Illinois Farm Families Blog

Sep 15 2014

Images of Harvest - Before the Rain

Karen Kenny-Oles of Dixon captured this race between a combine and the weather on her family's farm.
Sep 12 2014

Waiting for harvest

Photo courtesy of Karen Kenny-Oles, Dixon

We are currently getting ready for harvest. The crop “is what it is” at this point and no amount of crop protectants, fertilizer or scouting will make any additional difference at this point. 

This “lull” after late-August through mid-September is a good time to prepare for harvest, catch-up on “honey-do’s” and do the projects that are important but not imminent like most seasonal work on the farm (think planting or scouting—you do that when Mother Nature tells you, other important projects that aren’t weather sensitive get pushed to this time of year).  It’s also a great time to start initial plans for the next crop year, thinking about purchasing inputs (if you haven’t already) and preparing a plan of attack.  It’s early, but as Eisenhower once said “Plans are worthless, but planning is indispensable.”

As we prepare for harvest, we have equipment to maintain.  Big jobs are already done, but oil changes, lubrication, and wear item inspections are performed.  And calibrations for sensors and computers are needed too so that in-season, our data during harvest is accurate.  We have a scale on our auger cart (this is a special wagon that moves grain from the combine—which harvests our crop in the field—to the truck for transportation).  Last year we performed calibrations, but didn’t verify them against certified scales.  We were subsequently halfway through harvest before we realized that we were had a 7% scale error.  It was easy to fix, but it’s much EASIER to get it right the first time!  We have a semi-tractor and trailer, tractor and auger cart, combine with corn and soybean “heads” for cutting the crops, tandem truck, tractor and wagon, auger and 200,000 bushels of grain storage to prepare.  This is a common setup for corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest, with an infinite number of variations in size and types of equipment.  We also will lease out a strip-till fertilizer applicator so it will be prepared for us.  Strip till means that we are injecting the fertilizer in a band 4-7” deep in the soil.  It means that the fertilizer stays where the crop roots are, rather than following rain runoff into streams.  It also means that we’re only tilling the soil in a narrow band 8” wide.  So most of our fields aren’t exposed for soil erosion.  It’s a more expensive process, but one that is ultimately better for the farm economically and environmentally—win-win.  This year, we’re also for the first time experimenting with cover crops.  Cover crops are grown to simply cover the soil when it’s not being used by the cash crops.  Think of it this way—a cover crop “covers” the soil so that it doesn’t erode.  They also increase the organic matter of the soil, create a healthy environment for earthworms and beneficial bacteria and fungi, and suppress many weeds we fight on the farm.  Lastly, they sequester (ie. Gather up) excess nutrients that the cash crop couldn’t fully utilize.  This dramatically reduces runoff into our streams.  We are excited about this new process and hope it works out on our farm!

But this “lull” is also great for the projects that don’t get addressed during the busy crop season.  For us, we’re going to spend more time on our specialty hull-less popcorn venture.  Check us out at  We will be thinking about automation and facility construction—capital investments that will make us more cost competitive by letting us scale up production AND preserving our focus on quality.  These are fun projects because, when I’m walking corn fields, I don’t have time to just sit and think.  And investments like this require lots of planning—but it means a good return on investment AND a deeper sense of meaning (I enjoy the fact that projects like these make my farm better for my son and family).  While this is certainly unique to most Midwestern farmers, the fact that we’re in “project-mode” this time of year is quite common.  It’s where a summer of research starts to be addressed by more deliberate thought and action.

Finally, I’m also thinking about next crop year.  Given the dramatic decline in corn and soybean prices of the past year (and especially last two years), there could be opportunities for young farmers if older farmers consider retirement.  But the margins are also dramatically lower—with the opportunity to grow comes the risk of failure.  So, it’s good to be considering what our inputs will cost—will nitrogen fertilizer go up or down?  Will corn seed stay the same—do I need all the features in that bag?  Is my equipment portfolio large and modern enough if someone retires?  These are the preparations that need to be considered—not necessarily finalized (most retailers won’t give firm prices to lock in completely on all inputs anyway).  Once the combine starts harvesting, it’s very easy to NOT take time to check emails and watch markets—you just get into your zone and go.  As I type this, a few weeks ahead of when it will be posted, this is one of my goals in the next two weeks—have a plan that’s flexible enough for me to change, but firm enough for me to be structured to “go with the flow” during harvest!

