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Growing home Corn and soybeans are king, but there’s a big royal family in Illinois fields … Page 3 Field to fans Social media helps grower introduce others to life on farm … Page 4 Finding sanctuary Volunteer-run ranch provides home for wild mustangs … Page 5 A special section of the Journal-Courier | Saturday, October 23, 2021 | $1


2 • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • Modern Farmer 3 Farmers find opportunities in other crops 4 Farmer takes fields to fandom

5 Ranch provides home for wild mustangs 6 Family farms struggle with hidden challenges

7 Waterway nutrient loss effort gains momentum 7 Four ‘rights’ can fix fertilizer wrongs

WE DON’T PUSH PRODUCTS. WE PUSH LIMITS.

8 A ‘decent’ year for corn

brings sharp increase in farmland prices

9 Native plants bring life to garden

15 Cottage food industry applauds changes

10 Organic food mainstream, but still room to grow

16 Team discovers crayfish hybrids

11

Farmers ask for patience on roads 11 USDA to invest millions in co-op plan

LEARN LEARN MORE MORE prairielandfs.com prairielandfs.com

12 More women set sights on owning the farm 14 Spring

18 Coronavirus in the animal world 19 Farming’s newest trend: insects 20 Fewer turn to food banks, but millions still in need 21 Team gets millions to investigate combo

MODERN FARMER October 23, 2021

On the cover: Illinois leads the nation in such crops as horseradishes, lima beans, snap peas and more. Many of them exported worldwide. Darren Iozia | Journal-Courier

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Modern Farmer • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • 3

GOOD TO GROW SOME OF THE ILLINOIS CROPS THAT JUST MIGHT SURPRISE YOU

PUMPKINS

HORSERADISH

POPCORN

FRUITS & VEGETABLES

Illinois leads the nation in the production of pumpkins, and the town of Morton is considered the “Pumpkin Capital of the World.” Producers in Illinois grow 11,000 acres of jack-o-lantern pumpkins, 15,000 acres of processing pumpkins, and 10,000 acres of other cucurbits (a type of gourd), according to the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Two-thirds of the nation’s horseradish supply comes from just down the road, in Collinsville. The crop brings about $10 million a year to producers in what is known as the “Horseradish Capital of the World.” Nearly 24 million pounds of horseradish roots are used to produce 6 million gallons of the herb each year.

More than 47,000 acres and 333 farms in Illinois are dedicated to growing this grain, which is one of the top snacks in the United States. While at least six towns between Ohio and Nebraska lay claim to being the world’s popcorn capital, Illinois produces about 130 million pounds of popcorns kernels each year. It’s also the official state snack.

In addition to the 64 types of vegetables grown in the state, there are 15 types of fruit and nut crops. Vineyards are growing quickly in popularity in Illinois, and there were 175 commercial vineyards growing enough grapes on 1,066 acres to produce 651,800 gallons of wine each year at the 105 commercial wineries across the state.

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Illinois is among the leaders in production of asparagus, cauliflower, fresh-cut herbs, green peas, lima beans and mustard greens

Growing home

From the basics of grain hauling and storage to complete marketing services, we can help you grow a more successful farm.

From the basicsSee GROWING of grain | Page 22h storage to complete mark ELEVATING YOUR FARM TO help you grow a more THE can NEXT LEVEL

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Corn and soybeans might be king, • Grain Buying Off Farm but Illinois farmers are finding • Grain Storage & Drying royal opportunities in other crops • Authorized Dealer By Darren Iozia

Outside of Chicago, Illinois has a long stretch of agricultural and as people drive into the state, from any direction, the most farm land to be seen will

Illinois is first in the nation for pumpkin and horseradish production, second in corn and soybean production and fourth in hog production, according to statistics provided by the University of Illinois Extension office.

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either be corn or soybeans. But there’s more to farming in Illinois than just these two products — yes, they may be the larger percentage, but farmers are making other revenues, not just from corn and soybeans.

In addition to leading the nation in certain items like pumpkins, Illinois farmers are also lead producers of cattle, wheat, oats, sorghum, hay, sheep, poultry, fruits and vegetables — partly because of the state’s climate and varied soil types. Illinois also produces several specialty crops, such as buckwheat, horseradish, ostriches, fish and Christmas trees, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. How does agriculture benefit the state? With 2,640 food manufacturing companies, Illinois is equipped to turn the state’s crops and livestock into food and industrial products. The state ranks first in the nation with $180 billion in processed food sales. Most of these companies are located in the Chicago metropolitan area, which contains one of the largest concentrations of food-related businesses

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4 • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • Modern Farmer

Social media-savvy farmer takes fields to fandom

By Samantha McDaniel-Ogletree

smcdaniel@myjournalcourier.com

RIGGSTON — For one Riggston resident, the farm is her quiet, happy place. Whether it’s feeding her cows or tending to her plants and crops, or just walking the fields she is in her own oasis. Jenny Sauer Schmidgall grew up in Riggston and though she spend several years away from the farm after growing up to explore the careers of an actress and research scientist, she returned home because she felt that was the best place to be. “I live in enough cities to know this is where I belonged,” she said. “Every time I came back home, I just got this relaxed feeling.”

Photos by Samantha McDaniel-Ogletree | Journal-Courier

Jenny Sauer Schmidgall talks about the plants she grows outside her home in Riggston. This one is a black-eyed Susan vine.

Schmidgall has shared her love of her farm with her family and had begun to expand the number of people with whom she

shares it. Known as the Witty Farmer, Schmidgall has been sharing glimpses of her paradise with her

WHALEN TRUCKING

followers on Twitter and TikTok. Though not an avid social media person, she said she does enjoy making some of her posts about her farm online, but she doesn’t really do

it for the followers. With just more than 8,400 followers on Twitter and 10,200 followers on TikTok, Schmidgall said she just loves to the life she leads and wants others to see the joys of agriculture. Her family’s operation, which she works with her dad, mom, uncle and husband, include the raising of cows, pumpkins, soybeans and corn. Schmidgall also raises sweet corn and flowers in her own flower garden outside her home and is establishing a greenhouse. For Schmidgall, she is about accepting the old with the new, making changes where needed but also realizing that not everything needs to be new. “A lot of our stuff is older,” Schmidgall said. “It’s all paid off and it puts us in a good position. When it comes to harvest, you aren’t going

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Jenny Sauer Schmidgall checks her pumpkin patch for late blooms.

to know what type of combine harvested the corn.” However, she said she is helping her dad adapt to needed changes and growth. Using her test plots at home, she said she has been trying some new things and making some changes to her pumpkin patch and plants. Her garden is one of her favorite spots. “It’s so quiet here and I get to see something new almost every day,” she said. “It’s always changing.” It’s these changes and her love of the various aspects of her farm that she is sharing through videos and pictures on her social media pages. Her history in agriculture is also transitioning to clothing. The Witty Farmer is an online store that has a focus on agriculture themed clothing, See FANDOM | Page 22


Modern Farmer • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • 5

Volunteer ranch provides home for wild mustangs By Jill Moon Hearst Illinois

ALHAMBRA — Campers can now have a unique experience at the Legendary Mustang Sanctuary as it prepares to welcome horses rescued from California wildfires. Begun in 2008, the sanctuary includes a 30-acre pasture for wild mustangs and burros. To help fund the effort, three months ago the sanctuary joined the nationwide Harvest Hosts program, a network of more than 2,300 sites. Alhambra is about a 90-minute drive from Jacksonville. RVers pay a $99 yearly membership for unlimited access to stay overnight at any Harvest Hosts locations. The self-contained RVs must have a toilet, a water tank and inside cooking facilities; no tents of any kind are allowed. Participants also are asked to purchase merchandise from Harvest Hosts’ members. Kathy Lewis, who co-founded Legendary Mustang Sanctuary with her hus-

A volunteer drags fencing across a field at the sanctuary ranch in Alhambra.

