Articles

    Pumpkin patch gives farm a new life

    A mother’s desire to ensure that each of her three sons had pumpkins to carve for Halloween, spawned a pumpkin farm operation that gave new life to a family farm and is still going strong after 30 years.

    “In 1977, when our three sons were young, my wife decided to plant pumpkins in the garden so they would have Halloween pumpkins,” related Chicago Farmers’ October meeting speaker Bruce Condill, of The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur, Illinois.  “The patch did well and increased in size over the years. So much so that the boys set up a farm stand and sold the pumpkins. The proceeds paid for seeds for the next crop. We also invited our boys’ classes from school to visit our working farm, see the pumpkin patch, select a pumpkin to take home, and interact with our animals.”

    In 1988 when a severe drought threatened the Condill family’s corn, soybean, and alfalfa crops, those pumpkins sparked an idea to sustain the family farm, which had been in the McDonald family (Bruce’s wife’s family) for five generations. Mrs. Condill’s family migrated from Virginia to Arthur, Illinois, in 1859. “We were struggling in 1988 with the cash crops,” said Bruce.

    “My wife suggested that we expand the pumpkin patch with a variety of displays and mazes and open our farm to the general public,” said Bruce.  “It was a great idea. I don’t think we would have made it without The Great Pumpkin Patch.”

    Today, The Great Pumpkin Patch, which sits in the middle of Amish country, welcomes more than 60,000 people during the harvest season, which runs from September 10 through October 31.The farm is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It grows 300 varieties of pumpkins, squash, and gourds on 63 of the farm’s 200 acres.

    “We have three missions: the Homestead Bakery, the Great Pumpkin Patch, and Homestead Seeds,” said Bruce. “Amish bakers produce the baked goods for the bakery. Our son, Mac, is in charge of Homestead Seeds.   Our goal is to encourage the ordinary farmer to grow more gourds, pumpkins, and squash. Mac and his wife, Ginny, also own and manage The Homestead Bakery and The Great Pumpkin Patch.”

    He went on to say that the farm provides a safe place for people to experience the harvest season and get connected to the land and each other.  “We want them to know where the food they eat begins,” said Bruce.

    Squash, gourds, and pumpkins have a range of maturities from 70 to140 days.  Plantings are intended to be done on May 20, June 10, and June 20.  “This year was wet, which altered the intended planting dates, and was not good for pumpkins, but great for soybeans and corn, which we still raise,” said Bruce. “When the growing season is ended, we disk the remaining pumpkins into the soil and then soybeans are planted the following spring. When the soybeans follow the pumpkin crop, they are three to 12 bushels better per acre than when they follow corn. The pumpkins are a great fertilizer.”

    He noted that Mac is an expert on pumpkins and gourds.  He works with seed companies and sometimes grows experimental seeds.  Mac also works with botanical groups from around the world and with university specialty crop people.  Bruce noted that Mac appeared on the Martha Stewart Show three times to discuss gourds and the many varieties that are available. The Great Pumpkin Patch also was featured in an issue of Martha Stewart’s magazine.

    “The Great Pumpkin Patch has many unique ways of displaying all of the varieties that Mac has introduced to the farm,” said Bruce.  “The Patch boasts a Survivor squash, which came from a Kentucky farmer whose seeds came from a Holocaust survivor, thus its name.  The Patch has African, Asian, European, Australian, New Zealand, and Central and South American gourds, pumpkins, and squash.”

    The heirloom seeds used in the 63 acre pumpkin patch are purchased from commercial and private seed companies and also include seeds raised by Mac in his isolation plots.  These plots are planted at least one-half mile from any source of a cucurbit vine plant.  Bruce said that neighboring farmers allow them to use plots on their land so that seed purity is assured. Seeds are not taken from the large pumpkin patch because of the risk of cross-pollination.

    While the Great Pumpkin Patch is a highlight of the farm, there also are mazes, animals, and a restored one-room 1912 schoolhouse. The school and other attractions bring 4,000 school children on field trips to the farm in October.  In June, the farm sponsors the “Back Forty,” which is a Hob Nob arts and crafts event that features 75 vendors, crafters, and musicians. In the past, the Condills were hosts of “Farm to Fork” dinners that were attended by 100 diners at $80 a plate.

    “It was a five course dinner that included meat from our Amish neighbors’ farms, vegetables that were locally sourced, and wine from a winery,” said Bruce. “It was a wonderful way for people to learn about the source of food. It connected the farmer to the chef and to the people who ate the food.”

    The Great Pumpkin Patch also has been responsible for decorating Country Living fairs throughout the United States with its many gourds and squashes and flowers. The farm also decorated the White House grounds one year for a Halloween party. “It was a great experience,” said Bruce.

    This farm reaches new heights

    Two stories above the intersection of Devon and Glenwood Avenues in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood on the North Side and above first floor Uncommon Ground restaurant sits the first certified organic rooftop farm.

    This unique farm was the site of The Chicago Farmers’ 2018 Summer/Fall Program. The September 22nd date was perfect for a day on this organic farm. Blue skies and moderate temperatures contributed to a fun and educational experience for TCF’s group. Coincidentally, the morning of our visit, the rooftop organic farm had undergone its annual audit by the Midwestern Organic Services Association (MOSA).

    Created by Uncommon Ground restaurant owners Michael and Helen Cameron, the 10-year-old rooftop farm is an extension of the couple’s commitment to care for the environment and to provide their restaurant patrons with chemical-free food that is locally sourced. The rooftop organic farm, built on a floating deck, boasts 150 varieties of 70 crops and has 700 square feet of tillable soil. “It is a productive little area,” said Helen Cameron.

    Before climbing a couple of flights of stairs to the rooftop, we visited the restaurant’s patio area, which is shielded from busy Devon Avenue by a tall wooden fence that serves as a backdrop for planters that surround the patio’s perimeter and are filled with organic herbs and vegetables, all of which make their way into the restaurant’s kitchen. Concord grape vines twist around overhead trellises. The grapes are harvested and are incorporated into cocktails, jellies, and syrups. This fall, Helen said, the menu will offer peanut butter and jelly French toast, which is complemented by grape syrup made from the grapes on site. Red and black currant bushes also grow around the patio. The black currants will be used in the making of Kolsch beer by Uncommon Ground’s Greenstar Organic Brewery that is housed in Wrigleyville with another Uncommon Ground restaurant, said Helen. “We surround our patrons with growing food,” said Helen.

    As we made our way to the staircase, Helen pointed out the hops growing on vines that cover the restaurant’s brick wall. The hops too are organic and are sent to Greenstar. The brewery’s craft beer is available at the restaurants. A quick climb up a couple of flights of stairs took us away from the city sounds and sights to the roof, although a traffic light and the top stories of apartment buildings can be seen beyond the roof and reminds you of your location. Keeping in mind Uncommon Ground’s focus on conservation and care of the environment, Helen pointed out three solar panels that occupy a section of the rooftop and noted that the farm’s deck is made of recycled, reclaimed decking material.

    Helen introduced Allison Glovak-Webb, the city agricultural spot’s farm director. “Allison is in charge of keeping the place beautiful,” said Helen.

    Allison pointed out the garden beds that fill the deck and explained they were 10 feet by four feet with one foot of soil depth. They are watered via a drip irrigation system that comes from below and rests atop the beds, releasing a slow drip of water. Watering of the plants occurs twice a day for 20 minutes in peak season, said Allison. These beds produce about two pounds per square foot of growing area. There also are Earth boxes that are two feet by one foot planters that sit at the ends of each bed. They are watered from below via a water reservoir that is filled by hand from above. The Earth boxes provide about four pounds per square feet of produce.

    Allison went on to say that the planters are amended annually with Purple Cow organic compost. Initially, Happy Frog soil was used to fill the beds, but it is no longer organically approved. Currently, if soil has to be added to the beds, Allison uses Sunshine Advanced #4.

    Plants such as carrots, basil, squash, parsley, peppers, leeks, and edible flowers fill the densely packed beds and vines of beans grow on rope trellises that run along the length of the beds. The rooftop farm and the downstairs patio produce about 1,500 pounds of produce per year, said Helen. In the peak season, the two growing areas produce 10-20 percent of the restaurant’s produce. Annually, they produce two to three percent. Local suppliers supplement the restaurant’s other needs. Grassfed beef, pork, and chicken are sourced from Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

    “No one else was doing this when we started the rooftop farm so there was not a prototype,” Helen said. “We developed a system that works. We need to be sure that it is a cost effective venture and we want to be an example. It was important to determine how to do this without chemicals. We figured out the puzzle to make it work and we hired a great farm director, Allison. We selected the crops we like the best and that add a lot of value. We are able to manage the cost of input and the labor. We also have an organic garden on a smaller scale at our Wrigleyville site.”

    Helen’s one regret is that they are not able to compost the debris from the farm because they are in the city and composting is not allowed. The debris is hauled away, but it is costly to have it returned as compost to Uncommon Ground.

    Allison noted that all of the plants are grown from seed; some are planted directly into the planters and others are started in a grow room in the restaurant’s basement. “Most of our summer crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, are started downstairs,” said Allison. “We source our seeds from several catalogues. Among all these catalogues we have more than 3,000 varieties of tomatoes from which to choose. As a result, our organic farm has a large variety of tomatoes.”

