Farm Chemicals: Nutrients & Fertilizers

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Houseplant food on a bigger scale

Think about the plant food you put on your houseplants or in your garden. These fertilizers are made up of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – all elements found in nature. We use those same elements to help our crops grow. In addition, many farmers use livestock manure to fertilize crops. When we have to control pests and weeds, we use products in the smallest amounts possible to protect the environment. We’re living near our fields and feeding our children the same food we grow for you and yours.

Perspectives

  • Amy Hansmann
    Amy Hansmann

    River Forest, IL

    I'm an active, educated, stay-at-home mom of two.

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    About me

    I'm an active, educated, stay-at-home mom who takes an interest in providing healthy food to my family. I'm a regular volunteer at the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry.

    About my family

    Our family recently expanded with the addition of another son. We now have two boys, 4-year old Keith, and 8-month old Kyle. My whole family loves to sail, and we enjoy the summer season on the water.

    Why I'm touring farms

    I'm concerned about the use of chemicals in farming and how they may affect our health. As for animal products, I am concerned about overall treatment of the animals, drugs used and cleanliness. I am not happy with the increasing amount of processed foods available and look for healthier options. I cook at home most nights of the week, and I'm excited to see for myself what happens on Illinois farms.

    What I hope to see on the farms

    I am most interested in those that raise livestock. I hope to see the way they live, the care they receive and the life cycle on the farm. I am also interested in the science used to combat pests or ailments both with livestock and with crops.

    From a Mom

    I expected the meeting with the Twomey Company, that mixes chemical fertilizer, to make me nervous about what was going on in the field. It didn't. In fact, it reemphasized the precision and care that is used when growing corn and soybeans in Illinois.


    Ammonia is kinda scary because, as a mom, you're thinking about the bleach under your sink and you're thinking "That's ammonia and it will kill me, it has the skull and crossbones!" And you're thinking, "Oh my god you're putting that on food." But, the plant uses it and needs it and you're not eating ammonia then (because the plant uses and metabolizes the ammonia as a form of nitrogen).

    I was surprised at how small of an amount (fertilizer chemicals) is being used. In one example given, it was 45 gallons dispersed per acre. After doing all the math it comes out to 0.134 oz per square foot. Literally, it is one tenth of an ounce being distributed via a fine spray. It definitely contradicted my assumption of mass amounts of chemicals being applied.

  • Christa Grabske
    Christa Grabske

    Mount Prospect, IL

    I’m a preschool teacher and mom of two.

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    About Me

    I lived in a rural Illinois town for 11 years while teaching there. My class enjoyed learning experiences offered by the DeKalb County Farm Bureau. Now, I’m a preschool teacher in the Chicago suburbs where I live with my husband and two children.

    Why I'm touring farms

    My farm experiences are limited to hayrides at pumpkin farms. I’d like to spend time on an Illinois farm to find out if family farms still exist and see how important they are to our society. As a mom, I want to know what’s in our meat and dairy products.

    From a Mom

    Visiting a corn and soybean farm as a Field Mom with Illinois Farm Families has given me a whole new perspective on fertilizer. I used to think that fertilizer meant manure and not much else. Now I know that fertilizer means much more than poop.

    Since crops such as corn and soybeans take nutrients from the soil every year, farmers need to replenish the soil with fertilizer every year. By testing their fields, farmers can determine exactly which nutrients are in the soil and which nutrients are deficient. This information helps the farmer know which fertilizer to use and how much is needed. Farmers also rotate their crops to some extent; corn takes nitrogen from the soil, but soybeans put nitrogen back into the earth.

  • Dale & Linda Drendel Family
    Dale & Linda Drendel Family

    Hampshire, IL

    We have a dairy farm and grow corn, wheat, soybeans, oats and alfalfa.

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    About our family

    Dale and Linda married in 1974, and began dairying at the present location. Linda has been a middle school/high school teacher for 25 years, and presently does calf chores, show barn chores, farm bookkeeping and has a part-time job off the farm.

    Their oldest daughter, Carrie, lives in Normal, Ill., with her husband, Ryan, and their daughter, Olivia.

