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These days, I’m all about food choices. Well, mainly just the choice between two different types of the same food: breast milk and formula.

That’s right. I’ve added “Mommy” to my current titles of sister, daughter, wife and a few more.

Yes, I am totally using this post as an excuse to post pictures of my daughter. Because, let's be honest, she's the cutest kid EVER.

Yes, I am totally using this post as an excuse to post pictures of my daughter. Because, let’s be honest, she’s the cutest kid EVER.

Pregnant women and moms can probably back me up on this: Since the day I found out I was pregnant, I’ve been bombarded with messaging telling me that breast milk is best.

And truth be told, I agree, which is why I’m nursing my daughter.

Most of my friends, who also are moms, are taking the same route. But even if they aren’t, it’s cool – they have to do what’s best for their own kids. I’m nothing if not supportive of consumers’ right to choose how their food is raised — or the best way to feed their infants. But I digress. Back to my mom friends.

It’s because of those wonderful mom friends (and social media) that I stumbled upon the below picture of 101 Reasons Why Breastfeeding is Best:

Check out no. 76.  Seriously?

Check out no. 76.
Seriously?

In case you’re having trouble reading no. 76, it says, “Breastfeeding helps reduce cruelty to farm animals.”

Mallory, a mom and friend from way back in our FFA days, posted this to Facebook. She’s a farm kid, too, and was slack-jawed when she saw it posted at her son’s pediatrician’s office.

I was slack-jawed, too, and was pretty quick to call foul. But then I thought, “Well, let’s just see if there’s actually any meat to this.”

A quick search on the internet turned up the list and confirmation that there really is no good explanation as to why breastfeeding would help end animal cruelty.

In case you don’t feel like following the link, the list includes an explanation of each reason why breastfeeding is best. Under no. 76, the list says:

“Less use of cow’s milk equals fewer cows equals less opportunity for animal abuse.”

We should breastfeed because it means that farmers won’t be able to abuse cows they don’t have? That just sounds crazy. Almost as crazy as the assertion that all dairy farmers are abusing their animals.

Growing up on a dairy farm, I can tell you there’s nothing that is more important to a dairy farmer than the health of his cows. Without healthy, happy cows, there’s no milk. And if there’s no milk, there’s no milk check. Without a milk check, there’s no way to pay the bills, pay the workers or keep farming. And farming with what they love. It lives inside you and never leaves. Farming is what we all live for.

Calf and Cat photo Calf 3

In my own family, and in family friends who have dairy cattle, I’ve seen firsthand the amount of hard work and care that goes into each day on a dairy farm. Baling hay in 100-degree heat so the cows have hay for the winter, staying up late to treat a cow with milk fever, and getting up early EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. to milk those girls is what it’s all about for every dairy farmer out there.

Don’t believe me? Be sure to check out http://www.WatchUsGrow.org for more information on today’s farming and see interviews with Chicago-area moms as they visit dairy farms for the first time and get a load of dairy farming with their own eyes.

 

Last month, a man died. A man in a rural community. A farmer and Farm Bureau member, with a family. He was young and it was an accident.

I didn’t know Lynden Endress personally, but friends and neighbors say he was one of those men. You know the kind — the ones who always volunteer their time, work with a smile on their face and make everyone around them feel good.

According to Stephenson County Farm Bureau Manager Bruce Johnson, who spoke with Holly Spangler at Prairie Farmer:

“Lynden epitomized the spirit of the family farm and the values that make it special – a loving husband and father with strong family values, an exemplary work ethic, a passionate support of his community and county, and a fun-loving zest for life. His commitment was exemplified by only having missed two SCFB board meetings in the past 12 years, and his insight and discernment made him a well-respected leader.”

Endress left behind a wife and three young children. It’s a sad story, but here’s where it gets marginally better — this is the part that will restore your faith in humanity.

