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What American farming is all about

This news story was published on September 1, 2012.
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William Smith, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –

MOUNT PLEASANT – Just past the dining area in the Wright Family Events Pavilion at McMillan Park sits a 53-foot-long trailer with the words “America’s Farmers Meeting the Challenges of Our Growing Planet” written across the side.

The air-conditioned trailer, which was put into service by the multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto, is a new addition to the Midwest Old Threshers grounds this year.

“We’re helping everybody understand the challenges farmers are facing and how they are key to meeting our global needs,” said tour guide Emily Hoffman. “By 2050, we’re looking at the world population to be around 9 billion. The challenge we’re facing is, the land is not growing with the population growth.”

Hoffman and her associates with Monsanto led continual tours of the trailer throughout the day Friday, guiding people through three sections of the specialized exhibit.

A large flat-screen display immediately is visible upon entering, featuring a counter of the world’s population that continually increases with every second. An interactive globe in the corner of the room allows patrons to see how many farmers it takes to feed the world’s population in any given year.

“In 1950, one farmer needed to feed around 19 people for a whole year,” Hoffman said. “In 2013, one farmer will need to feed 148 people for an entire year. By 2050, one farmer will need to feed 506 people for a whole year.”

Another LCD screen next to the entrance allows patrons to take a touch-screen quiz that changes depending on whether they are a farmer, student or consumer. That sits across from the door that leads to the middle section of the trailer, which consists of a large, wrap-around theater screen that plays a three-minute film detailing the lives of a typical Illinois farming family.

The third and final section of the trailer displays the latest tools and research used to increase crop productivity, such as a seed chipper that breaks off a certain part of a seed so it can be studied. The research is used in plant breeding, which combines the best characteristics of two parent plants to improve the offspring.

“Breeders can analyze the DNA within that seed chip to predict what characteristics that seed will have at full maturity,” Hoffman said.

The trailer has traveled across the country for the two years it has been in operation, and more than 31,000 patrons made their way through the tour last year.

“We travel to different county fairs, some state fairs, some universities,” Hoffman said.

Barb Greaves of Carlinville, Ill., grew up on a farm that has been in her family for more than 100 years, and she was quite impressed by the exhibit. She and her husband travel 200 miles every year to sell stained glass at Old Threshers, though they were fans of the festival long before they become craft vendors.

Greaves thought the trailer was a good teaching tool for people who live in large cities.

“I know most of this, but there’s people in Chicago who don’t even know the rest of Illinois exists,” she said.

Sue Newlun of Cuba, Ill., also visits the festival every year, and her tour of the trailer only reinforced her opinion people should take care of themselves.

“I think more people should start providing for themselves. Why depend on all the farmers? Plant your gardens. Be conservative. Save your rainwater,” she said. “Everything in my freezer, I process myself. I have deer, rabbit, squirrels, turtle, chicken, fish, duck and goose. I do not buy meat in a grocery store.”

Rick Smith of Mount Pleasant acted as the host farmer for the trailer, answering any questions people had. He farms about 600 acres with his father and brother, growing soybeans, corn, and raising about 100 head of cattle.

Like all area farmers, Smith is feeling the impact of the drought. He said he would be able to salvage only about half to two-thirds of his corn crop.

“We’re going to get through it. I’m not convinced how bad we’re hurt yet. After the rain last weekend, I think our beans are going to be pretty respectable,” he said.

Smith agreed the trailer provides a good educational experience, especially for those who have a limited understanding of how food ends up in the grocery store.

“There’s so many people distancing themselves (from farming). It used to be grandpa had a farm, and now it’s great-great-grandpa had a farm. A lot of people have never been on a farm,” he said.

Tours are free and open to anyone attending the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion. The trailer will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday.

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