    Allison said that she is able to harvest winter vegetables into the first week of December, weather permitting. When the rooftop plants are finished for the winter, Allison said that hairy vetch is used as a cover crop because it pulls nitrogen from the air and deposits it into the soil. It is a vining plant that helps to hold the soil in the beds. In the spring the vetch is chopped up and turned over into the soil.

    Helen noted that Allison has interns who work with her during the summer on the rooftop and patio crops. At the end of their time at Uncommon Ground they complete a summer project. “The young people are learning about growing and harvesting,” said Helen. “We are growing people who can grow food.”

    We ended our visit with a sampling of appetizers available at the restaurant. It was the perfect ending to our day on the rooftop farm.

    How tariffs are affecting agriculture

    Dr. Gary Schnitkey, the speaker at the Chicago Farmers’ September 10th meeting, opened his presentation with positive news for a large audience: 2018 will be a good year; yields will be high and incomes will be higher, too. Dr. Schnitkey, professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, has opened a number of the Chicago Farmers’ new seasons with presentations on trends in agriculture. These meetings always draw a large attendance and this September meeting was no exception.

    While Dr. Schnitkey led off with good news about 2018, he said that 2019 probably would not fare as well due to the tariff proposals. “Next year is a year of concern because people are uncertain about what the trade dispute will do to prices,” said Dr. Schnitkey. “If you are a landowner, you will have to have tougher discussions with your renters.”

    Dr. Schnitkey said that in 2018, corn fetched $4.00 a bushel and soybeans fetched $9.50 a bushel, “Prices fell after May due to the trade discussions so don’t budget these prices for 2019,” he said. “We are predicting corn could be at $3.50 per bushel and soybeans could be $9 per bushel. The trade dispute has dashed people’s hopes for higher prices. Until there is more clarity or a resolution to the trade dispute, these are the prices that we project to be in place.”

    Soybeans have been at the $9.75 level since 2014, but trade discussions began in May and prices dipped. Dr. Schnitkey related that on Friday, September 7, the bushel price for soybeans in Decatur was $7.94. “We can expect a range between $7.94 and $8.20 for soybeans and just below $4 for corn throughout the harvest period. I suggest you build your expectations at these prices for next year.”

    Dr. Schnitkey pointed out that there would have been price declines even without the trade issue due to high yields, but the trade talks have taken another $0.80 to $0.90 off the price of soybeans.

    Additionally, corn prices are expected to fall going into 2019. Corn will look more profitable than soybeans and, as a result, farmers are switching from soybean crops to corn crops, which will depress corn prices. Dr. Schnitkey noted that western states are switching to wheat from soybeans. “The downward trend of soybeans will affect other crops. The trade dispute will have a long-term impact on prices just by being there,” he said.

    In discussing yields, Dr. Schnitkey said that since 2014 soybeans and corn have produced above average amounts in Illinois. “A plateau was created, but that does not mean that those yields will always be there.”

    Regarding cash rents, Dr. Schnitkey said that reports prior to the trade discussions indicated that 2018 cash rents experienced about a $5 increase. “Where it goes in 2019 is a big question,” he said. “Land values are holding relatively well and major declines are not projected. They are not making any more farmland and that is a motive to hold assets; however, we could see declines if the trade dispute continues. Landowners might want to consider using flexible or variable cash rents going forward.”

    In response to an audience member’s question about lenders’ attitudes during this period, Dr. Schnitkey said that lenders have watched working capital decline on farms and it is possible they will become more proactive. He said lenders want to see a positive cash flow. “If a farmer has carry-over debt, the lender expects that farmer to sell assets to wipe out the debt.”

    2018 Study Tour Provides an Enjoyable Education on Norway

    By Jim and Jeff Ward

    Our group of 31, the largest study group in Chicago Farmers’ touring history, arrived in Oslo, Norway, on June 10th and began a busy week of gaining an appreciation of a nation filled with a variety of terrain and crops. Our first day after the overnight flight was spent on a tour of the city and arriving at our hotel, which had a ski jump on its spacious grounds.

    Oslo, the capital city, occupies an arc of land at the end of the “Oslo Fjord,” has 670,000 residents, and has access to visiting cruise ships from all over the world. The king has his own private farm located within the city limits.

    On day two, we embarked on a Monday morning tour that took us to the Viking Ship Museum and the Norwegian Folk Museum. The Museum provided a walking tour of typical historic dwellings and a stave-church. A special exhibit of Norwegian knitted mittens delighted my (Jim) granddaughter, Caryn Lantz.

    Our Oslo Hotel Viking Ship Caryn and Mitten Exhibit


    The group’s bus traveled along Mjosa Lake, the largest lake in Norway, to the Hoel  farm near the small town of Nes for lunch and a tour. Relics indicate the farm’s lakeside land has been cultivated since 300 AD.  After being operated by the church, it has been privately owned since 1679.  It now raises 200,000 chickens each year. Of interest is that 98 percent of the feed is locally produced and potatoes are processed for the protein component; no antibiotics are used.

    Our host gave us an overview of farming in Norway.  Only three percent of all land is deemed agricultural.  The largest grain crops are barley, rye, and oats.  These are used to supplement potatoes and hay for feeding livestock. Farmers also use mini-round bales (three feet by three feet) for the many small hay fields.  They weigh about 70-90 pounds and are “unfurled” for feeding.  Smaller utility tractors (20 horsepower or less) can be used for baling on the steep terrain and between rows of other plantings such as apple trees.  Plastic wraps prevent spoilage and eliminate need for storage barns.   In Norway, the number of larger farms has increased, just as it has in the US.  However, the average size of a farm in Norway is 124 acres of arable land.  Norway has a complex system of subsidized pricing of grain and poultry through the Ministry of Agriculture. Norway is not in the EU; it is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) since it was a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

    Host Explaining His Farming Operation Chicken Barn Barn Exterior


    The group arrived in Lillehammer, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics, for the night.  We heard of the economic impact that the games provided to Norway as a country and the local area.  The village of 30,000 was packed during the ’94 event and likely resembled the impact on Lake Placid, New York, during the 1980 Olympics.  A number of the facilities have been repurposed for community and educational purposes.

    We started our third day with a visit to the ski jumping hills that can now be used year-round due to artificial snow surface. The next stop was the nearby Mailhaugen Farm Museum. Guides described farming practices of the 1800s and early 1900s, and our group toured buildings and saw equipment used for irrigation, threshing, grain storage and livestock.

    Olympic Ski Jumping Hill at Lillehammer Sod Roofed Barn at Mailhaugen Farm Museum  Mailhaugen Farm Museum 


    The bus then lumbered up a mountain road to the Brimi Soeter farm near Randen for lunch and fiddle music. The farm, located on a high mountain plateau, had livestock that included pigs, cattle, and turkeys.  The farmhouse’s basement also served as a cheese curing location.

    Mountain Farm Grazing Slope Cheese Storage


    The day ended with a short ride to the town of Lom and the Fossheim Hotel.  Besides the nearby Jotunheimen National Park, the small town is noted for one of the largest remaining stave churches. 

    Stave Church at Lom Skiers at the Top of the Mountain Pass Waterfall Seen on Flam Train Ride


    During our fourth day, bus driver Jon Janson demonstrated his skills on the morning drive from Lom to the highest mountain range in central Norway on a road that is normally closed from November to May due to snow.  A brief stop at the top of the mountain pass allowed the group to see the still snow-covered peaks with cross country skiers venturing out onto trails between lakes.

    The bus traveled on a historic western route towards the Hardanger fjord with one ferry crossing to arrive at Flam.  The afternoon was spent on the Flamsbanen train ride up to Myrdal and back again with a stop at its famous waterfall.  The group spent the night at the classic Brakanes Hotel located on the banks of the Hardanger fjord in Ulvik.

    On the fifth day, we traveled from Ulvik farther up the Hardanger fjord to a (salmon) fish farm.  Following a salmon lunch, the group heard about the fish farming industry, which is a more modern Norwegian export to supplement the historic “fish stock” (dried cod) product from the northwestern coast in the North Sea.  The Hardanger Akvasenter fish farm has two tanks, each with 5,000 fish.  They take 14-22 months to grow to a mature weight of 5.5 kg (12 pounds).  Norway has responded to potential criticism of aquaculture practice and since the 1990s regulates the amount of fish-space in pens as well as organic vegetable and non-antibiotic feed. 

    The afternoon was spent at the Hardanger Juice and Cider Factory.  The owner explained the processes of making must (freshly crushed apple including “pulp” with its cloudy appearance), various types of cider, and apple brandy.  The orchard uses four varieties of apples (Gravenstein, Summer Red, Aroma, and Discovery) and plants trees using the “espalier” technique for growing on wire trellises on the steep sides of the fjord.   We viewed his mechanized processing equipment and saw the cold room, distillery, and storage of aging barrels.

    View of Hardangerfjord from Ulvik Hotel Fish Tanks and Support Building Apple Orchards


    The bus traveled west on our sixth day past the major city of Voss, which was heavily involved during WWII, towards Norway’s second largest city of Bergen.  Near Bergen, the group stopped at the Dale woolen knitwear factory for a tour and shopping. It was established in the town of Dale in 1879 with access to both local Norwegian sheep and hydroelectric power.  They have been the producer of active wear for Norwegian winter Olympians.

