Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jul 22 2014

American Farmers Just Love Their GMOs and You Should Too

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its latest data on farmers planting of crops genetically enhanced to tolerate herbicides (HT) crops and to resist insect pests (Bt).

HT soybeans went from 17 percent of U.S. soybean acreage to 94 percent in 2014. Plantings of HT cotton expanded from about 10 percent of U.S. acreage in 1997 to 91 percent in 2014. The adoption of HT corn reached 89 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 2014.

Plantings of Bt corn grew from about 8 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 1997 to 80 percent in 2014. Plantings of Bt cotton also expanded rapidly, from 15 percent of U.S. cotton acreage in 1997 to 84 percent in 2014.

See the chart below for the trends.

Why are modern biotech crops so popular with farmers?

Earlier this year, U.S. News reported the views of Illinois farmer Katie Pratt:

According to Pratt, her family uses GMO crops because of the clear value they bring to their family business. They have greatly reduced the amount of insecticide that needs to be sprayed, and they only need to treat the weeds at one point, not several times over a growing season. Her soil has now improved, because she and her family don't have to tromp through the fields as often. The family also uses less fuel, because they spend less time in the tractor. “No one is more aware than the farmer of the impact we have on the environment, in addition to the urgency to feed and fuel a growing population, while reducing our footprint on the planet,” she maintains.

And remember folks, biotech crops are not only good for the environment, eating them as caused not so much as a cough, sniffle, sneeze or bellyache. For example, a statement issued by the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest scientific organization in the United States, on October 20, 2012 point blank asserted that “contrary to popular misconceptions, GM [genetically modified] crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply. There are occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals causes aberrations ranging from digestive disorders, to sterility, tumors and premature death. Although such claims are often sensationalized and receive a great deal of media attention, none have stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.” The AAAS Board concluded, “Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.

Originally posted on Reason.com.

Jun 23 2014

I Plant GMOs In My Fields, Not In My Garden

Back in early February, I sat in my kitchen in front of my laptop preparing to Skype for the first time. I know, I know. My lack of techy-ness is shining through. I use my computer for work, my phone to talk to people and the TV to watch. Old school.

On the other side of my computer screen sitting in a studio in L.A. was Larry King, – as in TV-host, journalism legend Larry King – a panel of celebrity “experts” and one scientist.

Ensuring Skype worked properly sent my anxiety levels through the roof, even more so than facing off with Larry King about the hottest topic in food and farming . . . until I realized who was asking the questions and how much they didn’t know.

The topic was none other than GMOs and the panel of “experts” included celebrity chef Curtis Stone, actress Mary Lou Henner and former NBA-player John Salley. The scientist was Dr. Bob Goldberg from the department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology at UCLA. He knows science and biotechnology.

During the hour long show the panel spoke to numerous guests and bantered amongst themselves about the value of biotechnology in agriculture. I did not hear any of that though, as I waited in my kitchen for the notification bell to ‘ding’ on my computer. I thought when that happened I’d be able to see who I was talking to and hear their conversation prior to my interview.

When the bell ‘dinged’, I saw just me on my screen. Uh oh. Then, I heard Larry ask, “Let’s start with why you use gm-seed on your farm?”

I didn’t expect this to be a friendly interview, (i.e. Mary Lou’s first question, “Do you feed your children these crops?” referring to our acres of field corn.), but I did expect if folks were going to be on a webcast they’d be somewhat up on the facts. Not the case.

When Chef Stone in so many words called me a hypocrite because I plant genetically modified seed in our fields and not in our gardens (He said I plant organic seeds. I do not buy seed labeled organic.), I realized who I was talking to – another uninformed food consumer.

This doesn’t make Chef Stone a bad person. In fact of all the panelists I thought he was pretty nice. But I wonder if he hadn’t taken Mary Lou’s advice to “google it” to find out about biotech and agriculture. After all, if it’s on the internet, it must be so.

Only eight crops have commercially available genetically modified seed – corn, soybeans, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, squash, and cotton. As a back-yard gardener, I can’t plant a genetically modified squash seed in my garden, because I am not a commercial grower.  A tomato labeled non-gm is labeled as such because you can’t grow/buy it any other way. A head of lettuce labeled non-gm says so because no gm-lettuce exists.

