Farming Specialty Crops

In the modern world farming is a practice that fewer and fewer people are involved with every year. Growing up in central Illinois I grew up in a farming community where my family has farmed for generations. Like my grandparents and great grandparents had done my family had a row crop operation along with a small herd of cattle but what made my parents farm so different from the way the rest of our family farmed was that they started producing horticultural crops. While growing specialty crops gave my family and I many new opportunities it also brought up many new challenges for us along the way.

Growing crops like strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries just to name a few aren’t very common crops in central Illinois it becomes a challenge when issues arrive. Unlike issues with corn and soybeans you can’t just call your seed dealer of local agronomist to ask for advice when you are facing problems. Reading spray guides and researching online for handling certain weed and disease breakouts in fruit production is only so helpful so many problems that are faced have to be done through trial and error. what also makes our business different from row crop production is living in Illinois there isn’t crop insurance that you can purchase for specialty crops in case of failure which adds more risk to this business.

With many struggles that we have faced farming this way we have been fortunate to have found success as well. Twenty two years ago my parents started this business with very little experience or knowledge about specialty crops to becoming one of the most successful specialty crop businesses in the area. my father has given several presentations at many state and regional shows for horticulture production for people who are wanting to get into this kind of business for themselves.

The time i have spent at Western Illinois University had not only helped me learn more about agriculture and given me many opportunities to learn and grow in the field but has given me a greater appreciation for the business my family has.

My name is Logan Conrady i am from Hettick Illinois and a senior at Western Illinois University pursuing a degree in Ag Science with a minor in agronomy. strawberries


High Fructose Corn Syrup: Is It Really that Bad?


Even though High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has gotten a lot of bad press and there are convincing arguments as to why consuming a lot of this product isn’t good for you, there are many reasons why many products on the market today still use it. Take a moment or two and try to think about some of the sweetened products found in your home. Chances are, almost all the products you thought of are likely to contain HFCS. But is that really such a bad thing?

sugar pic
Photo credit: Kayla Itsines

Cake, bread, candy, soda, brownies, muffins, ice cream, and the list goes on.

Almost everyone eats some of these foods. Now imagine if these foods were not sweet. You would probably stop eating mid-bite if this were the case. Americans eat a lot of sweetened food, and have developed a taste for it more than any other industrialized nation. Food producers know this and want to market the best products they can.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is simply a change of a sugar base from a glucose to a fructose. That means it is just a type of sugar with a few different characteristics.  So why use HFCS instead of sugar?

Some benefits of HFCS vs sugar:

  • Provides texture and enhance “mouth-feel” of many foods
  • Helps baked foods in the browning process
  • Makes high fiber products moist to taste better
  • “Bulks up” ice cream, baked goods, preserves and jams, giving them more volume
  • Makes salad dressings, sauces and condiments smoother tasting by cutting the harsh acidity of vinegar
  • Helps to preserve and protects the flavor, aroma and color of fruit used in jellies, jams and preserves
  • Stabilizes products with temperature fluctuations

When you compare different types of sweeteners, there aren’t that many differences, except in the benefits and how they are produced. Currently the price for HFCS is $.3363 per pound vs sugar at $.2690.

The following chart and facts list was found on:

Here’s a comparison of some of the most common types of sweeteners you find on nutrition labels:

comparison table

There are many misconceptions about HFCS, so here are a few quick facts:

  • The American Medical Association stated in June 2008 that “…high fructose syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners…”
  • In 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formally listed high fructose corn syrup as safe for use in food and reaffirmed that decision in 1996.
  • High fructose corn syrup is not sweeter than sugar; and high fructose corn syrup, sugar and honey all contain the same number of calories (four calories per gram).
  • Many confuse pure “fructose” with “high fructose corn syrup.” Recent studies that have examined pure fructose have been inappropriately applied to high fructose corn syrup and have caused significant consumer confusion. High fructose corn syrup never contains fructose alone, but always in combination with a roughly equivalent amount of a second sugar (glucose).