A wild mustang gazes at a camera. In early 2022, the Legendary Mustang Sanctuary will receive 75 to 100 horses rescued from California wildfires.

band, Shawn, said several RVers already have spent the night at the sanctuary, boosting the group’s ability to fund raise since the pandemic began more than 18 months ago. One of the sanctuary’s major

fundraising events — Mustangs for Mustangs — has been canceled the past two years because of COVID-19 concerns. The camping donations, and money from Legendary Mustang Sanctuary merchandise, goes to the group as a 100% donation, she said. The sanctuary is solely volunteer-run with no salaried positions or administration costs. Currently Legendary Mustang Sanctuary is gearing up to receive 75 to 100 wild mustang horses rescued from California wildfires. The horses will arrive after the first of the year, in cooperation with the U.S.

Forestry Service. The horses will be from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory, a 500-square-mile area of rolling and rough country within the Modoc National Forest just outside of Alturas, California. “The wildfires burned so much vegetation, there’s less vegetation for the mustangs to graze,” Lewis said. “Once they are at the sanctuary, within 30 days some will start being ready for adoption.” Lewis said Legendary Mustang Sanctuary is also participating in “mystery

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6 • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • Modern Farmer

Family farms struggling with hidden challenges By Andrea Rissing The Conversation

Kat Becker feeds hundreds of people with the vegetables she grows on her farm, and she wants to expand. But her ability to grow her business collides with her need for affordable health insurance and child care. She has had to make difficult choices over the years: keep her farm income low enough so her children can qualify for the state’s public health insurance, or expand the farm and buy expensive private insurance. To look after her three young children, she could hire a cheap but inexperienced babysitter, or spend a significant share of her income on child care and have peace of mind that the kids are safe from dangers on the farm. “The stable choice for my children to have health insurance is an irrational choice for my farm business,” she said. As farmers continue to age and retire, the U.S. needs young farmers to take

their place. The country has 3.4 million farm operators today, roughly 2% of the American population, and their average age is 58. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made concerted efforts to help young and beginning farmers, particularly with access to farmland, credit and marketing skills. But focusing on the technical side of farming misses a fundamental fact about farms: They are inherently social entities, and their success depends upon social infrastructure as much as biophysical or financial infrastructures. Bolstering food systems’ resilience means supporting individuals so they can grow food. Research indicates that health care and child care are two crucial ingredients for a successful food system. What happens when farmers get sick? Economists find that healthier workers are more productive, adaptable and better able to cope with stress. Farming, meanwhile, is stressful, risky and physi-

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Farmers prioritize having health insurance – over 90% of farmers are covered – yet this number hides details that plague the entire U.S. health care system.

cal work. Research found that two-thirds of farmers have a preexisting health condition, and one in three farms has a family member whose health problems make farming difficult. Farmers prioritize having health insurance – over 90% of farmers are covered – yet this number hides details that plague the entire U.S. health care system. In addition to farming, half of all farm families have at least one adult working an additional full-time job, often primarily to get health insurance coverage. It’s an affordable option, but pulls time and energy away from farm work. Farmers in states as diverse as Mississippi, California and Nebraska have shared the lengths they have gone to stay eligible for public health insurance. In extreme cases, farmers have said they kept marriages secret. Often, farmers feel trapped: Too much income can put them over the threshold for public benefits. Nationwide, 68% of all personal bankruptcies are connected to health and medical expenses. Such personal and financial crises can have long-term consequences for farms. One in two farm families reported that they worried they would have to sell farm assets to pay health expenses. Farmers report that covering health

care needs often means working into old age or selling land to the highest bidder. This limits access to farmland, making it even harder for young farmers to get started. As parents across the country discovered during the pandemic, productivity can suffer when working from home with children around. Magazine and grocery store advertisements of smiling farmers posing with young children obscure the reality that farm parents are working parents who also must navigate the complex world of child care. Growing up on a farm has many benefits for children, but farms can also be dangerous. Every day, 33 children are seriously injured in agricultural-related incidents, and every three days a child dies on a farm. Child care is rarely discussed in conversations related to farm viability and farm safety, yet it underpins the very foundation of the family farm. In a national study of farm parents before the pandemic, researchers found that two-thirds had struggled with the cost, availability and quality of child care. Surveying farm parents during the early months of COVID-19, they found 58% reported that taking care of children

See FAMILIES | Page 22


Modern Farmer • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • 7

Waterway nutrient loss effort gains momentum By Kevin Bessler The Center Square

In an effort to reduce farm fertilizers from running off into waterways, a network of organizational stakeholders is continuing efforts to reduce nutrient loss. The basic goal of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy is to cut nutrient loads, like nitrogen and phosphorus, almost in half and improve waterways in Illinois all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Agriculture recently released the 2021 Biennial Report on the implementation of the 2015 Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. The report showed nitrogen levels were up 13% and phosphorus levels up by 35%. Lauren Lurkins, Illinois Farm director of environmental policy, said the initiative is going to take some time, but she foresees success. “The fact that we have not only individuals making changes on their farms and waster water treatment plants, but also organizations and our state supporting it for the long haul,” Lurkins said. The Illinois Farm Bureau said it has invested $2.3 million since 2015 to implement the strategy. That includes a focus on education and outreach, supporting research, and supporting implementation. Between 2019 and 2020, agriculture sector partners reported spending nearly $27 million implementing the strategy, outside of state and federal costs-share program funds. Lurkins said there are several ways to help reduce farm runoff. “Things that are in the field, like changing up your nitrogen or phosphorus rates or timing of application, use cover crops within a corn or soybean rotation, and then we are also look at the edge of fields, thinking about our waterways like engineered structured practices to treat water before it leaves a field,” Lurkins said. Responses to a strategy survey, 43% of farmers reported being somewhat to very knowledgeable about the strategy, and 66% of farmers reported being somewhat to very knowledgeable about cover crops.

Getty Images

The basic goal of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy is to cut nutrient loads, like nitrogen and phosphorus, almost in half and 2 improve waterways in Illinois all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Four ‘rights’ can fix fertilizer wrongs By Katie Parker

University of Illinois Extension

Whether you apply fertilizer to your lawn, pasture, or production field, the 4-R principles of nutrient management is relevant information that can be used when making applications. When making fertilizer applications, it is always important to consider if we are using the right fertilizer source at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place. Right source To determine if we are using the correct fertilizer source, it is important to consider how the fertilizer will be used. If the fertilizer is applied earlier in the season with the hope of providing a season long benefit, a slow release or stabilized form is suggested; this is often used with nitrogen as we can easily lose nitrogen in the soil due to environmental factors. If applying nitrogen to a lawn, it is suggested to use a nitrogen rich source such as urea (46-0-0) rather than a balanced source (10-10-10); with the balanced source, we are also applying phosphorus and potassium which may not be needed. Excess phosphorus may result in phosphorus runoff. Right time Nitrogen recommendations for lawns range from 1 to 4 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, or 44 to 175 pounds per acre. Nitrogen recommendations for corn can vary by grower, but potentially range from 100 to 250 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre. With these large quanti-

ties of a fertilizer that we know is very mobile in the soil, it is advisable to make split applications; apply half or part of the nitrogen early in the season and the rest later in the season. This helps to increase the nutrient availability later in the season for the growing lawn or crop. Applying fertilizer at the right time also includes not applying phosphorus (manure or inorganic fertilizers) to frozen or snow covered soils, and applying fall nitrogen once soil temperatures are consistently below 50 degrees at a 4-inch depth. Right rate When fertilizing with the right rate, it is suggested to start with a soil sample and only apply fertilizer based on the soil nutrient supply

and what the plant needs. Determining the right rate of nutrients needed is important to the success of a nutrient management program. This includes applying too much fertilizer and losing it from leaching, runoff, volatilization, etc., or applying too little fertilizer which can limit the availability of other nutrients in the soil. The use of variable rate applications help to better tailor fertilizer needs to different soil types and soil nutrient levels. Right place When fertilizing in the right place, only apply nutrients where the crop can use them. This includes applying nutrients only in areas that are considered deficient based

off a soil test, incorporating broadcast applied phosphorus fertilizers, and monitoring broadcast spreaders range to prevent application in the street and waterways. Fields or lawns can be managed in zones to only apply to areas where nutrient deficiencies occur. Precision guidance can used for variable rate applications, planting over the fertilizer band, and accurate applications. With the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, the goal is to reduce the state’s phosphorus load by 25% and nitrate-nitrogen load by 15% by 2025. With the implementation of the 4-R principles of nutrient management, this goal can more easily be achieved.