As Chef Stone pointed out approximately 70 percent of processed food may contain an ingredient derived from a genetically modified crop. However, the science states that these sugars, starches and oils are no different compared to their counterparts derived from non-gm crops. Even more arguments speak to the genetic make-up of said ingredients – can a sugar really be genetically modified when a sugar is chemically a compound with no genes to be found?  I know that high school junior year chemistry, Mr. Simpson’s class.

I've pondered this interview quite a bit while weeding my garden and plucking beetles (already!) off the plants, wondering if that gm-squash seed would kill those buggers so I don’t have to. GM-squash is disease resistant. No help to me.

This interview still irritates me, which is why I haven’t shared it until now. I’m all for robust discussion challenging what we hold to be true, but posing as an expert and sharing an opinion as fact isn't right.

You can watch the full Larry King Now episodes here (see below). It is a two part series and I do recommend watching both pieces in their entirety; however, for shameless self-promotion kicks, my less than stellar performance is after the first break in Part 2.

Larry King Now: GMOs, Part 1 
Larry King Now: GMOs, Part 2 

Originally posted June 23, 2014 on Rural Route 2.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.

Jun 20 2014

Why Farmers Need Respect

Today, several teachers gathered at the Bureau, Lee, Whiteside county Summer Ag Institute II, a two-day workshop focusing on specific agriculture topics. Summer Ag Institutes are offered across the state and range from two-days to a full week of lecture, activities, tours, and workshops. Teachers have the opportunity to explore ways to incorporate agriculture in their classrooms, earn CPDUs or graduate credits. The program is often hosted by county Farm Bureaus and includes much information shared by Illinois Ag in the Classroom. 

As my county’s ag literacy coordinator, I was responsible for planning today’s session titled, Dissecting the Food Label. In case you haven’t heard, food labels are a big deal. The labels on the front of a food package serve to inform and yet most often confuse. (Last week I bought a bunch of cilantro, labeled gluten-free.)  

The label on the back of the food package gives us the nutrition details so many of us don’t know how to read or may just ignore. (Serving sizes as grams? What does a gram look like?)  

Because so many food labels describe the how of food production (for ex. organic, cage-free, free-range, antibiotic-free, natural, certified humanely raised, etc.) vs. the health of food, we started our day with the people who are responsible for the how of food – farmers.

The farmers on our panel had all chosen to use and or adopt certain food labels – locally-grown, no antibiotics, USDA Certified Organic, and American Humane Certified.  Although the labels differed and methods of raising crops and livestock differed, their stories were very similar. As our first panelist, Renee Koster from Windsweep Farms said, “My dad always said, ‘get big, get a niche or get out,” referring to a farm family’s choice to create a sustainable business structure thus making a living from the farm. 

Listening to the farmers explain why they’ve chosen to farm certain ways illustrated the point so many agriculture advocates state so often. Every farm and every farmer is different. How awesome that the people who raise our food have access to so much information and thus to so many choices.

Although a food label fight rages on social media, the teachers were impressed by the panel’s show of respect to each other as well as other farmers. “That was so refreshing,” said one teacher. “That respect makes me feel even better about my food.”  

Farmers need choices as much as farmers need respect.  It’ll make our food experience better. 

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.

May 23 2014

Picking Rocks

Here in north central Illinois we live and farm in an area that was scraped flat by glaciers. It is a land of deep, rich fertile soil that can hold on to water, provide a great place for plants to root and is broken by a slight ebb and flow of low hills. However, every spring from this pristine soil, farmers spend days picking rocks. These are not rocks you’d find on the shoulder of a road, but rocks, boulders, behemoths of stone. 

Farmers call them field rocks, others say moon rocks and landscapers call them landscaping stones and pay a good amount to stock their garden centers with piles of them.  

Picking rocks from our fields is one of the more laborious jobs and most necessary, on the farm. Can you imagine what would happen if a piece of our equipment had snagged this beauty? 

One spring after cultivating and planting, My Farmer took our Scout (think ATV) to the field to pick rocks. He came upon the very top of this (pictured above), started digging, pulling and finally with a backhoe, pulled the boulder from the ground and dumped it in what was my new flower bed. Perfect décor. 

Each spring, we crisscross our fields, picking up smaller stones and mid-sized jagged rocks. These can wreak havoc on farm equipment, punching holes in tires, knocking planters off row, breaking the knives of cultivators or chisels, etc. 

