Thursday, April 16, 2015

I Am Indiana Agriculture: Tom Landrum

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Tom Landrum is a Dairy Farm Supervisor for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH). The third-generation dairy farmer resides on the family farm in Dearborn County.  The farm was purchased in 1916 by Tom’s grandfather.  “We milked cows up until 1990 when a tornado destroyed seven barns.  Since then, I have kept dry cows (a cow that isn’t lactating) and heifers on my farm while another dairy farmer milks the lactating cows.  My wife, Judy, has been a part of the farm operation since we married in 1979.  Judy drives tractors and helps manage the operation.  I have shown our Registered Milking Shorthorns at state, regional, and national shows since 1956.  I worked at Farm Credit Services for 30 years. After retiring from Farm Credit Services, I began working for BOAH in 2007 as the state farm supervisor.”

Tom Landrum (center) was recognized for his service to the Indiana State Board of Animal Health and the citizens of the state by Board Chairman Lawrence Stauffer, DVM (left) and State Veterinarian Bret D. Marsh, DVM (right).

Each Grade A dairy farm must be inspected by BOAH at least twice annually to check for compliance with state and federal regulations to produce milk for public consumption.  The division has 11 dairy inspectors who regularly visit each farm for compliance.  This involves evaluating cow care, equipment care, sanitation, and timeliness.  “The dairy division has the enforcement power to regulate dairy farms and ensure the milk they produce is safe and wholesome,” Tom says.  Inspecting a farm is no small task.

“The inspection begins at the mailbox,” Tom explains.  “We check for cleanliness of the entire operation.  We use a 19-point check system to score the cows, milk house, milking parlor, surrounding barns, water wells, and medication cabinets.  We inspect for proper care, proper location and administration of medications.  We look especially at the equipment condition and cleanliness.  We also monitor milking conditions, milk storage, milk sampling, and milk hauling.  All of these must meet the state and federal standards.  My job impacts Hoosiers by being a reliable safety net for milk.” 

BOAH’s dairy division permits and inspects Indiana’s 1200-plus dairy farms, 37 processing plants, 500 milk haulers (drivers), and more than 350 tanker trucks.  Indiana’s dairy farms range in size from 20 to 3000 cows, but, regardless of size, all farms receive the same level of inspection by BOAH staff.  “Dairy inspectors are also responsible for inspecting dairy product processing facilities in Indiana.  Every tanker load of milk is tested before processing to verify no contamination by antibiotics that may have been used on the farm.  Milk is the most highly regulated and closely inspected food product on the market.”

On modern dairy farms, the milk is never touched by human hands and is not exposed to contaminants.  “My job is important because the public wants to know where their food comes from and how the animals are treated.  I get to see and monitor much of this.  Dairy farmers are good, hardworking people, and I enjoy being around them.  Not many people see as many dairy farms and cows as I do.  I enjoy people and ‘good’ cows.” 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I Am Indiana Agriculture: Don Villwock

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock farms 4,000 acres of corn, soybeans, seed soybeans and seed wheat in Knox County.  His ground is 100% no-till, which means it isn’t plowed or turned between plantings. That reduces soil erosion and aids in the preservation of soil nutrients.


Don has practiced no-tilling for 30 years and has also planted cover crops for almost that long.  Cover crops help build and improve soil in between planting of other crops.  He has also served as a Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor and hosted several soil health field days.  But he feels there is always “an opportunity to do more.” 

Don began practicing soil conservation in the 1970s by no-tilling double crop soybeans into wheat stubble.  This practice allows you to get two crops from one field in one year.  He says that no-tilling offers multiple advantages for his farm.  “For me, what got me started in no-till was the bottom line.  In the 70s, we were running on small margins and no-till allowed us to reduce our machinery costs and labor force while still maintaining the same yields.” 

On top of maintaining his yields, Don has won several awards in the National Corn Yield contest.  His conservation practices also get the attention of landlords who specifically seek out no-till farmers.
The no-till journey hasn’t always been easy.  “Planting corn after corn was a particular challenge,” Villwock says.  “It takes extra management, and we had to make sure we had a good stand row cleaner to allow us to meet our yield goals.” 