    Cider Processor Aging Barrel Storage Antique Wool Scale


    After checking into the Thon Hotel in Bergen, the group had lunch (fish soup, reindeer “burgers” and waffles) at the Bryggeloffet & Stuene restaurant. Presentations were made to our guide, Nils, and our driver,  Jon. Having been both a travel agent and a farmer, Nils was perfectly qualified to help us understand his country. Jon has relatives in Wisconsin and wore his Green Bay Packers tie that he picked up on one of several visits to the US.

    Nils led a walking tour of the Bergen city center and harbor, including the fish market and historic fish stock export center.  The walking tour then wandered through residential areas and city center parks.  Of note was the beginning of the Edvard Grieg Festival with many musical events to celebrate their hometown composer’s 175th birthday.

    Our Guide Nils Statue of Edvard Grieg, Famous Norwegian Composer Bergen City Markets

     
    Following breakfast and some last-minute shopping on our seventh day, the group journeyed to the new Flesland Airport for departure.   Some of the travelers extended their trip with a week in Iceland prior to returning home, while others visited Denmark and Paris before returning to the US. We were all unanimous in our belief that we had a new appreciation of Norway.

    Is that a bot with my soup?

    It’s been a long week. You’re tired, but you need groceries. Not to worry. No need to leave your abode. Order what you need online, click on delivery and the next thing you know, a bot is at your door with your weekly groceries.

    The bot is not in the picture yet, but Rob Dongoski, Chicago Farmers’ May 14 speaker, said that the bot in this application is not an impossibility. He noted that the United States spends $5 billion a year on ag tech, and the use of robotics in all phases of food production and delivery is not relegated to daydreamers. He said there is a lot of conversation about the use of drones, robots and wearable sensors. Goggles that can produce fields in virtual reality are among ag tech’s newest developments. “I think you will see some application of these goggles in the next four or five years,” said Dongoski.

    Dongoski, Partner and Global Agribusiness Leader at Ernst & Young LLP, said that by 2015, agriculture will have to feed 40% more people, and different kinds of food will be in demand as people in developing countries acquire more money.

    Global markets are alive and well, said Dongoski, and EY is looking at megatrends. He said there are a number of mergers that are quite large, such as the Dow/DuPont $130 billion merger in 2015. “Three of the five largest acquisitions from 2011 to 2015 dealt with food and beverage companies,” Dongoski shared.

    Regarding the future of agriculture, Dongoski said EY is seeing investments shift to the biotech side. Technology is seen as the way to produce more and healthier food in a more efficient manner. This technology also will help agriculture become more productive in areas of the world that do not have a robust agricultural economy. Dongoski noted that by 2100, 7 of the 10 largest cities in the world are projected to be in Africa.

    While more farms are needed, Dongoski related that urbanization is leaving a void on farms. He commented, “Children are not staying on the farms; they don’t want to be in a rural environment.” He noted that because it is difficult to realize profits with small farms, the farms now are getting bigger due to consolidation. He is seeing more farm operations that range from 10,000 to 20,000 acres. Will anyone own 20,000 to 30,000 acre farms? “People who are serious about farming and see it as a profitable business will act to own these large operations,” said Dongoski. He also noted that with the move to larger acreage, the future is moving quickly to autonomous equipment.

    A rapid change also is coming regarding the farmer’s source for advice. “Advice about agronomy is shifting from the local guy to data science,” said Dongoski. “The potential coming down the road is making retailers nervous.”

    An audience member voiced concern about the accuracy of the data that would be available to farmers. Dongoski said there is not a mechanism currently in place that can guarantee the accuracy. “There is a lot of work to do regarding this issue,” he said. “We have to know who owns the data, what is it worth and who wants to consume the data. Security and fraud protection have to be in place.”

    Why I Teach about Food and Agriculture

    Why I Teach about Food and Agriculture
    By Beth Christian

    I grew up on a fifth-generation family farm in Bureau County. My siblings and I learned hard work and collaboration at a young age. My family raised corn and soybeans as well as wheat, oat, rye, and hay, most of which was used to feed our livestock.

    Growing up, my sisters, brother, and I were members of 4-H. 4-H is a nationwide program that offers young people the opportunity to learn through hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship. 4-H members are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles and are given the guidance and mentorship they need to be successful. Even today, 4-H programs are in every county and parish in the country- even Cook County- through in-school and after-school programs, school and community clubs and 4-H camps.

    With eager anticipation to put some space and concrete between my farm background and my life, I relocated to Cook County. Despite the distance, my farm background followed me all the way to Oak Park/River Forest.  

    In my classroom, I was an advocate for project learning, inquiry-based discovery, and developing the curriculum-assessment cycle central to the interests of the child. As part of this teaching style, I’d ask parents to join us and serve as our “Project Experts” during our discovery of a topic. Once, a parent joined us for cupcake baking. The parent kindly brought the ingredients and introduced each item to the students. She proudly brought out brown eggs and stated they were brown because they were organic, not bleached, like white eggs. What she didn’t realize was that different breeds of chickens lay different colors of eggs. The chickens being raised used organic growing methods does not change the color of eggs that the chickens lay.

    I quickly realized that there was a considerable amount of mis-information or lack of information that we, as parents and teachers, unknowingly were giving our children. I believe that providing accurate information is my responsibility as a teacher. So many children don’t know where their food comes from and unfortunately, as our population has gotten more urban, many teachers and parents don’t know much about the sources of their food.

    Having grown up on the very same farm that my brother and father still farm, I sought help from the Cook County Farm Bureau’s Agriculture in the Classroom program (AITC). AITC works to ensure that Cook County teachers have the resources to enable them to incorporate agriculture into their existing curriculum and to provide agricultural opportunities for students in Cook County.

    Cook County Farm Bureau® is the county’s largest general farm organization and is dedicated to bridging the gap between farmers and urban consumers. Through education programs targeting youth and their parents and programs designed to connect farmers with potential consumers, Farm Bureau members are actively engaging in conversations about food and the shared values between farmers and consumers.

    Farm Bureau and AITC allowed me to share my love of the farm with students and enabled me to learn more about the care of animals and plants, farmers’ attention to sustainability using technology, and the shared values of farmers and consumers.

    Teaching about agriculture is in everything I teach. I have become a better early childhood, special education, and collegiate professor through the Cook County Farm Bureau.

    Pete Petges is Plowman of the Year

    Pete Petges received the 2018 Plowman of the Year award from outgoing President Barbara Clark during the May 14th annual meeting.

    During The Chicago Farmers’ annual meeting on May 14th, outgoing President Barbara Clark presented TCF Member Pete Petges with the Plowman of the Year award for the important contributions he has made to the group over the years.

    “The Plowman award is given to a member of the Chicago Farmers who has contributed significantly to the organization over time,” related Barbara. “With this in mind, the 2018 award goes to Pete Petges. He served on the board from 2010 until 2016 with three years as treasurer. He gave unstintingly of his time and energy in that role as well as to the Farmland Forum over the years. Most recently he was heavily involved in our 2018 Farmland Forum, interacting with the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, our event site, on details ranging from meeting space to insurance to lunch for participants. Pete joined Mat Rund and George Heck on the Farmland Forum committee.”

    Pete earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Ag Econ at the University of Illinois. After a tour with the Peace Corps in Kenya, he worked for 37 years for Farm Credit, now known as Compeer Financial, one of The Chicago Farmers’ platinum sponsors.

    Ray Brownfield shares his views on Illinois land values

    More than 70 people attended The Chicago Farmers’ April 9th meeting to hear Ray Brownfield discuss 2017 land values in Illinois. Brownfield, a 40-year member of TCF, is the managing broker/owner of Land Pro, a company composed of professional land real estate specialists that is based in Oswego, Illinois. An accredited land consultant and accredited farm manager, Brownfield recently received the Realtors Land Institute APEX 2017 Top Twenty Producer award. He noted that he and Jason Lestina, also a member of TCF and an Illinois real estate broker and an accredited farm manager with Land Pro, sold $27 million worth of real estate in 2017.

    Thanks to the melting of glaciers during the Ice Age, portions of Illinois boast some very fertile soil. As the glaciers receded, they left behind silt and minerals that give the state its Class A soil. “The area that I refer to as the Golden Triangle, in the center of the state, has the largest concentration of Class A soil,” said Brownfield. “This soil, of course, commands the best prices.”

    Brownfield noted that buyers usually refer to a farm’s productivity index (PI) to determine the price they are willing to pay for parcels. All farms have a PI, he noted. The PIs are used to quantify yield potential of Illinois soils. The highest PIs are located in east-central, west-central, and northern Illinois. The counties with the lowest PIs are found in the southern part of the state.

    “The prices for excellent soil are down about two percent, but there are still some pockets of strength” said Brownfield. “B quality soil prices are down about one percent, while C quality soil prices are down about five percent, which is due to drainage issues and less productivity.”

    Brownfield said that the regions of the state that have excellent quality soil are experiencing median prices per acre that range from $9,755 to $10,800. Regarding B quality soil, Brownfield said it is a buyers’ market; people are looking for the best possible soil at a discounted rate. “If buyers can purchase land with lesser quality soil at a discounted price, they are willing to invest another $200 to $300 in improvements, such as drainage tiles,” said Brownfield.

