Page 1

Ag technology

Milledgeville company assists haying, conservation – Page 6

Biology boost

Micronutrients help to grow stronger plants – Page 8

Drones on the farm

Agriculture a new market for unmanned aircraft – Page 10

typed in Cosmos extra bold

Jim Dunn/

Cover story: Best Cob LLC uses ‘every bit’ of the corn cob to make useful products. – Page 4 Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A supplement to Sauk Valley Media

Today’s Farm


3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsJanuary 14, 2014


Dairy Summit in Freeport features Pearl City farmer Policies and practices on event agenda BY DAN GRANT

The Illinois Milk Producers Association and the University of Illinois Extension will host the 2014 Dairy Summit at three locations around the state Jan. 21-23. The regional Dairy Summits will be held Jan. 21 at Highland Community College in Freeport; Jan. 22 at the Illinois Farm Bureau/IAA building in Bloomington; and Jan. 23 at Kaskaskia College in Centralia. Registration for each

event will begin at 9:30 a.m. The event, which includes lunch and an exhibitors area, will end at each location at 2:55 p.m. The program, which will feature production and policy updates from U of I dairy specialists, also will include a producer panel at each location in which milk producers and dairy specialists discuss ways to find the next 10 pounds of milk. “I always pick up an idea or two from other dairymen that helps me on my operation,� said Doug Block, a dairy farmer from Pearl City and member of the Midwest Dairy Association board. “That’s why I like these programs.�

Block will be a featured speaker on the producer panel at the Dairy Summit in Freeport. There is no single solution or feed additive that will boost milk production by 10 pounds per cow, he noted. It takes a combination of feed and management adjustments. “The big thing about finding the next 10 pounds of milk is doing all the things we know that are good to do and having the management ability to get them in place,� Block said. For details and registration information about the regional Dairy Summits, visit or call 309-5573703.

Today’s Farm celebrates agriculture in the Sauk Valley and beyond. It is published by Sauk Valley Media six times a year – in January, March, May, July, September and November. We welcome story ideas about interesting local people who are involved with agriculture. Call Jim Dunn at 800-798-4085, ext. 511, or send an email to


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Ag lender tours farms, facilities in Europe Germans want to reduce inputs, increase yields BY DAN GRANT

POLO – Steve Sheaffer, vice president of 1st Farm Credit Services in Polo, spent 21 days this past fall studying agriculture in Germany. And what he found is that, while there are some differences across the Atlantic Ocean, farmers from the U.S. and Germany have a lot in common. “It was a great experience,� Sheaffer said. “We got to meet farmers, people in agribusiness, and people who help make policy.� Many German farmers, much like their American counterparts, are striving to boost production while minimizing inputs. Sheaffer also reported

he saw increased production of corn in Germany compared to a previous trip he took to Europe in 2000. Corn silage and sugar beet production are used to fuel a growing biogas industry, he said. But German farmers face increased pressure from some consumers, policymakers, and non-government organizations to maintain old farming techniques, sometimes at the expense of new technology. A ban on the use of sow gestation stalls was implemented in the EU at the start of 2013. “A lot of European farmers have the same concerns we [in the U.S.] do,� Sheaffer said. “Animal welfare is a big issue there. A lot of [European] consumers want to see farming the way it was 50 years ago. That’s frustrating to a lot of farmers because they understand


Steve Sheaffer of Polo (second from left) poses near the Neuschwanstein castle in lower Bavaria during the McCloy Fellow study tour of Germany. Others on the tour were (left to right) Brandon Moore, Kelly Young and Trudy Wastweet. the economics.� Sheaffer believes public sentiment in Europe is one of the top drivers of ag policy rather than eco-

nomics and productivity. A major push in the EU is for smaller farms. Current policy calls for 5 percent of current farmland



to be taken out of production. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The interesting part about European consumers is they want a lot of things,â&#x20AC;? Sheaffer said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;They want non-GMOs, and they want more green areas. But it all comes at a high expense.â&#x20AC;? The 21-day study tour in Germany was through the McCloy Fellowship program. Each year the American Council on Germany invites the American Farm Bureau Federation and the German Farmers Association to nominate four candidates for study tours to each country. Sheaffer was the lone Illinois resident to take part in the McCloy program this year. The Ger-


We got to meet farmers, people in agribusiness, and people who help make policy.


