Impact of USDA on School Lunches

Have you ever thought about the times a child might eat a meal away from their family? How many of those times could be at school? This can add up to hundreds of meals during the school year. Should this be a cause for any concern? Is the federal government to involved? Are local districts not involved enough? Should parents have more accountability?

Government’s role in school lunches

The federal government has been involved for a long time in school lunches. If it’s setting minimum nutritional requirements or providing subsidies to schools so that each child can be fed regardless of ability to pay. These are all good things that can likely be best regulated from the federal government level.  Over the years there has been an attempts from the federal government to improve the quality of school lunches. It could be the quantity of food or the quality of the lunch or how these impact the student health and their ability to make healthy choices later in life.

The Healthy,  Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

In 2010 the federal government increased their reach into the local school lunch programs. Many of the changes were based on the following statistics: over 31 million children receive school lunches, 17 million children live in households with food insecurity issues, and one in three children in America are not considered overweight or obese.

With the new Act of 2010 came funding, revised standards, improved access, and greater governance.  With the revision of standards one of the initiatives was to create more farm to school networks and create school gardens to provide that more local food was being used in the school lunch setting.  All of this came with 4.5 billion dollars of additional funding.


It’s now 2017 and the impact of the 2010 Act has taken most local school districts out of the school lunch business all together. Sure, they still have cafeterias full of kids eating lunch but the actual business of planning, preparing, and serving school lunches has been outsourced to a management company with it’s headquarters states away from our local districts. This has been caused in large part by increased cost of implementing the 2010 Act.  School lunch programs are now driven by economies of scale making it very difficult for a single district to act independently.

The most important fact for us to remember is that parents have the ultimate choice and responsibility to their children. We need to be educated and make the most informed decisions we can. There is always the option to send your child with his lunch in his favorite Star Wars lunch box.

first day
Courtesy of Rebecca Schelkopf


My name is Sean Schelkopf and I live in Morton, IL with my beautiful wife Rebecca and 3 children, Tess, Ryan, and Grant.  And yes, everyone in this group get to eat school lunch every once and a while.



The Importance in Agricultural Field Tile

When people think about agriculture the first few things that will pop into their head will be cows, pigs, corn, and tractors. When a farmer thinks about agriculture they might think of things like yields, weight averages, GMO’s and what they can do to better their operation at the end of the day. When looking at the commercial farming side of agriculture and dealing with yields, erosion problems and weather one thing pops into my head and it is tile.
Tiling systems are the combination of private and public draining systems allowing the landscape of the Midwest to become one of the most fertile and nutrient controlling farmlands in the world during the crops growing season. Most people do not realize that Illinois use to be an extremely wet and swampy area. The one way that the issue was fixed was by using drainage practices. Millions and millions of feet of tile have been placed throughout the state allowing the people of Illinois to travel in vehicles and farm without getting stuck in mud everyday. “I think the naysayers need to re-evaluate their politically correct thoughts about tile today. Don’t complain about farmers tiling and keeping good outlets and then forget your own residence is reliant on good drainage around the house.”(Jeff Van Loon)

“Jeff is the District Manager for the Medina SWCD since 2006. Before that he was an area representative with the ODNR Division of Soil and Water Conservation through out Northeast Ohio for most of his career. He worked closely with District Boards of Supervisors and staffs on programs and capacity building.”

Today the majority of field tile use is for creating higher yields in a farmer’s field crop. This is important when we look at issues like world hunger because it allows a farmer to have some hope the they will produce a higher yield than what they would have if they were just working in wet soils. The tile also helps a farmer when they are working and harvesting the crops. The tile helps drain the soils making it easier to harvest when planned and it helps with soil compaction.
When looking at the overall plant health of a field that has a proper drainage system hooked up there tends to be a better plant stand with fewer diseases. The plant stand can depend usually on the stress that the plant encounters in its growth periods. With good drainage the plants roots and base will not be submerged under water for a long period of time which will allow the plant to breathe easier and get the right amount of water it needs. Farmers see a lower increase of diseased plants in the field when drainage systems are installed. Most diseases thrive near or close by saturated areas.
Tile in a field is more than just a quick way to get water off of the property, it can be a long-term investment as well. Tiling a field can increase the field’s overall value and quality. But most importantly a proper drainage system can help the field breathe and it will increase the crop’s ability to produce at an optimal level.

