What is Really in Your Thanksgiving Dinner?

Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017, most Americans will be sitting down to a giant, delicious, and wholesome meal. They will be spending time with their loved ones and possibly developing a so called “turkey coma”. With all this food being consumed in one day, it makes me wonder if anyone ever thought of where and how Thanksgiving dinner got from the farm to their plates. Growing up on a family farm in northern Iowa I have always valued this time of the year the most because the holiday is focused on time with my family and homemade food. Being from the midwest our Thanksgiving dinners mainly consisted of turkey or ham, homemade bread, sweet corn, green beans, tater tot casserole, mashed and sweet potatoes, gravy, stuffing, grandma’s chili, and pumpkin pie. This has led me to do a little more digging on food’s journey from farm gate to dinner plate. 

In agriculture today producers are increasingly being criticized about how to produce the commodities in their farming operation. With an increasing number of the population being under educated about how, where, and why farmers produce food. In a Thanksgiving dinner that includes meat for example, more and more people are opting for the labels on birds, beef, or swine marked “organic,” “cage free,” or “free range,” not really knowing that most of these food labels are part of the marketing strategy to get them to pay a higher price. The same goes with other produce in the dinner such as the potatoes, beans, bread, sweet corn, and pumpkin filling. Which raises the question, what about conventional modern farming practices and the people that use them? According to croplifeamerica.org, “More than 90 percent of farmers today embrace using the most innovative practices and growing techniques to produce enough food, fuel and fiber for a growing world while at the same time minimizing their environmental footprint.” and to me on a first hand basis that number seems to be increasing. Those farmers work hard too, the amount of work put into food and other resources is not your typical 9-5 job. According to agweb.com , A poll of 1600 famers in a Dec. 4 Farm Journal Pulse, “Around 75% of farmers report spending 10 hours or more a day on farm work.” Those hours add up quickly, that is why it is safe to say that farmers use their time efficiently to ensure that the commodity they are raising is taken care of with the crops and animals wellbeing in mind. 

So back to your delicious dinner, where did it all come from? (For the sake of simplicity the food is going to be sourced 100% from the United States.) 

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Photo Credit: USDA

Well, starting with your turkey it probably came from North Carolina or Minnesota, whom leads the nation in turkey production. Most people would be surprised that the state that grows the most pumpkins for pumpkin pie is Illinois.  Then the ham is more than likely from Iowa or Illinois, the wheat from the bread could have come from any state but most likely North Dakota, Kansas and Montana. With those few examples a person can imagine how much goes into the food we eat. 

With those statistics in mind I hope to sit down at the table this week and be thankful for all the things in agriculture that worked together to create the meal in front of me. I will also be thankful for the time I get to spend with my family because of that food. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Agriculture … is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals & happiness”, and so far this quote has held true to everyone that I know and love. With this it is my hope that consumers and producers will come to this conclusion as well. Then maybe we will agree on the future of agriculture, and everyone will have a happy Thanksgiving. 

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Photo Credit: Colonel Rock III “Rocky”‘s Facebook Page

My name is Dakota Brouwer, I am an Iowa native and an Illinois transplant, growing up in both states. I study Agriculture Business with a Minor in Agronomy at Western Illinois University. I also have a passion for livestock growing up on a cattle operation and I grew up riding horses with my family.  I appreciate your time reading my blog. 

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Farming: Labor vs. Capital

Farming is an occupation that very few in our society have. I was lucky enough to grow up on a grain and livestock farm in Western Illinois where I had the opportunity to help my family and learn the ins and outs of farming. As I grew older and took on more responsibility I began to understand more of the inner workings of the business side of farming. While farming is still a very physical job, the business aspects are becoming more important as prices of inputs and commodities change with world supply and demand. My father and grandfather would always take time and explain what they do to keep the farm running from year to year. One point they always hit on was that you can farm with capital or with labor. This statement may not carry the same weight with everyone but as time moves forward I continually find more and more truth in that statement.