Steve Sheaffer

man fellows visited the U.S. earlier in the fall and studied the ag industry in Illinois, New York, Florida and Arizona. Sheaffer grew up on a farm, holds degrees in agribusiness and ag production from Illinois State University, and still helps his father and brother farm near Dixon and Polo.



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3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsJanuary 14, 2014



LEFT: Best Cob’s manufacturing facility is in Independence, Iowa. All storage and manufacturing are under roof. The corporate headquarters is near Rock Falls. RIGHT: Best Cob’s premium horse bedding is packaged on site and shipped to distributors throughout the United States. This packaging line will produce more than 60 one-ton pallets of product in an 8-hour shift.

There’s much more to corn than its kernels Company processes corn cobs into a number of useful products BY KAYLA HEIMERMAN Special to Today’s Farm

ROCK FALLS – There’s more to corn, well, than corn. In both the field corn and sweet corn industries, the whole ear is harvested. The kernel is kept, while the cob is discarded. Years ago, farmers

picked the ears whole in the fall, then put them in storage to dry, then shelled the corn from the cobs the next summer. Farmers would use the leftover corn cobs as feed for chickens, hogs, and cattle or as fuel in woodburning stoves. Nowadays, farmers use combines, which chop up the corn cobs and leave

them scattered in the field. But seed corn companies use corn pickers, which pick the ear whole; the kernels are removed, and the cob remains. Best Cob LLC, based in Independence, Iowa, but with its corporate headquarters in Rock Falls, buys discarded corn cobs and processes them into a number of all-natural, biodegradable and renewable products, said Pat Ward, the company’s general manager.

There are four components of corn cobs, Ward said. The chaff, or the soft, fuzzy outer layer of the cob, along with the pith, or the spongy center of the cob, are lightweight and absorbent. The woody ring is the hard ring that surrounds the pith; it works well as a carrier and an abrasive. (It’s also what corn-cob pipes were made of.) Best Cob separates the pith and the chaff, also

called beeswing, from the woody ring, Ward said. The woody ring is ground down and sifted, through screens, into different particle sizes. The larger particles are used for animal bedding and in cat litter, Ward said.

The smaller particles are used as a carrier for medicine given to farm animals; the corn cob absorbs the medicine and then can be mixed with feed to administer medicine to chickens, pigs and cows, he said. COB CONTINUED ON 5

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Today’s Farm


Company uses ‘every bit’ of cob COB


The pith and the chaff are chopped up and pressed into pellets that are three times heavier than the original fluffy material, Ward said. The dense pellets then are crumbled and used for animal bedding or ground down and used as absorbents for gasoline, oil and other chemical spills or on baseball dia-

monds, he said. The corn product essentially solidifies the mess, or in the case of a wet ball field, the water, and makes it easier to clean up. Best Cob also makes several commercial products, such as abrasives for cleaning and polishing, Ward said. Best Cob, founded in the late 1960s, is one of only a handful of corn cob processors in the country.

It prides itself on being environmentally friendly even before going green was trendy. “For us to be profitable, we have to use every bit of the corn cob,” Ward said. “If we have a [custom commercial] product that is off spec, we can just reprocess it and reuse it. “If something falls out of the machine, we don’t throw it away; we reuse it.”

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3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsJanuary 14, 2014


Technology assists haying, conservation For three decades, Dambman Service has helped farmers BY DAVE FOX Special to Today’s Farm

MILLEDGEVILLE – Conservation conscious, labor saving, and customer oriented are three phrases that easily describe Dambman Service Inc. Curt Dambman owns the company, which deals with high-tech equipment for the ag community and focuses on conservation tillage and hay equipment sales. Round balers, sold by his company for hay work, have seen a big increase in sales and usage during recent years, Dambman said. “The trend has definitely gone to round baling,” he said during an interview at the Northwestern Illinois Farm Show in Sterling in December. “It’s much faster than square baling, and it’s definitely a big savings where labor is concerned.” Round bales, which can weigh anywhere between 1,600 and 2,000 pounds each, can be produced with one person operating the equipment and moving the bales

to a desired location, as opposed to slower operating times and the use of several workers involved in making smaller rectangular bales. Soil tillage is also an area that sees frequent changes in trends, he said “Conservation tillage in the fields has been a big thing for some time now,” he said, “but it kind of took a back seat when corn prices were $7 a bushel. “When grain prices started spiking, guys did whatever they could – plowing and disking – to get a couple of more bushels to the acre. “Grain prices are going back down now, and the market is beginning to balance out like it’s supposed to, so we’re seeing more soil conservation techniques being used again.” Another trend becoming more noticeable in recent years is the planting of cover crops as a conservation technique. Dambman sells equipment to help with that as well. “The purpose of a cover crop is that it gives us more conservation control over soil and nutrients,” Dambman said.