Don works closely with Barry Fisher of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to incorporate conservation practices on his farm.  “Barry is practical, pragmatic, and his experience on the land sets him apart.  He’s been with us every step of the way on the no-till journey.  The more we learn, the more we continue to improve.”

Thursday, March 19, 2015

IFOF Celebrates Ag Day at Statehouse

Organizations affiliated with Indiana’s Family of Farmers celebrated National Ag Day at the Statehouse. The group hosted a luncheon for legislators and staff while celebrating the role of farmers in the state.

“Let’s lift up all farmers,” said Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Ted McKinney. “As we continue to progress in Indiana agriculture, let’s lift up the entire food chain. Let’s start before the farm gate and let’s celebrate past the consumer plate.”

The event featured a brief program. Members of the Indiana FFA state officer team read a proclamation signed by Governor Mike Pence declaring March as Ag Month in Indiana. The group recognized Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee chairwoman Jean Leising and House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee chairman Don Lehe as special guests.


Winners of the group’s essay contest were also recognized. The essay asked, “What are the benefits of Indiana agriculture?” Each winner received a $250 cash prize. In the 4th-6th grade category, Kendall Cash of Derby, Ind., took first place. Cash is a 4th grader at Perry Central Community School. She is the daughter of Calvin and Kelly Cash. Levi Spurgeon, a freshman at Indian Creek High School, won the 7th-9th grade category. Spurgeon is the son of Amy and Mathew Spurgeon of Trafalgar, Ind. The winner of the 10th-12th place category was Emily Dougherty of Greenwood. Dougherty is a junior at Whiteland Community High School. Her parents are Amy and Matt Dougherty.


National Ag Day is celebrated every year on or around the first day of spring.

Friday, March 13, 2015

We Are Indiana Agriculture: The Akers

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Craig Akers and his wife, Lindsay, and their two daughters begin each day by collecting eggs from their 350 hens on their family-run hatchery.  The process begins by placing eggs in an incubator, where they stay for 21 days until the hatching occurs.  Akers choose not to bring poultry in from other locations, so they produce new hens out of the existing flock.  The chickens usually don’t start laying eggs until they’re about 5 months old.


Indiana is ranked No. 3 in the nation in egg production which means that the eggs in your refrigerator probably came from The Hoosier State.  In 2011, the Indiana Agriculture Statistics Service valued the state’s egg industry at more than $422 million, thanks to the success of both small-scale operations and large-scale operations.

 “We’re fairly self-sufficient, “Craig says.  “We raise our own chickens and breed for what the standard of that chicken is.” 

The family carefully monitors the birds and also grinds their own feed which consists of corn, alfalfa, calcium and a protein supplement.  They also make sure the chickens always have plenty of water.  “We have an automatic water system that catches rainwater and pipes it through the coops and buildings,” Craig says.  “But in the winter, we have to carry fresh water out to the chicken houses every day.”


Craig says that attention to detail is very important.  Since they don’t supply to grocery stores, being able to offer the best product to local consumers is vital.  “There are so many other places that people can go and get eggs, but we have very loyal customers that come to us year round in the snow, sun, or rain.  People like our product and what we do.”

Akers Hatchery produces between 15 dozen to 18 dozen eggs per day and also has chicks for sale, which allows consumers to start raising their own hens for eggs.  For visitors who drive to Akers Hatchery for eggs, the eggs were likely laid that morning.  Craig says, “I have even gone to gather eggs while people wait for them.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

We Are Indiana Agriculture: The Gillis Family

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Elaine Gillis and her husband, Craig, farm corn and soybeans in Delaware, Blackford, and Jay counties.  They have an 8-year-old son, Adam, whom they anticipate will join them in the farming operations someday.  Additionally, Elaine assists Craig with their Beck’s Hybrids Seed dealership.  Farming has been a part of Elaine’s life for many years.  She grew up on a farm about 20 miles from where they currently farm.  “Farming is a way of life and a life that was born into my blood.  I don’t work outside the home; however, I do help operate the inventory in/out of our seed dealership, help with manual labor at spring planting, and drive the combine in the fall.  Additionally, I do contract work for an agricultural company, Beck Ag.”  