Matthew McCoy. Lewistown, IL. Senior at Western Illinois University.

How Cover Crops Double as a Good Farming and Wildlife Practice.

Cover crops are a newer method of farming that prolongs the health and productivity of soil with strategic planting. For farmers this sounds like a great idea when it’s available for implementation, but today we are exploring another demographic that thoroughly enjoy cover crops. Any guesses? How about wildlife. From deer enjoying the variety of eating options that are rich in essential nutrients to smaller rodents utilizing the additional cover, these farming method may have more of a wildlife impact than most would consider.

Where and When Should I Plant a Cover Crop?

Whether you are planting in a field or in your food plot there is a certain planting time for your cover crop. They can be planted following your harvest of your cash crops like corn or soybeans. Before September 15 will provide the best results for these crops. The earlier you choose the cover crops for your area the better, it gives you more time for research as well as insures you get the right variety. It is essential that you take time to learn about the cover crops you are using, if you manage your cover crops poorly you most likely will end up with a poor result.

Why to Consider Planting Cover Crops from a farming perspective?

As mentioned before cover crops help to contain weeds, build up your soils and reduce erosion. But they are also used in a different facet like wildlife conservation. Brassicas and tuber plants can also help with breaking hardpan. A hardpan is a layer of compaction that is hard for roots to grow through, but these cover crops can assist in breaking the hardpan apart. This will make it easier from future plant to grow. Cover crops are often a key role for organic farmers to keep their soil stable, within the strict organic guidelines.

Courtesy of Jacob Hofer

Examples of Cover Crops.

Depending on the soil type and directed mission, there can be many options for cover crops that also double as a wildlife drawing sanctuary. For instance; rye, wheat, barley and oats are commonly used according to Sare Org. All of those grass cover crops are high carbohydrates giving nutrients and energy for animals preparing for winter.  

Leveraging Cover Crops for Wildlife Benefits

Earlier in the article, it was mentioned that cover crops can often bring in wildlife and essentially work as a food plot and double as a farming technique. For some who farm and also hunt, implementing a cover crop plan could save on traditional food plot or wildlife plots.

Courtesy of Jacob Hofer

Measuring Success

With the use of cover crops bringing in more wildlife it could be helpful to see what animals are visiting your property. A trail camera could be a great addition to help you monitor the new activity. In your fields there will also be a helpful hold of nitrogen and other nutrients for the next years crop. It is pressing that hunters and farmers strive to keep wildlife management a main priority. This wildlife helps to improve the diversity of your area, for yourself as well as future generations. 

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My name is Miranda Wright and I am currently a junior at Western Illinois University majoring in Agriculture Science with a minor in Agriculture Economics. I am from Henry, Illinois where I grew up on a grain and cattle operation. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post!


Get the Most Out of Your Fertilizer

As the weather starts to warm up, farmers everywhere are getting restless to start work in the field. Putting seed in the ground is at the top of the to-do list for a majority of farmers at this point in time. In the spring it is easy to put other aspects of a cropping system to the side. One of the most important inputs in any cropping system is fertilizer. Producers should have a plan for nutrient management before the seed goes into the ground. However, due to unexpected events, the initial plan may change throughout the growing season. It is important to have a backup plan in case this happens.

When planning for nutrient management, it is helpful to analyze the four R’s of nutrient management. The four R’s refer to the right source, right rate, right time, and right place. Sticking to the four R’s allows producers to utilize their inputs more efficiently, while minimizing their environmental impact.

