Organic versus conventional farming was the topic of Tuesday’s Summer Ag Institute. First, we traveled to Paul and Aaron Butler’s organic farm near DeKalb. While there we listened to the Butler’s perspective on the challenges and rewards of organic farming. Weed and pest control are their biggest challenges, which they combat using only tillage and natural fertilizers. They were quick to put down the use of Anhydrous on crops, but I personally believe that the continuous use of tilling is also detrimental to the land. Still, although I normally turn a cold shoulder to organic practices, listening to the Butlers elaborate on how rewarding it is to “farm the way [their] grandparents did,” helped me gain a new respect for their way of life.
Next, we traveled to Jamie Walter’s commercial corn operation to see the other side of farming. Jamie was a very personable and knowledgable individual with whom the teachers were very comfortable asking questions. They learned about the many different types of equipment involved in field corn production. They also discussed the use of biotechnology such as Roundup-Ready and Bt corn.
Finally, the group traveled to Carl Heide’s hog operation on the north side of DeKalb. There, teachers witnessed various stages of swine growth, interacted with young pigs, and learned the ins and outs of modern pork production. With Carl’s knowledge, many of the educators were able to accept that the hogs didn’t need a ton of room to live – which was one of the topics about which they were most concerned. It quite was funny to see how turned off they were by the intense smell of the place.
At the end of the day it was interesting to hear the conversations between the teachers on the bus. The biggest thing I heard was how surprised they were at just how educated all the farmers they met were. They were originally under the impression that farmers had a high school education at the very minimum, and weren’t generally very smart. However, Jamie Walters had a degree in Law from University of Illinois, and Carl Heide had well over ten different licenses he had to have to maintain his operation. To hear the changing perspectives of the educators was what part of this whole experience was about.