So as you’re still getting your kids into the rhythm of the new school year, I’ll be preparing for harvest, planning my next crop, and working on special projects.  There really isn’t a down-time on the farm—just times when the work can be pushed back a day or two and Mother Nature isn’t making your schedule.  

Andrew Bowman
Oneida, Illinois

Andrew is a fifth generation Illinois farmer. He and his wife Karlie have one son, Ryker, and farm with Andrew’s parents, Lynn and Sally Bowman, in addition to serving farmers through insurance and consulting enterprises.

Sep 09 2014

Our Modern Pig Barns

Today I’m taking you on a tour of our modern pig barns.  Come on into my prep shed and grab a pair of coveralls and clean boots and we’ll be on our way.

We own hog finisher barns in central Iowa. Finisher barns are where pigs get ‘finished’, meaning they grow to reach market weight. Our particular barns are ‘grow-finish’ barns. We receive pigs, via semi-truck transport, from the nursery, at weights of around 50-60 pounds. They come to our cleaned, disinfected barns and we provide them specialized care and diets to ensure their growth and health until they reach market weight of 280 pounds.

Our modern barns allow us to raise pigs indoors. They have ventilation systems in place and skinny slats in the floors so the waste drops through, below to the manure storage pit. We use this manure to apply to our crop ground, giving the ground vital, stable and safe nutrients for the next year’s crop. The barns provide us a safe, climate controlled environment, free from predators and the unpredictable weather of our native state. When the weather gets hot, we have misters and fans that keep our pigs cool. When it is cold out the curtains close so winter’s chill stays outside and the pigs in the barn are comfortable and warm.
Special precautions are taken to keep the pigs in our barns healthy. We prevent germs from entering the barns by using disinfectant, wearing coveralls, boots that are only worn in the specific barn we are visiting and we shower before entering the barns and as we are leaving as well. We even have a dedicated washer and dryer in our garage to accommodate our work clothes.

Feed is trucked in to each site from local feedmills, and some farms grind their own feed on site at their own mill. We maintain close relationships to the employees at the mill and our feed nutrition consultant (in our case, my husband) so we know the exact adjustments the pigs need in their diet to optimize their growth and comfort.

We treat pigs that come across illness with antibiotics as you would for your children if they are sick. They are a costly part of the operation, and are used with care. Pigs that receive antibiotics get moved to the ‘watch pen’ or ‘hospital pen’ where we monitor their health closely. If the pig is given antibiotics, strict withdrawal times are monitored. Keeping the pigs in the watch pens allows us to directly observe the pigs in need of extra care. Our treated pigs don’t leave the watch pen until the withdrawal period for the medicine that we gave them has passed. Pigs are not sent off the farm to market until the specific withdrawal period for the medicine that we had administered, has passed.

Once all of the pigs are loaded for market and the barn is empty, we begin power-washing and disinfecting the barns from top to bottom. It is an essential part of what we do, keeping a clean environment is important to the success of our farm and the health of the new pigs we’ll get in soon.

Note: This modern pig farm differs from our small show pig operation, where we house pigs outdoors as well as farrow (when sows have their piglets) indoors in farrowing crates and outdoors if necessary. We face some hardships in raising our hogs outdoors, from relentless Iowa predators to very extreme Iowa weather, and more. On my blog you’ll see some of the many different ways pigs can be raised and I’ll help you find answers to any questions you may have about pig farming.

Cristen Clark was born and raised an Iowa farm girl. She has a passion for baking timeless recipes and sharing her love of the kitchen with others. She is an avid contest cook and baker but most importantly a stay at home Mom with two children. Her husband works in the swine industry and they raise hogs.  Her daughter is obsessed with horses, her son with tractors.  Between Cristen and her husband, her sister and her brother-in-law, and their folks, they raise hogs, cattle, bucking bulls, grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa in the productive coal black dirt of the Iowa prairie. You can follow her adventures in cooking, baking and farming on

This blog originally appeared in Food & Swine on Sep 6, 2014 and is reprinted with permission from the author.
Sep 07 2014

Food for Thought: Biotech is Valuable.

