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The Backstories


Farm Journal's Pam Smith says between the lines of every article she writes are backstories. These interesting tidbits or incidents that happen along the way provide plenty of fodder to ruminate on. Yet, they often never make it to the pages of Farm Journal. This blog is designed to give a behind the scenes look at how some of our journalism efforts unfold.

Spinning My Wheels

Jun 20, 2011

Every farmer this spring seems to be spinning their wheels. From too much water to not enough, the planting season has turned into a cycle of hurry and wait.

This past week, I did a little spinning of own wheels on a 285 mile bicycle ride around northern Illinois. In my opinion, there’s no better way to get a good look at the land than from the seat of a bicycle. Maybe that says something about my cycling speed!
It was clear that Illinois farmers in the DeKalb and Scyamore area have had their share of rain. Fields were severely ponded in many areas. The corn crop in general is small and looks a bit behind what I think of as normal for this time of June. I only saw one or two fields that I thought were unplanted, but upon closer inspection discovered tiny soybeans breaking through a no-till environment.
flooded fields near DeKalb2
To the west, near Oregon and Dixon, there was less flooding, but plenty of evidence of big rains in washed gullies. John Deere may have started his career as a blacksmith and plow inventor in Grand Detour, but many farmers in that area today seem to have decided the plow isn’t appropriate on the hilly terrain.
Some of the best crops I found were east of Rockford, Ill., in McHenry County.  The number of well maintained barns along the route restored my hope that a few of these treasures of the past remain in good hands.
It was evident that the rains are making it difficult to get with the spray program. Giant ragweed was coming on like gang busters.
There were 158 other cycling folk on this ride and only a handful had a working knowledge of production agriculture. Perhaps the most valuable experience I had was listening to questions regarding our profession. I was impressed with the knowledge of the global issues. In particular, they all seemed to have a growing awareness that food may soon be in short supply—particularly in regions of the world that can’t afford it. Concerns about continuing to support agriculture through price supports and questions about ethanol subsidies were surprisingly top of mind for this mostly suburban and urban group.
Yet, most of these people seemed surprised and eager to learn simple facts about ethanol byproducts. There was genuine surprise when they learned that time of planting can impact yields. The exchange of information with those eager to learn more was as invigorating as the ride. It is a reminder that we can’t afford to let our dialogue be a one way street. If we want to be heard, we must also listen—even if requires a little spinning of wheels to get it done.

cycle trip

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