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By Richard Guebert, Jr., president, Illinois Farm Bureau

By Richard Guebert, Jr., president, Illinois Farm Bureau

From unpredictable and uncooperative weather to high input costs, successful farming takes a thick skin, perseverance and the ability to work around obstacles. One obstacle farmers hope to never have to work around — or fight against — is the federal government.

Still, for the last three years, Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) members have overwhelmingly said the federal government and over-regulation are their biggest work-arounds and threats to long-term profitability.

And that government over-regulation talk is about to ramp up again – not only for farmers, but for a variety of small businesses – with the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest try at a government land-grab: Its proposed rule changes to the waters of the United States outlined in the Clean Water Act.

Since it was created in 1972, the Clean Water Act has helped to make significant strides in improving water quality in this country. The Act regulates so-called ‘waters of the U.S.’ Until now, those have been defined primarily as waters that can be navigated. State and local governments have jurisdiction over smaller, more remote waters such as ponds and isolated wetlands.

However, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are seeking to expand the definition of ‘waters of the U.S.’ to include not only navigable waters, but also puddles, ponds, ditches, small wetlands and even land that resembles a stream during a rainstorm but is dry otherwise. If the expanded definition is allowed, permits and other regulatory roadblocks – having to hire environmental consultants, for example – would stand in the way of conducting routine business activities like building fences, removing debris from ditches, spraying for weeds and insects, and removing unwanted vegetation.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns report indicates there are nearly 2,700 businesses in McLean County that employ 100 or fewer people. Among them are homebuilders, real estate agencies, aggregate producers and related small businesses. They would also be negatively impacted as the proposed role would increase federal regulatory power over private property. The definitions would create confusion and, because they were intentionally created to be overly broad, could be interpreted in whatever way the federal agencies see fit.

Agencies like the EPA and the Corps of Engineers are not charged with writing the laws of the land. Congress is. And when Congress wrote the Clean Water Act, it clearly intended for the law to apply to navigable waters. Yet these agencies seek to stretch the meaning in order to gobble up privately owned and managed lands.

Is a small ditch navigable? How about that dry ditch that only fills with water during a rainstorm? Or even that puddle in your backyard? Those bodies of water don’t sound navigable to farmers, either.

 

Milk Myth Busting

Oh, Pinterest. My goodness, the stuff you can find on that crazy social media site. I can’t tell you how many ideas for my daughter’s nursery I found on Pinterest. And recipes. Oh, the recipes. My husband is forever grateful for Pinterest.

But Pinterest isn’t just recipes and baby advice. This morning while quickly scanning, I found this excellent bundle of information from fellow blogger, Carrie Mess at The Adventures of Dairy Carrie:

Source: The Adventures of Dairy Carrie via Pinterest

Source: The Adventures of Dairy Carrie via Pinterest

And, since I’m fresh off the Illinois State Fair (and watching my family show in the Open Jersey Show), I thought this might be a nice little infographic to share — it even contains some info that I, a kid who grew up with dairy cattle, didn’t know.

Like the fact that just because you’re lactose intolerant doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy dairy products like cheddar, parmesan, gouda, asiago, Havarti and Colby cheese (which just happens to be my favorite!). I didn’t know that.

Other little tidbits aren’t a surprise to me, but might be to you, the consumer.

Like the fact that the average amount of milk each cow can produce in one year has increased from 9,700 pounds in 1970 to 19,000 in 2014 — all because farmers have been able to improve the quality of their feed, genetics and housing through the use of technology.

It’s all pretty impressive. But the most important piece of information in that infographic is this:

“Organic or conventional, all milk is tested for antibiotics several times before it is ever put on the store shelf.”

No matter how it’s produced, milk is tested and tested again to make sure no antibiotics or other drug residues are in the milk before it’s bottled and sent to your table. After all, dairy farmers and their families are drinking the same milk you’re drinking and they don’t want those residues, either.

DSC_1620 DSC_1623

Dairy farmers care. They care about their animals and they care about providing a safe product for you. For more information, or to get your dairy-related questions answered, visit Carrie’s blog (she’s got great info!) or http://www.watchusgrow.org.

DSC_1627

Like a bad penny.

A few weeks ago, one of our County Farm Bureaus sent us a letter to the editor that was published in their local paper.

In the letter, the author blamed agriculture — mainly livestock production — for increased greenhouse gas emissions. The author quoted a 2006 U.N. report titled, “Livestock’s Long Shadow.”

Herd 2 Nebraska 5

The report says that the meat industry accounts for 18 percent of man-made greenhouse gases. The only problem with the report — and the resulting letter to the editor — is that it’s wrong.

In fact, a study by Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D., an associate professor and cooperative extension specialist in air quality from the University of California at Davis, proved the U.N. study’s information was far from correct, especially considering the emissions figures in the U.N. report were calculated differently for the meat sector than they were for the transportation sector.

Yet, the U.N. study is still quoted again and again. It just keeps turning up like a bad penny.

According to Mitloehner, meat and milk production generates less greenhouse gas than most environmentalists claim. In 2007, only 2.8 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions came from animal agriculture, compared with 26 percent from the transportation sector, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This number has remained consistent since 1990, which is impressive considering the U.S. increase in meat production of almost 50 percent over the same period of time.

Given Mitloehner’s research, the U.N. has admitted their researching linking livestock to global warming was exaggerated. In fact, a quick search on the internet turns up article after article documenting the U.N.’s mistake.

Moral of the story? If you’re looking for information about anything — agriculture or not — take the time to check the facts. It’s easy Google a question and take the first answer the pops up, but it may not always be the best or correct answer.

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.

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