Image Credit:


Right Source

The right fertilizer source can vary based on the crop, crop rotation, tillage, and soil characteristics. The fertilizer needs to meet the nutrient needs of the crop. Fertilizers can come in solid and liquid forms. Each form has its own benefits. Nutrients in liquid fertilizers are dissolved, or suspended, in water and are readily available to the plant at the time of application. Liquid fertilizers are great for side dressing or starter applications. Dry fertilizers are excellent for preplant applications. Controlled release nitrogen fertilizers can be used in wet fields that are prone to denitrification, leachable soils, and areas that will need a constant nitrogen supply. Blended fertilizers allow producers to fine tune their nutrient inputs by controlling the levels of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) in the blend. Blends must be properly mixed and handled to ensure a uniform application.

Right Rate

Choosing the right fertilizer rate can save the producer money on input costs and decrease the amount of nutrients leaving the soil through runoff and leaching. Yield and nutrient intake are directly related. The goal is to provide the crop with enough nutrients to produce an economic yield. For corn, nitrogen rates are typically based off of potential yield. Generally, corn requires 0.7-1.0 lbs. of nitrogen per acre to produce one bushel of grain. Tissue tests and canopy sensing technology are relatively new ways to assess plant health and nitrogen needs during the growing season. These technologies allow producers to adjust nitrogen rates more precisely and get the most benefit from their input. Phosphorus and potassium rates can be determined by analyzing soil samples and nutrient removal from grain and biomass.Unlike nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium persist in the soil and levels can be built up over several years. If the P and K reserve levels are adequate, the nutrient coming into the field should not exceed the nutrients leaving the field as yield.

Illinois Agronomy Handbook
Image Credit: University of Illinois Extension


Right Time

Nutrients should be applied when plants will utilize them the most. Timing of application plays a bigger role for nitrogen than phosphorus or potassium due to denitrification. All or a majority of the nitrogen for the growing season can be applied before planting. This ensures that all the nitrogen that the corn plant needs is in the field. However, there is a higher risk of losing nitrogen to denitrification during wet conditions when all the nitrogen is applied at one time. Nitrogen application can be split throughout the growing season to decrease nutrient loss. With a split application, a majority of the nitrogen is applied preplant and the rest is applied when the corn plant reaches V8 and is taking in nutrients at a higher rate. The first application acts as a buffer to protect the producer from adverse weather events that can delay the second application. The benefit of a split application is the ability to adjust nutrient rates based on real time field and plant conditions.

Right Place

Fertilizer must be placed near the root system in order for crops to fully utilize the nutrient inputs. Broadcast application followed by tillage will put the nutrients deeper in the soil profile near the root zone. Starter fertilizer is placed directly in the seed bed and provides nourishment for the young plant as soon as it germinates. Sidedress applications place nutrients in the root zone or next to the base of the plant, which allows the plant to access readily available nutrients when it needs them the most. Placing fertilizer below the soil surface dramatically decreases nutrient loss from erosion, runoff, and volatilization. For a no-till system, fertilizer injection is the best option due to crop residue preventing soil contact for surface applied fertilizers.

 Learn more about the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Here


About the Author:

My name is Tanner Carlson and I am from Roseville, Illinois. I am a graduate of Monmouth-Roseville High School and I am currently a senior at WIU majoring in Agriculture Science and minoring in Agronomy. In addition to my education at WIU, I have an A.A.S. in Agribusiness Management from Black Hawk College.

Government Conservation Programs: Is There Assistance for You?

Ever heard of the Dust Bowl and the Dirty Thirties? It was a significant time in our history that has shaped agriculture into how we operate today. In the 1930’s the agriculture Image result for quotes about conservationindustry in the US was brought forth with a tough challenge: how do we save our soils from being blown away? Too much tillage from the invention of the plow had caused a depletion of soil structure and left no living cover, leaving it vulnerable to be blown away. Something had to be done. The solution started back in 1933 when a man named Hugh Hammond Bennett planned a great speech on a day that would startle the capital. This would be the day when dust from states like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas would blow on the steps of the capital during his speech to politicians on how something had to be done about the vast amounts of erosion problems. Bennett’s point was made and the lawmakers formed the Soil Erosion Service, now known as Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). This agency is formatted under the farm bill and branched from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Average Day at NRCS Office