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8 • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • Modern Farmer

Despite challenges, a ‘decent’ year for cornN By Zeta Cross

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A farmer harvests corn in Loami.

hard to harvest. It’s falling down. Some of it is laying on the ground and the combine just can’t pick it up,” DeSutter said. A big windstorm, which

Illinois farmers typically endure in September or early October, would have been devastating, DeSutter said. Because of the condition

of the stalks, a lot of farmers rushed to harvest their corn crops in September this year, for the first time ever. “We started harvesting

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Illinois corn farmers were looking forward to a record harvest in 2021 until tar spot, a new fungal disease, threw a wrench into the calculations of some growers. Randy DeSutter, president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, said he will remember 2021 as the first year that tar spot, a disease that originated in Latin America and first showed up in Illinois in 2015, made a significant impact. “I was actually expecting a record year. But when all this tar spot took hold, and killed plants early, we lost 25 to 30 bushels on average,” DeSutter said. “The corn all died ahead of when it should have. So the yields are still decent, but they are not as good as what we hoped for in August.” Cornstalks were weakened by tar spot and another disease that Illinois corn farmers have more experience fighting: anthracnose. The condition of the stalks made the corn more difficult than ever to bring in, DeSutter said. “The corn isn’t standing very well at all. It’s very

on Sept. 9, and we just went straight through because we were so fearful that we wouldn’t be able to get it – with it all falling down,” DeSutter said. “We’ve never had all our corn picked in September.” DeSutter began growing corn and soybeans with his father Maurice and brother Jim on their farm in Woodhull in western Illinois in 1979. His son Matthew and his nephew Drew have since joined the operation. Illinois corn farmers did benefit from a critical saving grace this year: record

n i t m m a e t w y m f f c t t s

prices. “Grain prices are at the high end of the scale, and that’s what counts the most,” DeSutter said. Farmers will need the profits to get ready for next year. Input prices for fertilizers and fungicides have doubled in 2021. Cash rents are going up. Machinery costs are going up. “We’ve got a lot of good things going with the prices up, but then everything v p else is following suit to dampen it,” DeSutter said. f


Modern Farmer • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • 9

Native prairie plants bring life to garden

By Beth Botts and Morton Arbortum

Tribune News Service

In the golden days of summer, a prairie is in its glory. You can capture some of that glory for your garden by incorporating native prairie plants, according to Julie Janoski, manager of the Plant Clinic at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle. The Schulenberg Prairie at the Arboretum is one of the oldest and most successful restored prairies in the Midwest, planted on a former farm field nearly 60 years ago. “It’s a great place to see prairie and savanna plants in their natural context and get ideas for your own yard,” Janoski said. “And at this time of year, it’s just lovely.” One of the things you’ll notice about prairie plants is they tend to be tall. A tall-grass prairie consists mainly of grasses, intermingled with flowers. “In a prairie, the plants hold each other up and move together like waves in the wind,” Janoski said. “In your garden, tall plants may need to be staked for support to keep them from flopping. Or you may choose cultivated varieties that have been selected to be more compact, with shorter stems.” In choosing a cultivated variety of a native plant, pick one whose blooms are fairly similar to those of

A butterfly feeds on butterfly milkweed.

Blue wild indigo flowers grow in a garden.

the wild species. “A major reason we garden with native flowers is to provide nectar and pollen for insects and other pollinators,” Janoski said. “If the flowers are too different in color or shape from the wild plant, they may not work as well for bees and butterflies.” It’s also important to match a plant to your garden’s conditions. “Prairie plants will need full sun,” she said. “But some come from moist prairies and some from dry prairies, or prairies with different kinds of soil. Do some research to make sure you’re choosing a species that can thrive in your site.” Here are just a few starter suggestions from Janoski for prairie plants that may work in a garden:

Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis): This large, showy, shrublike plant has gray-green leaves and spikes of blue flowers in May. White wild indigo (Baptisia alba) has white blooms. Some hybrids of Baptisia are more compact. Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa): The pale lavender flowers of this plant are bee magnets. Several members of the genus Monarda are also known

Getty Images

by the common name “bee balm,” so be sure you choose a species that fits your garden’s conditions. Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa): The most vivid of the milkweeds that provide critical food for monarch butterfly caterpillars, this plant has broad clusters of tiny, bright-orange flowers. Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis): This shrub has delightful spheri-

cal white flower heads, like tiny disco balls, in midsummer. It is a wet-prairie plant that needs moist soil and lots of space. Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis): Native to wet prairies, cardinal flower has vivid red flower spikes. It depends on hummingbirds for pollination. Switch grass (Panicum virgatum): This native grass grows about 3 to 4 feet tall, with flower spikes that reach higher in late summer. The cultivar Northwind stands especially upright. Other prairie grasses that work well in gardens are little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis). Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum):

The leaves at the base are huge and wide, and in summer, stalks of bright-yellow flowers can reach up to 8 feet tall. Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida): With wispier, paler petals, this native coneflower has a different look than the more widely planted purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Many hybrids and cultivated varieties of coneflower are available, often with colors and shapes totally unlike the wild species. For the sake of pollinators, it might be wise to choose plants with pink or purple blooms that are similar to wild coneflowers. “You want the bees and butterflies to be able to recognize them,” Janoski said.


10 • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • Modern Farmer

Organic food mainstream, but still room to grow By Kathleen Merrigan The Conversation

Organic food once was viewed as a niche category for health nuts and hippies, but today it’s a routine choice for millions of Americans. For years following passage of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established national organic standards, consumers had to seek out organic products at food co-ops and farmers markets. Today over half of organic sales are in conventional grocery store chains, club stores and supercenters; Walmart, Costco, Kroger, Target and Safeway are the top five organic retailers. Surveys show that 82% of Americans buy some organic food, and availability has improved. So why do overall organic sales add up to a mere 6% of all food sold in the U.S.? And since organic farming has many benefits, including conserving soil and water and reducing use of synthetic chemicals, can its share grow? One issue is price. On average, organic food costs 20% more than conventionally produced food. Even hardcore organic shoppers like me

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The vast majority of organic farms are small or midsized, both in terms of gross sales and acreage. Organic farmers are younger on average than conventional farmers.

sometimes bypass it due to cost. Some budget-constrained shoppers may restrict their organic purchases to foods they are especially concerned about, such as fruits and vegetables. Organic produce carries far fewer pesticide residues than conventionally grown versions. Price matters, but let’s dig deeper. Increasing organic food’s market share will require growing larger quantities and more diverse organic products.

