Posts Tagged ‘corn’

Factory Farmed Animals Live in Horrible Conditions and GMOs Will Kill You!

These poor cattle will spend the rest of their lives lounging around, being served food, and having their bedding fluffed. Such a rough life they will live in confinement.

I often find myself in a predicament.  This usually happens when I go looking for trouble.  Somewhere out there in cyberspace, someone will post an article about “Big Bad GMOs,” or the horror of “Factory Farming.”  Inevitably, the comments on these sorts of things are filled with hatred and inaccuracy.  There is always mention of “greedy industrial farmers who only care about making money while ruining the environment and confining animals.”  As a farmer who raises livestock and crops with so-called “industrial” methods, these things always get me going, and they always put me in a difficult situation.

I will reply (yeah, I know, glutton for punishment) by posting a comment to the tune of, “As a farmer who uses modern methods of livestock production, I get tired of people telling me that I treat my animals poorly and my crops are poisoning people.”

And the response almost ALWAYS is something like this:  “Well, I’m sure YOU don’t treat YOUR animals badly.  But INDUSTRIAL agriculture does, they cram their animals into CAFOs and they rob GOOD farmers like YOU from making a living.”

And that, right there, is where the gigantic disconnect between the consumer and the farmer comes in.  I’m still not sure how to bridge this gap.  I often envision myself taking said cyber-person by the shoulders and shaking them.

Here’s the deal.  I AM “INDUSTRIAL” AGRICULTURE!!  Along with thousands of other farm families working hard to feed the population.  When you say “CAFOS ARE EVIL!” You are telling me, my family, and the people that we work with that we are evil.  The animals we raise get sold to “BIG BAD CORPORATIONS” such as Tyson and Hormel.  We buy our GMO seed from Monsanto.  Our livestock is raised in confinement.

These resting pigs have it pretty rough too. When it's below zero outside, they have to relax in a temperature controlled barn. Their feeders have sensors on them that ensure they have access to unlimited feed. The floor allows their manure to drop into a pit below them, keeping their pens clean.

So, if I do decide to push the issue with these people who feel that all farming should look like it did in 1950, they will then proceed to tell me that they pity me.  That the EVIL CORPORATIONS have FORCED me to accept their ways and raise an INFERIOR, INHUMANE, and TOXIC product.  Clearly, I, as an individual, must be STUPID to not see it.  If I was smart, I’d choose to raise my crops and livestock without chemicals or confinement.

And here is my disclaimer, as I have stated before, I do not mean any disrespect to farmers who choose to raise their produce differently from me.  There is no one perfect way to farm, and I know that the vast majority of farmers, and food industry workers, are good people working hard to provide a quality, abundant food supply.

See, when it comes to a debate, many humans have a really hard time telling each other one-on-one that we have a problem with each other’s individual actions.  Especially, when we’re not 100% confident about what we’re debating.  It’s so much easier to throw up a scapegoat, like a faceless corporation, than to tackle an issue on a individual level.

Can you believe it? I let my son touch our GMO corn! But for some reason, he's still healthy and growing.

So, If I am really feeling feisty, I go on to say “I make the choices I make because I am confident that they are the best choices for me, my farm, my family, and the consumer. I educate myself about the applications and consequences of everything we do on the farm, and I am comfortable that the product I provide is safe, environmentally sound, and nutritious.”

And then, I’m told I am a fake.  I can’t possibly be real.  The “BIG CORPORATIONS” have brainwashed me and I am a paid fake.  And if I am real, then I have destroyed their faith in humanity.  Because it just can’t be possible that there’s more to agriculture than what Michael Pollan (the director of the horribly biased Food, Inc and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) told them.

Agriculture is my family's livlihood....and our way of life. So, yes, I do feel threatened when it comes under attack.

Here is the truth.

The animals my family cares for are raised in CAFOs and FEEDLOTS.  They are comfortable and they do not suffer, and we work our tails off every day to ensure that.  The animals’ comfort always comes before ours. The hormones and antibiotics that they receive are given in a prescribed manner, under the direction of our veterinarian and feed specialist, according to USDA rules and guidelines.  I fully understand how these products work, and do not hesitate to feed my family the beef we raise.

