MAPLE PARK, Illinois — Educating state and national legislators about issues important to farmers is one of the several goals of the Illinois Soybean Association.
“One of the biggest things about the coming of the new farm bill is maintaining crop insurance,” said Steve Pitstick, who was elected a second-time ISA president in July. “We planted the most expensive crop ever this year, so we need a stable crop insurance system to support us.”
This summer, the northern Illinois farmer traveled to Washington, D.C. several times, among other events, to meet with legislators at the Illinois State Fair and other events.
“There will be those who want to separate the farm bill from the food bill,” he said. “They’re separate things, but food and nutrition are linked.”
“The 2023 farm bill will be the 50th anniversary of linking these two, and it was done because there weren’t enough farmers to do it,” said Pitstick, who grows nearly 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans near Maple Park. “Now, 50 years later, that’s even more relevant.”
This is one of the reasons why the soybean association opened an office in Lombard.
“It’s right in the middle of where there are so many legislators,” Pitstick said. “Part of the success of passing the biodiesel law was in helping people from other walks of life see the value of renewable fuel.”
Developing and maintaining soybean markets is another focus of the soybean union.
“Interest dollars are used to make farmers more profitable by increasing markets, increasing prices, or producing more bushels per acre,” Pitstick said. But we need to create more demand while helping them learn to produce more bushels per acre.”
With trendline yields, he said, farmers are increasing their soybean production by 10 million bushels each year.
“That means a new crushing plant every four years,” he said. “So, we’re trying to find the next market.”
Last month, a group of ISA board members traveled to the Delmarva Peninsula.
“The trip was fascinating, and one of the things I didn’t realize was that they had to deal with two-way water,” Pitstick said. “They’re on a pretty flat coastal plain, so they have water coming upstream with the rising tide.”
The ISA chief said that farmers in this region are more conscious of the water and its effects on fisheries because they are so close to the water.
“Many of them fish more fish than we do as Midwest farmers,” he said.
Conservation practices such as no tillage or planting of cover crops are financed through taxation.
“They get $90 to $150 per acre from outside sources of income,” Pitstick said. “Due to the high human population, farmers are rewarded for their practices.”
Pitstick was surprised that agriculture in this region is quite similar to that of the Midwest.
“Most of the wheat that goes to Pennsylvania for mushroom farms is grown for straw,” he said. “They also grow corn and soybeans, and the poultry industry is big there.”
Continuing to prepare machinery for the harvest season, Pitstick plans to start assembling its soybeans by the end of September.
“Depending on market opportunities, we may be able to dry out some soybeans that are made a lot in the south,” he said. “I’ve been talking about doing this for 10 years.”
Once the beans have released the pods, the plants can be terminated with a Paraquat or Sharpen application, Pitstick said.
“They dry out in four to six days and then you start harvesting,” he said. “So, you can save 10 days when you end them and all the beans will have the same moisture.”
When soybeans dry naturally, the top beans dry faster compared to the middle and bottom beans.
“So there could be yield advantages,” Pitstick said. “But you need to understand whether the efficiency advantage offsets the cost.”
Pitstick is spotting lots of northern corn rootworm beetles this year.
“I’m not sure how this insect evolved, but it appears to have hatched from a later egg,” he said. “They may be laying eggs in the soybean fields, and I’ll tell you next year what that means.”
Pitstick said it could be a new trend or unique to this growing season.
“But it’s noticeable that the insects are adapting,” he said. “This is why farmers never retire because it’s an ever-changing game – I have 45 unique years of farming experience.”
With the development of autonomous farming equipment, Pitstick planned to go to the Farm Progress Show in Iowa to check out the new products.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be autonomous to any degree in the next few decades, but the things an autonomous machine has to do will make my life easier,” Pitstick said.
“Like a car with adaptive cruise control or lane notification, these are stride changes,” he said. “We will not just wake up and become autonomous, but we will gradually evolve towards it.”
Innovations such as automatic routing, row-by-row controllable planters and built-in cameras allow farmers to have larger equipment and move faster.
“Our brain can only process so much, so we need more automatic control,” Pitstick said.
Over time, per-acre margins for farmers have remained fairly consistent, Pitstick said; however, the cost of living continues to rise.
“So we need to grow with the cost of living, but because there are so many acres we have to lose the same amount of farmers,” he said.
During the farm crisis, many fathers encouraged their children to do something different than engage in farming.
“From 1985 to 2005, not many kids started farming, so my generation is experiencing a pretty significant decline in retirement,” Pitstick said.
“There aren’t a lot of men 50 and under farming, so they’re going to be bigger farmers by default,” he said. “We will see the effects of this lack of input during the farm crisis 40 years from now.”