So we pick rocks. You’ll see piles sitting on farmsteads or out in fields. We’ve used them to edge our landscaping. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law used them to create their fireplace. Who knew rocks plucked from a field could be so beautiful?   

Picking rocks is back-breaking work. In spite of all the technology available to farmers today, no machine exists for this task. So, if you want rocks . . . or landscaping stones . . .  and are looking for exercise and adventure, call on a farmer. We’ll loan you a wagon, show you to the field and happily help load your truck. No charge.  

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.

Mar 28 2014

Signs for Spring

Just to make sure everyone is aware . . . this has been one long winter.  Here on the farm, we are waiting for the snow to melt, water to recede and soil to warm up and dry out.  Planting time can’t come soon enough. 

Farm work has transitioned from paperwork and general maintenance to planting preparation.  The seed is stacked high in the shed.

My brother-in-law, Peter, makes final adjustments to the planter.  

Meanwhile, with more hours of daylight the kids are pulling on mud boots to play outside and I am happily preparing for spring. 


Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.

Mar 14 2014

GMO 101: The View from Our Farm

More and more questions are being asked about GMOs and their safety. Today, I’m answering some of the questions I get as an Illinois farmer. 

What are GMOs and why do we plant them on our farm?

Some would argue gene modification has been happening for centuries, resulting in seedless watermelons, seedless grapes and chocolate cherry tomatoes. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are plants that contain a single gene from another organism so that the plant can do something it couldn’t before. 

Today, only eight crops with genetically modified varieties are commercially available to farmers – corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, papaya, sugar beets and squash; with most conversations today focusing on corn and soybeans. 

If you’ve got a garden in your backyard, you probably know how easy it is for pests to damage your fruits or vegetables. It’s the same with our farm. Prior to using a genetically modified seed, one insect, the European corn borer, caused serious losses for corn farmers. Plant scientists found a naturally occurring soil bacterium (Bt -bacillus thuringiensis) that is toxic to the corn borer, selected the gene and inserted it into corn DNA. Now, instead of spraying the crop with a chemical multiple times, the plants fight the bug themselves. Organic corn farmers who don’t use GMO seeds can also have problems with the corn borer. They can use an approved Bt insecticide on their farms. The same result is achieved, but using different farming methods. 

Another crop we grow is soybeans. You may have heard of Round-up Ready soybeans. They are soybean plants that can tolerate being sprayed with Round-up, a chemical meant to kill weeds. But why would plant scientists make such a thing? To use fewer chemicals. On our farm, we’ve reduced our application of herbicides (chemicals that control weeds) by half. Fewer chemicals being applied means less traffic in the fields, less fuel, less soil erosion . . . all beneficial for our farm.

I highly recommend this particular blog post for a more in-depth, but easy to read look at this question, “What are GMOs?”  

We also plant non-genetically modified corn and soybean seeds. Planting a variety of hybrids and using a variety of farming methods like tilling the soil in different ways, crop rotation, weather analysis, and weed control by simply mowing grass on the outer edge of a field can help control the number of pests. Pests, including insects, weeds and disease, have been evolving for years. With or without genetically modified seeds and pesticides, they will continue to evolve.  So farmers must ready their tool belt and genetically modified seeds are one of many tools we’re using today. 

Are we told what to plant by “BIG AG”?

We have never been forced to plant, forced to buy, or forced to do anything on our farm. Farmers have choices, so consumer can have choices too.  

I am a fourth generation farmer and my husband is the seventh generation in his family. In America, 94 percent of farms and ranches are still owned and operated by families. To say that agriculture is in our genes (and jeans) is an understatement. We take exception to the insinuation that we don’t have a choice as to how we farm.  Decision-making on our farm is a serious task. We rely on generational, experiential and educational knowledge to make decisions for our farm. We spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing, researching, meeting, reading, talking and listening to experts on seeds, equipment, pest control, soil, water, marketing, etc. The evidence was the pile of seed catalogs (not unlike garden seed catalogs) that sat on my desk this winter.  

Are GMOs safe?

Yes. The World Health Association, the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the American Medical Association, the European Food Safety Authority and the National Academy of Sciences, to name a few, have all deemed ingredients derived from a genetically modified crop are as safe as ingredients derived from crops raised in another manner. 