My son rides in the tractor with his dad. He is adamant that he is going to be a farmer when he grows up.

Our crops are GMO and we use chemicals.  We live right in the middle of the farms where we grow our crops.  My kids play in the yard right next to our crops, they help with the planting and harvest of them.  We follow several guidelines and rules set forth by the USDA to ensure that the crops we grow are safe.  Using GMO technology has allowed us to produce more crop with less fuel, chemical, and water.

Now, if you choose to buy organic, local, or pasture-raised produce, (or whatever the latest food buzzword is) that is completely your choice.  Please, just don’t do it while saying that our “FACTORY FARM”  is inferior, because, I ensure you, we are not.

I feed my kids the beef we raise using antibiotics and hormones because I know that it is safe.

I do not hesitate to feed my family our beef (which is also sold to Tyson) and I do not care if the food I buy in the store contains GMOs.  I am confident that the US food system is reliable, safe, and continually improving.

I don’t deny that there are issues, there always will be.  I’ll admit, there are some things that I see happening in agriculture and food production today that concern me.  I am glad there are skeptics out there, because nothing should ever progress unchecked. I have faith that we will work through these issues and come out better because of it.

I do know that I am glad to be living in today’s day and age, where food-borne illness is so rare that it makes the news, as opposed to years past where it was a common cause of death.

So, back to the difficult situation I put myself in.  Reacting to bad information about farming puts me on the defensive, by default.  And for some reason, people are particularly skeptical of defensive people. At least, I know I can be.

I’m pretty defensive, aren’t I?  I’ll admit it.  Agriculture has been under attack lately, and it seems like every day there is some new piece of misinformation out there.

So….

How can I not defend the way of life, the “BIG BAD INDUSTRY”, that I love?  How can I not reach out to consumers and show them that what my family is doing is not going to harm them, the environment, or the animals?  How can I not begin to take a proactive approach to this problem of misinformation?

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What do those signs in the field mean, anyway?

Does the Channel corporation own this field????

The Illinois Farm Bureau recently surveyed Chicagoans about their impressions of farming.  One very interesting thing they discovered is that over 1000 of the 2000 surveyed thought that the signs in fields indicated they were owned by the corporations advertised on those signs.  Whoa!!

So, let me debunk this.  Those signs are put in the fields by the companies that sold the seed, fertilizer, or pesticides to the farmer who owns the field. The farmer graciously allows the company to advertise their products.  We have participated in this phenomenon.

No, this field is not corporate owned. It is owned by a family who allowed the co-op to plant a plot for research purposes.

Sometimes you will see multiple signs, flags, larger signs, and/or a tent in a field.  This is what is called a plot.  Co-ops and seed companies will often plant several different varieties of seed in the same field to compare the performance of them.  Lots of research and data comes from these educational plots.  Farmers are invited out to view the results, and learn about pertinent agronomy issues.  (Plus a free meal, farmers loooove free meals.  Then again, who doesn’t?!?)

Plots are planted on farmer-owned ground as well.  We have had plots on our farms in the past.  They are a lot of work to plant and harvest, as each variety of seed has to be planted and harvested separately, and a plot can have as many as 20-30 varieties.  Very time consuming, but the information derived is worth it.

This is an example of a plot. Lots of different varieties of seed planted in the same field to see how they perform in similar circumstances.

This is just an overview of how seed plots work.  There are many people in the ag industry whose jobs revolve around the data collected from plots.  So, next time you drive by one of those fields,  go ahead and pull in to take a closer look.  Provided it’s not too muddy… you wouldn’t want to get stuck! Although if you do, I guarantee the farmer who owns the field would get a good laugh at you as he’s pulling you out!!

Farming Tuesday: Do Farmers Wear Business Suits?

Yes, farmers wear business suits...but not all the time. All of these people are farmers and friends of mine.