This will require more organic farmers than the U.S. currently has. There are some 2 million farms in the U.S.. Of them, only 16,585 are organic – less than 1%. They occupy 5.5 million acres, which is a small fraction of overall U.S. agricultural land. Roughly two-thirds of U.S. farmland is dedicated to growing animal feed and biofu-

el feedstocks like corn and soybeans, rather than food for people. In my view, converting more agricultural land to organic food production should be a national goal. Organic farmers produce healthy food, promote soil health and protect watersheds. Ruminant animals like dairy cows when raised organically must graze on pasture for at

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Starting small makes sense for beginning farmers, and organic price premiums allow them to survive on smaller plots of land. But first they need to go through a tough three-year transition period to cleanse the land.

least 120 days each year, which reduces their methane emissions. The list of climate and environmental benefits associated with organic is long. Organic farming consumes 45% less energy than conventional production, mainly because it doesn’t use nitrogen fertilizers. And it emits 40% less greenhouse gases because organic farmers practice crop rotation, use cover crops and composting, and eliminate fossil fuel-based inputs. The vast majority of organic farms are small or midsized, both in terms of gross sales and acreage. Organic farmers are younger on average than conventional farmers. Starting small makes sense for beginning farmers, and organic price premiums allow them to survive on smaller plots of land. But first they need to go through a tough threeyear transition period to cleanse the land. During this time they are ineligible to label products as organic, but must follow organic standards, including forgoing use of harmful chemicals and learning how to manage ecosystem processes. This typically results in shortterm yield declines. Many farmers fail along the way. The transition period is just one of many challenges for organic farmers. Greater federal government support could help. In a recent report, Arizona State University’s Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems identified actions the Biden administration can take within existing budgets and laws

to realize the untapped promise of organic agriculture. Current USDA assistance for organic producers is paltry, especially given the billions of dollars that the agency spends annually in support of agriculture. Twothirds of farm subsidy dollars go to the top 10% richest farms. Our report recommends dedicating 6% of USDA spending to supporting the organic sector, a figure that reflects its market share. As an example, in 2020 the agency spent about $55 million on research directly pertinent to organic agriculture within its $3.6 billion Research, Education and Economics mission area. A 6% share of that budget would be $218 million for developing things like better ways of controlling pests by using natural predators instead of chemical pesticides. Organic food’s higher price includes costs associated with practices like forgoing use of harmful pesticides and improving animal welfare. A growing number of food systems scholars and practitioners are calling for use of a methodology called True Cost Accounting, which they believe reveals the full costs and benefits of food production. According to an analysis by the Rockefeller Foundation, American consumers spend $1.1 trillion yearly on food, but the true cost of that food is $3.2 trillion when all impacts like water pollution and farmworker health are factored in.


Modern Farmer • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • 11

Farmers ask for patience on roads amid harvest By Elyse Kelly

The Center Square

Pumpkins and fall leaves don’t just mean cooler temperatures: it also means large farm equipment on the roads. Every year, harvest season finds farmers driving tractors, combines and other heavy equipment down roads drivers are accustomed to having to themselves. Marty Marr, vice president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association and a farmer in Morgan, Sangamon and Logan counties, says he knows it’s not fun getting stuck behind one of their ponderous pieces of equipment, especially during rush hour. “We try to avoid those times: there’s been occasions where we’ve either traveled very, very early in the morning when there isn’t a lot of traffic or maybe different peak times during the day where we try to stay off the road if we can,” he said. Sometimes, they have to get out there

anyway, says Marr, but they do their best to inconvenience drivers as little as possible. “If we can see a break in a roadway or a place we can get off, we’re always going to try to get off if we can to let people get around us, not hold that traffic back,” he said. Marr asks motorists to be extra careful and look out for “slow moving vehicle” signs. “You can come up on a piece of equipment very fast – a lot of these tractors are traveling anywhere from 18 to maybe 30 mph,” he said. Marr says there are no winners in a crash, but cars always come out worse. “It can end badly,” he said. “I’ve seen situations where depending on the type of equipment they come up on – just say a plow or anything like that – I’ve heard of cars going underneath equipment like that and it can be rather tragic.” Farmers do everything they can to make themselves as visible as possible including keeping their lights on and adding reflective tape, according to Marr. He asks motorists to simply be patient with them as they work to feed America. “When somebody shows us they’re well aware of the situation and they give us a break, so to speak, we’re very appreciative of it,” Marr said. “I always tip my hat, give them a wave and let them know we really do appreciate their patience while we’re out here.”

USDA to invest $50 million in co-op plan Journal-Courier

The U.S. Department of Agricultureis investing up to $50 million in cooperative agreements to support historically under-served farmers and ranchers with climate-smart agriculture and forestry. The Racial Justice and Equity Conservation Cooperative Agreements are available to entities and individuals for twoyear projects that expand the delivery of conservation assistance to farmers who are beginning, limited resource, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers. “Historically under-served producers face significant barriers in accessing USDA assistance for conservation and climate-smart agriculture,” Natural Resources Conservation Service Illinois State Conservationist Ivan Dozier said. “USDA is committed to revising programs to be more equitable, and these producers deserve our support as they contribute to our vibrant and diverse agricultural communities.” The projects should help historically under-served farmers and ranchers in implementing natural resources conser-

vation practices that improve soil health, improve water quality, provide habitat for local wildlife species of concern, improve the environmental and economic performance of working agricultural land and build and strengthen local food projects that provide healthy food and economic opportunities. Projects should remove barriers to access and reach historically underserved groups through a combination of program outreach and technical assistance in managing natural resources that address one or more of the following four priority areas: Addressing local natural resource issues; using climate-smart agriculture practices and principles; encouraging existing and new partnerships; and developing state and community-led conservation leadership for historically under-served agricultural producers, including educating and training students for careers in natural resources management. Historically under-served producers include those who are considered beginning, limited resource, socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers.


12 • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • Modern Farmer

More women set sights on owning the farm By Kent Erdahl KARE-TV

It’s an industry that’s been seeing rapid advancements in technology, and new numbers also indicate that more and more women are taking ownership in family farms. Women are the fastest-growing demographic

in farming, and according to the 2019 Ag Survey, they are now listed as operators on 51% of U.S. farms. Eight-year-old Holly King hopes to be among the next generation of women taking ownership in a farm. “I remember vividly, when she was probably 4 or 5, her brother had

asked her what she wants to be when she grows up and she looks directly at him and looks at me and says, very confidently, I want to be a farmer,” said Tom King, Holly’s father. Her interest definitely didn’t stem from her family tree. “I grew up in where there are not too many

Getty Images

Women are the fastest-growing demographic in farming, and according to the 2019 Ag Survey, they are now listed as operators on 51% of U.S. farms.

farms,” Tom laughed. But in a way, he did

help his daughter discover her passion. Holly subscribed to the YouTube channel Ollie’s Farm, and from there, her wish to become a farmer only grew. “I just really want to milk a cow,” Holly said. After a message to Land O’Lakes, Holly got some help taking her wish offline, and on the road to a dairy. Emily Pieper recently joined her brothers in taking over the family business, and much like Holly, she also wanted to work with cows. “I always wanted to do something with cows, and I’ve always loved cows, being on the farm,” Emily said. Emily recently showed Holly what it was like growing up on a dairy farm, while also showing her how much the farm itself has grown. Turns out, Holly isn’t the only one who embracing technology.

“It’s been a transition,” Emily said. “The robots are brand new to us.” Yes, robots. This summer, the dairy installed a fully-automated milking process that the cows have been trained to initiate themselves. “The robot actually memorizes the cow,” Emily explained. “Based on the cow’s collar, it will know what cow it is, how much they have eaten and how much they need to be milked. They eat when they get milked and they get a treat. That’s what actually drives them to come in.” It might not be the process Holly imagined, but if you think any of it altered her passion, dream on. “Who knows what the future will hold, but it’s pretty special to have a kid that has a dream and is passionate about something,” Tom said. “It means a lot to her.”