On average, a genetically modified seed takes almost 15 years to come to market because of the safety and regulatory measures mandated by the USDA, EPA and FDA.  

I found this article from motherjones.com, No GMOs Won’t Harm Your Health, to be very well-written without the emotional turmoil that comes with a GMO discussion: No

For further information about GMOs and other farming and food topics, I’d encourage you to visit watchusgrow.org to find out more about how real moms are connecting with Illinois farmers to get their questions and concerns answered.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.


Feb 14 2014

Dr. Oz's GMO Global Conspiracy...Debunked

Today, Dr. Oz uncovered the “global conspiracy” surrounding GMOs.  I usually avoid these types of sensationalized “investigative” reports because they are nothing more than a regurgitation of biased studies, “expert” testimony supporting the biased studies and absolutely no exploration of another side to the story.  However, this blog is not a commentary on sensational journalism.

It also isn’t meant to attack the character of Dr. Oz or the producers of his show. I don’t know them.  They could be really nice people just doing their jobs.  They don’t know me either, but I kinda wish they did because I could have helped them clarify some of the pseudo facts they presented during their segment on “Stealth GMOs”.

Dr. Oz began his rant against genetically modified organisms by describing a tomato that can withstand frosty temperatures because its DNA has been modified with a gene from a fish.

Clarification: In the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, the company DNA Plant Technology used DNA from the fish, winter flounder, and inserted it into the DNA of a tomato in order to make the fruit frost-tolerant. This “fish tomato” never went into field testing or made it to market.  Yet, Dr. Oz viewers were left to contemplate a picture of a bin of tomatoes labeled GMO and a bin labeled non-GMO.  No tomato in your grocery store is a GMO.  Only eight crops with genetically modified varieties are commercially available to farmers – corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, papaya, sugar beets, and squash.

Then Dr. Oz switches the topic from GMOs to the use of pesticides.  He gives his own example of how plant scientists “improved Mother Nature” by making seeds resistant to pesticides.  But then, alas, insects became resistant to these gm-crops and farmers had to apply even more pesticide.

Clarification:  A pesticide is just one type of crop protection tool.  There are several – insecticides for insects and are usually applied below ground, herbicides for weeds, fungicides for disease and pesticides for pests (for example: spider mites, Japanese beetles and are usually applied above ground).  I know, I know. He says ta-may-toe and I say toe-ma-toe, but I thought I’d offer a brief explanation of the differences in these things.

Secondly, herbicide resistant weeds and insecticide resistant insects are an issue on the farm. I won’t deny that.  He isn’t telling us – the ones responsible for managing our fields – anything new.  Our farm magazines are full of articles, meetings full of experts and winter shop talk full of how we should apply our knowledge of our crops and our fields to push back on this pest pressure. This is why farmers will not necessarily turn to applying more herbicides or more insecticides to our fields.  We certainly won’t (and don’t) in the manner demonstrated by Dr. Oz on today’s show. (Using a hand-held sprayer he saturated his plant DNA puzzle; I hope with just water.)

Instead, we rely on multiple modes of action and production practices which range from crop rotation, various hybrids, tillage, and yes, the use of crop protection tools.  We may just pull out my grandfather’s tool of choice – the hoe – and walk fields.

Moving on . . . Dr. Oz then joins Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group and the subject changes . . . again.  Now to labeling of genetically modified foods.  Mr. Faber begins with the suggestion that we have been eating the same food for thousands of years and these new foods are something to beware.

Clarification:  Mr. Faber’s assertion that we are eating the same foods that our ancestors ate thousands of years ago is ludicrous. Folks, all our food, produce, grains, meats, etc. have been modified in some way.  Enjoy seedless watermelonsor seedless grapes?  Planting any chocolate cherry tomatoes in your garden this year?  These foods are the result of humans selecting traits from plants in order to achieve a certain result.  I suppose it has taken thousands of years for us to figure that out.

Mr. Faber also says that purchasing organic produce is your only guarantee to avoid genetically modified food and toxic pesticides.

Clarification: Avoiding gm-ingredients, yes.  But avoiding pesticides?  Organic farmers can use crop protection tools (i.e. pesticides) from an approved list.  Often, they may apply more of a pesticide than a farmer planting genetically modified seed.  This is not a reflection of good or bad on either type of farm or farmer.