    He went on to say that farms with C soils and lower PIs are difficult to sell because they have high clay content, do not drain well and usually are irregular in shape; however, some farmers will purchase these farms if they believe they will fit their needs. Brownfield said that the average quality of soil diminishes as you travel farther south in Illinois.

    Regarding properties with less productive soil, Brownfield said that the demand for recreational land has decreased. The larger the parcel of recreational land on the market, the less attractive it is for buyers because they cannot produce enough income from it and still cover costs.

    How does farmland rate as an investment? Brownfield noted that the annual growth rate in farmland investments from 2001 to 2017 ranged from 6.19 percent to 10.3 percent, depending on the region. The farms have to be held for at least 10 years to experience these rates, he said.

    Regarding 2018, falling commodity prices will affect land prices, said Brownfield. He said that real estate professionals and appraisers don’t expect to see much increase. A December 2017 survey of the group shows that 54 percent believe there could be a one to four percent decrease in land values.

    “A lot has happened since December, too,” said Brownfield. “Tariffs, decreasing commodity prices, increases in interest rates, and the possible elimination of the Renewable Fuel Standard are among the factors leading to price declines. On the other hand, higher yields and good economic growth in the United States will lead to price increases.”

    Outstanding In Their Field

    By John Kiefner, Chicago Farmers member

    I recently took a day off from work. I hope it will be one of many in the next 10 years as I try to slide gracefully into retirement. The USDA states that the average farmer is 58.3 years old. That means if I want be an above average farmer I have 4.1 years to go. Can I make it that long? Following is some background.

    A few years ago the price of scrap steel was insanely high. It was a good time to haul many old pieces of machinery to the scrap yard to be melted and reused. First I called my son to see if there was any chance he would be the fourth generation in the family to farm. I was fairly certain what the answer would be, but I wanted to verify it. His answer was honest and quite frank.

    My son was several years out of college at the time and climbing the corporate ladder. His reply to the query about whether he considered becoming a farmer was, “Not a chance, and remember, when you and mom die, we are getting dumpsters.” Perhaps I should have called my daughter and asked her instead.

    My son’s honesty has helped me to decide how to finish out my life as the last farmer in the family. There is no legacy of passing it on to the next generation. No need to build the business or desire to buy the newest technology.

    For my day off I traveled to Chicago to tour the office of The Climate Corp. This company is on the cutting edge of data collection for weather, yields, fertility, plant health, and equipment functions and, well, about anything you can imagine. The information that is gathered will be analyzed, sometimes instantly, and used by farmers to increase yields while reducing inputs, protect the environment and reduce waste. One would also expect that those who adopt and succeed with these technologies would also be more profitable, while lowering the cost of food even more.

    This technology is above my intellect. It was mentioned that the farmer of the future might very well be a computer scientist or agronomist. We were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement to be allowed to tour the offices and labs. That is remarkable, because I could barely comprehend the concepts displayed, let alone appropriate any of the cutting edge technology.

    Am I a dinosaur about to become extinct? Am I a relic, a holdout of farmers long gone? Retirement is going to come very soon for my equipment and me if these technologies evolve swiftly. That may please the realtors and developers that cannot wait to bulldoze the black dirt I have tried to save from erosion for most of my lifetime and build warehouses or subdivisions on my farm. Can I last long enough to become above average?

    The Climate Corp tour was in the West Loop, about two miles from where I met my wife for the train ride home. Ironically, in the middle of Chicago, there was a wheat mill right behind The Climate Corp office. I walked to the train and admired dozens of buildings under construction on Fulton, Lake, Randolph, Washington, and Madison Streets. Is it possible that any of my recycled steel was in the beams being erected?

    Upon my retirement or death, my remaining equipment will be reused somehow. The farm’s fate is uncertain. When I die, I hope they bury me and do not put me in the dumpster.

    Editor’s note: John Kiefner is a member of The Chicago Farmers. He farms 525 acres of corn, soy, wheat, oats, hay, and straw.  His farm, which also has a smattering of animals, including bees and laying hens, is 45 miles southwest of downtown Chicago and on the fringe of urban development.  The southernmost Metra rail station is only one mile from John’s farm.  

    John noted, “I wouldn't say that I am sad or depressed about urban encroachment, but I hope to make people think of what is the best way to grow cities and preserve quality farmland.  I originally lived and grew up right next to the Joliet Junior College Houbolt Road campus.  I remember when they built it next door to the farm my dad grew up on.  We have always had bulldozers working close to the farm.” 

    2018 Report Card for Illinois Infrastructure

    The Illinois Section of American Society of Civil Engineers recently released their 2018 report card about Illinois’ infrastructure.  We all depend on infrastructure for our lives and livelihood. Click here to read the report.

     

    Your fields can tell you a lot if you know where to look

    Climate Corporation, an ag-tech company that develops resources to support farmers in making data driven decisions, was the host for the Chicago Farmers’ March 12 meeting. Located at 1330 W. Fulton Market Street, in the West Loop area, Climate Corporation is a neighbor to Google and McDonald’s corporate offices. It is a Platinum Level sponsor of TCF.

    Climate Corporation’s Craig Rupp, senior director of engineering, and Patrick Dumstorff, market developer lead, gave TCF an overview of the company’s workings as we dined on a buffet luncheon in Climate Corporation’s dining room.

    Climate Corporation began life as 640 Labs in October 2012. It derived its name from the number of acres in a square mile, according to Rupp. Its accomplishment became attractive enough to gain the attention of Monsanto and was acquired by that company in December 2014. It moved into its current headquarters this past October. A subsidiary of Monsanto, Climate Corporation operates as an independent company. Any data it collects is not shared with Monsanto.

    “We are doing things with technology that have been in use for a while, but are new to agriculture,” related Dumstorff as he displayed the drive to the company’s Climate FieldView Plus, which has the ability through the drive to acquire machine data, such as RPM, speed and temperature, and agronomic data that include seeds/acre, gallons/acre, and bushels/acre. The Climate FieldView Plus is in place on farms throughout the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Europe, according to Rupp.

    The drive, which is a black metal apparatus that is about three inches in diameter, connects to the “nervous system” of the farm machinery’s internet, said Dumstorff, and it grabs data from the implement to which it has been affixed. The field data it acquires can be streamed directly from the equipment, manually uploaded to a thumb drive or iPad or transferred to another system such as the Cloud. In addition to the data that the program gathers, it will soon have the ability to produce image based yield maps that would inform farmers how many pounds of a crop are coming off a field, for example.

    In response to an audience member’s question, Rupp said that the cost of the Climate FieldView Plus program is $1,000 per year and the cost of the drive is $250.

    Rupp explained that he monitors advanced technologies and keeps aware of the development of autonomous robots. “I look to see where the industry is going,” said Rupp as he showed a brief video of recently developed autonomous robots at work. There were instances of robots planting seeds, thinning a lettuce crop (by oversaturating the plant with fertilizer), and cultivating soil.

    “This is what is coming and Climate will be involved,” said Rupp. “Think of Climate as the Amazon of agriculture. We’re the data storage warehouse coupled with data analytics. Our vision is to couple our platform with agriculture robotics. The agronomic insights would come from us.”

    In response to a question about the possibility of cyber security threats to the platform, Rupp said that Monsanto is extremely sensitive to privacy and has a firewall to protect data. Additionally, standards are being developed that would ensure even greater security.

    It was noted that with the increasing use of technology in agriculture, the farmer has to be a scientist as well as an agriculturist. However, that does not alter the farmer’s connection to his work.

    Rupp said, “I grew up on a farm. Climate is a fascinating company to work for. I spend every working moment ultimately focused on the same problems my father worked on. I always tell people that we have the best customers. Farmers are salt-of-the-earth people - genuine, honest, and really nice.”

    New venue welcomes Farmland Forum

    After a one-year hiatus, the Chicago Farmers’ Farmland Forum returned on February 10, 2018, in a new location, the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHAS) in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the Southwest Side of Chicago. As in the past, the event offered an abundance of information and provided ample opportunity for networking.

    Exhibitor Tom Tesdal, First Midwest Bank, liked the new site for the Farmland Forum. “The high school is a good location,” said Tom. “We made some good contacts today. I always walk away from these events with either a lead or a referral.”

    After enjoying morning refreshments compliments of Compeer Financial (the group sponsored the morning food service and lunch), which included zucchini bread baked by the CHAS students, attendees perused the 22 exhibitors’ booths and walked away with a wide range of information and resources. The main hall of CHAS buzzed with activity as attendees asked exhibitors questions and established links with bank representatives, realtors, a variety of Ag services, credit services, Ag technology specialists, farmland managers, and a non-profit group that provides agricultural assistance to developing countries.

    When the speaker sessions got under way, people streamed into classrooms and the library to hear the topic of their choice. A large group listened intently to Mike Morris, Compeer Financial, in the school’s library as he talked about farmland values and trends. “There is not a lot of land on the market now,” said Mike in response to a question regarding the farmland sales market. “There is a steady demand, but a limited supply. As a result, values have been stable. Most of the buyers are farmers looking to add 80-160 acres to their existing operations.”

    Discussion ensued regarding factors that contribute to high cash rent agreements for landowners. Audience member Ray Brownfield, owner of Land Pro, a real estate brokerage and farm management company, recommended that landowners pay attention to drainage and install tiles on their farms; ensure that their fields are “highly tillable”; and make use of soil tests to make certain that their land is properly handled.

