will cost *this much* and improve soil health *this much* while also decreasing nutrient loss *this much.* But the research put into practice on some farms doesn’t always work out exactly the same. Farmers get nervous to try new things … and that’s understandable!
But Santa, we’ve got to make our water quality better. We’ve got to lose less of the expensive fertilizer we’re putting on our fields. We’ve got to invest in our land and preserve it for future generations. Farmers definitely want to do this! It is their core value and the foundation of their farming business.
So one thing we’d love for Christmas is for more farmers to TRY a new conservation practice on their fields this year. Maybe they just try it on one field, maybe they branch out to several. Maybe they talk with a neighbor and try the same thing she had success with in 2016. We’re making progress, but MORE progress would sure be nice.
Whisper in their ears – would you Santa? We’ll keep providing the outreach, education, and programming in the meantime …
Note: In 2016, IL Corn offered several new educational programs for farmers! These are just a few:
- cover crop coupons – to try cover crops at a reduced cost for the first year
- field days – to see how different management techniques were actually working on farms in Illinois
- interactive maps – to help farmers understand when to apply nitrogen and when not to apply
- Precision Conservation Management – a pilot program that helps farmers understand conservation practices AND the financial implications that correlate with them
- water testing – to understand how much of the expensive fertilizer a farmer was losing from his/her field