Can you believe THIS? Where do they come up with this stuff?
Those of us in agriculture tend to spend a lot of time preaching. We preach to the choir about how awesome our jobs are because, well, they are. We preach to the congregation about what we do and why we do it because we want to prove that we aren’t heartless, money-grubbing, bottom line-minding corporations out to destroy our food system.
And, truthfully, that’s probably what we’ve been doing wrong all this time. We’ve been preaching when we should have been listening.
To rectify our mistake, farmers have started doing just that — listening to consumers and answering their questions rather than preaching the benefits of modern-day agriculture.
To start the conversation, farm families from the Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Beef Association, and Illinois Pork Producers, formed Illinois Farm Families.
Aside from a pretty awesome website that has answers to all kinds of consumer-posted questions, Illinois Farm Families have opened their farm gates to bring urban moms — called Field Moms — onto their farms so they can get a behind-the-scenes look at what farmers do, how they do it and get the answers to all of their questions.
And they mean all of their questions. Nothing is off-limits. If the Field Moms have a question about antibiotics, animal care, biotechnology, pesticides, fertilizer, animal feed or slaughter, they’re welcomed to ask it. And, courtesy of the farmer they’re visiting, they’ll get the answer — straight from the horse’s mouth.
After each tour, the Field Moms blog about their experiences on their own blogs and www.WatchUsGrow.org. And here’s the best part — they can write whatever they want. Whether they liked what they saw or were still on the fence, Illinois Farm Families just want to hear what they learned.
In the second year of the Field Moms program, the 20 Field Moms already have one tour under their belts — a visit to Old Elm Farm Hog Farm, owned by Steve and John Ward.
And the Field Moms blogs are rolling in, which, by itself is pretty cool because it means the Field Moms enjoyed their tour and seeing a farm up close. But, more than that, each of the ladies have some interesting things to say.
One blog in particular, by Field Mom Becky Martinez, is particularly eye-opening. It struck a chord with me because, for the last seven years, Becky and her family have been vegetarians, largely because of animal welfare concerns. She and her family decided fall back into an omnivore lifestyle this January, but Becky still had some concerns.
After her tour of Ward’s farm, she said she felt better about her choice to eat meat. And she felt better about farming practices. Like any well-informed consumer, Becky still has concerns, but she’s glad to know farmers are listening to her concerns.
Well, it happened. Sequestration happened.
During the past few weeks, sequestration has become a dirty word — and for good reason. Air traffic control towers could be shut down, disability payments delayed, national security jeopardized, children kicked out of Head Start programs, teaching jobs put on the chopping block and thousands of jobs lost. Oh, and meat shortages, too. All because a few lawmakers can’t table their egos long enough to agree on budget cuts.
For the sake of everyone’s sanity, let’s focus on one possible downside of sequestration — potential meat shortages.
Which begs the question, how exactly could sequestration lead to meat shortages? Surely, government gridlock wouldn’t lead to a shortage of cattle or farmers, right?
Actually, you’re right. A potential meat shortage would stem not from a lack of cattle or farmers, but a lack of federal meat inspectors.
Last month, the Obama administration announced that spending cuts imposed under sequestration could result in cuts to the time that United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meat inspectors spend on the floor of meat-packing plants.
USDA meat inspectors play an important role in the United States’ meat supply. They ensure the safety of the meat that U.S. consumers eat by making sure the every meat-packing plant in the US is monitored and inspected on a regular basis.
Essentially, the administration has proposed furloughing more than 6,000 USDA meat and poultry inspectors for up to two weeks, effectively idling the U.S. meat industry. The USDA spends about $1 billion on meat safety each year and has 8,400 inspectors at 6,290 slaughter and processing plants. Still, it seems like an odd place to trim the fat.
USDA inspectors play a vital role in making sure that all meat products shipped to grocery stores are safe for human consumption. In other words, food safety is a partnership and the government must participate in that partnership. Furloughing USDA meat inspectors isn’t the right kind of participation.
By law, meatpackers and processors are not allowed to ship beef, pork, lamb and poultry without the USDA’s inspection seal. And without USDA inspectors, there is no inspection seal.
What’s that mean for farmers? Another hit to a struggling, post-drought industry and the inability to move their products. What’s that mean for you? It means, potentially, less meat on the grocery store shelves.
It also means $10 billion in production losses and more than $400 million in lost wages for company employees. The losses for the more than one million livestock and poultry farmers in this country are incalculable.
You see, farmers don’t farm because it’s easy or because it’s just another job. They do it because they love their jobs and want to provide food for their families and yours. And when the government can’t afford to pay the USDA inspectors that make that meat available to your families, it hurts everyone.
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The National FFA Organization got a pretty awesome valentine from a pretty awesome significant other.
A few days ago, we told you about RAM Trucks and their idea to make 2013 “The Year of the Farmer.” Part of their initiative was a commercial that aired during the 2013 Super Bowl.
