MAPLE PARK, Illinois – One of several goals of the Illinois Soybean Association is to educate state and national legislators about issues important to farmers.
“One of the most important things about the new farm bill is the retention of crop insurance,” said Steve Pitstick, who was elected to his second term as ISA chairman in July. “This year we planted the most expensive crop ever, so we need a robust crop insurance system to protect us.”
This summer, the northern Illinois farmer made several trips to Washington, DC, the Illinois State Fair and other events to meet with lawmakers.
“There will be some who want to separate the farm bill from the food bill,” he said. “They are separate things, but food and nutrition are connected.”
“The Farm Bill of 2023 will be the 50th anniversary of the marriage of these two, and it was done because there weren’t enough farmers to do it,” said Pitstick, who grows about 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans near Maple Park . “Now, 50 years later, it’s even more relevant.”
This is one of the reasons why the Soybean Association opened an office in Lombardy.
“It’s in the middle where there are a lot of lawmakers,” Pitstick said. “Part of the success of passing biodiesel legislation has been helping people from other walks of life see the value of renewable fuels.”
The development and maintenance of soy markets is another focus of the Soy Association.
“The checkoff dollars are used to make farmers more profitable by expanding markets, raising prices, or producing more bushels per acre,” Pitstick said. “But if we’re helping them learn how to produce more bushels per acre, we also have to create more demand.”
With a trendline yield, he said, farmers are increasing soybean production by 10 million bushels each year.
“So that means a new crusher 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 fairly flat coastal plain, so when the tide rises, the water flows back upstream.”
Farmers in the area are more aware of the water and its impact on fisheries, the ISA chairman said, because they are so close to it.
“A lot of them fish more than we do as Midwestern farmers,” he said.
Conservation practices such as no-till farming or planting catch crops are funded by a tax.
“They get $90 to $150 per acre from outside revenue streams,” Pitstick said. “With the high population, the farmers are compensated for their practices.”
Pitstick was surprised to find that agriculture in this area was very similar to that of the Midwest.
“A lot of the wheat is grown to make straw that goes to Pennsylvania for mushroom farms,” he said. “They also grow corn and soybeans and the poultry industry is big there.”
As he continues to prepare machines for the harvest season, Pitstick expects to start blending soybeans in late September.
“Depending on market opportunities, we can dry some soybeans, which is commonly done in the South,” he said. “I’ve been talking about doing it for 10 years.”
Once the beans detach from the pods, the plants can be finished off with an application of paraquat or Sharpen, Pitstick said.
“You’ll dry up in four to six days and then you start harvesting,” he said. “So you can gain 10 days if you finish them and all the beans get the same moisture.”
When soybeans dry naturally, the top beans dry faster compared to the middle and bottom beans.
“So there could be earnings benefits,” Pitstick said. “But you have to figure out if the revenue benefit outweighs the cost.”
Pitstick is noticing a lot of corn rootworm beetles this year.
“I’m not sure how this insect evolves, but it appears to be a later hatch,” he said. “Maybe they’re laying eggs in soybean fields, and I’ll tell you what that means next year.”
This could be a new trend, Pitstick said, or it could be unique to this growing season.
“But what is striking is that the insects are adapting,” he said. “That’s why farmers never retire because it’s an ever-changing game – I’ve had 45 unique one-year farming experiences.”
With the development of autonomous farming equipment, Pitstick planned to travel to the Farm Progress Show in Iowa to review new products.
“I don’t know if we’ll be autonomous to any degree in the next few decades, but the things that an autonomous machine needs to do will make my life easier,” Pitstick said.
“Similar to a car with adaptive cruise control or lane warning, these things are incremental changes,” he said. “We’re not just going to wake up and be autonomous, we’re going to gradually evolve towards that.”
Innovations such as automatic steering, row-by-row planters and on-board cameras allow farmers to have bigger equipment and work faster.
“Our brains can only process so much, so we need more automated controls,” Pitstick said.
Over time, Pitstick says, per-acre margins for farmers have remained fairly constant; However, the cost of living continues to rise.
“So we have to grow with the cost of living, but because there are only so many hectares, we have to lose the same number of farmers,” he said.
During the farm crisis, many fathers encouraged their children to do something other than farm.
“Not many kids started farming between 1985 and 2005, so there’s going to be a significant drop as my generation retires,” Pitstick said.
“There aren’t many people who are 50 years old and below farming, so by default they become bigger farmers,” he said. “We will see the impact of this lack of access during the agricultural crisis 40 years later.”