Photo by Ed Curry, River Ridge High School Ag Instructor

Photo by Ed Curry, River Ridge High School Ag Instructor

One of Lynden’s children, Zander, far right, received $31,000 for his steer at the recent Stephenson County Fair’s Junior Livestock Auction when the community honored his late father. Bruce Johnson and the Stephenson County Farm Bureau, joined representatives of 30 organizations, business and families that raised money, which will be put into a trust for the three Endress children.

Steers usually sell for about $4,000 at the Stephenson County Junior Livestock Auction, but the community just couldn’t stop there. And the Endress family? Well, they were definitely surprised.

How’s that for a community working together to help one of its own?

Farmers will soon be out in their fields looking for some signs in their corn plants which will indicate whether their corn harvest will be good. One indicator is whether the plants are “knee high by the Fourth of July.”

But wait. We are shucking and grilling sweet corn for the Fourth of July. Obviously the plants are more than ‘knee high’ if we are enjoying corn now, right?

Well, July is a great time of the year for summer fruits and vegetables like sweet corn and peaches, making for some awesome cook-outs. However, that old saying, “knee high by the fourth of July” refers to field corn, not sweet corn!

In fact, 99% of the corn you see in the United States is field corn. This is the kind that can be made into livestock feed, ethanol, manufactured goods such as crayons, lotion and boxes, and a food ingredient in the form  of corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup and much more.

In the past, this saying was realistic, as farmers could expect a lower yield if the field corn had not yet grown up to their knees. Nowadays, this may be a bit deceiving.

Farmers are always subject to Mother Nature. However, thanks to advancements in seeds, farmers are now less subject to her wrath. Yes, I mean genetically modified seeds when I say ‘advancements.’ Thanks to them, seeds are more drought tolerant, more insect repellant, faster growing and other, what I would call, awesome characteristics.

What would have stunted the growth and taken a toll on yields in the past now doesn’t phase the corn plant. And thank goodness, because ‘perfect’ planting conditions don’t exist.

Obviously the plants can’t survive a drought like the one in 2012, but they can at least make a stand.

This year, in Illinois, we had knee high corn in early June because we were able to get the seed into the ground. Now, that’s not the only thing that contributed to its good looks. Warm days and timely rains are helping Illinois corn look fabulous, even over our heads by the Fourth of July.

While this saying isn’t a good indicator of plant health or yields for farmers anymore, expect for people to keep saying it for years to come.

Photographed by Jennifer Koehler.

Evan Koehler (6’2″) in a corn field well over knee high on July 1, 2014 in Marshall County, Illinois.

With all the hype surrounding the increase in food prices, you can renew your holiday picnic and grilling plans and put your mind to rest. The American Farm Bureau Federation found that a ten person picnic should still cost less than six dollars per person!

This isn’t just a picnic of hotdogs and chips either – they’re talking cheeseburgers, pork spare ribs, potato salad, baked beans, lemonade, and chocolate milk too.

AFBF_July_4th_Survey

AFBF came to this conclusion after 84 Farm Bureau members, who they call volunteer shoppers, checked retail prices for summer picnic foods at their local grocery stores in 25 states.

John Anderson, Deputy Chief Economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation said with a little shopping around, we all should be able to hit this mark.

“Despite some modest price increases over the past year or so – meats, especially – most Americans should be able to find summer picnic foods at prices close to the averages found by our volunteer shoppers.”

For more about their informal survey, specific food prices and other information, check out the news release here.

After a delayed and unusually cool spring, we’ve finally made it to June — the month where temperatures are finally starting to heat up. And what better way to remedy spiking temperatures than with a nice, big bowl of ice cream, especially in celebration of National Dairy Month?

ice cream

Originally called National Milk Month, June was designated National Dairy Month in 1937 as a way to promote drinking milk. It was initially created to help stabilize the dairy demand when production was at surplus, but has now developed into an annual tradition that celebrates the contributions the dairy industry has made to the world.