Dave Fox/Special to Today’s Farm

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Dave Fox/Special to Todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Farm

Curt Dambman discusses the benefits of round baling with spectators at the Northwestern Illinois Farm Show in December.

â&#x20AC;&#x153;It deals a lot with water quality in the fields and keeping things closer to the top. â&#x20AC;&#x153;It helps us control unwanted movement of nutrients under the ground by keeping nitrogen and other such things up closer to the surface. This results in less expense for nutrients in the spring, and itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s easier on the soil as well. The whole process is a â&#x20AC;&#x153;big circle,â&#x20AC;? Dambman said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Controlling movement of water and nutrients wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t thought of much until recent years, but people have learned that by spending a little bit of money here for this, hopefully theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll be saving a whole lot later on in the nutrient end of the crop cycle.â&#x20AC;? Dambman sells air seeder equipment, which

comes in handy not only with cover crop planting, but with regular crop production as well. An air seeder â&#x20AC;&#x153;is basically a large hopper with meters on it, and it enables us to basically blow the seed across the width of the machine for planting,â&#x20AC;? he said. Used primarily for smaller seeds like soybeans, it can also be used for fertilizer and chemical applications, he said. The metering enables a more precise and accurate application. This can enable a higher yield at harvest, and also has the potential to greatly reduce expenses by lowering seed and chemical costs for the farmer. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The biggest thing with metered air seeding is the efficiency, because it allows us to be more exact in the depth of the seeding as well as space between seeds and between rows,â&#x20AC;? he said.

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Micronutrients help to grow stronger plants Erie company sells enzyme products to boost yields BY DAVE FOX Special to Todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Farm

Dave Fox/ Special to Todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Farm

Doug Miller stands at the booth of Erie-based Midwest Bio-tech during last monthâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Northwestern Illinois Farm Show. Miller, vice president of Midwest Bio-tech, promoted the benefits of using enzymes and other biological products in agriculture.

ERIE â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Natural farming with micronutrients is gaining popularity as a safe way to help soil and plants do what theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re supposed to do, and with better results. Doug Miller, vice president of Erie-based Midwest Bio-tech, spoke on the benefits of using enzymes and other biological products in agriculture at the annual Northwestern Illinois Farm Show in December. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Farmers have gotten more in tune with micronutrients the past few years,â&#x20AC;? Miller said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve always tested the soil for nitrogen, phosphorous, and so

forth, but thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s getting to be more of an awareness now of manganese, enzymes, and other micronutrients that are really needed to produce stronger plants and better yields.â&#x20AC;? Founded in 1981, Midwest Bio-tech is operated by Miller and his father, James, who serves as president and owner. The elder Miller heard of a company in Salt Lake City in 1978, Chandler Crop Products, which planned to register new lines of biological products for both crop and livestock use. Samples of the products were bought and used in extensive testing on the familyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s farm over the next several years, and were shown to increase yields considerably as the enzymes conditioned the soil. Continued use of the products created less of a need for fertilizer and other standard soil nutri-

ents, while yields per acre continued to increase. Sold on how easy the products were to use, and impressed with the results after continued use in the field, the elder Miller decided to became a distributor, forming his own company in Erie known as Midwest Biotech Inc. â&#x20AC;&#x153;With this, we market biological products, mainly enzymes, for agricultural use,â&#x20AC;? Doug Miller said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;A lot of what we use works along similar lines to yogurt and humanconsumption-based probiotics and how they work in the human body. These products do pretty much the same thing on an agricultural level.â&#x20AC;? One of the more popular products available is a seed treatment, made up of enzymes that multiply the microbes in the soil, which improves seed germination and makes a big difference in root development, Miller said.

â&#x20AC;&#x153;With the seed treatment, we get faster growth, and much deeper, better-developed root systems, which leads to higher yields and less problems during tough droughts or other hot weather problems.â&#x20AC;?