Do you have questions about food and farming? Check out our FAQ page to learn more, or Ask a Question of your own. And for more Food for Thought posts, visit this section.

Sep 06 2014

Images of Harvest: Daddy and Me

Mark Kannmacher and his daughter share a moment in the tractor.

Sherry and Mark Kannmacher, Martinsville

Sep 05 2014

Images of Harvest - The First Color of Fall

I just snapped this Wednesday.  The first color of fall.  Harvest is on its way.

Sep 03 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Dairyman's VERY Chocolate Cake

Created By: Karen Bohnert, Bohnert Jerseys, Silvis, IL
Servings: 20
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes


2 cups water
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 ¾ cups sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup chocolate chips
½ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup unsalted butter
2 ½ cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from heat, add cocoa and mix until smooth. Let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, beat 1 ¾ cups sugar, eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Alternatively, add dry flour mix and cooled cocoa mix to the sugar mix. Beat until just mixed.

Pour into three greased 9-inch round cake pans lined with wax paper. Bake for 25 -30 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

For filling, beat 2 cups powdered sugar, ¼ cup butter and vanilla until consistency of spreadable frosting. Place first cake layer on serving plate. Spread with half of the filling. Place second cake on top and spread with remaining filling. Top with final cake.

For frosting, in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stir chocolate chips, cream and butter until melted. Slowly stir in 2 ½ cups of powdered sugar until thoroughly mixed. Remove pan from heat and place in large bowl filled with ice. Stir occasionally as frosting cools (about 10 -15 minutes.) Spread cooled frosting on sides and top of cake.

Nutritional Facts Per Serving

Calories: 371
Total Fat: 12g
Saturated Fat: 7g
Cholesterol: 56mg
Sodium: 151mg
Carbohydrates: 64g
Dietary Fiber: 2g
Protein: 4g
Calcium: 5% Daily Value

Originally posted on Midwest Dairy Association
Aug 31 2014

Food For Thought: Farming Is in Our Genes

Do you have questions about food and farming? Check out our FAQ page to learn more, or Ask a Question of your own. And for more Food for Thought posts, visit this section.

Aug 30 2014

Grain Drying Is a Big Deal

When we harvest grain, we harvest it at anywhere from 20-30% moisture. We'd rather harvest it dryer because it costs money to dry the grain. However this year has been a difficult weather year and some corn is dying in the field, so we need to get it out now. Grain elevators want corn delivered at 15% moisture, which is optimal for storage.

All of that to say: grain drying is a big deal and it's something we monitor very closely!

This panel is located in a small building next to our dryer and grain storage system. From this panel, we can control the heat and speed of the dryer, which affects grain quality. It automatically will adjust the speed at which corn is moved out of the dryer, based on the settings we plug in here.

We can also monitor and adjust the grain dryer at night from our iPad - much more convenient and safer than running the three miles up the road to the grain setup throughout the night!

Holly Spangler
Marietta, Illinois

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois growing crops and producing cattle as well as raising their three children. Holly is an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business. Read more from Holly on the Prairie Farmer blog.

Aug 29 2014

An Impromptu Farm Visit

In June, farmers Adam and JoAnn Adams met with a group of SYSCO sales reps in Chicago. They were invited to give the farmers' perspective on the beef industry. This was a good conversation between farmers and consumers. Many good questions were asked and insight was gained for everybody.

One of the fun things that came out of this presentation was one of the sales reps visiting the Adams' farm with six third graders. Third graders who had never been on a farm before. Everyone had a great time. After visiting the farmstead, the group moved the cow herd to a new pasture. The kids were fearful when Alan first called the herd up to the Kubota. But soon the kids were mimicking his call as they drove through the woods surrounded by cows and calves.

Below are a few pictures from this visit. This is the perfect example of how farmers and consumers can get to know one another and make informed choices on food and farming.

Alan and JoAnn Adams
Sandwich, Illinois

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