One of her fondest memories from growing up on a farm is the fall season.  “I love the smell of corn and beans on a chilly or cold evening.  It can’t be found anywhere else, but on the farm.  I also remember the late evenings, listening to the augers empty grain into the grain bins and having fun playing with my brothers and cousins in the barn lot while my dad was working in the fields.”

Elaine and Craig are the third generation to farm the family farm.  “Craig’s grandfather came directly from Belgium and started to farm upon his arrival to the States,” Elaine explains.  Craig’s dad Richard and his brother, Joe, join are also active on the farm.”

When asked what she enjoys most about farming, Elaine stated, “The sense of accomplishment watching a crop grow throughout the season and seeing how plants adjust during adverse conditions during the growing season.  To me, this represents so much of life and how we adjust to different conditions when they are presented.  It’s amazing what the possibilities are when we take care of our soil, the plants, and our water supply, and this is evidenced in the adaptability and success of the plant.”

Elaine currently serves on the United Soybean Board, representing the Indiana Soybean Alliance.  The Gillis family is also one of the feature families in the Glass Barn at the Indiana State Fair.  Additionally, Elaine serves on the Indiana Soybean Board Organizational Committee to spread the word about the many uses for soybeans and the good work soybean farmers do.


“Agriculture is not just a job for many of us in the business.  It is a true love for the land and a true effort of stewardship to our environment.   In our business, we do things to be able to strengthen our operations so that we can pass our business to the next generation.  We plan to take care of things now so they are available and stronger for the future.”

Friday, February 27, 2015

National Maple Syrup Festival

The 5th National Maple Syrup Festival is coming to the beautiful hills of Brown County, Indiana on March 5-8! This is a great event for the whole family and a perfect day-trip in March. From interpretive hikes in Brown County State Park to historical reenactments in the Pioneer Village in Nashville, there is a little something for everyone all in the name of celebrating one of Indiana’s sweetest industries- tapping maple trees in March for maple syrup!

The location for this year's festival has been moved to Nashville, Indiana and the town is  really rolling out the red carpet! Below you get a little more information about each of the events so you can plan your trip.

Indiana holds the southern and westernmost position in the United States’ 'Maple Syrup Belt' meaning as winter gives way to spring the sap flows first in Indiana’s maple stands. The rolling hills of Brown County,which is Indiana’s most densely forested county, is an ideal location for the festival.


The 2015 National Maple Syrup Festival will bring together maple sugar producers and hobbyists from all over, maple syrup connoisseurs, and visitors on a local, statewide, and potentially national level to highlight and promote Indiana’s role in the national production of maple syrup. Festival guests will learn the basics of maple syrup and the sugaring process, will be able to see how syrup is produced and used today, as well as learn the sweet history behind maple sugar production. The festival will also enable maple sugar producers to promote their products, share their stories, and help build a statewide brand for maple sugar and maple syrup production.

The Pioneer Village with be bustling with live demonstrations, maple syrup being made in real time, guest speakers, artisan foods and art exhibits. Nashville restaurants and retailers will focus on maple-related foods and wares, local food and art artisans with candies, breads, chocolates, and other foods and art from maple sap and maple trees will line the streets. History will come alive with demonstrations of early pioneer sugaring methods.  Here is a listing of the restaurants, breweries and wineries that are offering a maple-themed menu during the festival. Check the link often to see the new additions.
Get more information on the National Maple Syrup Festival HERE

Brown County State Park
The Dutch Oven Diva will cook, bake and have samples of her maple themed dutch oven cooking around a huge stone fireplace in the lower shelter of Brown County State Park. She will be joined by artisans sharing hot cocoa and handmade marshmallows, storytellers, reenactors and more. Park  rangers will be there to lead interpretive hikes, teaching how to identify maple trees in winter and spring.

Descendants of the Delaware and Shawnee will reenact how their ancestors made maple syrup on this land centuries ago, and nearby French Colonial reenactors will demonstrate how early white settlers made it differently.

There is a ticketed themed dinner both Thursday and Friday in Nashville. Get more information on the dinner on Thursday HERE and Friday HERE . You can also buy your dinner tickets through each of those links.