As you can see, HFCS, has not been condemned or found harmful by the FDA or the AMA, and therefore isn’t “the devil”, as many consumers now make it out to be. Unless more scientific data comes in to confirm arguments against HFCS, people shouldn’t be against  consuming this product.

Alex Vanwatermeulen, Ag Science major at Western Illinois University, from Cambridge, Illinois. Farm hand of a 1,200 acre corn and soybean operation.


$9.00 for a Bag of Oranges?!

No matter where you live if a fire or hurricane hits an area with a lot of agriculture it will make an impact on your life. Natural disasters have been occurring a lot more recently. For the blog I managed to get ahold of Johnny Georges who was on the tv show Shark Tank and a successful entrepreneur of the Tree T Pee. Hurricane Irma hit southern Florida months ago, but the impact is still affecting a lot of Florida and the rest of the country. “Hurricane Irma damaged more than 30% of the agricultural ground in southern Florida” (Georges). Many crops were affected by this hurricane, 50%-60% of the oranges and grape fruits, a variety of vegetables, also 25% of the country’s sugarcane. If the trees weren’t blown over and split most of their crop was lying on the ground in standing water. The fruits trees will most likely die due to being in standing water as they can only last up to three days in standing water. 

Along with the fruits and vegetables being damaged, many greenhouses were also damaged. If the plants made it through the storm some didn’t last long after the hurricane cleared up. Without power, growers weren’t able to water the plants unless they transported water in the greenhouses. Another problem a lot of people don’t realize is hurricane Irma caused the spread of a deadly bacterial disease in orange trees known as Citrus Greening Disease.

Photo Credit: CRDF

The price of oranges and orange juice will stay high for a while. This is because orange trees take four years to produce a crop. Not only did hurricane Irma make a substantual impact on orange trees but also, had a large impact on greenhouse structures. With this kind of damage it will take months if not years for Florida to get back to its highest production level. In fact Florida could possibly never get back to the production stage it held before hurricane Irma. Prices are expected to rise by 30% as they already are rising in the southern states. After going to the local grocery store and checking on the price of a bag of oranges where they now cost $6.99 with a 30% increase that bag of oranges will eventually be around $9.09.


300.4650.006My name is Riley Mitsdarffer. I was raised in Monticello, IL on a Angus cattle farm. Currently I attend Western Illinois University majoring in agriculture with an emphasis in business. In my free time I enjoy tractor pulling and working on my tractor that my brother and I built.



I Wasn’t Raised On A Farm But. . .

I wasn’t raised on a farm, but that hasn’t stopped me from achieving knowledge in the agriculture industry.

You see, I was raised in Monmouth, IL. A city that is made up of approximately 10,000 people. Although it’s surrounded by corn and soybean fields, I was completely oblivious to agriculture when I was growing up. Looking back at how ignorant I was to the agriculture industry as a whole truly opened my eyes.

My first experience with this great industry, was when I was introduced to the world of showing livestock. Although I had a late start in the game, beginning at age 14, it never hindered my experiences or successes. I quickly caught on to feed rations, animal handling, show etiquette, and the whole nine yards. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I was challenged to compete in showmanship. For most, this wasn’t scary. They’ve been showing their whole life, why would this be a hard task? Just like anything else, I dove in head first and told myself ‘the worst thing that could happen is I get last .. right?

WRONG! Within 5 minutes in the show ring, the judge began asking us questions. I’m sure you can picture the look on my face.. Priceless. After waiting the longest 3 minutes of my life, the judge finally approached me. He asked a simple question, but I always seem to over think things and make them worse than they actually are. I paused for a minute and began to digest the question, “if you had to choose one issue the Boer Goat industry is facing, what would it be?” A million things came to mind, but only one thing came out of my mouth. “Communication.” It hit me in that moment that the biggest challenge the livestock industry is facing is communication. Not just in the goat industry, not just cattle or swine. As a whole, communication is lacking and it could be the solution  to so much.