Modern Farmer • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • 13


14 • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • Modern Farmer

Spring brings sharp increase in farmland prices By Zeta Cross

The Center Square

In the first half of 2021, analysts say Illinois farmland prices did something atypical: they shot up in value. A survey of members of the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers in August

showed a 20% increase in the price of Illinois farmland in the first half of 2021. This is only the fourth time in the past 50 years that farmland prices have increased so significantly. “Right now all of the elements of buying farmland simply look better than they used to. But they have always

looked good,” said Mike Doherty, senior economist and policy analyst of the Illinois Farm Bureau. Because of historically low interest rates, Doherty said property all across the country has gone up in value. “It’s not just farmland. All land, all property, is going up,” Doherty

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This spring is only the fourth time in the past 50 years that farmland prices have increased so significantly.

said. “This is an unusu-

ally rapid increase in farmland prices that mimics, or is in line with unusually rapid increases in property values across the U.S.” Signs of inflation kicking in is another reason that investors are pushing the price of farmland up, Doherty said. “Inflation has always been the friend of farmland prices,” he said. As an investment class, farmland is considered very steady … with a steady trajectory. It doesn’t go up and down rapidly in value – compared to other assets. “People are interested in buying farmland because they are afraid that inflation could reduce the value of holding money in other forms,” Doherty said. The Illinois Society of Professional Farm

Managers and Rural Appraisers will break down the numbers and present a deeper dive into the data on farm prices at their annual meeting in March. “We want to see if this is sustained and what kind of land classes we are talking about,” Doherty said. This summer the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, which surveys 150 rural bankers, reported a price increase in the value of northern Illinois grain-producing farmland, Doherty said. “In the second quarter, their survey showed that farmland in that very strong agricultural area of Illinois increased by 14% year-over-year,” he said. “I’ll be looking for future Chicago Federal Reserve Bank Reports to see what they say.”


Modern Farmer • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • 15

Cottage food industry applauds changes Journal-Courier

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed into law the Home-to-Market Act in support of hundreds of small farms and home bakers. The act, sponsored by Rep. Will Guzzardi and Sen. Dave Koehler, creates new regulations for cottage food operations designed to give the public greater access to home-made jams, jellies, pickles, hot sauces and other Illinois products. Cottage food laws across the nation allow entrepreneurs to prepare s certain low-risk foods in . their home kitchen for sale to the public. Prior to the governor’s signature, they could only sell their products mainly at farmers markets. As a result of the new law, they’ll be able to sell their products directly to customers through fairs and festivals, home sales, pickup, delivery and shipping. The law includes additional food safety requirements, reduces what many had seen as red tape and confusion by creating statewide standards, and adds buttercream icing to the list of products that can be produced in a home kitchen. “We’re grateful that the governor sees the value of this act to building local food systems,” said Derek Ervin of Glacier’s End Farm. Ervin’s farm is in rural southern Illinois and he and his wife Libby recently planted an orchard and dream of opening a cidery. “Our farm depends on

cottage food sales while we wait for our orchard to mature. We sell our jams and hot sauces at different farmers markets, but we could reach so many more customers with online sales. Here in Illinois we import 95 percent of the food we eat. This law gives Illinois farmers the ability to feed more people in Illinois and keep those food dollars in our state,” he said. Kevin Erikson, manager of the urban ag program at Loyola University, said the act “presents an important opportunity to support marginalized and low-income communities that are oftentimes unable to access the necessary assets and finances required to start a business.” Both Ervin and Erikson are members of Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Local Food Farmer Caucus, a group of 60 farmers that works to identify barriers to growing the local food economy, research solutions and put forward legislation. Members of the caucus identified cottage food reform as their top priority for 2021 and partnered with the Institute for Justice, Illinois Environmental Council, Chicago Food Policy Action Council and Illinois Farm Bureau to draft the new legislation and champion the bill. The bill comes at a time many cottage food producers are still being impacted by the pandemic. “I began selling my

baked goods at an indoor farmers market during the winter of 2020, but when the pandemic hit, that venue closed and I no longer had a way to sell my products,” said Danielle Robinson of Dottie’s Kitchen. “Being able to sell direct-to-consumer through a website will allow me to reach a wider audience and make my business more resilient during events like COVID-19, which disrupted farmers markets nationwide.” Illinois has an estimated 500 cottage food businesses, most of them small farms and women-owned businesses, according to Molly Gleason, spokeswoman for Illinois Stewardship Alliance and lead organizer for the bill. “The new regulations

Getty Images

Cottage food laws across the nation allow entrepreneurs to prepare certain low-risk foods in their home kitchen for sale to the public.

will help support these existing small businesses and make it easier for

Illinois shoppers to get their hands on the local products they love,” she

said. The changes go into effect Jan. 1.


16 • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • Modern Farmer

Team discovers invasive-native crayfish hybrids By Diana Yates

University of Illinois News

In a study of crayfish in the Current River in southeastern Missouri, researchers discovered – almost by chance – that the virile crayfish, Faxonius virilis, was interbreeding with a native crayfish, potentially altering the native’s genetics, life history and ecology. Reported in the journal Aquatic Invasions, the study highlights the difficulty of detecting some of the consequences of biological invasions, the researchers say. “The virile crayfish is probably the widest-ranging native crayfish in North America,” said study co-author Christopher Taylor, a curator of crustaceans at the Illinois Natural History Survey. Even though it’s native to North America, F. virilis is considered invasive in many parts of the U.S. because it quickly dominates new habitats when introduced – for example, by fishermen moving crayfish from one stream to another in a

The virile crayfish, Faxonius virilis.

L. Brian Stauffer

Christopher Taylor (left) and Eric Larson, along with colleague Zachary Rozansky, report that an invasive crayfish is interbreeding with a native species in the Current River in Missouri.

Zachary Rozansky

bait bucket, he said. Taylor conducted the research with Eric Larson, a professor of natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Zachary Rozansky, a graduate student who led the research. “The Ozarks in Missouri and Arkansas are just a great place to be a crayfish,” Larson said. “The streambeds

are rocky so you can hide from fish predators, the water chemistry is good, there’s lots of calcium in the stream and there are a lot of groundwater springs that feed into the main river. That’s why there are so many native crayfish there.” The virile crayfish was not native to the Current River watershed, however, and its presence could lead to declines in native crayfish

species, he said. Other invasive crayfish have disrupted the ecosystems they invade, Larson said. For example, the rusty crayfish is native to the Ohio River Basin but has invaded the waters of many other regions in the U.S. and Canada. It hybridizes with native crayfish, displacing them and reducing their reproductive output. It also consumes large quantities of aquatic


plants and other invertebrates, undermining populations of some sport fish and crayfish species. The virile crayfish was first detected in 1986 in the Current River, a pristine watershed, parts of which are administered by the U.S. National Park Service. “The spread and impacts of an invasive species could cause substantial harm to this unique ecosystem,” Larson said. The researchers hoped to determine the extent of the F. virilis invasion by collecting and identifying mitochondrial DNA from environmental samples, an emerging approach for invasive-species surveillance known as “environmental DNA,” or eDNA. However, as they started collecting crayfish for genetic analysis to develop their eDNA sampling method, they discovered a surprising problem. “Initially, we were finding that some of the native spothanded crayfish, Faxonius punctimanus, had mitochondrial DNA sequences that were aligning with invasive virile crayfish,” Rozansky said. “We also discovered the inverse: Some virile crayfish had the mitochondrial DNA of spothanded crayfish.” This meant that the two species were hybridizing with one another, he said. “We did not observe any differences in col-

Modern Farmer • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • 17 ors or patterns indicating they were hybrids,“ Rozansky said. “They looked like one or the other.” The discovery should come as a warning to those using environmental DNA to look

for an invasive species in an area with closely related native species, said Larson, whose laboratory specializes in the use of eDNA. “It was by chance that we found an invasive crayfish that had native

spothanded crayfish mitochondrial DNA,” he said. “Currently, most eDNA detection markers use mitochondrial DNA, so the results of this research highlight the possibility of missed detections

of invasive species if hybridization is occurring.” “Although it is rarely documented, researchers working with invasive crayfishes should not discount the possibility that the invaders

are hybridizing with native species,” Rozansky said. The implications for the native crayfish in the Current River system in Missouri are still unknown, the researchers said.