    Dale and Linda’s son, Jeff, farms with them.  Their youngest daughter, Julie, is editor of the Illinois Holstein Herald.

    About our food

    Dale and Linda milk 150 registered Holstein dairy cows and have 130 heifers/calves. They also grow 300 acres of corn, 32 acres of wheat, 112 acres of beans, and 170 acres of oats/alfalfa (hay).

    About our farm

    Dale is a fifth generation farmer, and Linda is a seventh generation farmer.  Dale began farming with his parents after high school graduation in 1970.  The partnership with Dale’s parents, George and Marcella, progressed until January 1, 2009, when Dale and Linda took over the farm completely as Lindale Holsteins.

     

    Dale & Linda on...

    Our farming philosophy

    Farming is more about who we are rather than what we do. There’s more to our family than breeding good cows and winning the show ring. We’re committed to the registered Holstein breed and to promoting a positive image of agriculture.

    The best thing about being a farmer

    Working in the outdoors, being one’s own boss, no two days are ever the same, a sense of pride in helping to feed the world.

       
    From a Farmer

    Our dairy cows' manure is a big advantage to me because it's fertilizer for crops. We have a custom applicator who comes in to agitate it, and then they will hose it and inject it directly into the ground.

  • Farrah Brown
    Farrah Brown

    Glendale Heights, IL

    I'm a part-time nurse, so it's challenging to cook every night.

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    About me

    I'm a part-time nurse, so it's challenging to cook every night. I've made some big changes in the way my family eats over the past year, starting us on a journey toward healthier eating and ridding our diets of unnecessary preservatives
    and additives.

    About my family

    We have two sons, age 5 and age 3. We love to ride our bikes to the park and enjoy time outdoors. We love reading and doing crafts together. I love to take my boys on adventures – finding a new spot every week to explore and have fun and broaden their horizons.

    Why I'm touring farms

    It's becoming increasingly important to me to know exactly where my food is coming from, and be able to trust that it's safe and healthy. Fresh meat and produce from trusted sources has become one of my obsessions. I would love to be able to see the farms firsthand, and learn about the processes involved in growing the food I feed my family.

    How being a mom has changed my family's view of food

    Now, we definitely put more time into planning a menu that provides the most possible nutrition and balance while still trying to stay within a modest budget.

    From a Mom

    While the idea of using chemicals on plants and hybrid breeding of seeds may not be optimal in my mind, it makes sense to me that I would rather feed my family from a healthy plant than from one that struggled to survive and thrive while growing and producing food.


    Our first stop on Saturday was the Twomey Company/CGB Enterprises. They are a company that farmers hire to provide chemical fertilizers and herbicides and spray them in the farmers' fields. The fertilizer they make is a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) which are all elements found in soil naturally. Twomey just adds stabilizers to keep the nutrients in the soil longer and mixes them at precise concentrations depending on the needs of the specific farmer and his soil. I know that "chemical" is a trigger word for most of us. It is for me. I am leery of any chemicals that are sprayed on my food or the soil my food is grown in as I don't want them to end up in my body or my children's. But these are the same ingredients in any manure a farmer may use as fertilizer, just a little more precise and specialized. They do use anhydrous ammonia during the production of the chemicals which is a little concerning to me. I'm not thrilled about something that is potentially harmful to your skin, eyes, mucous membrances, etc. if you are exposed, being used to fertilize the food we are eating. But Twomey and the farmers promise that it is safely metabolized by the plant during the growing process and is no longer present in any final food product of the plant.

  • Joe Greenstreet
    Joe Greenstreet

    ,

    CGB – Twomey Group, Agronomy Sales and Service, Certified Crop Advisor

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    From an Expert

    A lot of the times you'll hear the term "chemical fertilizer," but that's a misnomer because every fertilizer that we're dealing with occurs naturally, in nature. It might have to be processed differently for the forms that we use it in fertilizer but the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are all naturally occurring.

  • Mike & Lynn Martz Family
    Mike & Lynn Martz Family

    Maple Park, IL

    We raise beef cows and grow corn, soybeans and wheat.

