Corn Commentary

Happy Anniversary to the RFS

rfs-7Friday marks the seventh anniversary of the signing into law of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) which expanded the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as we know it today.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has compiled a report that examines the successful impact of the RFS over the past seven years on the economy, job creation, agriculture, the environment, fuel prices, petroleum import dependence, and food prices.

Among its findings, the report notes that “Renewable fuel production and consumption have grown dramatically. Dependence on petroleum—particularly imports—is down significantly. Greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector have fallen. The value of agricultural products is up appreciably. And communities across the country have benefited from the job creation, increased tax revenue, and heightened household income that stem from the construction and operation of a biorefinery.”

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen remembers that day seven years ago and talks about its accomplishments so far and how EPA needs to move ahead with the law as written. Ethanol Report on RFS Anniversary

Partisan Report on RFS

bpcThe Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) appears to be a bit partisan in a new report released this week on “Options for Reforming the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

The report was produced after several meetings during the year with an advisory group that consisted of 23 members, seven of which were oil companies representatives. Only five members of the group represented agriculture (2) or biofuels (3). The rest were a mix of academia (2), big business (4) with two of those representing Toyota, environmental groups (2), and policy organizations (3).

Both of the agriculture representatives were from the National Farmers Union (NFU), president Roger Johnson and vice president of programs Chandler Goule. “It was very important that agriculture that supports the renewable fuels industry be present at the table,” said Goule, who notes that while the meetings were held in a very professional manner, “they were heavily skewed toward big oil.”

Goule says NFU has major objections to two of the policy recommendations made in the report. “The flattening of the total renewable fuel mandate at its current level going forward, but continuing to increase the three advanced categories, we have significant concerns about what that would to do ethanol and biodiesel,” he said. “Even more concerning was removing the total renewable fuel mandate and only mandating the three advanced categories. Basically what they are doing is giving in to Big Oil’s conclusion that a blend wall exists, which it does not.”

Chandler talks more about the BPC report in this interview: Interview with Chandler Goule, NFU

One Economist’s Outlook for Corn

asta-css-14-basseAgResource Company president Dan Basse giving his economic outlook for the year at the ASTA CSS 2014 and Seed Expo last week.

Basse says the protein side of the plate is doing very well right now, dairy and beef in particular, “so we call it the Year of the Cow” and while grain farmers will likely struggle for the next few years, “they’ve had a very good 5-7 years behind them.”

Basse notes that this crop year is historic in that it’s the first time we’ve seen record world production for corn, wheat and soybeans and global stocks are also record high. “It should give us pause as agricultural producers that unless we start making some cuts or unless something happens in the world climatically speaking, we’re going to keep piling on those big stocks and it’s going to create issues going forward,” he said.

With the biofuels market reaching maturity, Basse says that means more stagnant demand for corn use to make ethanol. “We have an EPA that can’t even make a decision on what the mandate should have been for 2014 and surely can’t make one for 2015,” he said. “We’ll still see corn demand for ethanol somewhere in the vicinity of five billion bushels, but there’s not that growth engine we’ve had in the last five years.”

Basse expects U.S. corn demand to remain about 13.5 billion bushels for the foreseeable future as export demand is also slowing with China producing more corn than it needs with strong incentives for farmers. “China has produced eight consecutive record corn crops … it’s swimming in corn,” he said. “So the Chinese are doing what they can to keep world corn out of the market and that’s what this GMO issue with MIR 162 is all about and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.”

So, as far as demand for corn, Basse says, “We’re really looking at the livestock sector and maybe we’ll build herds or get meat exports going.”

Lots more in this interview with Basse here – a condensed version of his one hour breakfast presentation at CSS. Interview with Dan Basse, Ag Resources


2014 ASTA CSS & Seed Expo photo album

Taking on the Food Fear Mongerers

asta-css-14-kevinHearing food and health “celebrities” spread misinformation about agriculture really annoys plant molecular and cellular biology professor Dr. Kevin Folta, who spoke at the CSS 2014 and Seed Expo this week in Chicago.

Folta, who has a blog where he calls himself “a scientist in a scientifically illiterate nation at a time when we need science the most,” took the Food Babe to task on social media after she made an appearance on his home turf at the University of Florida. “She misinformed our students, said stuff that was just not true, she made chemistry and safe food additives look bad,” he said. “It was a promotion for her and really an unfortunate one because I really believe her heart’s in the right place but she gave our students bad information – and not on my watch.”

Folta was prepared to challenge her at the forum where she spoke, but since she did not take questions as expected, he did a blog post to refute her and he stresses the importance of food being a social debate. “Dr. Oz has an audience of five million people every day, I have an audience of a dozen,” he said. “We have to amplify our message by getting more of us involved.”

Interview with Kevin Folta, University of Florida professor


2014 ASTA CSS & Seed Expo photo album

NPR Highlights Scary Story behind Food Babe’s Public Prominence

National Public Radio considered both the accuracy and impact of the Food Babe in a recent post on its Salt blog, “Is The Food Babe A Fearmonger? Scientists Are Speaking Out.” The results, based on conversations with a wide-array of respected experts, found her credibility with consumers far superior to the facts upon which she bases her opinions.

In short, the Food Babe creates confusion and fear because she is herself confused. Her lack of scientific expertise leads to flawed assumptions. Yet, through clever marketing, she has a bullhorn that broadcasts her deluded diatribe and amplifies her alleged authority.