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18 • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • Modern Farmer

Lab explores coronavirus in animal worldM

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By Liz Ahlberg Touchstone University of Illinois News

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories this month announced confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – in two previously uninfected animal species at a zoo in Illinois. Dr. Leyi Wang, a virologist and professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, first tested the samples in the university’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, with his positive results then verified by the NVSL. Wang talked about zoological transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the VDL’s involvement in testing animal samples, and why animal transmission is important to identify and track. Why bother testing zoo animals for the virus that causes COVID-19? Prompt detection of SARS-CoV-2 in managed wild animals helps the animal care staff take action to control the spread of virus and contain the

L. Brian Stauffer

Dr. Leyi Wang and the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory have played a key role in diagnosing coronavirus infection in animal species in zoos across the country.

zoonotic transmission and interspecies transmission. What kinds of animals have you tested samples from? How many species have tested positive?

expect more confirmed The first sample we positive results as the tested was from a Malaynational outbreak continan tiger in April 2020. Our lab’s positive test ues. results were confirmed What are the two new the following day by the species confirmed to be NVSL. infected last week? Since then, we have Fishing cat and bintested more than 1,500 turong were tested preWe have huge of: by our samples from a more than Selection sumptive positive 50 animal species lab and confirmed Tractor Tiresin•over Fork Lift Tires • by the a dozen zoos and aquaria. federal NVSL. The fishing We have tested a Tires wide • Commercial cat is a wild cat native Loader We have a huge Selection Skid of: We have a huge Selection variety of animal species, to Southeast Asia, about Tractor Tires • Fork Lift Tires • Truck from dogs, cows Tires and pigs& More! twice the size of a domesof Tractor Tires • Fork Lift Skid Loader Tires • Commercial tic cat. A binturong, also Tires • Skid Loader Tiresto•big cats, nonhuman Truck Tires & More! primates and even marine native to Asia, is someWe have a huge Selection of Tractor Tires • Fork Lift Tires • Skid Commercial Truck Tires mammals. Seven species times called a bearcat – Loader Tires • Commercial Tires • Truck Tires & More! & More! have tested positive for though it is neither a bear SARS-CoV-2 at our veternor a cat, but is related to civets. inary diagnostic lab. We Why is it significant received more samples Let us help - Call us today! (800) 792-8473 whenever a new species is and calls this week, and www.bestdrivetire.com 21 Harold Cox Drive, Jacksonville • 243-6471 • www.brahlers.com outbreak. Detection of virus as early as possible will help with outbreak investigation, tracking down sources of infection and transmission routes, thus further preventing

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found to be susceptible to infection? The SARS-CoV-2 virus binds to the ACE2 receptor in human cells. Struc- B T tural analysis of ACE2 sequences in other vertebrate animals and their predicted ability to bind SARS-CoV-2 suggested a large number of mammals could potentially be infected by SARS-CoV-2, indicating a broad host range of the virus. When we confirm infection in a w new species, we provide s solid evidence to support the findings of those s experimental and theoret- p ical studies. p What does transmis- b sion in multiple species a tell us about the virus t and how it spreads and mutates? p So far, there is no reporti about the transmission of p virus from one managed i animal species to others w in zoological institutions. e Instead, most of these animals were infected through contact with r COVID-19-positive animal d keepers. This means the p virus has a broad host w range. Animals could be o infected through contact 1 with contaminated surfac- l es or objects, or aerosol t transmission. a SARS-CoV-2 genome mutations are random c events and variation is a c continued process. Once v “enough” accumulation of a mutations occurs, variants r with different phenotypes m – such as higher transmis- f sion or more pathogenic – will occur. Therefore, it is a best to reduce or contain a outbreaks, even in animal b populations, as much as a possible. w


Modern Farmer • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • 19

Meet farming’s newest trend: Growing insects By Matan Shelomi The Conversation

What is the life of a cricket worth? Insect farming is a rapidly growing industry, with hundreds of companies worldwide rearing insects at industrial scales. The global value of insect farming is expected to surpass $1.18 billion by 2023. Farmed insects, or “mini-livestock,” refers to insects such as crickets and mealworms raised for the sole purpose of being sold as food or animal feed. These are not the fried tarantulas on a stick hawked to tourists or scorpion lollipops sold as novelties. High-protein insect powder can be used in foods from breads to buns, pasta and protein bars. Such products are already available in countries including the U.S., Switzerland and Finland. As an entomologist who has studied the potential and promotion of edible insects in new markets, I have seen how much progress has been made in the past decade in normalizing the idea of eating insects worldwide. Now is the time to evaluate the ethical aspects of insect farming. Insects for humanity The main motivation for edible insects’ rising popularity is environmental. Producing 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of insect protein requires about 10% of the feed, water and land used for the same amount of beef production, and releases as little as 1% of the greenhouse gases. Insects have a lower environmental impact even compared to other meat alternatives like dairy, gluten and mycoprotein. Raising insects on waste products significantly ups these benefits. Black soldier flies can be raised on agriculture byproducts like vegetable peels or spent grains. The larvae are then used as feed for fish and poultry, recycling waste and reducing reliance on more expensive soymeal and fishmeal feeds. Besides being big business, insect farms also provide important sources of protein and income for rural households. They can be established cheaply, with little space, and are a boon for smallholder farmers who lack the resources for livestock, all

the while sustainably providing feed and fertilizer. A good example is the “Insects for Peace” program that has helped ex-combatants in post-conflict Colombia with their reintegration. The former soldiers have found livelihood farming black soldier flies, which are used as a feed component for livestock. Is insect meat cruelty-free? An additional bonus is that insects do not evoke much empathy. With exceptions, even vegetarians rarely think twice about swatted mosquitoes, let alone the millions of agricultural pests killed when farming crops. Those who do mind can rest assured that farmed insects lead net-positive lives, with no fear of predators or starvation. Insect welfare is conveniently easy: While cramped, hot, filthy settings in factory farms are cruel for vertebrates, they are ideal for insects like mealworms that thrive when crowded together. One can imagine that there are not many requirements to set up a humane cockroach farm, though one’s neighbors might disapprove. The slaughter of insects is another issue. Recent surveys of U.K. insect farmers found many are concerned about insect pain perception and providing their mini-livestock a “good death.” The most common slaughter methods largescale insect farmers use are freezing or freeze-drying, with the assumption that the cold-blooded insects will humanely fall asleep and never wake up. While insects can and do sense physical pain, they likely do not do so consciously. Invertebrate neurologist Shelley Adamo notes that many insect behaviors are “incongruent” with pain as mammals experience it, citing reports of insects walking normally on broken legs or mantids mating while their partner eats them alive. Entomologist Craig H Eisemann’s influential review of the field, “Do Insects Feel Pain?,” concluded that they are missing too many neurological, chemical and behavioral signs for a pain state. Nonetheless, scholars such as Eisemann

and other advocates agree that insects should be farmed and killed with the assumption that they do feel pain. That means the slaughter method should be as quick and painless as possible. While certainly less potentially painful than boiling, as extreme heat is known to induce pain responses in insects, freezing is slow. Shredding is a popular alternative: At their small size, insects can be reduced to powder almost instantaneously, before they could sense any pain. Current surveys suggest public perception of pulverization is still negative compared with freezing, but insect farmers increasingly view it as the more humane choice. The low probability that farmed insects suffer pain, if they can “suffer” at all, combined with the environmental and social benefits of insect farming, caused philosopher Chris Meyers to argue that eating insects is not only morally acceptable but also morally good. This idea gave rise to the term “entovegan.” Like pescatarians follow a vegetarian diet but still eat seafood, entovegans happily eat arthropods, secure in the knowledge that their diet is both sustainable and ethical. How much are insect lives worth? What gives some strict vegans pause is the sheer number of insects involved. In a 2020 preprint, animal welfare activist Abraham Rowe calculates that 1 trillion to 1.2 trillion individual insects are farmed annually for food and feed, not including harvested wild insects. On average, 79 billion to 94 billion farmed insects are alive on farms globally in any given day, compared with only about 22 billion chickens, Earth’s most popular meat.