The ad, which featured a poem about farmers and was recited by the legendary Paul Harvey, was one of the top ads of this year’s Super Bowl. Each time the ad was viewed or shared, Dodge and RAM were prepared to donate money to the National FFA Organization — up to $1 million.
Today, FFA got that check. As in, a check for $1 million.
Okay, so they didn’t get the check, yet, but the video did reach 18 million views meaning that Dodge and RAM are now poised and ready to cut that check.
The point is, FFA is getting a pretty awesome valentine from a pretty awesome significant other.
And, if you want to see how FFA got that awesome valentine, check out the video. It’s worth it.
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I’d like to tell you a story about my sister’s daredevil habit and Illinois waterways. Believe it or not, this story and Illinois waterways are related. Really, I promise.
My family has always ridden horses — a hobby that isn’t exactly risk-free. But Janell was always more of a daredevil. I liked to get horses ready for western pleasure and all-around events — you know, nice, easy riding in a round pen — but Janell liked to stand up, do flips and jump on and off galloping horses. She liked to trick ride.
And the thing about trick riding is it’s dangerous. And, you must have the right equipment to make it less dangerous.
Janell quit trick riding about 10 years ago, but last fall, she decided it would be fun to throw her trick saddle on her show horse and whip out a few tricks.
Her show horse, Lucky, is quite a bit bigger than her old trick riding horse, and Janell is quite a bit taller than she was when she was regularly trick riding. All of that means she had to upgrade her old equipment.
So, we spent the next hour looking for and sizing a bigger girth for her saddle, strapping on a new back cinch, fashioning a bigger breast collar and making longer reins — all so Janell could do a few tricks and be safe doing it.
How does jumping on and off horses at a gallop relate back to Illinois waterways you may ask?
Well, just like it’s hard to pull off a hippodrome stand or an indian hideaway without the proper equipment, it’s hard to use Illinois rivers — a mass transit system for Illinois — without the proper equipment, or locks and dams.
Illinois is unique in that it’s positioned on three rivers — the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio — giving Illinois farmers a distinct advantage when it comes to exporting goods like corn, soybeans and much more. Not to mention that farmers across the state rely on these rivers to bring inputs like fertilizer up the river.
However, during this summer’s drought and subsequent river traffic crisis, which stemmed from the low levels on the Mississippi River, the dilapidated state of river locks and dams became more apparent than ever.
It seems like the solution would be an easy one to pinpoint: If there’s a problem, fix it. You can’t operate an economy like ours with shoddy, unsafe and outdated equipment. But, lock and dam upgrades have gone largely unfunded. Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act in 2007, which authorized the lock and dam upgrades to be eligible for funding. Great, right? Sure, until you realize the funding has not yet been approved.
In fact, the 70-year-old system of locks and dams on the Mississippi River can scarcely accommodate most barges. You see, unlike the locks and dams, today’s barges haven’t been locked in a 70-year time warp and have, instead, evolved with technology, getting bigger over time.
When the lock and dam system was built in the 1930s and 1940s, a 600-foot long lock was sufficient to accommodate shipping. However, barges can now extend up to 15 barges long by 3 barges wide, or 1,200 feet by 110 feet. Of the 29 locks on the upper Mississippi, only three can accommodate 15 barge tows. These larger locks allow barge traffic to leave within 30 to 45 minutes.
When barges approach the other 26 locks, they must break up the tows into two groups. The process to break up the tow, move both groups of barges through the lock and re-attach the tow can take at least 2 to 3 hours, making a trip from Minneapolis to New Orleans a one-and-a-half week endeavor.
When workers closed the Granite City, Ill., lock, one of the few large enough to accommodate modern barge traffic, in September 2012 to repair damage to a protection cell, hundreds of barges were idled, stalling shipments of grains, coal, fertilizer and construction materials. In other words, commerce moving into and out of the state of Illinois was off-limits, trapped in a time warp of its own.
More than that, the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers estimated that the closure of the lock cost the shipping industry $2 million to $3 million per day in lost revenue.
Illinois farmers rely on the Illinois river system to ship and receive goods, making an efficient river system absolutely vital. The Mississippi River alone moves 78 million tons of goods valued at more than $23 billion each year, making it the main shipping channel for farmers’ products and inputs.
It’s time to pony up the dough, get our act together and fix our broken river system. Failing to do so would be like trying to perform an indian hideaway or a death drag at full speed with a broken girth and worn, outdated rigging — just plain dangerous.
You probably saw it Sunday night during the big game. And if you didn’t see it during the big game, you saw it on Facebook, Twitter or even yesterday morning when Good Morning America ranked it the No. 1 Super Bowl commercial.
Heck, hundreds of millions of people have seen it. And because of it, mentions of “farmer” on Facebook increased 1.8 million percent after the commercial aired.
I’m talking about the Dodge RAM commercial — “So God Made a Farmer.”
It was a powerful spot with powerful imagery, words and sentiments. But, there’s more to the story — at least for me.
Narrated by the iconic Paul Harvey, the spot tugged on the heartstrings of people across the country — aggies and non-aggies alike.