Once I had ‘mastered’ the show ring, I moved on to other challenges. The summer was coming to a close and my Sophomore year of high school was about to start. We were on our way home from a livestock show when Chris and Linda (my mentors in the livestock industry) talked to me about joining FFA. I wasn’t quite sure what FFA entailed or where I would fit in.. but Linda isn’t the type to take “no” as an answer. Before I knew it, I was shaking the hand of the agriculture educator and FFA advisor of Monmouth-Roseville’s chapter. I introduced myself to Mr. Kilburn, and explained that I had a new found passion in agriculture and I loved to talk (surprise, right?). He told me he’d find a place for me and he couldn’t wait to see me in class. Little did I know that hand shake would open so many doors for me.

Within the first few weeks of class, we had learned about record books. I was starting to question what in the heck Chris and Linda signed me up for. Just when I was questioning if I truly belonged, I signed up for my first public speaking contest. Naturally, I chose the topic of Animal Welfare. This was the largest misconception I knew of, and I was so passionate about it I knew I wouldn’t have any issues talking their ears off. I left that contest feeling empowered and confident, and all I knew was I wouldn’t find these opportunities anywhere else. I began enrolling in every contest our chapter participated in. Public speaking, parliamentary procedure, livestock judging etc. I was taking in every little bit of knowledge, and the more I learned the more I realized this industry wasn’t as corrupt or portrayed as everybody makes it out to be.

Hard work, knowledge, and motivation paid off and I eventually received my State FFA Degree and my American FFA Degree.



Just as everything else had successfully fallen into place, I decided to choose Western Illinois University. Being as I found a strong passion for agriculture, and I knew the importance of communicating knowledge, I felt it was only right to study Agriculture Education. Most find it rather ironic and unique that somebody without an agriculture background would be intrigued to teach agriculture someday. However, I know it was what I was born to do and I wouldn’t be guided on this journey it I wasn’t meant for it.

I knew the consumer side, and I now came to educate myself on the production side of things. You would be amazed how much easier it is for me to communicate to consumers and those who have a lack of knowledge in agriculture. I came from that side of the fence, and I understand their concerns. I know I am apart of a large solution to the misconceptions, and Western has helped me notice that.

Within my studies, I have learned how to communicate with all sorts of consumers. I now know that knowledge and experience is key, and whether we have either of those or not, we are all still human at the end of the day. We all have different beliefs, passions, and motivation. If we didn’t, the world would be bland and we’d never learn anything new or gain new opportunities. The agriculture industry is very diverse, which makes sense, because the world is composed of agriculture wether you like to admit it or not.

Farmers are open to communicating if you’re open to listen. More often than not, the knowledge and answers you’ve been pondering have been in front of you the whole time. It’s all up to you to gain the correct knowledge, and you would be amazed where it will take you. The agriculture industry is filled with endless possibilities, and I am living proof of that. You don’t have to be raised on a farm to understand the practices and measures being taken every day by farmers and livestock caretakers. At the end of the day, we all want to live in a safe and efficient environment.

Just don’t be afraid to communicate. You never know what you’ll learn.




My name is Morgan Lemley and I am a junior at Western Illinois University from Monmouth, IL. I am studying Agriculture Education, and I look forward to inspiring young minds and educating them on the field of agriculture. I hope you enjoyed my blog!