First I want to explain that farming is an occupation in which a farmer buys everything at retail prices and sells at wholesale. Farming also is greatly dictated by weather which is often very unpredictable in Illinois. Between the economic pressure and the pressure from mother nature farmers are in a never-ending battle to produce a crop and sell it at a price that will allow them to continue farming the next year. The only constants in farming is that no two years are the same and that one extreme follows the next. One year a farmer might make a good profit and the next a large loss. With this uncertainty and fluctuation there is often not tons of loose money floating around a farming operation to be spent. Farmers must spend money wisely in order to continue farming. This is where the capital vs. labor aspect comes into play.

Farmers make numerous large decisions each year and many of them surround the financial aspects of farming. For example some of the large decisions are about purchasing equipment or farmland or hiring farm hands.

Capitol can fix a lot of issues that arise on a farm. Using capital to purchase the biggest and newest equipment can cut down breakdowns in the peak spring and fall times as well as speed up field operations. These capitol purchases often decrease the amount of labor and man hours needed to complete tasks. With capitol you can also hire dealerships to make repairs or hire co-ops to perform some field operations. Often these services cost a fair amount but are highly effective at accomplishing the tasks.

Labor, or man power, is also a tool that a farmer can use to solve problems and accomplish tasks on a farm. Every farm is different but they are all the same in having work to be done on a timely basis. Having lots of farm hands can offset the larger or new machines that require high amounts of capital to acquire.  If a farm cannot afford to buy large machines a smaller one can do the same job, it just might take more time. A quote I can remember from my grandfather will attest to this, “A little horse can plow a big field, you just have to keep plowing.”  This still applies to modern farm equipment, a small tractor or combine can cover many acres if you have the man power to run the machine.

When I think about how my family’s farm manages its labor and capital I am proud at the balance we have achieved. My father and grandfather have always worked hard and used their time and labor to farm instead of buying lots of new equipment. The money they have saved by not using high capitol to farm has helped them purchase farmland and expand the family farm over the years. Using labor has its downfalls but we always work hard to maintain our equipment and improve our farm in order to provide for the family. There is no one right way to farm, whether you farm with labor or with capitol we are all farmers who work for a living to produce food for the world and to pass on the tradition to the next generation.

 

 

 

My name is Tyler Wilson, I am a senior at Western Illinois University studying agriculture business. I grew up on a grain and livestock farm near Murrayville, Il and hope to return to the family farm after graduation. Currently I am the president of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity at WIU and serve as the vice president of the WIU Collegiate Farm Bureau.

Are Micronutrients Depleting in Illinois Soils?

Row crop production in Illinois has gained efficiency by growing more with less. As yields have steadily increased due to genetics and agronomics, the search has been on for the next weakest link. Micronutrients like boron, copper, molybdenum, iron, manganese, and zinc, have been proposed to be this next weakest link. Specialty fertilizers introducing a mixture of micronutrients have been offered by many companies and have come with a substantial price. So I believe the next question is, will soils actually be depleted of micronutrients?

With grain prices as low as they currently are, it is clearly important for farmers to be as efficient as possible. Through a discussion with Dr. Joel Gruver, I asked his opinion on certain occasions where micronutrient fertilizer packages may be used and he explained, “We are mining manganese from soils, however, production could be improved with manganese packages at site specific locations.” Soil types and organic matter are a large part of deficiencies. Central Illinois has a vast amount of organic matter, which eliminates most deficiencies of micronutrients in this area. Symptoms of deficiencies still appear within Illinois fields even though soil fertility is very high. The next step in this scenario, is to test soil pH.

Soil pH will be a large player in tying up micronutrients within fertile soils. A soil pH of 6.5 is considered the target. This is the optimum pH for macro and micro nutrients. Acidic pH soils (>6.5) offer availability of most micros and alkaline soils(<6.5) favor most macros. Nutrients are not depleted, but rather unavailable at certain pH conditions. A larger problem surrounding depletion, has to do with Sulfur, a secondary macronutrient.