    In response to a question about interest rates’ effect on land values, Mike said that if a “real run-up” occurred, values could slide by 10 percent. “Rising rates would have a dampening effect on values,” he said.

    David Oppedahl, senior business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and TCF secretary, drew a large crowd for his presentation on Trends in the Ag Economy. “It is a challenging time for agriculture, but it still looks pretty good,” said David. “Farmers are as indebted today as they were in the 1980s, but they have more assets.”

    David noted that some farmers are highly leveraged and, as a result, there have been increases in delinquencies. On the up side, feed costs are decreasing and this is a benefit to animal agriculturists, he added.

    He went on to say that there is an increase in loan demand, but the funds available to lend are decreasing. “Repayment issues are cropping up, but it is not nearly as big an issue as it was in the 1980s,” David commented.

    Among the points David made in his presentation:

    • Interest rates have risen from the very bottom, yet not very much when the 1980s situation is reviewed
    • The U.S economy is growing a little faster and the Federal Reserve expects that the target rate for Fed funds could reach three percent by 2020
    • Agriculture’s interest rates have been lagging and not rising as fast as the Fed’s target interest rate
    • Corn and soybean returns are dropping from their peaks, with soybeans generally more profitable than corn
    • Cash rents are stable to lower
    • It is important to maintain the nation’s infrastructure so that the U.S. has a competitive advantage as it ships materials to China and around the world
    • Finding a niche, or branding a product, will help the farmer grab a bigger share of the food dollar
    • The euro has strengthened versus the dollar; the dollar could weaken over the next 10 years, but not dramatically, according to the USDA

    In other sessions, attendees learned about the fine points of beekeeping in an urban setting, the urban farming programs supported by the University of Illinois Extension Service, how data acquired through technology can support farmers in their fields, the research that is supporting the development of regenerative agriculture, solar/wind power, improving soil health and cover crops, and insurance and risk management considerations. It was a full day.

    “This is a very sophisticated group,” said presenter Mike Morris, referring to the Chicago Farmers and the Forum attendees. “They know land values and they ask good questions. I enjoy being a speaker because I know I will be asked thoughtful questions.”

    Will we soon be eating meat that is not animal-based?

    There could come a day when one might find an aisle in the meat section of the grocery store devoted to alternative meat. Not veggie burgers, but a product that is considered meat and is not from an animal.

    Known as alternative meat, it is one of the three key trends that should be watched over the next 5 to 10 years because of its possible impact on the food chain, according to Lucas Frye, the speaker at The Chicago Farmers January 8, 2018, meeting. Frye, a 2015 University of Illinois graduate, is founder of Amber Agriculture, an agtech startup that automates farmers' grain management.

    Joining alternative meat as a key trend are gene editing and vertical farming, said Frye. He noted that the companies that are involved in these areas are focusing on themes that include the stories they have to tell, greater nutritional value and convenience. “These are themes that will be prevalent for the next five to 10 years among these trends,” said Frye. “The trends are not set in stone. They could slowly increase their impact on the food chain or they could fall flat, but these trends will dictate the conversation in food and agriculture.”

    Regarding alternative meat, Frye noted such companies as Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, both produce alternative meat that is plant-based. “These companies create meat from scratch and want it labeled and sold as meat,” said Frye. “But words will escalate and impact the conversation. There will be battles about definitions. How will cattlemen respond to the words alternative meat? But these are companies that are exploring what happens if they design a new food system.

    He went on to say that the environment is an important element with these companies and they share the belief that animal agriculture is an evil. In addition to plant-based meat is lab-based meat. One company starts with a chicken feather and a petri dish to create meat. The lab-based meat is not scalable yet and costs $1,300 per pound. “These producers are centered on the story that they can share with the consumer,” said Frey. “They are not worried about the livestock producer; they are more worried about scalability and making the economics work.”

    Frye said the group is confident that it can create food, find the ingredients and not go through the cereal crop to do it. These groups are building software, databases and an ecosystem. “They have a story, they are focused on nutrition and will get the food to market in a convenient manner,” he related.

    Gene editing is the next trend to watch. It focuses on nutrition and its conversation is similar to the one involving GMOs. Companies like Calyxt are involved in gene editing, said Frye. Calyxt is focusing on building in the next three years new varieties of crops such as high fiber wheat and higher oil content soybean. These new varieties could help farmers command higher prices for their grain from buyers seeking higher composition values. It has partnered with the Farmers Business Network for distribution.

    The final trend Frye focused on was vertical farming. He pointed to Plenty Agriculture, which is a main player in this area. It uses efficient LED lighting that is strung vertically in warehouses and is able to grow fruit and vegetables. Its developers have indicated they can better control the nutrition of the crops and the cost, once the endeavor has become more scalable. “Plenty Agriculture claims it can build a factory and grow its crops in 30 days. Plenty can produce 16 crops in one year and can produce what regular production grows in a soccer field with only the space of the soccer net,” related Frye.

    “In all of these instances, the goal is to control the entire story, produce foods that have more nutrients and provide convenience to the consumer,” said Frye. “They are striving to prove their products taste better and the production process is transparent. If all of these ideas fail, they will resurface in the next 10 years or so. People will just keep trying new variations on these same ideas.”

    Frye explained that his company, Amber Agriculture, is leveraging the latest in sensing an analytic technology to help farmers capture high market prices. Currently the company is in test trials in Illinois and Canada and hopes to have the product on the market this fall.

    U of I celebrates its sesquicentennial and looks forward to the next 150 years

    “You cannot go a day without being impacted by some innovation from the University of Illinois,” related Dr. Robert J. Jones, chancellor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, during remarks made at The Chicago Farmers’ December 11th holiday meeting at the Union League Club of Chicago. The university has a history of excellence and innovation, but it will not rest on its laurels, he noted.

    “The university is very good across a wide spectrum and is excellent at a massive scale,” he said. “I am surrounded by excellence at the University of Illinois in every field of study. Most universities would die for what we have.” He noted he was proud to be in the midst of the university’s 150th anniversary, which will extend through graduation 2018, but it is necessary to ensure that it will be a strong and sustainable University of Illinois for the next 150 years.

    “To reach our goal, we must include a strong and sustainable agriculture foundation. Everything I have done has been shaped by my experiences as an agriculturist and provided me with an understanding of the mission of land grant colleges,” said Dr. Jones.

    He related that he was the son of Georgia sharecroppers who made it clear to the landowner that their children would not lose a day of school to work on the farm. Dr. Jones said he was grateful for his parents’ view. Interested in science since an early age, Dr. Jones worked with his high school vocational ag instructor and saw how science and agriculture are related. He was a member of 4H and was impacted by his association with the Future Farmers of America, he said.

    After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees, Dr. Jones embarked on a 34-year tenure at the University of Minnesota. Later, he served as president of the University at Albany, State University of New York, from 2013 to 2016 when he was named chancellor at the University of Illinois. He isan experienced and accomplished scientist and research university leader.

    Noting that the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was ranked14th overall in the country this year by U.S. News and World Report, he said that 22 of the university’s programs rank in the top five in the country and 75 of its programs rank among the top 25 in the country.

    He said that there were 39,000 freshmen applicants last year for 7,500 slots. The university welcomed 7,581 freshmen who had a strong profile with an average ACT score of 28.5. It also is a diverse class, 22 percent of whom are first generation college students. “The class demonstrates that the university can be an elite academic institution, but not an elitist university,” said Dr. Jones. “Also, 5,500 of the students are Illinois residents. We educate a large number of students from the state and will continue to do this. This is what the land grant mission is all about.”

    Dr. Jones also expressed pride in the core academic faculty, which includes 1,190 tenured and 1,000 specialized faculty members. The faculty generated more than $600 million in research and development expenditures. “For the sixth consecutive year, we are the top university in receipt of National Science Foundation awards. Our students and our faculty are our assets,” he said.

    Dr. Jones went on to say that to keep the university strong and deliver on its land grant obligations, it must have a presence and deep engagement where most of the state’s citizens live, which is Chicago. “We won’t diminish anything we do at Urbana-Champaign, but we have to be more strategic about our connection with Chicago,” he said. “To that end, the university wants to work with The Chicago Farmers because it has a critical and long historical presence in the city.”

    Dr. Jones said the university was charged with enormous potential and he shared with Chicago Farmers the university’s vision for the future. “We have to activate that potential for impact and change,” he said.

    He shared that the university has faced challenges: budget stalemates, changes in leadership and a climate of social and political unrest on the campus.

    “If you look closely, you will see what we have done to prepare us for the worst of times,” said Dr. Jones. “We can’t be held hostage by a budget crisis, and we can’t sustain excellence without proper funding. Our 2018 appropriation was our 2015 base, minus 12 percent. We are working diligently through this budget impasse. We continue to work on reforming the budget model, but it is a challenge. Despite implementation of a $67 million permanent reduction to the budget, we are increasing our financial aid to $92 million for the next year. We have to be financially prudent and resilient to meet the challenges of the next 150 Years.”

