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Easy there, lead foot!

From the time crops went in the ground this spring, this year’s growing season has been nearly perfect. Beautiful weather, plenty of rain and moderate temperatures have made this summer one for the record books.

However, harvest may prove to be more challenging than the summer growing season. Rain continues in many areas of the state, which means farmers are finding it hard to get in the fields to get their crops out. And that also means long days and tight deadlines ahead, making harvest season one of the busiest times of year — and tempting farmers to bypass basic safety procedures.

Failure to follow basic safety procedures leads to thousands of injuries — in addition to reported deaths — for farmers and employees annually. In fact, farm-related deaths in Illinois have taken a jump after experiencing record lows last year. Twenty-one people were killed in farm-related incidents from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014.

Farm Deaths

While not all of these deaths are road-related, it’s still important to remember that, during harvest, farmers and motorists alike must share our rural roads.

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Nearly all farmers will use public roadways to haul grain to elevators or to move equipment to and from fields, creating potential hazards for both farmers and passing motorists. With National Farm Safety and Health Week, held Sept. 21 to 27, just around the corner, motorists and farmers should take the following precautions to help prevent roadway accidents:

Motorists:

  • Reduce speed when encountering farm equipment on public roads. Flashing amber lights mean “caution.”
  • Slow down when a slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblem is visible. The orange and red reflective triangle warns motorists that the tractor or combine they are approaching travels at a slow rate of speed.
  • Keep a safe distance from the farm equipment. If the farmer’s mirrors aren’t visible to following motorists, the farmer can’t see the motorist, either.
  • Pass wide, large farm equipment only if conditions are safe and the farmer will not be making a left-hand turn. Be cautious when pulling back in.
  • Be prepared to yield to wide equipment.
  • Always wear a safety belt and obey the road’s posted speed limit.
  • Watch for the farmer’s indication of a turn. Newer equipment has one or more amber lights flashing rapidly to indicate a turn. Older equipment is typically not equipped with turn signals so watch for the farmer’s hand signals.

Farmers:

  • Ensure reflective SMV signs are clean and located on the rear of any tractor and piece of towed equipment used on roadways.
  • Use reflective marking tape and reflectors at the extremities of equipment.
  • Try to avoid rush hours and busy roads.
  • Turn on hazard lights and turn off field working lights when using roadways.
  • Install mirrors that are wide enough to see following motorists.
  • If possible, pull over to allow traffic to pass.
  • Always use turn signals and be aware of oncoming traffic.
  • When practical, truck larger equipment to the next location.

For both farmers and motorists, considering safety first can help ensure a successful and profitable harvest — and that farmers and their employees are there for planting season next spring.

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We talk a lot about animals here on the blog — specifically dairy cattle. That’s not because the other food animals aren’t awesome, it’s just because I grew up on a dairy farm and have more firsthand knowledge about the way a dairy farm works and the way dairy farmers care for their cattle.   Cheryl 3 Cheryl 4I vividly remember Christmas get-togethers scheduled around milking time. Trust me, it’s hard to explain to a four-year-old that we’re going to eat lunch first, help grandma clean it up, then we’re going to sit and talk for a few hours while everyone goes out to milk before we open any Christmas gifts. It was excruciating. Cleaning the Bulk TankHeifers

Grandpa Don

Just like the most recent video released by Mercy For Animals. I’m not going to repost or link here, but the nutshell version is this:

Workers at a New Mexico dairy farm were caught on tape punching, kicking and whipping cows, tossing calves into truck beds, using heavy equipment to force sick animals into confined spots and committing other types of abuse.

Excruciating. And disgusting to say the least.

Dairy farmers across the country have come out on social media condemning the workers and reminding consumers not to throw the baby out with the bath water. In other words, there are thousands of dairy farmers out there, but there are not thousands of abusive dairy farmers.

Carrie Mess, over at Dairy Carrie, said it best:

“I hope that the people shown abusing cows in this video will be prosecuted and held responsible for their actions. I hope that they never are allowed around animals again. I hope that this will be a wake up call to any dairy farmer with employees to be watching their people more closely and to be more diligent in hiring compassionate and kind people to work with their cows. Most of all, I hope that you will not hold this video against our family and the rest of America’s dairy farmers because this is not how we do things. We love our cows.”

I’m sure that every dairy farmer echoes Carrie’s sentiment. But it was interesting to see a business — one that relies heavily on dairy to boot — follow her suit.

Here’s the story. Following the release of their video, Mercy For Animals called on Domino’s Pizza to “help end egregious animal abuse in the dairy industry by requiring all of its cheese suppliers to implement meaningful animal welfare policies.”

Company after company has been bullied as of late into implementing food sourcing strategies that are more likely to hurt their bottom line and do nothing to end animal cruelty, so it was nice to see Domino’s take a different approach. Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications for Domino’s, had this to say:

“No act of cruelty can ever be condoned. Ever. What we do know is that this is not an issue with our cheese supplier – it was an isolated case of sadistic acts by employees at a single dairy farm in southern New Mexico. That farmer, who is very likely reeling from this, has terminated the employees, turned their information over to law enforcement and has closed his operations after moving his cows to other farms (according to the Associated Press).”

McIntyre also said the group should be thanked for bringing the issue to light because “there is no room for this anywhere in the food industry,” but cautioned against thinking one dairy farmer is just like any other:

“America’s individual family dairy farms — 47,000 of them — are being painted in a horrible light due to the horrendous acts of a small group of individuals. That’s not fair to the hardworking farmers across America.”

Cheers to Domino’s. And cheers to the hardworking dairy farmers who do the right thing by putting cattle care and comfort ahead of their own, each and every day. I feel like a broken record as much as I say this and write about it, but it’s important. And anything this important bears repeating.

It’s not about the ribbons. It’s not about the (modest) milk check, even though that’s what pays the bills. It’s about doing what you love and loving what you do. Unfortunately, the farmer in question picked employees who didn’t fit either category.

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And I know I say this a lot, too, but I’m going to keep saying it in hopes it will really sink in: If you have a question, ask a farmer! With social media, there are plenty of ways to do it these days. Here are just a few:

Have additional links? Share them in the comments below!

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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?

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