Pictured is a mound of elemental sulfur with an analysis of 0-0-0-90S
Due to regulations surrounding the burning of low-sulfur coal and other fuels, less sulfur has entered the atmosphere and returned into the soil. Ironically, cleaner fuels have depleted the sulfur content and crops have recently began showing symptoms of deficiencies. Corn identifies shortages in sulfur by delayed maturity, and interveinal yellowing or “leaf striping,” Many scouts have observed early signs of this throughout Illinois. The USDA shows sulfate consumption around 534,000 tons in 1960 to 1,5000,000 tons in 2011. Many farmers are making the move toward sulfates to maintain soil fertility and yields. For additional information, a trustworthy source can be found at http://www.kingcorn.org/news/timeless/SulfurDeficiency.pdf.

Hayden Swanson, Ag Business major at Western Illinois University from Galva, Illinois. Member of Black Hawk East soil judging team from 2015-2016 with interest in pursuing a career surrounding soil science.

Preach What You Practice: The Importance of Being Agriculturally Literate

So what if I told you that getting a degree and accepting a full time position wasn’t enough? Or maybe that you needed to do a little bit more than own and operate a farm, because that’s so easy, right?

Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh, but hear me out.

Growing up, agriculture was a large part of my life. I was raised by a farmer, it was almost promised that at least one of my friends parent’s were connected to the industry,  and I went to a high school where 90% of the enrollment were members of the FFA. I have always thought of farmers as heroes, and assumed that everyone else did too.

Then I came to college. During my three years here, I have found myself struggling at understanding how unconnected some people are to agriculture. (I mean c’mon people, this town is surrounded by thousands of acres of corn and soybeans.) But as time continued, I realized that some of these people don’t know that the fields they pass are filled with crops that people build a lifestyle off of, and that those crops are then turned into the food you eat, the clothes you wear, or multiple different products that you use on a daily basis. They have never actually seen a cow, hog, or sheep. They have only seen pictures of them posted on social media accounts. And not only pictures, but pictures that misrepresent the industry that employs 17% of the nation’s population. And because of this and numerous other factors, the agriculture industry has found themselves as hot topics of controversial debates in environmental, nutritional, and welfare issues.

This May, I will be able to say that I have successfully completed a Bachelors of Science in Agriculture, but it shouldn’t stop there. Because even though it’s cool to say that I have learned how to mock design a plant breeding program, written a 10 page paper on the effects of White Mold, and preg checked a heifer carrying its calf,  that’s not going to make someone feel better about the large airplane flying over their house, spraying chemicals on the cornfield next to them, or someone worried about the presence of antibiotics in their meat. It does, however, make it easier to have these conversations, because you have more education to back you up. But as stated by Dr. Gruver, an agronomy professor who finds importance in gaining agriculture literacy, “education in an academic setting is valuable but is a very small part of one’s education (even for academics like myself who spent ~ 20 years in school!)”.

In order to educate the uneducated, and to be able to hold professional conversations with the people who are totally against us, I think there are a few things that those inside of the industry can do to help themselves become more agriculturally literate. Dr. Gruver also mentions “the foundation of agriculture literacy is curiosity… its not so much how much you know about agriculture at any one time but rather how you respond when you see an agriculture related headline, hear someone talking about agriculture, observe an unfamiliar farm implement or practice when driving down the road, notice an agriculture related post on-line, or look at a new item in the grocery store”.