    Dr. Jones briefly reviewed the framework of the measure of success in the strategic process for “The Next 150 Years” and a glimpse of things to come:

    • The University of Illinois will be ahead of the game, be innovative, and lead to discovery.
    • The creation of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, the first engineering-based medical college; students will be immersed in clinical experiences from the first day of school.
    • Improve food production to feed the world. “The work we are doing now is Nobel-like research focused on feeding the world,” said Dr. Jones.
    • As a foremost leader in science and data analytics, the university has been sought out by the Mayo Clinic to create a partnership to advance the notion of individualized medicine for Mayo’s 100,000 patients annually.
    • Efforts are focusing on creating new ways to engage with the population of the state outside of Urbana-Champaign, while maintaining the anchor campus. The building of Discovery Partners Institute will create a presence in Chicago on a 62 acre parcel at Roosevelt Road along the Chicago River. Through the institute, college partnerships with Northwestern, the University of Chicago and the Fermilab will be created. Some 1,800 students will attend classes there with 90 faculty members. The students will graduate from the Urbana-Champaign campus, but they will have the opportunity to have internships in Chicago to encourage them to return to Chicago-based companies for work after graduation.
    • The 53rd Street Project, initiated in conjunction with the University of Chicago, which will offer public engagement activities and research on advance materials and advance analytics.
    • A campaign to raise $2.25 billion in the next five years for the Urbana-Champaign campus. Dr. Jones said, “It is an ambitious goal, but a critical one to meet to carry out the University of Illinois’ mission.”

    Grain merchandising and uncertain markets

     

    When dealing in the commodity markets, volatility is your friend. This observation was among the nuggets that Jeffrey Hainline, chairman of Advanced Trading Inc., and Jeremy Strubhar, Ag Risk advisor at Advanced Trading Inc., shared during their presentations at the November 13 Chicago Farmers’ meeting.

    Advanced Trading (ATI), based in Bloomington, Illinois, is a commodity trading company. It offers consulting services to people in agriculture on how to manage their enterprises, related Jeff. Additionally, ATI provides assistance for logistics, strategic planning, marketing, and research. Proprietary software and solutions to help manage commodity risks also are available through ATI. It has national and international clients.

    Some things to know in managing your commodities:

    • Jeff noted that in 2017 there have been very narrow price ranges in corn and soybeans with little movement. “Without much movement, grain companies suffer. Lack of  movement means lack of opportunity,” said Jeff.
    • He said that 2017 has the second highest corn stocks/use ratio since 2000. Jeff went on to say that 87 percent of corn is used domestically and the use is growing slowly by about two percent a year. Feed and industrial uses of corn respond to the size of the crop.
    • Jeff related that ethanol use is growing and ramping up. As a result, there will be a need for more corn. Currently, China only uses a two percent ethanol blend with gasoline. If they expand their ethanol use, there would be a dramatic increase in fuel and ethanol demand. The same situation exists in India. Brazil is a major ethanol producer, but its ethanol is made from sugar. The United States exports corn in the form of ethanol to Brazil. He said that the United States has lost the China market because it has a stockpile of corn. However, we have picked up Mexico and Turkey.
    • Ethanol companies continue to be profitable.
    • Logistics is an important consideration with stockpiles of corn. Last year’s record corn crop forced many ground piles. When there is a significant amount of corn that needs to be stored and there is no place to put it, the price goes down.
    • The forecast for this year is that there will be deficit space by 250 million bushels.
    • At one point, the United States had 74 percent of the corn market; however, exports stayed stagnant and now the United States has 34 percent of the market.
    • Regarding soybeans, it is estimated that China will import 97 million tons of beans this year. This is due to the increase in feed needed for animals because Chinese are eating more meat. South Africa, Asia, and the Middle East bean markets also are growing because they are buying more meat.
    • There is a meteoric growth in the demand for soybeans because it has become food for animals.
    • There is an incentive for farmers to plant more beans and sell them; not so for corn.
    • There is a record short position for managed money in corn.


    Jeremy discussed what the farmer can do to better manage the grain market. He noted that 2.4 billion bushels of corn were carried over from 2016-2017 and” the farmers owned it,” which resulted in a lot of storage costs.

    “You want to be hedgers,” said Jeremy. “Lock in prices. Be aware of what will hurt your operation, such as lower prices. Things outside of our control can lead to lower prices, such as political unrest and natural disasters.”

    Jeremy observed that the American farmer has become an expert in managing risks in growing the crop, much of which has improved due to technology. However, managing price risk still suffers.

    The tools that help manage prices are:

    • Put options, which give the farmer the right to sell unsold bushels; puts gain in value as the price drops.
    • Call options, which give the farmer the right to buy. It is used to replace ownership after selling bushels; calls gain in value as the market goes higher.
    • “A put is used to protect yourself against lower prices,” said Jeremy. “With a call, if prices go higher, you benefit. A call option is a way to replace grain once you sell it. It is often cheaper to own grain in a call option than to store the grain in a commercial grain elevator.”
    • He pointed out that options work best when there is volatility.
    • Puts:
      • Lock in a floor and give you a minimum price
      • Extend cash pricing window
      • Allow you to partake in higher cash prices, or increase floor
      • Make the risk know
      • Insulate you from a price drop, protect your financial balance sheet
    • Calls:
      • Gain if futures prices rally
      • Risk is known
      • Remove fear of selling too early and too low
      • Make cash sales with confidence
      • May be cheaper than paying for commercial storage


    In response to a question, Jeremy said that 5,000 bushels is the minimum amount of bushels for option strategies.

    Jeremy said, “My recommendation is to have a basic risk management plan based on protecting prices, not speculation.”

    TCF awards scholarship to Wisconsin student

    University of Wisconsin-Madison student Jack Jones received a scholarship from The Chicago Farmers. A junior at the university, Jack is majoring in Biological Systems Engineering with an emphasis in machinery systems.

    Jack is originally from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and attended high school at Stevens Point Area Senior High (SPASH). Stevens Point’s deep agricultural roots as well as Jack’s natural interest in problem solving and a knack for math and science led him to pursue Biological Systems Engineering at U-Madison. Jack said the ability to solve complex problems in the tight-knit and time-honored agricultural community is his impetus to work hard in school and pursue a career within an agro-related business.

    He also is a chapter chair with the student chapter of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). When not helping the chapter organize events for the BSE Department, Jack said he is working in the UW Meat and Muscle Science Laboratory’s small butchery to produce a wide variety of meat products. At other times, he can be found with the UW Cycling and Nordic Ski clubs.

    TCF awards scholarship to Iowa State student

    A scholarship was awarded to Megan Frohwein, a junior at Iowa State University pursuing an Agricultural Business degree. Megan grew up on acreage outside the small town of Hubbard, Iowa, with her parents and younger sister. She graduated from South Hardin High School in May 2015 where she was involved in football and basketball cheerleading and several leadership groups.

    Megan said she chose an Agricultural Business degree for several reasons; the biggest reason being that her family is very involved in the agricultural field. Her father’s family owns and operates a private grain elevator, sells seed and fertilizer, and farms roughly 1,700 acres in Story and Hardin counties. She said she has grown up around the family business and is interested in agriculture. “I thought an Agricultural Business degree would be the perfect fit for me,” she said.

    During her first two years at Iowa State, Megan has been a member of the Ag Business Club and also served on the hospitality committee for Bacon Expo. Most recently she has become an ambassador for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This past summer Megan had a marketing internship through Pinnacle in Iowa Falls, Iowa. During the upcoming summer she will be working as a commercial banking intern at US Bank in Des Moines.

    Following graduation, Megan plans to begin a career in agricultural finance. She said she hopes to start her journey at a large financial institution where there would be many opportunities to grow and expand her knowledge within the industry. Eventually, Megan would love to work for a bank near her hometown and become a loan officer so she could build relationships with local farmers. Megan said she was confident that her degree would help her achieve her career goals and further her passion for agriculture.

    FSA fosters successful farmers and quality environment

    Rick Graden is an enthusiastic spokesman for the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and he helped attendees at Chicago Farmers’ October 16 meeting understand why the FSA is beneficial and benefits farmland owners during his presentation.

    Stabilizing farm income, helping farmers conserve land and water resources, providing credit to new or disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and helping farm operations recover from the effects of disaster are the missions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), explained Rick, who is the acting state executive director of the agency. He noted that FSA has been a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture since the 1930s when it became an initiative through the Agricultural Adjustment Act. While its name changed over the years, FSA has maintained its focus on ensuring that the country has safe and reliable food sources and on keeping farmers on the farm.

    Rick noted that FSA is the only U.S. government agency that works with elected county committees that are composed of farmers’ peers. “Because there is local representation, these committees make determinations based on local affairs, and agricultural conditions,” said Rick.

    FSA provides numerous programs that benefit farmers, but due to time constraints at the meeting, Rick focused on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Implemented in 1985, CRP protects the environment, controls erosion and benefits wildlife, said Rick. CRP acreage is capped at 24 million acres under the current farm bill. “FSA would like to see a cap of 35 million acres,” said Rick.

    Currently, FSA is processing CRP applications that were submitted from May to September of this year. Rick urged people to be patient. He said that FSA is always adding more acreage to the CRP pot as CRPs are terminated when farms are passed on through inheritance or when people opt out of the program. Farmers can re-enroll in the CRP program, but owners might have to enhance their CRP practices to remain eligible to re-enroll. However, FSA will cost share in many instances for the enhancements.

    Rick noted that FSA has approximately 42 different CRP practices, not all practices are available in Illinois. Among them is the pollinator habitat that was implemented in 2012. A maximum of 100 acres per farm can be set aside as a pollinator habitat.

