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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.

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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:

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I love bacon

Warmer weather is finally making an appearance and, along with it, grilling season. But if you’ve been to the grocery store recently to purchase that perfect pork chop to throw on the grill, you might have noticed an uptick in the price of pork.

The price hike is due to a disease that affects pigs called Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, or PEDv. PEDv was first identified in the United Kingdom in 1971, but has since spread across the world, making its first appearance in the United States in May 2013.

While it sounds scary, there are some things you need to know. First and most importantly, pork is safe to eat and remains to be safe, despite the disease. In other words, humans are not affected by PEDv and cannot catch the disease.

PEDv does, however, affect pigs — and dramatically. The virus causes extreme diarrhea in young pigs, and mortality rates can be very high. In fact, if it spreads into a sow herd with young pigs, mortality rates can range from 80 to 100 percent.

In many cases, economists and industry insiders predicted staggering PEDv losses this winter, with some predicting more than 11 percent of baby pigs would died due to the disease. But preliminary numbers from this winter show that about 7 percent of the baby pigs in the U.S. did not survive, with most of those deaths attributable to PEDv.

Farmers have been able to fill the hole left in the meat market by raising hogs to a heavier weight. Additionally, most pork producers were already into an expansion phase this winter, leading to a 3 percent increase in births. The three percent increase in birthing pigs coupled a 7 percent loss over the winter adds up to just a 4 percent loss overall — much better than predicted and, hopefully, easier to overcome.

But like most things, time will tell when it comes to pork prices in the grocery store. Obviously, summer months tend to bring out the highest demand for pork products, and it’s tough to tell how June and July hog supplies will impact harvesting runs and meat availability.

The good news is warmer summer weather may be helping curb PEDv losses. According to Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, PEDv thrives in cold winter temperatures and this year’s harsh winter may have just been the perfect storm for the disease.

And what are farmers doing to curb the spread of PEDv? Farmers are increasing biosecurity mandates on their farms, requiring stricter cleaning policies and closer inspection of visitors and suppliers.

In the end, it’s important to remember that farmers are doing everything they can to prevent the spread of the disease on their farms and produce a safe and sustainable product for your dinner table.

 

 

Feels like all we’ve talked about lately is dairy. We’ve talked about milk prices and we’ve talked about raw milk — both in the last two weeks!

But this post, shared by our friend Katie Pratt at Rural Route 2: The Life and Times of an Illinois Farm Girl, was just too good to pass up.

It comes from the TheCowLocale and is a guest post authored by Utah State Dietetics student and former vegan, Kayla Thomas. In her post, Dairy Sustainability Made Me Rethink Being a Vegan, Kayla talks about how her visit to two Utah dairy farms showed her just how sustainable dairy farming is — and just how much dairy farmers care for their animals.

sustainabledairyportrait

It’s an excellent read, so be sure to check it out!

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