Always stay in the loop

Do your best at keeping up to date with what’s going on in the industry: new technology, new innovations, current issues, etc. Read new blogs, watch more Ted talks, and take advantage of free conferences. This will not only bring more information into the type of farming you practice, but also open your mind to new possibilities and show you the new things that they may have to offer. Try to get information from both private and public sectors of the industry; this will give you the advantage of weighing your options before you commit to something new. Also find out information on what people outside of the industry are thinking. For example, a large number of society believes that there are antibiotics in our meat. However, they think this because they are not made aware of withdrawal periods. My point being, if you find out why they think the way they do, it will help you approach the situation and conversation in a much more positive manner. If you conduct the conversation using factual details, you will probably get more accomplished than just simply explaining that you farm for a living,and don’t agree with their comments.

Remain open minded

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Herndon Harvest 2016

 I’ll be the first one to admit, I am pretty stuck in my ways. I would rather not be susceptible to change if I didn’t have to be. (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, am I right??) However, you’ll find that the agriculture industry now-a-days is constantly trying new things, and the practices that you’ve watched your father do, who has watched his father do, might actually be outdated. These new things could range anywhere from new seed innovations to more regulations or  precision technology to environmental practices. Because of this, agriculturalists are forced to keep an open mind to the possibilities. I challenge you to do this with outsider beliefs too. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who was raised inner city,  who doesn’t understand the process of their food getting to the grocery store shelves. From there, understand that these people believe the first thing they hear or see from the media, simply because they haven’t ever been given any other information to doubt it. With that being said, if you ever come in contact with someone like this, use that as an opportunity to change their minds! (College kids, i’m talking to you!)

Do something new 

Always try something different while in the industry. If you are focused on the agronomy side of things, try reading more articles on animal science. If you are more involved in the production of things, try to understand more of the research that goes into it. This will further your knowledge and help you understand a wider range of progressing ideas happening in the industry. This will make it apparent that you are involved in the industry, gaining respect from outsiders. Dr Gruver stated “in my opinion, agriculture literacy is NOT “familiarity with a basic set of agriculture concepts” but rather is a process of striving to better understand agriculture every day”. In order to do this, we have to step outside of our comfort zone and do something we’ve never done before.

Communicate and advocate 

Always talk about the new information you are learning. Communicate it to your agriculture friends and communicate it to your non-agriculture friends. Have conversations with multiple farmers and get their input on the topic. Always advocate the positive things happening in our industry. Don’t be afraid to address false information with factual data to back you up. Talk about your personal experiences in the agriculture industry, and how it has undoubtedly affected you positively. Invite them to agriculture places or events. Give them tours of your farm, so they can see exactly how majority of farms are operated. Use your social media outlets immensely to give accurate information to a large number of people. PETA, HSUS, and Food Babe, 3 top anti-agriculture groups, all use social media intensely as a foyer in their marketing campaigns. According to America Press Institute, 51% of Americans receive their daily news from a social media account. Do you see the problem?

In order to further educate people outside of the agricultural industry, we have to be permit the further education of our own experiences and communication tactics. With these things, I hope that maybe just a few more people are capable of successfully sharing how agriculture has shaped their life, just as it has mine.

About the Author

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Hello beautiful people! My name is Jessica Herndon and I am a senior at Western Illinois University, majoring in Ag Science and double minoring in agronomy and animal science. I have an undeniable passion for advocating agriculture, which is one reason why I serve as WIU’s Ag Vocator Team chancellor. I am an opportunist, a lover of ice cream, a ted talk enthusiast, and my dad’s best friend.

Younger Generation Drifting Away From Agriculture Careers

Only 3 percent of college graduates surveyed and 9 percent of millennials said they had thought about an Ag career or would consider it, according to a survey by Land’O’Lakes Inc. This is a HUGE problem to me. I consider this a problem because the generation of farmers is getting older and are going to need someone to take over for them shortly.

The most popular areas of study according to this survey were; health care, technology and education.

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The problem of people drifting away from agriculture I believe has to do with them not knowing about agriculture. To work in an agriculture field you don’t have to be a farmer or a rancher. You can be an Agriculture Engineer, Agriculture Food Scientist, or even an Aquatic Ecologist. The possibilities in agriculture careers are endless, just if there was an easy way to get people to see that.