    “Seed for these habitats is expensive, but FSA will cost share with farmers for these plantings and specialists will assist in planting the areas,” said Rick. “A pollinator habitat on your property results in higher CRP cash rental rates.”

    Rick noted that FSA monitors practices and spot checks CRPs and pollinator habitats. At times, it might recommend spraying for weeds. There are 106,615 acres of pollinator habitats in Illinois and applications are no longer being taken. Rick said FSA will probably return to the pollinator habitats program because the planting of milkweed, goldenrod and blackeyed Susans are so beneficial for Monarch butterflies and honeybees. He noted that FSA hopes that pollinators could be planted along the interstates and Illinois is considering undertaking this. Iowa already is doing this.

    “CRP is the best program FSA has ever had,” Rick said. “Its provisions result in so many benefits for the environment. In my opinion, it is here to stay.”

    Longtime TCF Speaker Returns to Share His Expertise

    Dr. Gary Schnitkey, professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, discussed crop farm income, cash rents and farmland prices during his presentation at the Chicago Farmers September 11, 2017 meeting. Dr. Schnitkey has been keeping TCF members well informed through his presentations since 1998. “He is a wealth of information,” said TCF President Barbara Clark.

    Dr. Schnitkey related that 2015 was a low income year, but income bounced back in 2016 with an average income of $90,000 per farm. This was due to good yields in Illinois. However, he suggested that incomes in 2017 could be less, averaging around $60,000.

    “Of course, much depends on where crop prices go as we move forward,” said Dr. Schnitkey. “Income is down because prices have not changed a lot and the yields this year are projected to be down.”

    Dr. Schnitkey said that soybean and corn yields have been above the trend in recent years, but he said that projections are down for soybeans in Illinois. He noted that 50 percent of this country’s soybeans are exported, with the vast majority going to China, which also imports soybeans from Brazil. “The hope from farmers’ perspective is that this export situation to China continues to grow so that soybeans remain in a positive situation,” said Dr. Schnitkey.

    Other information shared by Dr. Schnitkey:

    • Static prices for corn and soybeans: 2017 price per bushel for corn - $3.30, soybean - $9.50; 2018 projection: corn - $3.80, soybean - $9.50

    • ARC payments are expected to decrease and will vary by county; however, recipients should expect one-half or less of what they received last year

    • Costs are expected to be less in 2018 than they were in 2017; fertilizer costs have come down as well as fuel costs

    • Seed costs have not come down

    • For Central Illinois, soybeans are more profitable than corn; corn costs and seed costs increased more than costs for soybeans

    • Corn demand is static in comparison to soybean demand

    • There will be downward pressure on cash rents

    • Farmers and landowners should consider moving into variable cash rents

    • Little movement in farmland prices; prices have come down 10-15 percent off their peak; prices could come down another one to two percent

    • Anything that causes trade to slow in regard to NAFTA would be a negative; grain farmers want free trade

    • Regarding real estate taxes, use-valuation should be coming down

    • Projections indicate that the federal government will not do anything with ethanol; Brazil is raising a lot of corn that can be used for ethanol; the overall use of corn in ethanol is static

    • The United States could possibly begin exporting more corn, primarily to China, which now uses soybeans to feed animals

    • It doesn’t appear that water constraints will cause land to go out of production; Dr. Schnitkey thinks we will see more land coming into production due to Asian countries beginning to eat more meat: “As long as growing increases, land will be brought into production.”

    Eric Rund Named Plowman of the Year

    The Chicago Farmers presented Eric Rund with the 2017 Plowman of the Year Award for his many contributions to the organization during the September 11 meeting. Eric served two terms as president of TCF. He also served as vice-president, treasurer and as a director.

    Eric and his wife, Maria, operate their ancestral family farm that is located south of Champaign. The farm produces corn for Frito-Lay and seed beans for Pioneer using strip-till and no-till. The Runds also grow the perennial biomass crop miscanthus. It was planted for cellulosic ethanol, but today the Runds sell it for poultry and livestock bedding. “Eventually, we believe it will be used as a biomass fuel replacing LP gas,” said Eric. “To demonstrate the practicality of this, we sold and installed a multi-fuel biomass boiler at the University of Illinois’ energy farm, where anyone can see how it works.”

    He went on to say, “My years with The Chicago Farmers have been rewarding. This unique organization has given me opportunities to listen to viewpoints from the consumer side of agriculture as well as the production side and from the landowner side as well as the tenant’s side. If farmers are to be successful, we have to know what our customers want and respond to that need. If customers want abundant, safe and inexpensive food, then they must become informed consumers and learn the facts and the science behind food production. The Chicago Farmers, like no other farm organization with which I am familiar, provides these learning opportunities to its members. I have met many intelligent and influential people while attending our meetings over the years, all of whom I have learned something from and many of whom have become lifelong friends.”

    An outdoor history museum in Naperville welcomes The Chicago Farmers

    The Chicago Farmers were transported back to the mid-19th century when Summer Tour 2017 took the group to Naper Settlement in Naperville, Illinois. A perfect summer day, delicious lunch, and charming Naper Settlement staff members showed TCF what industry and agriculture were like in the area the last 180 years.

    Our hostesses for the day were Debbie Grinnell, Vice President, Advancement and Campus Development, and Donna Sack, Vice President, Community Engagement and Audience. Ms. Grinnell noted that she and Ms. Sack had attended Chicago Farmers meetings over the last year and very much they enjoyed them. They also participated in TCF’s visit to the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences last summer.

    “We wanted to be able to offer something in return to The Chicago Farmers and we thought a visit to our site would do that,” said Ms. Grinnell.

    She noted that Naper Settlement sits on 12 of the 212 acres donated to Naperville in the 1930s. Caroline Martin Mitchell, the daughter of George Martin, a successful 19th century businessman, deeded the acreage and the Martin family Victorian mansion that was built in 1883, to Naperville with the understanding that the property would be put to good use for the community and that the mansion would become a city museum. Hence, a hospital, schools, river walk, cemetery, municipal buildings, and Naper Settlement now sit on the property that at one time was the Martin’s farmland and rock quarry pit. Today, the Martin mansion and 30 buildings and ancillary sites features “allow Naper Settlement to tell the story of an agrarian community that transformed into a technoburb,” said Ms. Grinnell.

    And, indeed, there is an audience for the story. Thirty-five thousand teachers and students from 12 rural, suburban, and urban counties in Illinois annually visit Naper Settlement in addition to the many other visitors that are split evenly between Naperville and other suburbs.

    Naper Settlement, which serves as an outdoor history museum, operates on a $4.5 million budget; $3 million of which comes from the City of Naperville with the remaining $1.5 million raised by the Naperville Heritage Society. This fundraising arm was created in 1969 when a group formed to save St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Naperville from demolition. The church held its first service in 1865. The group raised enough funds to salvage the wooden Gothic Revival church and have it moved to the grounds of the Martin Mitchell Mansion. The church was renamed Century Memorial Church and has been restored to look as it did in the 1870s.

    After lunch, our group left the visitor center, which houses a temporary exhibit reflecting on the Naperville community’s agricultural roots on the first floor and a permanent exhibit on Naperville’s settlement and town development in the lower level. We then went outdoors to tour the museum and view the historic buildings that dot the Naper Settlement site. A blacksmith, the Naperville Clarion Print Shop and Paw Paw Post Office are among the first buildings that are encountered as visitors begin a leisurely stroll around the grounds. “Interpreters” educate visitors on the work of the blacksmith, relate how a newspaper of 1869 printed the news, and share details about the early days of the postal system and the fact that Naperville was a stop on the stage coach route. Young teens and children dressed in period garb can be seen around the post office playing games that children of that era would have played.

    As the walk moves on, visitors continue to be transported back in time and immersed in history. A stop at an 1830s log cabin that originally stood in Jonesboro, Illinois, allows visitors to interact with two children performing children’s tasks of the 1800s – churning butter and carding wool to prepare it for the spinning wheel. The adult “interpreter” talks about farming of the period. He noted, for example, that the 19th century farmer would produce 30 bushels of corn per acre and sell it for 30 cents a bushel, which would be $30 today. Similarly, the farmer produced about 24 bushels of wheat per acre and sold it for 80 cents per bushel, $80 in today’s terms.

    The walk along winding paths takes visitors past a Conestoga covered wagon that transported pioneers westward in the 19th century, a reconstructed one room school house from the 1840s that originally stood at Route 59 and 83rd Street, an 1843 home known as the “halfway house” because it stood halfway on the route between Naperville and Aurora, and the beautifully restored Martin Mitchell Mansion. But there is still more to see: a farm cellar, smokehouse and windmill from the 1900s, the Century Memorial Chapel, the Murray Building, which was a residence and business dating from the 1840s in downtown Naperville, and more.

    While there is much to see at Naper Settlement today, the history museum has plans for the addition of an Agricultural Interpretive Center in the near future, Ms. Sack told TCF’s group. Currently, Naper Settlement is in the process of collecting artifacts, stories and funds for the $4 million center.

    “There is a story to be told about how Naperville shifted from an agricultural base to suburbanization as it welcomed industry and a more diverse population,” said Ms. Sack. “There is so much more to tell. Our goal is to continue to focus and enhance our conversation about the importance of history, social studies and civics.”