Slate.com posted this really good look at organic vs. conventional produce. I like it because it was not written to claim one type better than another, but to share information.

Finally, Dr. Oz wants to let us in on a “BIG SECRET” regarding those little stickers found on our produce.  He says that if the sticker has four numbers on it then that fruit has been raised conventionally with pesticides and could be a GMO.  A number starting with ‘9’ indicates an organic fruit.

Clarification: This half-truth actually taught me something.  I’ve always been annoyed by those little stickers, and will continue to be, but upon further research I now know their purpose. (Some big secret. Google PLU stickers and the answer pops right up.)

PLU stickers or Price Look-Up codes are meant to offer grocers an easier way to check-out and inventory produce.  The numbers on them do have a purpose.  A four-digit number preceded by a 9 means organic.  Preceded by an 8 means genetically modified.  Four digits on their own means “non-qualified”.  It doesn’t fit in either category.  So, the assertion that an apple sporting a four digit code “could be genetically modified” is a blatant lie. * A) It would have been labeled with an 8.
* B) There are no genetically modified apples!  Or peaches! Or grapes! Or tomatoes! Or carrots! Or lettuce . . .

Dr. Oz leaves his audience believing that any food found at the grocery store – a potato, a pound of beef, a box of cereal, a tootsie roll or a gallon of milk – could be genetically modified. I feel bad for that audience. They responded so enthusiastically to his dire warning composed of half-truths.

This blog post is already too long to offer any other thoughts.  I will, however, link to a few other bloggers who have posted recently about GMOs.

The Farmers Daughter USA recently wrote about a push for federal labeling rules vs. the current trend for each state to pass its own regulations.

SlowMoneyFarm posted this view on GMOs just today. I always appreciate her thoughts since she comes from a farm that does not plant gm-seed.

Minnasota Farm Living explained why GMOs are safe in this post.

Finally, I’ll link to an oldie but a goodie from A Colorful Adventure. “What are GMOs?” is a straight forward explanation of the why, how and what of these crops.

Originally posted February 13, 2014 on Rural Route 2.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.

Jan 31 2014

Hibernating Fields

Winter in the open rural space of northern Illinois can be rather bleak.  When the line of the horizon blurs between the gray blue of the sky and the dirty white of the ground, the short winter days actual seem rather long. 

So, what happens on a farm in the winter?  Several farm bloggers have written about the paperwork, the care livestock receive, and the general maintenance of the farm and farm equipment.  But what about the fields, those acres that seem to sit empty doing nothing but hibernating in the cold air? 

Winter, snow, and cold temperatures are important to grain farmers.  Winter literally allows the soil to rest.  The snow replenishes moisture in the ground. Snow doesn’t match a good spring downpour, but it does help.  The cold temperatures cause the soil to freeze and on the days of some warmth, to thaw.  This constant freeze and thaw naturally break up any compaction created during the previous season of planting and harvest when tractors, combines and other equipment followed paths across the fields.  

Additionally, cold temperatures help control insects, freezing some larvae in the ground.  It won’t eliminate a mid-season bug infestation, but again, it certainly helps. Winter, spring, summer and fall . . . here in Illinois we farm with the seasons. 

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.

Jan 09 2014

Dear General Mills

Dear General Mills:

Well, you caved.

According to this morning’s news reports your original yellow box of wholesome good ‘O’s will now contain no genetically modified ingredients.  Some news outlets are reporting just that.  Others, I’m sure you’ve noticed, are declaring your decision as a victory.  Personally, victory seems to be a rather arrogant assessment of the age-old saying, ‘the customer is always right’.  Because that makes perfect sense that the consumer would be right . . . always, about yourarea of expertise.  After all, the average Joe and Jane just may have food manufacturer on their resume in addition to parent, lawyer, teacher, doctor, farmer, etc.  

A farmer friend and ag journalist, Holly Spangler wrote a thoughtful piece about this very thing. Take a moment to read it, please.

Your spokesperson, Mike Siemienas said, “We do value our Cheerios fans and we do listen to their thoughts and suggestions.”

Kudos to companies who value their bread and butter.  But who exactly are your “fans”?

I don’t know about you but I consider fans kind of like friends.  Supportive, understanding, non-judgmental, accepting that one may have knowledge the other does not.