The survey by Land’O’Lakes also showed that 54 percent of people that responded believed that it was difficult for a college graduate to find a job in agriculture, and 76 percent either did not think or weren’t sure that Ag careers pay well. When in all truth,  the U.S. Department of Agriculture states that over 20,000 jobs go unfilled each year in the United States alone.

I found an article titled, “Why is There Lack of Interest in Agriculture?”, and what I read astonished me. Article below.

{   Why is there a lack of interest in agriculture?

  • Long hours
  • Low pay
  • High barriers to entry
  • Hard, dirty, sweaty labor
  • Finicky markets
  • Fickle weather
  • High and sometimes wildly variable cost of production
  • Thin margins
  • Agricultural policy that encourages less farmers

It’s not just a lack of interest, but also a lack of realistic opportunity in many places. But think about this: for a lot of history, long, dirty, sweaty and ill-rewarded hours were the best option for most people to ensure they had enough to eat. Today, in many parts of the world, you can get a consistent check working regular hours in a climate controlled environment, where even a shitty job will often pay more than farming.

Given that, I find it surprising how much interest there is in agriculture.  }

This article is an example of someone who thinks of Agriculture as only farming. When Agriculture is much more than just farming. It is technology, sales, soil science, animal science, machinery, and much more. This article itself is the main reason I believe in teaching agriculture to the younger generations.

We each need to do our part to ensure that the agriculture field doesn’t suffer in the future. Whether your part is to teach the next generation about agriculture, or being a part of the next generation of farmers, it is up to us to save the future of agriculture.

BIO:

My name is Jennifer Reedy, Senior at WIU, Majoring in Agriculture Business minoring in Marketing. I grew up about 5 miles north of WIU, in the country raised on a small livestock farm.  jen79.jpg

 

Dicamba Damage Drifting Across the Country

Xtend Soybeans

Farmers were eager this spring to get out and get their seed in the ground as soon as possible just as they always have. This spring was a little different though for those who chose to add a little fire power to their arsenal and plant the “Roundup Ready 2 Xtend” Soybean. Similar to every growing season, there always seems to be one big technological advance that has growers chomping at the bit to try out and capitalize on. This year it was the Xtend soybean’s turn to take center stage and prove why it was this years “have to have” technology on the market.

With lower than ideal grain prices, greater herbicide weed tolerance, and limited management options, growers are looking for the easiest and most efficient seed to manage. Xtend soybeans provide a breath of fresh air for farmers who have been struggling with glyphosate and other herbicide resistant weeds. The curveball Xtend soybeans throw into the mix are their resistance to Dicamba. With weeds such as waterhemp, marestail, and so many others becoming harder to kill each year, any chance a farmer can challenge it with a new product seems like a smart management decision. The growers that didn’t jump on the band wagon felt the unsuspecting wrath of the Dicamba being sprayed all around them.

Dicamba Damage

Dicamba has been approved and applied on corn acres for years, and damage was minimal when off-target application or drift damage was observed. This past summer the side effects weren’t able to slip by as they had in years past because of the thousands of acres that looked like the picture above. Dicamba is an extremely volatile product and had been recorded to pick up and move nearly 11 miles after a week of application. For the grower who did not plant Dicamba resistant soybeans, you can imagine the frustration after observing the damage to your field. For the farmers who went all in on year one of this new soybean technology, it slightly paid off and didn’t have hardly any repercussions. Those who waited to go all in or even try these soybeans were left with an incurable headache on those acres damaged.

Companies like BASF and Monsanto were quick to respond on social media and defend the product. Farmers were outraged at the damage they observed but there was still an unanswerable question left on the table, “Would the Dicamba damage actually cause yield loss?” Ultimately this is what farmers were after and wanted compensated for what had been done. The only problem was that there was no way to tell or even really measure how much damage had been caused to the end product.