Broadly speaking, the Natural Resources Conservation Service provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and private landowners. Farmers that want to receive

Terrace being constructed to decrease erosion. Photo Credit: Caleb Waters, Lake Geode Watershed Coordinator

government benefits, need to follow a conservation plan that is determined by their local NRCS office. The employees of the office will carry out random compliance checks to determine if operators are following their plans. Also, concerned landowners are constantly calling the office for conservation assistance. NRCS employees normally will meet with these landowners and discuss options to solve their conservation concerns. There may not always be financial assistance for them, but NRCS employees will always steer them in the right direction.

Technicians will spend time estimating, surveying, designing, and staking out conservation structures that will address environmental concerns. Common stuctures in our location consist of waterways, terraces, ponds, and basins. The technician will spend time designing these structures to withstand historic rainfalls. They will assist contractors to make sure projects are being built properly.

Available Government Programs and Services

  1. EQUIP- The Environmental Quality Incentives Program financially helps landowners improve their soil sustainability and water quality, as well as helping them implement grazing, wetlands, and wildlife practices. This program has been successfully responsible for providing conservation practices to thousands of landowners over the years.
  2. CSP- The Conservation Stewardship Program gives inncentives for producers to improve their existing practices and adopt more beneficial conservation practices.
  3. CRP- The Conservation Reserve Program is a program that is assisted with NRCS employees. It allows landowners to receive rental payments for a certain amount of years under a contract, in exchange for environmentally vulnerable agriculture land. The land will be planted with a permanent cover for conservation improvement.

These are three common programs of the many different conservation programs available for landowners. They have solved many problems like the dust bowl and have been

Above Photo: Constructed waterway designed to reduce sediment erosion. Photo Credit: Caleb Waters, Lake Geode Watershed Coordinator

improving water quality. Programs like these give producers options and great incentives to improve the quality of their land. They prevent some regulation on agriculture producers by giving them a neutral medium. The commodity demand is going to keep increasing with the increasing population. The land we have now is the land we will have in 100 years from now. Producers have to be good land stewards and take care of our natural resources. Interested landowners should contact their local NRCS office to explore some available conservation options.

Bio: Professional Headshot

Hello, my name is John Wischmeier and I am currently a senior at Western Illinois University. I started my college career at Southeastern Community College and I am graduating in May of this year with my Bachelor’s degree here at WIU. I am studying agriculture business and going to minor in agronomy. I was raised on a crop and livestock farm located near a small town of Sperry, Iowa. I have worked with NRCS for two summers and learned many benefits of conservation. My time is winding down here at WIU, but it has been great time and I have made many enjoyable experiences.

Thank you for reading my blog!

Tracks vs.Tires: The Compaction Debate

As technology and equipment size continues to increase, the need for compatible force across the ground persists. Farmer’s want to protect the soil and the assets it holds. Compaction can cause unnecessary soil degradation. The soil aggregates or particles are crushed which reduces pore space for infiltration of water, air, drainage and nutrients. Soil compaction is affected by the repeated passes in the field that a tractor, combine, or other implement can make. These can cause intensive harm to the root zone for the crop.When the soil is tilled, there is the potential of reducing protective residues, depending on type of tillage performed. Many farmers are trying to limit compaction by transferring to the use of tracked equipment in their operations. Sustainability of the soil for the future generations is an important aspect to the farm to survive and that is why farmer’s are looking for advancements.

Arends-Awe, Inc. Equipment                                                Pieced together by Katie Boston

Track Advantages

  • Better quality flotation over the soil
  • Decreased power hop
  • Easier for implement hook-up
  • Compaction zone is spread over a zone and less point pressure occurs

Track Disadvantages

  • Reduced steering control with heavier loads
  • Rough ride or vibration on hard surfaces (roadways)
  • Build up of soil within the track which could cause damage to inner parts
  • High purchase and repair price

“When it comes to cost, the addition of tracks on wheeled combine has a $75,000 price tag.” – Brent Newbery, Parts Manager at Arends-Awe, Inc. in Winchester, Illinois.