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    About our family

    We have a son, Justin, our daughter-in-law, Jamie, our grandson, Jaxson and our granddaughter Jaedyn.

    About our food

    We grow corn, soybeans and wheat on 6,350 acres. We can also raise 3,500 beef cattle at a time on our feedlot.

    About our farm

    We’ve been farming since 1979, when we formed the Larson Farms Partnership with Lynn’s father, Ray, and her brothers, Dave and Norm.

    We spent the first nine years managing the cattle backgrounding operation in Wisconsin. (Backgrounding means raising the calves on pasture and getting them ready for the feedlot.)  

    In 1988, we moved to the main farm in Maple Park. Mike worked with Lynn’s father, Ray, managing the feedlot (where we use high-energy rations to “finish” the cattle, which means getting them ready for market). Lynn handled the billing for our custom feedlot.

     

    In 1996, Lynn’s brothers, Norm and Dave, had the opportunity to work with Case IH to develop a crop scouting business (a service to farmers where professionals monitor and evaluate crop health and growth). So at that time, Lynn started to manage the cropping side of the farm.  And our sister-in-law Barb (Norm’s wife) took over the cattle billing as the crop acres began to grow in size. 

    Our son Justin joined the Larson Farms Partnership in 2011.

    Mike & Lynn on...

    Our farming philosophy

    To provide safe, nutritious, wholesome beef products to consumers with humane treatment of each animal and production practices that are environmentally friendly.

    The best thing about being a farmer

    Seeing the fruits of our labor. Though the weather and markets can be challenging, it’s very rewarding to see our accomplishments.

    From a Farmer

    Mike Martz - The big thing is we want to be friendly to the environment and don't want the manure running off. We contain all the manure from our beef animals. And Lynn uses it for her side of the business, the crop side. Our son, Justin runs the applicator to apply it and we know exactly where it goes.

  • Ron & Deb Moore Family
    Ron & Deb Moore Family

    Roseville, IL

    We grow corn and soybeans, and raise feeder cattle.

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    About our family

    We married in 1980 (which is how Deb, raised in suburban Chicago, became a farmer). We have three sons: Steve, and twins Mike and Brian.  Steve is a graduate of Butler University, and works and lives in Chicago. Mike is a graduate of Illinois State University and is working in Vernon Hills.  Brian graduated from St. Ambrose University and is  attending graduate school at West Virginia University.

    About our food

    We raise corn and soybeans on 1,000 acres in Warren County. We also have 250 acres of pasture and a cattle building that we use for our feeder cattle (cattle that are typically between the ages of one and two years old).

    About our farm

    Ron realized during his senior year in college that he’d rather be a farmer and work outside producing food for people to eat than work in an office every day. Ron also wanted the opportunity to work with his father and brothers on the family farm. We've been farming for more than 30 years.

     

    Ron & Deb on...

    Our farming philosophy

    Leave the land in better condition than when we first started farming it by increasing productivity while using fewer natural resources. We’re only here for a short time and we must preserve our land for the farmers who will follow in our footsteps.

    The best thing about being a farmer

    We get to work with family, and we had the opportunity to raise our children with rural values and teach them a strong work ethic. We grow and raise food for others while being our own boss. As a bonus, we work with good people in agriculture.

       
    From a Mom

    The droplet size (for chemical and crop protectant application) is very important. We live in the prairie and it's breezy. And, I don't want to put on something kills my neighbor's corn. So we try to make that droplet size and big as we can so it applies it where it's supposed to be, doesn't drift into my neighbors, and I don't waste the money I'm paying John and FS (crop specialists who are part of Ron's team and advise him on crop protection) to apply my herbicides.

    My father was successful because he worked hard. I have to be successful because I have to work with a lot of people like Dan Zinck, Troy and Jim, and my seed salesman. I can't do it all by myself. If I don't have that team and I end up being a bad farmer I can't pay my mortgage back, I can't buy my tractors or equipment. I can't do the things that I do on our farm. And, I'm just one farmer. There are hundreds of thousands of farmers in the Midwest that are just like me.

What's your perspective?

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