Under Review

You can type in “Dicamba Damage” on an internet search engine and find numerous websites that will help you file a lawsuit for the damage inflicted upon your crop. The problem underlying this whole situation is that there is no way to measure the actual yield loss based on only observing the cupping and wrinkling of new growth. After harvest, a lot of research will be put forth to prove the guilt/innocence of the companies that promoted and created this product. For fields with severe damage but show little to no yield loss come harvest time will have a hard time pointing fingers and being compensated for the fact that their fields didn’t look as green as usual.

It will be interesting to see how farmers to decide to buy seed next year if Dicamba does not get banned. Some farmers will plant Xtend soybeans but not necessarily spray Dicamba, more so they will use it as a preventative measure from drift and off-target application from neighboring farmers. It is also possible though that farmers will completely quit using Xtend beans because of the headache it caused all going season. Listening to neighbors complain about how you damaged their crop isn’t exactly the most ideal way to spend the growing season. Only time will tell when those planters hit the ground and do it all over again.

About the Author

300.4650.008Hello everyone! My name is Carson Isley. I am a senior here at Western Illinois University majoring in agricultural business with a minor in agronomy. I have been a hired hand for about 5 years now and just concluded a sales internship with Burrus Seed this past summer. During this internship I had to talk to farmers daily and many of them expressed their concern with Dicamba and the damage they saw. I love getting to help solve problems with growers and thought this was a great topic to talk about.

Being a Woman in Agriculture.

Being a woman in agriculture is hard.

I have been involved in the agriculture industry my whole life and over the years I’ve noticed an increase in women being involved but it still doesn’t mean that we get treated the same as men or looked upon the same. While in my working career I have detasseled for eight years and have had two internships for different agriculture companies. While spending those many summers working alongside the opposite sex it became blatantly obvious that women do not get the same respect as men.

I would consider myself a strong and a very hard worker (I wouldn’t say the same for my school work though) and I pride myself because of it. Most of the time I am the person that works the hardest out of everyone else and I am usually the first person to work and the last one to leave. I have even been complimented for working so hard. Even though when I work that hard to prove that a woman can work in the same industry as a man I still don’t get treated like “one of the guys”.  I remember one time during one of my internships we were loading seed into a planter and the seed that we were using was special and very expensive because that seed was going to eventually produce the seed that farmers use, and I was walking over to pick up a bag from the truck and my supervisor stopped me and told me to let the guys do it because the seed was too expensive and he didn’t want me to drop it. Of course, I did what I was told but in my head, all I could think of was that I have been filling planter bins since I was 10. I knew how heavy the bags were and I knew how to do it and the only reason why he told me to stop was because I was a female and he thought that because of that I was unable to do the same work or have the same quality of work that they were doing. By the end of the summer, I got to prove to my supervisor how hard of a worker I was by showing him that I was responsible and could do the same kind of work that the other people were doing, and he eventually started treating me like “one of the guys.” There have been other instances like that that has happened to me throughout the years but I will never forget that one.

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Photo from: Evelyn Powers’ Instagram

There are many strong and powerful women within the agriculture industry (24,265 in Illinois, according to the USDA) right now that are making a difference, but I hope that one day we won’t be looked down upon like we have been for so many years. When females and males are treated equally and given equal opportunity in the agriculture industry but currently that is not the case. I know many girls who I go to WIU with that are more talented and smarter than most of the guys and it hurts my heart to think that they will have to work twice as hard to get just as far as them, I know that that is how it has been for me. So the thought that I want to leave with you is why in the world that we live in today do women within agriculture still get less respect or offered fewer opportunities than men?

 

14141536_10201921524555121_7476589775825289912_nI am Evelyn Powers. I am a senior at Western Illinois University. In May I will be graduating with an Agriculture Science Degree with a minor in Ag Economics and Plant Breeding. I have worked 10 summers doing jobs related to seed production and after I graduate that is what I like to continue doing.

Thank you for reading!

Photo taken by Sawyer Steidler .