It’s hard not to use the phrase “quintessential small town” when you describe Pittsfield, Ill.
The western Illinois community of 4,500 people has a picturesque downtown square with an historic courthouse sitting in the center. The small city is the county seat of Pike County and for many years has called itself the Pork Capital of the World in homage to an important sector of farming in this region. Every year the town holds a two day festival known as “Pig Days,” which, true to its name, features pig tail and hog calling contests.
Driving out of the western Iowa town of Panora, the winding roads offer broad vistas of rolling hills. Many of the mailboxes along Redwood Road show the name Arganbright. Jim Arganbright grew up in this area, one of 10 children. He and his wife, Beverly, have eight kids.
Though Jim Arganbright farmed here his whole life, three years ago at the age of 80 he started renting his cropland to his son Tom, the only one of his children who farms full-time. Now, all Jim Arganbright has to worry about is the livestock — and he doesn’t have too much of that.
Working beyond retirement is a fairly common refrain these days. In 2012, 5 percent of the U.S. workforce was beyond retirement age. But farmers seem to work longer than most. In the last Agriculture Census 25 percent of all farm operators were over 65 years old.
Why do farmers keep working? For one thing, modern machinery makes it easier to work longer.
“It’s more you use your mind rather than your back, so you can go longer,” said Mike Duffy, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University.
The nation’s poultry industry exported a record 8.1 billion pounds of chicken last year, according to the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. But a recent decision from the World Trade Organization in the latest skirmish between the US and China could drive up that number dramatically. It’s the latest volley in the export battle between the world’s top two economic superpowers.
Most Saturdays, Chef Mike Odette, who is co-owner of Sycamore Restaurant in Columbia, Mo., is talking to farmers and customers at the farmers market and searching for food to work into his next menu. Odette makes a point of getting the best local, seasonal food that he can for Sycamore, which is one of the most popular restaurants in town. But today, his mission is a little different.
When unapproved genetically modified wheat was found growing in Oregon earlier this year, it didn’t take long for accusations about how it ended up there to start flying. A flurry of initial finger-pointing cast potential blame on a federal seed vault in Fort Collins, Colo., which housed the same strain of wheat, developed by Monsanto Corp., for about seven years up until late 2011.