“They keep farming even when their eyesight is failing and their hearts are going bad.” So starts a great story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today regarding escalating farm accidents among older farmers. “They get back on their tractors after farm accidents have put them in the hospital, sometimes with permanently disabling injuries.”
And it is very true that unlike most of us farmers might slow down but they rarely stop working at 65. As the article points out many die on the job, “because they gamble with their aging bodies once too often.” This is an accurate and tragic story, and likely not one that is going to go away.
Nationally, the typical farmer is past 58 years old and isn’t slowing down, up from 50.5 in 1982. Buried beneath this headline is an even broader social issue of who is on deck as these warriors of the soil drive their tractors into the sunset?
Farmers via their sheer efficiency and productivity have pulled a bushel basket over their incredible job performance. Society often takes them for granted, but this article begs the question who’s next. The recent rural renaissance brought on by large crops, steady exports and growing ethanol production, combined with higher prices had launched a migration of youth coming back to the farm.
However, this process appears to have stalled now, due to a return to break even prices, before the movement has even taken full flight. The vast majority of Americans say they want these family farmers, these storehouses of generations of specialized knowledge, to continue to provide their food, fuel and fiber. I am guessing most people have no clue how tenuous the future of family farmers really is, and unless we get creative it will be too late.
American corn farmers do not often see how their lives might be impacted by high profile, First Amendment debates in the media. While we each value our Constitutional rights and deeply cherish liberty, our messages about growing food and stewarding the land generally do not stir up mainstream debate to a degree that lands us on the national stage.
Today, we did.
The Corn Farmers Coalition campaign, a six-year long tradition, normally places ads featuring facts about farmers presented by actual farm families in the DC Metro during the summer to help educate legislators and other Dc thought leaders. Sharing the unique stories of the men and women who grow corn while highlighting their constantly-improving practices and technology helps those in the capital understand what happens across the nation’s countryside and why it matters.
Today, those ads have not gone up on schedule.
Media outlets have spotlighted recent events that transpired between Pamela Gellar’s American Freedom Defense Initiative and the DC Metro over the ability of one group to purchase ad space from the latter. DC Metro, eventually, chose to resolve the issue by banning new issue-oriented advertising in the transit system for the remainder of the year. (Read more here)
America’s corn farmers know that, while CFC brings new information to DC every year, the campaign’s concept does not waiver or qualify as “new.” While the messages may change slightly, the intent remains the same.
They also know that the ads provide information without urging for any particular issue-oriented action. Showing images of real Americans in their fields with their families helps farmers share a little perspective on American agriculture with a town often farm removed from its rural roots. Featuring US Department of Agriculture data and facts, supported by reputable research, educates Washingtonians on the ever-evolving, ever-improving achievements on America’s farms.
Yet, DC Metro has stalled progress on the campaign’s scheduled June 1 launch due to a conflict in which we played no role. In the headline-grabbing dispute between AFDI and DC Metro, America’s corn farmers pay the price for highly politicized positions. Every year, real farmers invest real dollars to send the farm to Washington. Without a reasonable resolution of this conflict, America’s farmers will be thrown under the train rather than on it.
Drone pro Robert Frye captured the beauty of corn planting from a bird’s eye view earlier this month in high def video edited with dramatic music. Robert shot video of Iowa farmers Jim, Matt and Jay Frye planting with a DJI Inspire-1 4K camera. He chose what he called a “metaphorical” music selection entitled “In the Beginning” by Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer. The result is stunning. Be sure to check it out on his YouTube page in all its glory and LIKE it!
A week ago corn planting was running behind schedule but thanks to the very latest precision technology corn farmers are now 17% ahead of the five year average with 55% of the crop in the ground, according to the latest crop progress report.
“We saw more than one-third of the nation’s corn acres planted in a single week,” said USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.
“The incredible progress that we saw over the past week is a testament to the old fashioned, hardworking nature of farmers as well as the incredible advantages offered by modern farming technology,” said National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling.
The phenomenal progress included an increase of 38% in Nebraska and Illinois, 41% more in Missouri, 45% in Minnesota and an additional 54% of the acreage in Iowa. “Conditions were nearly ideal in much of the state last week and as a result farmers were able to make tremendous progress,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey.
Emergence, however, is running a bit behind schedule at this point. As of May 3, only nine percent of total corn acres had emerged, which is three points behind the five-year average but three ahead of corn emergence in 2014 at this time.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ new roster this season includes some homegrown talent from the Show-Me State.
Missouri Farmers Care (MFC) and the St. Louis Cardinals are proud to bring to Busch Stadium the Farm Team, comprised of mascots Captain Cornelius, Simon the Soybean, and Sweet Bessie.
The farm team is part of the “Race to the Plate” educational campaign to increase awareness and understanding of today’s food production.
The mascots will be jockeying for bragging rights at each Friday night home game in Busch Stadium and racing to educate fans on Missouri agriculture. As the mascots vie for the win, in-stadium video boards will highlight facts about modern pork, dairy, soybean and corn production. Missouri’s farm families are also encouraging fans tuning into Cardinal Radio to learn more about today’s agriculture through radio spots highlighting farm facts and Friday night races. Print ads are also featured in the Cardinals Gameday Magazine and scorecard.
Missouri Farmers Care is a joint effort by Missouri’s agriculture community to stand together for the state’s top industry.
Kudos to Grist for taking a real look at agriculture in Iowa. As the primary season starts, candidates will visit the state and many outlets may off-handedly deride the stances they express on the issues important to farmers. But Liz Core, a Grist journalist, took the time to visit the state and talk to farmers about the issues that they face. What she found is a much deeper, more nuanced understanding of Iowa’s farm families.