Pancake Breakfasts
Ever had a pancake flipped onto your plate from 20 yards?  Chris Cakes travels the country making incredible pancakes coupled with a show like none other, and the Brown County High School is hosting that show both Saturday and Sunday mornings, March 7 and 8. This is a fundraiser for Brown County High School and is quite possibly the best deal in town! Get more information about this all-you-can-eat breakfast HERE.


Sweet Victory Challenge

Along with the National Maple Syrup Festival, there is the Sweet Victory Challenge sponsored by Burton's Maplewood Farm. There have been over 200 recipes that have been entered by both adults AND children under the age of 17. Both divisions of age could  enter both savory, dessert and sweet recipes that use and focus on pure maple syrup as an ingredient. The top 5 recipes in each category will be tasted by a panel of judges that work in the food and media industry from around the Midwest.
This year the Sweet Victory Challenge will be held at the Story Inn. Story Inn is located roughly 15 minutes from Nashville. Learn more about Story Inn HERE. The dinner menu at Story in will feature maple themed dishes the week of March 2-5 as well.


A panel of judges selected five finalists in each division/category based on creativity, appetizing description, ease of preparation, and appropriate use of the required products. On March 7 and 8, the competition days, local volunteers and culinary school students will prepare each dish for final judging. Finalists need not be present to win.  The grand prize for each category in the adult division is $200; second prize is $100. In the youth division, first prize in each category is a $100; second prize is $50.

We Are Indiana Agriculture: The Tharps

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Farming is a 365-days-a-year, 24-hours-a-day-job, but Nick and Beth Tharp of Coatsville wouldn’t have it any other way.  On a farm with nearly 3,000 sows, a litter of piglets is born nearly every hour.  Alongside Beth's family and with the help of six employees, the Tharps wean nearly 77,000 pigs each year and farm more than 900 acres of corn, soybeans, and hay.

Beth’s parents, Mark and Phyllis Legan are first-generation farmers.  They began raising pigs and crops in January of 1989.  “In 2010, we were blessed with the opportunity to join them in farming,” Nick explains.  “In order to stay competitive in the pork industry, the farm has grown steadily over the past 23 years.  This family farm now raises several thousand weaned pigs and market hogs a year as well as corn to feed the sows and soybeans to sell.”  Nick and Beth are also the proud parents of 1-year-old Kate who, “loves visiting the barns and might be a hog farmer in the making.”


When asked what they do to ensure their animals are comfortable, Nick said, “We have a moral obligation to provide the best care possible for our animals.  Our commitment to caring for our animals and ensuring their needs are met every day is always top priority.  Our animals are housed in barns that maintain a temperature that is most comfortable for them, based on their age.  Baby piglets enjoy micro-environments that are 90 to 95 degrees at birth, while the mother sows enjoy a cooler 67 to 73-degree environment.  With technologies we have adapted, we are able to meet both needs at the same time.  Fresh water and feed that is specifically formulated for each pig’s needs are also important for the animals’ well-being.”

The Tharps work diligently to conserve natural resources.  “The soil and water we use needs to be returned to the earth in as good or better shape as when we started using it.  We have been using a no-till system of raising corn and soybeans for many years on our farm.  In this system, the soil is disturbed as little as possible during the year to allow the natural tilth and structure to return to the soil.  Earthworms are a vital part of no-till, as they create tunnels for water percolation and roots to travel through. 

“Corn or soybeans are planted into last year’s remaining crop residue.  The residue (the stems, leaves and husks left from last year’s crop) acts as a water-retaining mulch to help the seeds germinate and as organic matter to rebuild the soil.  We also believe in the importance of keeping the fields covered in the cold months by planting cover crops in the fall.  Oil seed radish, annual rye grass, canola, wheat, barley, and crimson clover are a few of the cover crops we have tried in the past few years.  

Cover crops use extra nitrogen (fertilizer) left in the soil, so it is not washed away by the rain.  They also build the soil by adding organic matter as they die.”

Farming is a long-term commitment and they have chosen to utilize responsible and sustainable agricultural practices on their farm.  The Tharps are very passionate about their role of producing food for the world.  “We believe God has called us to be a part of a noble profession.  We realize that without His guidance and alliances formed with others, we would not be able to carry out our work.  

It has been through relationships with others that we are able to do what we do today.  We are grateful for the opportunities we have been given.”