For me, it tied a hundred things I love together in one neat, 2-minute package.
It brought back memories of Sunday morning before church, staggering down to the kitchen, finding my dad getting ready for church, making my sister and I breakfast, and listening to Paul Harvey on the radio.
My dad died when I was a senior in high school and, when that happens, you hang on to Sunday morning memories — memories like that — for dear life because they’re the only little pieces you have left and you can’t bear to lose them or to forget.
But, it wasn’t just those Sunday morning memories. That poem that Paul Harvey recited with so much conviction and care was recited during Paul’s speech at the 1978 National FFA Convention.
Memories of my dad and FFA wrapped up in one commercial? Can it get any better? Why, yes, it can.
The commercial was more than a memory of Sunday mornings or hours on a bus, traveling to conventions and contests. It was a statement on the American farmer and agriculture. It was a statement about me and my family and my friends.
And that statement was made before a record-setting television broadcast, reaching tens of millions of people.
Those of us that are involved in agriculture today know there are those that support us and those that are against us — and those that don’t know in which camp to pitch their tents.
But this commercial gave farmers, farm families and agriculture an added, national voice. In today’s complicated food culture, it could be just the nudge consumers need to reach out to farmers and ask questions about biotechnology, animal care, pesticides or conservation practices. And it just might be the nudge farmers need to step up and answer those questions in a thoughtful and honest manner.
In the end, the commercial provided a national stage for farmers and consumers across the country. It wasn’t speaking only to the 2 percent of Americans that farm or the 98 percent of Americans that don’t. As the commercial itself said, it was speaking to the farmer in all of us.
And, because the commercial wasn’t cool enough to begin with, the ad is serving as a fundraiser of sorts. Each time the ad is shared or watched, Dodge will donate money to the National FFA Organization — an organization that has been charged with shaping future leaders for 85 years — up to $1 million. If you ask me, that’s just a cherry on top of an already delicious sundae.
And that, my friends, is the rest of the story.
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Recently, northern Illinois has become the frontline in the battleground of Midwestern wind energy. But, for the residents of northern Illinois, the argument isn’t with wind energy production itself. Instead, the controversy lies with how to get that wind energy from point A to point B.
Rock Island Clean Line, a subsidiary of Clean Line Energy, LLC, is a proposed 500-mile overhead high-voltage direct current line that will transmit wind energy produced at point A, in Iowa and further west, to point B, a conversion station in Grundy County, Illinois.
While it’s easy to see the benefits of renewable energy projects, the issue with Rock Island Clean Line is more complicated. As Clean Line Energy continues to pursue their 500-mile transmission line, they also are seeking “public utility” status from the Illinois Commerce Commission, which would be the first step toward the company receiving eminent domain authority.
This power to use eminent domain is what concerns many farmers in Rock Island, Whiteside, Henry, Bureau, LaSalle and Grundy counties where the line is slated to be constructed. Obviously, if land owners in the area want to participate by granting an easement to Rock Island Clean Line, they have that option, but Illinois Farm Bureau sees problems if the company were to receive public utility status.
Along some areas of the route, Rock Island Clean Line plans to cut through open farmland diagonally, in the shortest possible distance, rather than following the Interstate 80 right-of-way, property lines or field lines. If granted public utility status, and the authority to use eminent domain, Rock Island Clean Line will have the ability to slice up swaths of farm ground without further consideration.
The willingness gobble up farmland simply because it’s the cheapest possible option is one of the reasons the Illinois Farm Bureau decided to file to intervene in Clean Line Energy’s case with the Illinois Commerce Commission.
While Illinois Farm Bureau supports wind energy generation as a component of the energy portfolio of the U.S., it’s important to remember that building the wind energy industry in the state must be done in a way that is mutually beneficial to both the consumers buying the energy, and the farmers and landowners who have to live with the structures on their land.
In this case, it may not be beneficial for either party. The Rock Island Clean Line is a merchant line, much like an interstate with no exits. In fact, even though it will pass through Illinois, it will not provide energy benefits to Illinois consumers along its route.
We believe it is in our members’ best interests to oppose Clean Line’s desire to be granted public utility status and, therefore, be granted eminent domain authority. Furthermore, we believe the company should be required to use mono-pole support structures, which have a smaller footprint, are easier to farm around and require less farmland. Finally, we oppose their proposal to cut diagonally across farm land. The transmission line should be built along the Interstate 80 right-of-way, rather than following a route that cuts across open farmland currently used to help produce the nation’s food.
Renewable fuels like biodiesel, ethanol and wind energy are necessary for our continued growth and energy independence. However, these must be considered with care and thought.
It does not make sense to carve out thousands of acres of farm land to serve the purpose of private investors. We know energy policies will continue to change and there will be more transmission lines like these in the future. However, as we construct these lines, we need to use common sense in planning and constructing them, so as not to disturb agriculture, one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal economy. In the meantime, Illinois Farm Bureau urges the Illinois Commerce Commission to deny public utility status.
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