    The 5,000 square feet Agricultural Interpretive Center addition to Naper Settlement will be located close to the half-way house and will tell the story of agriculture from 19th and 20th and centuries in the context of agriculture today. It will show agriculture’s innovation through displays of past and present farm implements, facilitate discussions about the business side of agriculture and the skills that are needed to be successful, provide an ag-science learning lab for interactive activities, experiments and experiences, and the center also will include the story of women in agriculture, Ms. Sack said.

    “We want to excite children about working in agriculture and agriculture related professions,” said Ms. Sack. “Agriculture is a huge business in Illinois and the center will show that. The center will provide data that will inform conversations about the evolving science and business of food production today, and how agriculture will feed the world’s population of tomorrow.”

    TCF member Ray Brownfield is a long-time resident of Naperville and an ardent supporter of Naper Settlement and its plans for the Agricultural Center. “I have spent time talking with representatives of Naper Settlement about agriculture and where it is going,” Ray shared with TCF’s group. “We have talked about growing crops, GMOs and organic farming. I’m a stakeholder here. I believe the Agricultural Interpretive Center can become a destination for people to learn about agriculture. It is a very exciting endeavor.”

    TCF scholarship awarded to U of I student

    The Chicago Farmers recently awarded a scholarship to Patrick Dziura, a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently studying Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Patrick has devoted his undergraduate career to conducting extensive research within the fields of bioenvironmental engineering, bioprocessing engineering, and nanoscale biological engineering. Within these fields Patrick said hopes to create a global impact by addressing issues such as water and air pollution through the use of algal wastewater treatment, biofuel production, and genetically modified crops. Minoring in French, Patrick hopes to bring his knowledge and research to an international level to help impact as many people as possible.

    Patrick currently serves as the Philanthropy Chair of the Alpha Zeta Morrow Chapter at the university and is also a member of Engineering Outreach Society where he volunteers at the local elementary school in an effort to pique students’ interest in science through hands-on experiments. He also serves as a member of the American Society for Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). 

    Patrick grew up in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago where he attended Glenbrook South High School. He discovered his interest and passion for agriculture through the high school's horticulture program. Competing in local, state, and national FFA Horticulture Competitions, Patrick's high school team won the 2014 FFA Illinois State Horticulture Competition and went on to do well in the national competition that same year. Patrick noted that his interest in horticulture, agriculture, and science in general has become a forefront in his life as he pursues his future career. 

    Patrick wrote in a letter to TCF, “I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee and The Chicago Farmers for providing me with this scholarship that will help me to continue and pursue my academic studies and goals. Without scholarships such as this, I would not have the opportunity to study at the University of Illinois and be able to make my professional dreams come true. It gives me great confidence and encouragement to continue to do my best academically knowing that there are organizations and people who support me and all my endeavors. I promise to keep working hard at school and make sure that the work that I am doing will one day have a positive local, national, and global impact.”

    How to plan for smooth succession planning

    The hardest part about owning a farm is how to keep the land in the family, said Paul Morf during a presentation at The Chicago Farmers’ May 8, 2017, meeting. Morf, chair of the estate planning group for Simmons Perrine Moyer Bergman, a law firm principally located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, allowed that “taxes are hard, too.”

    Morf related that setting up an LLC is the most efficient structure for succession planning. The LLC provides:

    • Centralized management.
    • Privacy regarding the ownership of real estate.
    • Separation of ownership from control through recapitalizing the LLC into voting and non-voting ownership interests.
    • Facilitates estate planning transfers of real estate to descendants and trusts for descendants.
    • Treatment like a partnership for income tax purposes so that all income and deduction items of the LLC flow through directly to the members.
    • Distribution of funds from the LLC to the members without taxation.
    • Liability protection for all owners.
    • Restrictions on transfers and insulation of LLC assets from creditors of owners.
    • Facilitating availability of significant valuation discounts for transfer tax purposes.
    • Avoidance of partition.
    • Avoidance of ancillary probate and possibly state death taxes in Iowa or Illinois for a non-resident landowner from Florida, Texas, Arizona or other state without a death tax.
    • Smooth business succession planning.

    Morf noted there is an emotional and economic attachment to a farm and there are times when fair is not always equal. He said this situation generally occurs when a child returns to the farm to work on it and maintain it, while other siblings have chosen other paths. Decisions have to be made:

    • Should there be identical treatment for siblings?
    • Give farming son the right/option to purchase farms from the estate or other siblings?
    • Should the land be held in trust, require rental to son at fair market retail rates and distribute rent equally to siblings?
    • Sell farms to the son (or grantor trust for sons) on an installment contract during life?

    In families where the business owners or famers have few assets outside of the business/farm and there are one or more children involved, other decisions have to be made when creating estate plans:

    • Treat children equally or fair but not equal?
    • Will the equipment pass predominately to the on farm heirs? What about the land?
    • Should children be put in business together or is each given a different parcel?
    • If you give children different assets, do you equalize with life insurance or liquid assets? He noted that life insurance is subject to the death tax.
    • Should children involved in the business be given purchase options?
    • Are those children not involved in the business given put options?
    • How do you value farmland or business assets for purposes of division?
    • Are buy-outs among family members for cash, or on an installment basis:

    Morf pointed out that there are a lot of tools for shared inheritances. He encouraged people to talk with their advisers and family during these considerations. Morf suggested that premarital agreements be in place for second marriages to protect the children. He added that placing an inheritance for children in a trust is a protection against a divorce.

    Morf reviewed revocable trusts and related that the trustor, who is the initial trustee and initial beneficiary, can amend or revoke the trust at any time. The trust is not a separate taxpayer and gifts to the trust have no tax implication. Additionally:

    • With the death of the trustor, the trust continues with new beneficiaries, according to the terms of the trust, which at that point becomes a will substitute.
    • It is important that every revocable trust be backed up with a valid will. A “pour over will” provides that any property owned by the trustor (and not by the trustor’s revocable trust) at death pours into the revocable trust.

    Jeff Martin receives Distinguished Service Award

    By Andy Holstine, Past President

    Jeff Martin has been associated with the Chicago Farmers for nearly twenty years.  During this time he has been very active, serving as a director, president and in nearly every other voluntary role.  He hosted the summer picnic on his family farm in Mt. Pulaski and spent fifteen years as co-chair of the Farmland Forum.  In short, his efforts to make our organization better have been enormous. 

    But Jeff’s energy and contributions extend well beyond the Chicago Farmers and his industry leadership and service made the recognition of the “Distinguished Service to Agriculture” award well-deserved.  The Chicago Farmers first created this award in 1977 and you can find the list of past winners here.  You will find that past recipients of the award include the founder of McDonald’s, captains of agribusiness, leaders in academia and research, prominent media , and a Secretary of Agriculture.  While Mr. Martin may describe himself as “only” a farmer, the impact of his life’s work has contributed greatly to the evolution of farming practices employed across millions of acres each year.

    Jeff started farming with his father in 1976.  As he recounted when accepting the award, early in his career he watched a dust storm destroy their fields.  For Jeff, who had grown up listening to his grandfather extoll a belief that the land they lived on could provide for their family forever, this experience galvanized a belief in the importance in taking a long view valuing conservation as central to good stewardship of the land.  This mindset led him to continually examine existing farming conventions and practices, explore new technology and share techniques that improved the land and added worth. 

    Jeff was a very early adopter of no-till farming, initially building his own equipment and culminating in an award as the no-till innovator of the year and recognition in 2016 as one of 25 “no-till legends.”  After seeing the benefits of setting aside CRP acres on his farm, he started a business that has since planted more than 1,000 acres of trees and prairie grass.  He was at the vanguard of the use of cover crops and research he conducted on his fields was published in an industry magazine.  Jeff was appointed member of the Federal Reserve Agriculture Advisory Board for several years.  He has also been recognized as the Illinois wildlife landowner of the year, received the corn growers’ environmental action award, named the AgriNews farmer of the year, and his family has been featured in numerous publications over years.  Jeff has farmed with his grandfather, father, brother and now has both sons farming with him full time, maybe the greatest measure of success and a life well-lived. 

    I view Jeff as a remarkable example of doing well by doing good.  When accepting the award, he remarked that the Chicago Farmers was one of the best groups he had ever been a part of.  Speaking for the Chicago Farmers, I would like to express how fortunate we are that Jeff chose to contribute so much over the years and congratulate him again on an award truly earned.

    2016 Land REALTOR of America Award Recipient Chicago Farmers Member Ray L. Brownfield

    May 2017 - Recently at the REALTORS® Land Institute National Land Conference, held at Charlotte, North Carolina, Ray Brownfield was the sole recipient of the 2016 Land REALTOR® of America Award. This prestigious award is bestowed upon a REALTORS® Land Institute member who has achieved the Accredited Land Consultant designation, excelling in extremely high levels of real estate transaction competency, displaying above reproach ethics, leadership and professional standards.

    Ray is the managing broker and owner of Land Pro LLC, located in Oswego, Illinois. He is also an Accredited Farm Manager through the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. Ray and his staff provide professional land real estate brokerage in Illinois and farm management services throughout Illinois, parts of Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska. In 2016 Ray was the real estate broker for over $20M in real estate sales and managed over 7,000 acres of farmland. He is a native of Iroquois County Illinois, and thoroughly enjoys his family farm at Thawville. He and his wife Patty live in Naperville.