Livestock Production: Earning the Trust of the American Consumer



Photo From: Wyatt’s Facebook… Taken by: Mallory Espencheid

Being an advocate for agriculture is much more than just living on a farm or going to school to major in Ag. related studies.  It requires you to be knowledgeable and plugged in with what is happening day to day within the agriculture industry.  In an era where our industry is constantly under watch and scrutiny from outsiders within the American economy, now has never been a more important time to educate not only ourselves but also others while informing them that what we do is for the greater good.  It’s easy to ignore them or argue back when under criticism and false accusations but that’s not the answer to our problems.  Whenever I was trying to decide on a topic for my first blog I was extremely nervous.  Every thought that ran through my mind told me to just pick an easy topic to ramble on about and be done with it.  However, I didn’t want this to be just another blog about showing livestock or growing up on a farm.  I wanted to be able to really relate to what I was writing about and at the same time give my readers some insight into what happens within the agriculture industry and why it is crucial to our economies success.The livestock industry as a whole has played a very important part in shaping me into the man that I am today.  Since the day I first started walking, I was always in the barn around our pigs at home or at a pig show watching my friends and family battle it out in the show ring.  My whole life has been centered around livestock and I never realized until I got older that some of my friends had absolutely no clue why we invested so much time and money in it.  To them all pigs were pink, cows were black and white, tractors were green, and all barns were red.  That’s whenever I started to realize that society has given people not involved within the agriculture industry this general utopian image of our daily lives as if it was a segment from Charlotte’s Web or something.  Not to diss Charlotte’s Web, because obviously that is one of the greatest movies of all time, but I was astonished and slightly angry with the fact that none of us had ever done more to educate people and our younger generations on the day to day life of a row crop farmer, or the ins and outs of a livestock production facility, whether it was the good or the bad. For us it has never been a problem because it’s all we have ever known, but for others looking from the outside it may seem confusing or odd and often times even cruel with how we house and treat our animals.  It was never hard explaining why we walked them around our yard or why we constantly worked on skin and hair conditioning.  The hard part was trying to explain why confinement was a good thing, or why we treated them with antibiotics whenever they were sick or why we castrated them as babies.  These things can often be a hard pill for someone to swallow and it is why our industry is constantly under fire because we have struggled to educate on all aspects of raising livestock.

Photo From: Wyatt’s Facebook

Now the show sector has always been the more people friendly and approachable side of the industry and rightfully so.  People go to the fair and are able to pet the animals and watch them show so there’s a lot of interaction and all is good.  However, over the years we have started to run into some problems with drug testing and it’s not uncommon to see one or even several different animals get kicked out because they failed the drug test. This may not seem like a big deal to those within the show sector, but outsiders see this and all it does is make them lose faith in livestock production and question the safety of the product they are consuming.  In turn, U.S. beef consumption has dropped fifteen percent while pork consumption has fell about four percent over the past decade.  With the growing health concerns about red meat intake and the convenient availability of chicken products, the beef and pork industries are starting to face some serious problems as prices are falling and markets are becoming over crowded.

We have backed ourselves into a corner due to a lack of advocating and have failed to teach the everyday consumer that anything we administer has withdrawal dates, and any animal that fails a test or has any drug residue left within the carcass will not enter the consumer food chain.  Information like this may seem logical to those within the industry but how can you expect the average consumer to not be worried about what they are feeding their families whenever they are unaware of all the precautions we take to ensure their safety.  This is why it’s so important for farmers and even larger production companies to continue to educate the general population.  We need to earn back the consumers trust and the best way to do that is by showing them that we do care about their well-being.  Reach out within your community, host farm visits for the youth so they can see what we do or simply just talk to people about the importance of agriculture and how it will always play a vital role in society.  These topics of discussion are not hard to bring up, and whether you notice it or not, you deal with scenarios like this everyday.  We need to continue to find ways to relate to those people because it’s one thing to just throw facts in society’s face and expect them to believe you, but the real message is sent by showing them that we too are feeding and providing for our families with the same product that they are consuming.  Once you earn their trust and they start to see that you have put their safety right next to the safety of your own family, that’s when progress is made.  Farmers and livestock producers have invested their whole life in providing for the world.  From the early mornings to the late nights, through all the blood, sweat, and tears they have continued to put their nose to the ground and work to make a difference, so now it’s our turn to step up and inform consumers that what we do is for them and agriculture is here to stay.

Photo From: Wyatt’s Facebook

Hello readers! My name is Wyatt Garriott and I am a senior at Western Illinois University.  I will be graduating in December with a major in Agricultural Business and a minor in Animal Science.  I grew up in Sullivan, IL. and before coming to WIU I went to Lakeland Community College where I also studied Ag. Business and was a member of the livestock judging team.  I grew up on a family farm where we raised and showed livestock competitively.  Agriculture has always been a very important aspect of my life and it has instilled qualities in me that I hope one day to be able to pass on to my children and the younger generations.  It’s my passion in life, it’s what I love to do, and hopefully this blog represents that! Thanks!

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, “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 , 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.) 

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. 

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. 

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.