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So, how valuable is an insect’s life compared with a plant’s or a bacterium’s? Capacity for consciousness is a popular metric for determining if an organism has moral standing, even though there is no agreement on how to actually measure that. If one assumes, hypothetically, that insects are 0.1% as sentient as cows, or that the probability that insects can suffer is 0.1%, then killing 1,000 crickets has a similar ethical footprint as killing one cow. That may seem generous, yet in his guide “How to Reply to Some Ethical Objections to Entomophagy,” philosopher Bob Fisher calculates that one cow produces as much meat as 900,000 crickets. The math changes, however, when one considers how many animals die in agricultural fields: Conservative estimates place at least 10 million invertebrates per acre of crops at risk from pesticides, as well as thousands of small, undeniably conscious vertebrates like mice and rabbits at risk from mechanical harvesters. This math adds millions of deaths not only to traditional meat production through the fields of feed, but also to almost any cultivated crops, including soy. To quote biologists Charles Nicoll and Sharon Russell, “There is no such thing as a bloodless veggieburger.” Fisher calculated that the number of insects killed to produce a plant-based diet or an insect-based diet are about the same, meaning entoveganism and veganism are in that sense equivalent. Eating insects raised on organic wastes, all but eliminating the environmental and animal death costs of plant farming, may be the best option of them all.

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20 • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • Modern Farmer

Fewer turn to food banks, but millions still in need By Ashraf Khalil Associated Press

Hunger and food insecurity across the United States have dropped measurably over the past six months, but the need remains far above pre-pandemic levels. And specialists in hunger issues warn that the situation for millions of families remains extremely fragile. An Associated Press review of bulk distribution numbers from hundreds of food banks across the country revealed a clear downward trend in the amount of food handed out across the country, starting in the spring as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout took hold and closed sectors of the economy began to reopen. “It’s come down, but it’s still elevated,” said Katie Fitzgerald, COO of Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that coordinates the efforts of more than 200 food banks across the country and that provided the AP with the national distribution numbers. She warned that despite the recent decreases, the

amount of food being distributed by Feeding America’s partner food banks remained more than 55% above pre-pandemic levels. “We’re worried (food insecurity) could increase all over again if too many shoes drop,” she said. Those potential setbacks include the advance of the delta variant of the coronavirus, which has already delayed planned returns to the office for millions of employees and which could threaten school closures and other shutdowns as the nation enters the winter flu season. Other obstacles include the gradual expiration of several COVID-19-specific protections such as the eviction moratorium and expanded unemployment benefits. All told, families facing food insecurity find themselves still dependent on outside assistance and extremely vulnerable to unforeseen difficulties. “There are people going back to work, but it’s slow going and God forbid you should need a car repair or something,” said Carmen

Cumberland, president of Community Harvest Food Bank. Nationally, the food banks that work with Feeding America saw a 31% increase in the amount of food distributed in the first quarter of 2021 compared with the first quarter of 2020, just before the global pandemic reached America. When the nationwide closures of offices and schools began in March 2020, the impact was immediate. Feeding America-affiliated food banks distributed 1.1 billion pounds of food in the first quarter on 2020; in the second quarter, the number jumped 42% to more than 1.6 billion pounds. The third quarter saw a smaller 5% increase up to nearly 1.7 billion pounds of food. While distributions declined from the end of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021, recent data suggests that the decline has leveled off. The national data is mirrored in the experiences of individual food banks across the country. At the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland, Califor-

nia, the level of community need spiked in winter and early spring of this year. In February, the organization set a record with 5 million pounds of food distributed. That record stood for one month as March saw 6 million pounds distributed. After the March peak, the numbers started dropping steadily — down to 4.6 million pounds in August. But that’s still compared with 2.7 million pounds in June 2019. “The recovery is going to be very, very long and steep for families who are typically reliant on food banks,” said Michael Altfest, the food bank’s director of community engagement. Altfest said the coronavirus pandemic was an additional trauma for families already suffering from food insecurity, and it introduced a whole new category of client who had never used food banks before but had been pushed over the financial edge by the pandemic. Both categories are projected to remain in need of assistance well into next year. “Things are not getting any easier here for low- and moderate-income households, and we don’t expect it to for a while,” Altfest said. Among those newcomers to the food bank system is Ranada James. The 47-yearold child care professional had received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits in the past but never dealt with a food bank before the pandemic. On a recent overcast Wednesday, James was one of a few dozen people lining up in their cars for a weekly drive-through food pantry operated by a

local charity called The Arc in southeast Washington, D.C., the poorest and most virus-ravaged part of the city. Volunteers loaded her backseat with pre-prepared hot meals, lunch sacks, fresh vegetables from The Arc’s garden and sealed boxes of durable goods. “I never thought I would need it,” she said. “It helped tremendously, and it still really helps.” Even as the situation slowly improves, James finds herself in need. She has two grandchildren and two nieces living with her, and she’s keeping them from attending in-person school out of fear of the pandemic — which means she can’t go back to work. “They really do eat,” she said with a laugh, adding that broccoli and fresh string beans were household favorites. “They’re growing, and they’re picky.” Other food banks across the country are reporting similar trends: a gradual decrease this year, starting in about April, but still far higher than any pre-pandemic numbers. At the Central California Food Bank in Fresno, the numbers have “leveled off” in recent months but remain 25% higher than in 2019, said the food bank’s co-CEO, Kym Dildine. “Many people are still out of work, particularly women, who are the primary caregivers in the home,” she said. At the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., the amount of food distributed in July was 64% higher than in the same month in 2019. “COVID isn’t over by any means,” said the food bank’s

president, Radha Muthiah. “We’re still seeing existing need.” Just how long the elevated level of need will last is a matter of debate, with the most conservative estimates projecting it will last well into next summer. Some are predicting that the country’s food banks may never return to normal. Parallel government food assistance programs like SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps, also saw a pandemic-fueled spike in usage. The Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, reports that the number of SNAP users increased by 7 million between 2019 and this year. In August, President Joe Biden instituted a permanent 25% boost in SNAP benefits, starting this month. But the SNAP program doesn’t come close to covering every family in need. Muthiah said many of the clients who depend on food banks for their nutrition are either ineligible for SNAP benefits, intimidated by the bureaucratic paperwork or fearful of applying due to their immigration status. That leaves food banks as the primary source of aid for millions of hungry people. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the AP that at the peak of the pandemic, 14% of American adults were receiving SNAP benefits. That number is now down around 8%, but the need remains highly elevated, and nonprofit charitable options like food banks serve a vital role in papering over the remaining holes in millions of family budgets, he said.