FFA Week a5

For years, dairy products have been a staple in the diets of Americans and people all over the world. More than that, dairy farmers in Illinois — and across the country — are true stewards of the land. In the past 63 years, the dairy industry has reduced its carbon footprint by 63 percent with the help of improved cow nutrition, cow comfort, quality of the animals and other improvements.

In fact, compared to farms in 1960, U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show that U.S. dairy farms today are producing almost three times more milk with about half the number of cows. In addition, milk performed better than other beverages in the 2010 Nutrient Density to Climate Impact (NDCI) Index, which compared nutrient density to climate impact.

But those accomplishments weren’t easy. Farming, especially dairy farming, isn’t an exact science. Record high feed costs and fluctuating milk prices during the last several years have made it more and more expensive to continue to operate successful dairy farms. Despite that, the nation’s dairy farmers were able to produce more than 200 billion pounds of milk in 2012 – a record amount. In 2010, Illinois dairy farmers produced 1,917,000 pounds of milk from the 98,000 cattle across the state.

All of that adds up to one thing: These amazing statistics are a testament to the integrity of the nation’s dairies, 97 percent of which are family-owned and well-connected to the communities around them.

ISF 3

Here in Illinois, dairy farmers also are doing their part to give back to their communities by answering consumers’ questions about how their milk and dairy products are produced. Dairy farmers are working with the Midwest Dairy Association to promote dairy products and help teach consumers how to incorporate them into a healthy diet.

They also are participating as host families for Illinois Farm Families’ Field Moms. Dairy farmers are inviting Chicago-area moms to their farms, allowing them to tour their farms and ask questions about how animals are raised and how milk is produced and sold.

In fact, Field Mom Farah Brown couldn’t say enough about the care the host family Dale and Linda Drendel give to the Holsteins on their Hampshire, Ill., farm.

“Seeing their farm and hearing them introduce us to their cows gave me such a sense of gratitude for their diligence and work ethic,” Brown said. “I loved seeing Linda Drendel interact lovingly with the cows and tell the story of how she nursed a calf back to health shortly after its birth. It’s more than evident they take great pride in this craft they have chosen.”

From continued stewardship of the land and sustainability, to working with consumers to answer their questions, Illinois dairy farmers are committed to producing the best product possible for those of us who enjoy a nice, tall glass of milk, a plate of cheese and crackers or a heaping bowl of ice cream. This June, during National Dairy Month, make sure you give them the credit they deserve and send out a big ‘thank you’ for all they do.

 

In agriculture, there are many hot button issues. One of the biggest is between the pro-and anti-GMO advocates. Studies have shown that it is difficult to change peoples’ minds once they have formed a strong opinion on a subject, such as the use of genetically modified food crops.

Mark Lynas was once an opponent of GMO’s, organizing protests and even participating in crop vandalism. However, after some time submerged in research, he has changed his mind:

It is now apparent, from 20 years of safety research and hundreds of scientific papers, that, in the words of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”

Mark Lynas’s opinion article, “Why I Turned From GM Opponent to Advocate,” is part of Sci.Dev.Net’s global debate on “What’s wrong with GM?” It’s definitely worth your time.

Tomorrow is World Environment Day – a day designated by the United Nations as a day to raise awareness of the need for protection and sustainable use of natural resources around the world. This day is celebrated by many countries – including the United States.

Of course, today isn’t the only day to be thinking about our environment. Members of the agriculture community are committed to improving the environment and increasing sustainable practices – something that cannot be accomplished in one day, but must be focused on each and every day.

For example, our organization, the Illinois Farm Bureau®, encourages the continued use of Best Management Practices (BMPs) by farmers in all phases of their farming operations in order to maximize nutrient utilization, minimize negative environmental impact and improve water quality.

Members of the Illinois Farm Bureau aren’t the only ones focusing on improving environmental quality. Farmers around the country, in all areas of production, are too. Go to www.watchusgrow.org for more information on sustainability and conservation efforts straight from Illinois farmers!

This infographic produced by the USDA also demonstrates some of the progress made:

Image

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