I recently read a blog entry about about local food.  The author was breaking down the energy it takes to get food from the farm to the dinner table, and debunking some common beliefs about local food.  Read it here. A short and very interesting read.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love local food!  I love the farmer’s market!  I love CSAs (Community Supported Ag)!  Locally grown produce and meat provide an excellent opportunity for those who don’t have a connection to food production.  And they provide my family with fresh food when it’s in season.  But… (you knew there was going to be a but) that doesn’t mean that modern/industrial farming is the “bad guy.”  There is a place and a need in this world for all forms of agriculture.

Anyway… there was a person on this blog that commented that small local farmers wear blue jeans and worry about their crops, unlike “industrial” farmers in the Midwest who wear suits and worry about their balance sheet.  Ok, I know many of you who read this blog are in the Midwest.  And most of you have met a farmer.  Was he or she wearing a suit??  Probably not.

So many terms get thrown around when it comes to food production.  What do they even mean?  I’m a farmer in the heartland of America, just 50 miles from Cedar Rapids, the “Food Capital of the World” and I’m not really even sure….

My crops and livestock are sold, for the most part, to food processing companies.  Does that make me an “industrial” farmer?  My hogs are kept indoors.  Does that make me a “factory?”  I use herbicides and have a professional accountant do my taxes.  Does that mean I’m “corporate?”

All of the labor and management on my farm is done by family.  Does that make me a “family” farmer?  I sell beef directly to local customers.  Does that make me a “local” farm?  We use cover crops, no-till, and crop rotation.  Does that mean we’re “sustainable?”

I have been known to do cattle chores and get covered in manure (although my husband is the champion at getting dirty, he can look at dirt and it will stick to him).  Then the next day I will be dressed in a business suit to attend a Farm Bureau gathering.  I’m so confused!  Am I supposed to do only one of these activities?

Then there are the days that there isn’t enough time to transition from one role to the other and you end up walking into the bank with your filthy, holey jeans on.  Or you extend your dirty greasy hand to family from the city who decided to stop by for a visit.

Then there’s the other way around.  Such as when you’re on your way to church and spot 40 head of feeder calves plowing through the newly planted corn field.  There isn’t enough time to go home and change into your chore clothes.  Or, you go straight to the field after prenatal classes (because you know if you miss one your baby is gonna come out with three legs and hairy ears) because the weather is perfect for the first time in weeks for soybean harvest.

Yes. All of the above situations really happened to me.

I’m not rare.  This is how agriculture in the Midwest is.  The people you see on the cover of the Farm Bureau Spokesman in their business suits are the same people you will meet on the road with their tractors and manure spreaders.  The same people you will see in the bleachers at their kid’s tee ball game.

People who think that “industrial” farming is a horrible, evil, greedy, destructive way of life  are the reason I blog.  The way they see modern farming just isn’t so.

So, even though there are times my family looks like this....

We are much more comfortable like this....

or this... (yep, a lot of these are old pictures)

"Even this is better than wearing a dress." says Hazel

And this, well, this is typically how Justin looks when he gets home. There's just something about a guy who is willing to get dirty and get the work done. 😉

Anatomy of a Corn Plant

Hard to believe these huge corn plants were just tiny seeds only a few months ago.

If you’re like me, and you live in Iowa, chances are you take for granted all the corn fields around you.  Have you ever really considered what goes on from the time the seed corn is planted until it is harvested?  I know I never did, until recent years.  I mean, really, is it not absolutely amazing that one tiny little seed planted just three months ago is now around 8 feet tall and nearly mature?

Little baby corn plants just popping out of the soil.

Have you ever wondered how that happens?  I mean, it is simple biology, so here is your lesson for the day:

Corn seeds are planted in a row no more than 2 inches deep and spaced about 6 inches apart.  The rows are 30 inches away from each other.  Depending on the soil temperature, the corn sprout will emerge anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks.  As the plant grows over the next several weeks, it will add leaves and begin to develop an ear until it puts out a tassel. The tassel is the bushy top of the corn plant.  At this same time the ear will put out its silk. Both the silk and the tassel are considered part of the flower.

Russell is pointing to the silk. It is called silk because it consists of silky strands that stick out of the top of the ear.

The tassel on top of the plant contains pollen to fertilize the silk, which forms kernels on the ear.