So, Green America, the activist group that launched this non-gmo campaign against you and your “iconic” (Green America’s descriptor, hmmm.  Why’d they choose you?) yellow box is actually a Cheerios fan club? Your statement would have been more truthful if it identified the orchestrated social media campaign that pushed you over the edge.

Okay, enough with the sarcasm and dismay. Here’s the thing . . .

I’m a Cheerios consumer. Always have been and always will be.  Your cereals are popular in my house and while I’m saddened that you caved to your “fans”, I won’t boycott your product.  What I will ask for however is an explanation.

While farmers and ranchers seem fully engaged in this effort to communicate and converse with the non-farming public, I’ve discovered that other parts of the food chain aren’t as willing to do so.  OR maybe just haven’t joined in.You see, farmers and ranchers have been engaged in this movement to explain modern agriculture and food production for quite some time now.  My husband and I farm with his family.  We raise corn, soybeans and seed corn. We do plant genetically modified corn and soybean seeds.  That is just a piece of my farm story that I share on social media in addition to speaking at meetings, joining town hall type discussions, etc.

So, here’s your invitation General Mills.  Join us.  You are a BIG piece of the food chain.  What you chose to do with the ingredients derived from gm or non-gm crops is a BIG part of this conversation.

So, your decision to source non-gm ingredients is a BIG deal to all of us who are in the business of food. Instead of just generalizing that you’ll do what your “fans” ask and that it requires a significant investment, tell us why.

Your decision would make an interesting study of the economics behind a gm to non-gm switch.  Did you really take a social media campaign at face value?  Did you make this decision because of alleged gmo-safety concerns? What type of research did you do?  Have you read the reports stating over and over that ingredients derived from gm-crops are safe?  What is your stance on that?

As a farmer I am particularly interested in your former sources of ingredients and now your current sources.  What type of reporting procedures are in place to ensure the origin and make-up of your ingredients?  How does this affect your suppliers and their affiliates?

As a consumer, I’d like to know about this “significant investment” and if it is one that I’m going to see on the price of the box?  Or will it be reflected in the size of the box, the amount in the box, etc.?

In the end, you’ve made your decision for whatever reason and you’ll gain some time in the media.  Maybe that’s your end goal.  You have a business to run.  So do I, and in the big picture, my business is affected by your business.  How about we work together on telling a farm/food story that involves inclusion, respect of differences and acknowledgement that it takes all kinds to feed a hungry world?

Sincerely,
Katie Pratt
Farmer, mother, and Cheerios consumer

Originally posted January 3, 2014 on Rural Route 2.
Reposted with permission.

Dec 16 2013

Harvest Thanksgiving

Every year when the last kernel is shelled from the cob, the combine parked and the tractors washed, we celebrate. Harvest is done. Ironic that this ending usually comes right about Thanksgiving, presenting the perfect holiday season in which we can say thank you. 

It is tradition on our farm to recognize the folks who contribute to our safe, successful harvests with a simple dinner. This year we gathered in the shop, ate, drank and were merry with gratitude.  

Farming is not an insular endeavor. We cannot and do not go about our day to day farming activities separate from other people. Yes, the labor on our farm is completed by us – the family – but in order to be truly successful we rely on a team of folks who are experts in their “fields” like we are experts in ours.  

We work with crop scouts who help watch the fields for invasions of bugs, diseases and weeds, and test our soils every year to help determine its fertility and health. We work with seed, chemical and fertilizer dealers who listen to our challenges and offer solutions. So many choices, we have from which to pick. 

The local implement dealerships are invaluable to us when a part breaks on a piece of equipment.  Mechanics come when called regardless of the time of day or night and ensure that everything is running smoothly.  
Our neighbors, family and friends step in with support when needed. During long harvest days, I know I rely on the experiences of other farm wives to get through challenging days, good days and preparing field meals for a dozen people. (Those would be the challenging days.)  

Farming is not a profession that begs for total independence from the world. Farming is very much a social activity, a collaborative effort.  From the seeds we plant to the kernels we sell, we are partnering in essence with folks who live down the road, and those who live across the ocean. In a sense we partner with consumers, everyday Joes and Janes who purchase food at grocery stores and restaurants. We are all a part of this great chain.  

So, this holiday season, from our farm to your table we send a greeting of thanks for supporting farmers and a wish for continued efforts to connect the farm gate and food plate.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.