Tire Advantages

  • Increased stability in muddy conditions
  • Higher steering control with heavier loads
  • Ability to lug, if the tractor slips, traction is able to be regained
  • Depending on tire, there can be float or minimal abrasion of the topsoil

Tire Disadvantages

  • Tends to cause a higher rate of compaction due to lugs on the tire
  • Smaller contact patches going across rows instead of length wise
  • Rutting can occur
  • Centralized compaction

Radial Tires: Ply cords run radially. The ply transmits the pressure from the thread and the belts. These belts help restrict tire growth and stabilizes the tread. The tread and cords can run independently. Bias Tires: Consists of multiple rubber plies overlapping each other. The thick layer is less flexible, but has the potential for float.

“Over-sized or high-flotation tires are hard to beat.” Kevin Lutz who is a technical manager at Michelin North American Agricultural Tires. These tires are called “floater tires,” they are almost twice as large as a standard tire, used on combines.


A farmer that prefers tires, will normally choose a radial tire to help minimize the equipment’s footprint. A track is also considered a radial design. A standard radial tire features a large air chamber within the tire that allows for lower pressure while carrying a heavier load, this will help reduce the effects of soil compaction. Some research would suggest that the best tire is one that provides a broad, flat tread, to increase traction, reduce slippage, and improve fuel efficiency.

According to Successful Farming magazine, farmers can help reduce compaction by controlling traffic, crop rotations of fibrous and tap roots, build up soil organic matter each rotation, and limit traffic in wet conditions.

In regards to statistics to figure if technology has decreased compaction, in a study done between a Claas Terra Trac System verses a North American track system in No-Till magazine concluded that the North American track reduced soil movement within 4 to 23 inches by 65%. This trail was performed by Kevin Lutz and Dirk Ansorge in 2007.

The future of track and tire technology looks bright. Currently Mitas has introduced a PneuTrac system that allows a tire to have the capabilities a track does for traction and footprint and the ride quality and lugging capabilities of a tire.

Mitas PneuTrac system from


Whether a farmer chooses to use, tracks, tires, floaters, or this new PnueTrac system, the possibilities are endless for advancements. In the end, the decision is up to the farmer. There are the considerations of cost, efficiency, future generations, and time that every farmer is conscious of. The technology of the future will help classify this debate, but for now – power to the farmer.






My name is Katie Boston and I am studying Agricultural Business with a minor in Agronomy at Western Illinois University.  In May I will graduate with my Bachelor’s Degree. I am from Jacksonville, Illinois and since 2013 I have been working at Arends-Awe, Inc as a part-time administrative assistant. I grew up on a crop and swine farm east of town and have a strong passion for agriculture.

Thank you for reading my blog.






Reaping What You Sow


With the continued falling grain prices and pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) nutrient management has become a bigger issue for farmers now more than ever.


Dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico


Illinois has just recently adopted a program known as the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy Implementation. The reason that this program was adopted was to improve Illinois water quality. Illinois is one of many states contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Monica Bruckner at Montana State University, “the dead zone is an area approximately 6,000 to 7,000 square miles.” The reason it has been given the name “dead zone” is because aquatic life cannot survive within this area. The dead zone is caused by an increase of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in the Mississippi River that eventually dump into the Gulf. Agriculture is not the sole cause of the leaching of these nutrients into the river. Sewage treatment plants and home gardening fertilizer also leach these nutrients into the Mississippi.