Tasseling and pollination are critical times in corn development.  The tassel contains pollen that must make it to the silk in order to fertilize the plant. Each strand of silk must “catch” a pollen grain from the tassel to form a kernel. So, the number of  pollen grains caught by the silk, equals the number of  kernels formed on an ear.  This determines the yield. Corn plants usually fertilize other corn plants in a field (the silk catches pollen from a different plant).

Russell helping me show a close-up of the tassel.

A corn plant will only release pollen under ideal conditions.  Usually only during a few hours of a day, for a few days.  It can’t be too wet or dry or too hot or cold.  That’s why farmers can be so nervous during the growing season.  So much of their income depends on circumstances out of their control!

After pollination, it is now time for the corn plant to begin forming kernels over the next couple months, called the grain fill period. The kernel goes through a few stages.  These stages are basically based on the moisture content, size, and starch content of the kernel.  Once the kernel is fully formed, and contains about 30 percent moisture, it is considered physiologically mature, or black-tipped.

After the corn is mature, it is essentially dead, and farmers now begin the waiting game for it to dry down.  Ideally, we like to harvest our corn once the kernels are below 20% moisture.  How long it takes for corn to dry varies wildly, but dry corn harvest will usually begin around the second week of October here in Iowa.

Tall green corn and a bright blue sky... a sight to behold for a country girl!

See, fascinating, huh?  This was a hard post to write, as it would be very easy for me to get way too technical.  There is a lot of research and science that goes into field corn production.  Thanks to genetic technology and other advances, today’s farmer feeds 155 people.  That number is double what it was in the 1970’s.  I wonder what farming will be like in another 40 years?

Low Flying Aircraft

An increasing phenomena in Iowa during August has been aerial applied fungicide.  Which means super low flying airplanes and helicopters spraying fungicide on farm fields.  Just yesterday an airplane flew right over us as we were driving.  We used to rush outside when we heard the telltale rumble of a low flying plane to see what in the heck was going on, now it’s old news.  Although it is still fascinating to watch when they are nearby.

Flying unbelievably fast and low!

Fungicide has become more common in recent years for a few reasons.  Planting corn in the same field year after year increases the chances of corn developing a fungal disease.  Some hybrids (or varieties) of corn are also more susceptible.    The weather plays a big role in our decision making process as well.  This year has been incredibly wet and hot…perfect conditions for the corn to develop fungus.  Finally, of course, the checkbook has to allow for it, and this year we had a little bit of credit left over at the co-op so we decided to use it on our fields that were being the most affected by fungal disease.

This was the coolest part. The helicopter actually lands on the truck to refill with fungicide and water.

Since the corn is now way too tall to drive a sprayer through, the only option left to apply the fungicide is by plane or helicopter.  Last week, we had a few of our fields treated with a helicopter.  It is pretty cool to watch, they fly along at about 85 mph, just above the corn, lifting up just in time at the end of the field to avoid power lines.  Here are a couple links to the videos I shot of the helicopter that sprayed our fields :

Helicopter Spraying Fungicide on Corn

Helicopter Taking Off

Feeding the Corn

My apologies, the pictures for this entry are not of our equipment, as I just didn't get a chance to get out and take any while we were sidedressing. But they are very similar to what we do to feed our corn. The round metal things are called coulters, they run between the rows of corn and open up a small slot in the ground for the nitrogen to flow into. The small white tubes are what the nitrogen flows through and then dribbles out of directly behind the coulter. The entire thing mounted on the back of the tractor is called a toolbar.

The corn has been growing fast around the farm lately.  A lot of rain, warm weather, and sunshine will do that.  Applying crop nutrients, such as nitrogen, helps us to help nature.  Giving corn an extra boost of food, creates more yield per acre and increases our efficiency.  This allows the consumer to enjoy cheap food prices in the grocery store.  Did you know that the percentage of  income that Americans spend on food has shrunk from 23% to 9.5% since 1929?