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Agriculture a promising market for drones Uses galore for unmanned aircraft systems PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Idaho farmer Robert Blair isn’t waiting around for federal aviation officials to work out rules for drones. He and a friend built their own, outfitting it with cameras and using it to monitor his 1,500 acres. Under 10 pounds and 5 feet long, nose to tail, the aircraft is the size of a turkey, and Blair uses it to get a bird’s-eye view of his cows and fields of wheat, peas, barley and alfalfa. “It’s a great tool to collect information to make

better decisions, and we’re just scratching the surface of what it can do for farmers,” said Blair, who lives in Kendrick, Idaho, roughly 275 miles north of Boise. While Americans are abuzz about Amazon’s plans to use self-guided drones to deliver packages, most future unmanned aircraft may operate far from the nation’s large population centers. Experts point to agriculture as the most promising commercial market for drones because the technology is a perfect fit for largescale farms and vast rural areas where privacy and safety issues are less of a concern.

Already, farmers, researchers, and companies are developing unmanned aircraft systems equipped with cameras and other sensors to survey crops, monitor for disease, or precisionspray pesticides and fertilizers. Drones, also known as UAVs, are already used overseas in agriculture, including Japan and Brazil. And the possibilities are endless: Flying gizmos could be used to ward off birds from fields, pollinate trees, do snow surveys to forecast water supply, monitor irrigation, or plant and harvest crops. DRONES CONTINUED ON 11



In a May 2013 photo provided by Rhonda Blair, farmer Robert Blair stands in front of his tractor holding an unmanned aircraft that he built in Kendrick, Idaho. Blair uses the homemade drone, equipped with up to four cameras, to “scout” his 1,500 acres of wheat, peas, barley, alfalfa, and cow pasture.


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Limited issues with privacy DRONES


The technology could revolutionize agriculture, farmers say, by boosting crop health, improving field management practices, reducing costs, and increasing yields. So far, drones have been used mainly by the military. Interest is booming in finding other uses for them, but the possibilities are limited because of regulations on the use of airspace and privacy concerns. The Federal Aviation Administration does not allow drones’ commercial use. Businesses and researchers can apply only for a special, experimental airworthiness certificate for research and development, flight demonstra-


tions, or crew training. The FAA does allow public agencies – including law enforcement and other governmental agencies – to get a certificate of authorization to operate unmanned aircraft in civil airspace. About a dozen sheriff’s offices, police and fire departments, as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, have been allowed to use drones. The move has raised concerns about privacy and government surveillance, leading to drone privacy bills being introduced in most states this year and about a dozen states passing laws, most to limit drone surveillance by law enforcement. Those concerns, in turn, have tempered interest in developing unmanned

aircraft technology for police and other crimefighting agencies – leading drone manufacturers and researchers to focus on agriculture instead, said Josh Brungardt, director of unmanned systems at PARADIGM, a Bend, Ore.-based drone research company. “A small UAV flying over a field with nothing around it doesn’t create a privacy issue,” he said. “We’re talking about an operating atmosphere that’s much more benign.” Last year, Congress directed the FAA to grant unmanned aircraft access to U.S. skies by September 2015. The agency is in the midst of developing operational guidelines for drone use, but it said the process would take longer than Congress expected.


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United Way of Whiteside County is reaching out to the farming community to participate in the annual fund raising campaign. By working with local elevators all across the county, United Way is providing an easy way for farmers to support the campaign by simply designating a small amount of grain as a donation whenever they deliver it to local elevators. United Way of Whiteside County is a local, independent organization which works to support 19 local nonprofit agencies and programs providing health and human services to our friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives. 99 percent of everything raised in Whiteside County stays in Whiteside County. Just one percent of what is collected is paid to United Way Worldwide in order to use the logo and take advantage of training opportunities at no cost.


Together, we get results no one could accomplish alone. That’s what it means to LIVE UNITED.

1417 Chicago Ave, Dixon 815-288-5223

United Way of Whiteside County

P.O. Box 806 Sterling, IL 61081-0806 (815) 625-7973 z



Today’s Farm


3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsJanuary 14, 2014

OUTSTANDING S E S M E N M R I S O A in their field U F B H

Since 1954

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Call today to schedule a site survey so we can personalize your needs and your budget.

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Whiteside County Airport 10924 Hoover Road, Rock Falls


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