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            Farmers have to continue to become innovators when it comes to nutrient management. Just recently a law suit was brought against farmers in three counties upstream of the Des Moines water works in Iowa. Bill Stowe the manager of the Des Moines Water Works, explained why they are suing these counties upstream in an interview with Iowa public radio. Stowe explained “the source of these nitrates is pretty clear. Farmers spread nitrogen fertilizer on their corn fields, it turns into nitrate and then it commonly runs into streams through networks of underground tile pipes that drain the soil.” Stowe then continued to explain “Those drainage systems are managed, in some cases, by county governments, and Des Moines Water Works is now proceeding on the theory that those governments can be held legally responsible for the pollution that their pipes carry. When they build these artificial drainage districts that take water, polluted water, quickly into the Raccoon River, they have a responsibility to us and others as downstream users.” Stowe ends this interview by stating “We need to get down to specific steps that they need to take. If they aren’t willing, we’ll see them in federal court.” Agriculture will continue to have an increase in public pressure. It is important that farmers take their nutrient management plan seriously. If farmers do not take it seriously we may start seeing strict regulations when it comes to applying our fertilizer.

            It is not only for fear of regulations and public scrutiny that farmers should want to continue to improve their nutrient management plan. It is also in the best interest for their wallet as well. As grain prices continue to fall, farmers need to look at ways to maximize their input costs. With fertilizer being a top input cost for farmers, they need to ensure they are maximizing yield without over applying. There are many different ways that farmers can be more precise when it comes to choosing the right fertilizer rate. The first thing farmers should start with is a soil test. Soil tests measures how much macro and micro nutrients are in the soil. It also measures the PH of the soil and the soil electrical conductivity. There are two main types of soil sampling that are used today, zone soil sampling and grid soil sampling. Zone soil sampling is the method of soil sampling that has been around the longest. It consists of taking a number of soil samples in different zones across the entire field. In order to establish a zone it requires some pre existing information of the field, like a soil map, topography or a yield map to establish different zones. Grid soil sampling is newer and it does not include any prior information of the field.  Murray Welden states in an article with Corn + Soybean digest that grid soil sampling takes a sample generally every 2-3 acres. This is very beneficial because there are many differences in soil in every field. When we are sampling every 2-3 acres then treating every 2-3 acres specifically we can be more precise.

Zone Soil Sampling
Grid Soil Sampling



When it comes to applying fertilizer, most is applied in the fall. Fall is more convenient for farmers to get their nutrients on because they do not have to worry about trying to apply it during the spring before planting. Applying all of your fertilizer  in the fall is more convenient but when this is done it is more prone to leaching and volatilization. This is especially true for nitrogen. The main form of nitrogen that we apply is in the form of anhydrous ammonia. Anhydrous ammonia is 82% nitrogen. thahn7j297The only problem when “fall applying” is that it gives it more time to leach out of the soil with rain into our ground water. There are a few different steps that farmers can take to prohibit this process from happening. The first thing a farmer can do is wait until the soil temperature is below 50 degrees. When the soil temperature is below 50 degrees it does not allow the nitrogen to turn into nitrate which is easily lost with water. Another step farmers can take to prevent the loss of nitrogen is using a nitrogen inhibitor such as N-serve. N-serve detours the nitrogen turning into the form of nitrate which as stated is easily lost with water. Farmers can also think about split applying their nitrogen. Split applying is best explained as applying half or three fourths of  nitrogen in the spring or fall and then applying the rest of the nitrogen during the growing season, when the crop is taking up nutrients. They can band the nitrogen between the rows or have it flown on with a plane in the form of a pellet. All of these processes will help minimize the loss of nitrates into our water.

Another nutrient that is commonly lost is phosphorus. Phosphate is mostly lost with soil through erosion. Some ways to prevent soil erosion is to plant grass water ways where water commonly flows out of fields. Reducing tillage, planting cover crops and planting grass borders around fields are all ways to prevent erosion which will also prevent the loss of phosphate.

Grass Waterway


If farmers do not continue to be innovative with their nutrient management programs we could see more regulations and lawsuits in the future.  

Works cited:

“The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone.” Dead Zone. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. <;.

Masters, Clay. “Paying The Price for Clean Water in Des Moines.” Iowa Public Radio. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. <;.