There are many ways to fertilize corn.  Anhydrous,  dry urea, or manure are common forms.  We prefer to use liquid 28% nitrogen.  The 28 is kept in big tanks on the tractor, it flows through hoses and is dribbled near the row, right where the corn can take advantage of it.  The rate at which the fertilizer is applied can be controlled based on the variety of corn, and the fertility of the soil.  Often, if a field has had manure applied to it, it makes it unnecessary to apply additional nitrogen, or at the very lease, it reduces the rate needed.  Another way we reduce the amount of nitrogen needed is to plant soybeans.  The beans will “fix” nitrogen in the soil and make it available to the corn that is planted in their place next year.

A better view of the coulter and fertilizer delivery system.

We work closely with our agronomist to determine how much nitrogen to give to the corn.  It is costly, but when applied properly, will benefit the amount of corn we get from an acre.  Half of what the corn needs will be applied when the corn is planted.  The other half gets applied when the corn is around ankle to knee-high.

After we apply fertilizer, it’s pretty much up to mother nature to make the corn grow.  Soon after the corn gets it’s nitrogen, it will grow big enough to shade the soil between the rows and prevent any more weeds from growing.  The corn truly becomes at the mercy of the weather until it’s harvest time.

Just like I make sure my kids are getting the right nutrients to grow, I also make sure the corn is getting what it needs to be productive. (Oh, and yes, the kids are getting over pink eye in this picture)

Watchin’ My Corn Pop Up in Rows

The planter, unfolded and ready to go.

Almost as soon as we turn the calendar to April, the atmosphere on the farm changes. We start thinking about getting the planter out and ready to go, we try to remember where we parked everything last year, and we clear out the machine sheds for seed and chemical deliveries. The days get longer, and everyone is working longer. On top of daily chores, we have to begin taking inventory and ordering parts and then going over the planter, tractor, sprayer, and tenders to make sure they are ready as soon as the soil temperature is right (50 degrees) for planting.

My camera broke this week, so you are getting some pictures from last year, hence the young-ness of Russell and Lucy. It is a family tradition to take a picture of the kids with new equipment, it helps us to remember when we got it.

Last year we got a new planter. We went from a 12 row to a 24 row planter. Talk about moving up! It has been exciting to learn all about the new technology that we can now use. Through GPS technology, we can adapt the how thick the seed is planted to the soil types in the field, and the planter also knows when it is overlapping where it has already planted and will automatically shut off the rows so as not to overlap. This saves us a lot of time and money by conserving the seed and maximizing yields.

Getting the planter ready to go. Lucy is standing at the back of the planter.

Filling the planter with seed corn. So much better than hauling around bags of seed!

The planter and tractor have fertilizer tanks that apply liquid nitrogen and starter fertilizer at a specified rate precisely where the seeds will utilize it, so as not to waste fertilizer. In the fields that have had manure on them, we don’t apply any nitrogen, only starter fertilizer.  The corn seed is treated with insecticide to prevent bugs from eating it.  It also has genetic traits to stop corn borers and make the corn plant resistant to glyphosate herbicide.  In recent years, we have become concerned with weeds developing glyphosate (also known as round-up) resistance. In other words, there are a few weeds that have adapted to the herbicide and no longer die when they are sprayed with it.   Because of this, we have chosen to use a different herbicide this year.

The tractor, barely visible with the fertilizer tanks, the tanks in the back are for seed...it looks like a spaceship when the planter is folded up, all you can see is tanks!

Another new feature of this planter is that it is a bulk-fill planter. Gone are the days of seed corn in 50 lb bags! We can now fill the planter’s bulk seed tanks with seed from a large container and plant all day without having to worry about running out of seed, stopping, and filling each row’s box with bagged seed corn.

Look closely and you will be able to "row" the corn... it's just starting to pop up!

Little bitty corn plants, they were planted about 3 weeks ago.

When we are are done with corn, we will have to make some adjustments to the planter to switch over to soybeans.   An inch of rain will slow us down, we have to wait for the fields to dry out so we don’t make tracks in the mud and cause erosion.  Farming is heavily dependent on the weather, one of the first things I do every morning is check the forecast.

Believe it or not... there is corn planted in this field. It came out of the CRP program this year, so will be interesting to see how it grows. I'll update throughout the growing season so you can see how amazing these little corn seeds are.

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