Modern Farmer • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • 21

Team gets $10 million to investigate crop, solar-panel combo By Ethan Simmons Urbana News Gazette

Crops on the University of Illinois Energy Farm in Urbana will soon have some new neighbors: solar panels. Armed with a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a UI-led team of researchers will take the next four years to study whether the crops/panels combo can not only co-exist but also be fruitful for farmers in terms of yields, energy production and profit. This practice has a name: “agrivoltaics,” using the same land for agriculture and solar photovoltaic panels. It was conceived in the 1980s; the term was coined in 2011. The UI-led agrivoltaics project, called “Sustainably Colocating Agricultural and Photovoltaic Electricity Systems,”or SCAPES, will get grant money from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Systems program, as requested by UI’s Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment. Madhu Khanna, the insitute’s assosciated director and a the College of ACES’ Distinguished Professor of in Environmental Economics, will serve as lead investigator. As she described it, with the increasing profitability of solar panels and the energy they produce, crops are in direct competition for land space with unimpeded sunlight. Researching the optimal arrangement on a field could be a win-win for landowners and the world’s production of renewable energy, fighting the encroachment of climate change. “There’s a lot we still do not know in terms of what should be the density and mix of panels and crops on a field and what type of panels we should have,” Khanna said. “We want to make this new system as compatible with existing equipment and crop varieties farmers are already using, to reduce that barrier to adoption.” Project researchers will create and

Agrivoltaics is the practice of using the same land for agriculture and solar photovoltaic panels. It was conceived in the 1980s.

study these agrivoltaic arrays in two other environments, aside from the Energy Farm in Urbana: Colorado State University and the University of Arizona, which has Biosphere 2, the largest closed ecological system in the world. Khanna, an economist by trade, will focus her initial analysis on the cost-benefit side for farmers. Her team includes a variety of professionals, like crop physiologists and solar engineers, along with UI Extension educator Dennis Bowman, who will help familiarize landowners with the practice. Researchers from the University of Arizona, Colorado State University, Auburn University, the University of Illinois-Chicago and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory fill out the team. While investigators discover how different crops can succeed with different panel patterns, they want the information to be financially feasible and practical. “There’s going to be increased competition for land, and we can minimize the competition between food and fuel by doing this,” Khanna said. “We want to be able to demonstrate how it works to farmers, the solar industry, because we need to work together to make this happen.” As Khanna suspects, some crops

may benefit from the added shade solar panels provide at different parts of the day. They’ll analyze how corn, soybean, sorghum and a number of other crops succeed yield-wise in each environment, then use environmental modeling to extrapolate the findings across other areas, like the U.S. “corn belt,” she said. The team plans to unveil an educational app for children to download and play with, which could show how agrivoltaic setups work compared to a classic crop or solar panel layouts. The first step, in the spring: planting

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crops between the rows of panels at the UI’s own Solar Farm 2.0 and seeing how they do. Some countries, Japan in particular, provide subsidies for this kind of in-field energy production. This is a chance for Khanna and her team of investigators to research the benefits Stateside. “We’re so happy that we got funded we’ve got a really enthusiastic project team that are waiting to get started,” Khanna said. “We’re happy to be among the first in the U.S. to be investigating this.”


Growing

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in the world. Illinois’ agricultural commodities also provide the base for such products as animal feed, ink, paint, adhesives, clothing, soap, wax, cosmetics, medicines, furniture, paper and lumber. Each year, 274 million bushels of Illinois corn are used to produce more ethanol than any other state — about 678 million gallons. Illinois also markets other renewable fuels, including soybean-based biodiesel. Illinois doesn’t just feed back into Illinois, according to the agriculture department, Illinois ranks third in the nation in the export of agricultural commodities with $8.2 billion worth of goods shipped to other countries. Exports from Illinois account for 6% of all U.S. agricultural exports and Illinois is the nation’s second leading exporter of both soybeans, feed grains and related products. About 44% of grain produced in Illinois is sold for export.

including shirts and hoodies. Her items include hats, blankets, scarves and other clothing items, many with witty sayings like “I support farming. I guess you could say I’m pro-tractor,” or “I’d herd That.” Schmidgall said The Witty Farmer actually started accidentally, with her making a shirt that said “GMO survivor” and posting about it on Twitter. From there, it grew, and with the help of her mom, she expanded what she was selling. “I have a dry sense of humor,” she said. “I’m very sarcastic and I like the subtle humor on a lot of the shirts. The stuff I was seeing for farmers was so gaudy or crass. Not every farmer chews on straw or wears overalls everyday.”

Families Getty Images

In 2020, Illinois growers produced 605 million bushels of soybeans — making it the number one state producer of soybeans in the United States.

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became harder during the pandemic – especially for women farmers and those with children under age 6. Women are one of the fastest-growing groups of farmers, and their role as primary caregivers influences a farm’s success. In research, women were almost twice as likely as men to report that child care was an important factor in farm decisions, 44% compared to 24% among men.

Samantha McDaniel-Ogletree | Journal-Courier

A black-eyed Susan vine blooms in Jenny Sauer Schmidgall’s yard.

She said whether its her posts or the products she’s selling, she hopes people enjoy it and see the love she has for farming and agriculture.

The majority of women farmers with child care problems operate small or medium farms and are significantly more likely to sell directly to consumers, such as at farmers markets. These findings have implications for the food system. The Biden administration’s new $1.8 trillion proposal proposal to support families and women in the workforce includes resources for child care infrastructure. These investments could also deliver much-needed support for American farm families.

Ranch From page 5

tours,” in which retirees take a bus trip with no clue about the destinations or attractions they will see.

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22 • Saturday, October 23, 2021 • Modern Farmer

“It’s just something that I’m passionate about and it makes me happy,” she said. “When you have that type of outlook, it’s genuine, it’s not pretending. I share that.”

Over the past 10 years, farm families have told us that public insurance options, making insurance easier for self-employed people to access, universal health insurance, and affordable rural child care would help them grow better food and stronger businesses. These challenges parallel those faced by many Americans. Policymakers can leverage lessons from the social and economic crises triggered by COVID-19 to ensure that all Americans, including those who grow the nation’s food, have access

“They don’t know where they’re going until they get there,” Lewis said. Legendary Mustang Sanctuary is handicap accessible and also offers guided tours where guests can witness how wild mustangs are “gentled.” They also receive a

to adequate and affordable health insurance and child care. The Department of Agriculture announced on April 21 that it was begin-T ning an effort to “improve 5 and reimagine” the supplyB chains for food production – including meeting the need of agriculture workers and addressing the needs of mid- to T small-size farms. This an 5 opportunity to integrate B health insurance and child care as core infrastructure that supports the future of farmers and rural communities, along with the U.S. food supply.

history lesson about America’s wild mustangs, and their plight. In addition to hosting RVers and tours, veterans and active duty military members also visit the sanctuary to lead, hug and talk to the horses and find comfort. Families also are welcome.

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Establish Your Legacy Give the Gift of Health Visionary donors enable Jacksonville Memorial Hospital to provide quality healthcare to residents of Brown, Cass, Greene, Morgan and Scott counties through their gifts of farmland. We may have a new name and logo, but the cause is just as important, and your donations stay local like always. Ask your estate planning professional how a charitable bequest can continue to support the health of your community for generations to come. Contact Pam Martin, executive director, Jacksonville Memorial Foundation, for information on the many ways to make a gift. Contact 217–479–5575

FARM DONORS 1928 Charles A. Rowe Thomas Tissington 1959 Nellie Rice

1972 Robert Shekelton 1973 Frances W. Corrington 1981 Frank C. Dinwiddie

1982 Mildred J. Dinwiddie Emma Lucille Hembrough Edward P. Hostman 1985 Irma Fox Barsnes

1999 William and Oley Beilschmidt Lloyd Gordon 2014 Howard and Vera Million