“Iowa commodity growers are often demonized for what and how they grow, and monocultures and ethanol aren’t exactly healthy for the planet. But all of the farming families I talked to expressed a deep respect for the land and the desire to take good care of it for the next generation. If we want to understand how and why our agriculture system is the way it is, we’d be wise to approach all farmers with an open mind.”
Core goes on to introduce three of the farm families she met during her time in Iowa, including CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney. Showing the real people and exploring their honest concerns, she provides a balanced picture of both agriculture and the impact public policies have upon farmers.
When you take the time to look beyond the sound bites and have an open conversation, a much more interesting story emerges. Through programs such as CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, the men and women who grow our food start a dialogue with those who buy it to foster this sort of honest, two-way dialogue. Reach out and you might find the same thing that Core did – on or off the farm, most of us want the same things for our families and our country.
The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) launched the new Facebook page – Growing the 2015 U.S. Corn Crop – as a direct channel for communication between farmers and overseas customers about the condition and quality of the 2015 U.S. corn crop, according to USGC Chairman Ron Gray.
“This page helps illustrate this year’s theme of Global Awareness, Global Connections,” said Gray. “We are more globally connected than ever, and we are constantly looking for ways to use modern communications tools to build the connections between our farmers and their customers around the world.”
All U.S. corn farmers and international customers are invited to like and post on the page, and include regular updates on the progress of their corn crop with photos or videos and commentary.
Some farmers were busy last week in the fields, but most were not according to the latest USDA crop progress report. As of April 12, just two percent of the corn crop was planted, compared to three percent this time last year and five percent on average. The only states making progress right now are Kansas, North Carolina and Texas, with Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee gaining a little ground.
Truly, if farming were easy, everyone would do it – and most of us either can’t or don’t want to. The same could be said for many professions, but most of them don’t have everyone from the president on down trying to tell them how to do their jobs.
If farming were easy, the bureaucrats on the federal to the local level would be doing it themselves instead of making up regulations that make it more difficult to produce food, fiber and fuel.
If farming were easy, the people who are against biotechnology innovations that help produce more food would all be self-sufficiently producing their own daily sustenance.
Today, Corn Commentary shares a guest post authored by Iowa farmer and CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney. The narrative, which discusses her recent work taping an episode of “The Balancing Act” on GMOs, originally ran on her blog www.farmeatscitystreets.com.
TV Interviews and Kid-Friendly Sloppy Joes
I have been traveling a little bit lately. Not a ton, but just enough to scratch the itch of getting out of town for a while and being around some amazing, brilliant people (and great friends, too!). I couldn’t pass up the opportunity last week to travel to Florida to tape an interview with The Balancing Act on Lifetime Network. The host, Julie Moran, asked me all kinds of questions about food, farming and GMOs.
Kelsey Pope, a rancher from Colorado, also did an interview about her ranch and how they care for their cattle. I hadn’t met Kelsey before, but was so impressed with her and loved hearing about her ranch. I’m thinking a trip to Colorado for a nice, juicy steak on her ranch might be in order.
Working from home and around the farm these days doesn’t lend itself to getting dolled up much anymore, so having someone do my hair and makeup was an added bonus! After the interview, Julie Moran gave us a tour of her dressing room and wardrobe collection. If she wasn’t an itty bitty size 2, I might have asked to borrow something. Kidding (kind of).
My interview is scheduled to air on Lifetime Network in April and Kelsey’s will be on in April and May. I’ll let you know when the exact dates are set.
To read the full post, including how Kenney sets her family up for success at the dinner table while she shares stories from the farm with consumers at their breakfast tables, click here.
Interested in CommonGround and how it brings together the women who grow and raise food with those who buy it? Visit www.findourcommonground.com to learn more about the women at the heart of this program, which is supported through a collaboration of NCGA, USB and their state affiliates.
“There is no humanity without the cultivation of the land; there is no good life without the food it produces for the men and women of every continent.” Pope Francis, 1/31/15
With the patron saint of all things of nature as his namesake, Pope Francis has serious views about protecting the environment, but he believes that agriculture plays a “central role” in the “cultivation and stewardship of the land.”
That’s what he said recently in a meeting with the National Confederation of Direct Cultivators, which is some kind of agricultural organization, as the pontiff noted that the name “direct cultivators” refers to cultivation, “a typically human and fundamental activity.” Pope Francis said that farming and ranching constitutes “a true vocation.”
“It deserves to be recognised and suitably valued as such, also in concrete political and economic decisions. This means eliminating the obstacles that penalise such a valuable activity and that often make it appear unattractive to new generations, even though statistics show an increase in the number of students in schools and institutes of agriculture, which leads us to foresee and increase in the numbers of those employed in the agricultural sector. At the same time, it is necessary to pay due attention to the removal of land from agricultural use, to make it available for apparently more lucrative purposes”
The pope actually has his own farm at the traditional summer place for pontiffs, Castel Gandolfo.
The 55 acre farm dates back to the early 1930s under Pope Pius XI as part of the renovation of the summer vacation home which has been in use since the 16th century. The farm includes cows, chickens, bee hives, ostriches, turkeys, rabbits, vegetables and more. The farm reportedly produces 185 gallons of milk a day, 50,000 eggs a year, honey, olive oil and vegetables.
There are news reports that the farm may be opened for public tours this year, but the Vatican has not confirmed that yet. I’d be interested in a visit if it happens!