The post notes that “when the Charlotte Observer asked her about such criticisms, Hari answered, ‘I’ve never claimed to be a nutritionist. I’m an investigator.’”

While this response, similar to one given by Dr. Oz during testimony before Congress earlier this year, attempts to clarify her self-professed area of expertise, it does not sit well with the experts interviewed by NPR.

“That lack of training often leads her to misinterpret peer-reviewed research and technical details about food chemistry, nutrition and health,” Kevin Folta, a professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida and vocal online critic of Hari, explained to NPR. “She really conflates the science. If anything, she’s created more confusion about food, more confusion about the role of chemicals and additives.”

The post clearly lays out a wide array of arguments against the Food Babe’s pseudoscience propaganda given by a variety of experts.

“What she does is exploit the scientific ignorance and fear of her followers,” Kavin Senapathy, an anti-pseudoscience blogger who frequently challenges the assertions in Hari’s posts, explained to Salt. “And most of us are in agreement that we simply can’t accept that.”

Kudos, NPR, for journalism that looked beyond the hype and found credible information consumers can use. The Food Babe may seem attractive on the surface, but her flawless façade conceals an ugly truth about how pretty packaging can trump solid science in our nation’s great food debate.

Vote for Your Favorite Corn Photo

fields-cornThe midterm elections are over but here’s a chance to exercise your right to vote for something fun and beautiful.

There’s a wide variety of candidates and each has something special to offer. Whether you support beauty, family, growth, challenges, or life – pick a category and cast your vote in the Fields-of-Corn Photo Contest.

Over 400 high-resolution photos of corn growth from seed to harvest and the families that grow it were submitted in the National Corn Growers Association on-line contest and the photos are now being judged by the public by selecting their favorites using online Facebook “Likes.” There’s a $500 grand prize for the most likes and there will also be awards for the top three entries in the five categories of Farm Family Lifestyle, Farming Challenges, Growing Field Corn, Scenery/Landscape, and Still Life from the Farm.

It’s easy and fun – vote early and vote often! Polls close on December 31.

CommonGround: Where Meaningful Food Conversations Take Place

Today, Corn Commentary features a post from guest blogger and CommonGround Minnesota volunteer Wanda Patsche that originally ran on her blog Minnesota Farm Living as part of a month-long series.

Day 29 of my 30 Days of Ag “All Things Minnesota Agriculture” is a fairly new organization (nationally – 2010) – CommonGround. CommonGround is a group of volunteers, mostly women and moms from the farm, where our purpose is to have conversations and answer questions other women have about their food. Questions such as how there food is grown or raised. And who better to ask than a farm mom. It’s through CommonGround where conversations take place.

This organization is truly one of my favorite organizations that I volunteer for. It is funded by farmers through the corn and soybean checkoff. Checkoff monies are deducted from every farmer’s check when they sell corn or soybeans. The checkoff monies are highly regulated by the USDA and can only be used for certain purposes. And thank goodness CommonGround is one of those approved activities.

There is both a state and national organization. In Minnesota we have about 18 volunteers.

What kind of activities is CommonGround involved in?

CommonGround Minnesota is involved in events, conferences or activities where there is a high probability of other women in attendance. They have been to Women Expos, Mom’s Conventions, Dietetics and Diabetes Conferences. They also have put on an influencer event where volunteers can connect to people who have an influence on food decisions. Read more about Minnesota’s last influencer event.

Social Media Sites:

National CommonGround Website: CommonGround

Facebook: CommonGround Minnesota and CommonGround (National) 

Twitter: @CommonGroundNow

CommonGround volunteers (Wanda on left)

CommonGround volunteers (Wanda on left)

How do moms get their questions answered?

CommonGround volunteers are available. Questions can be asked in person during an event where CommonGround volunteers are present or a question can be submitted on theCommonGround website. The organization supports ALL types of farming practices, as well as all types of crops and livestock.

Why do I love CommonGround?

Yes, I am a CommonGround volunteer.

I love CommonGround for many reasons. First, I love the organization’s purpose. Never in our history has there been more of a disconnect between agriculture and consumers. Many consumers want to know more about their food. And rightly so. CommonGround is just one tool consumers have to give them access to those answers. And I love talking to consumers about what I do and why I do it!

I love the people involved in CommonGround, all the way from national to state. We have a wonderful coordinator in Minnesota, Meghan Doyle. She puts in all the behind-the-scenes work for our events. As volunteers, we have input into the events we participate in, but for the most part, we just show up to the events because Meghan does a fantastic job coordinating our events. And I love the other volunteers also. Everyone has the same goal – talk to consumers about the truth behind their food. And when you belong to an organization where everyone has the same passion, enthusiasm and goal, it truly makes volunteering fun and fulfilling.

And I love that the Corn and Soybean growers have given their trust to this organization. And if there is one message I could give those in the “decision making” capacity in these organizations, it is “We are making a difference, one conversation at a time. And sometimes it’s more than one conversation at a time. We continue to find new ways to make these connections. And all of us bring something different to the table, which makes us more visible, our voices stronger and more effective. We are better today than yesterday and we will be better tomorrow than today.”

Enjoying conversations about food with consumers

Enjoying conversations about food with consumers

 

Indian Corn Adds Color to the Fall

indian-cornColorful corn can be seen decorating doors and table tops during the fall season, but how much do you really know about the corn that is known variously as Indian, flint, ornamental, or even calico?

According to Wikipedia
, flint corn has less soft starch than dent corn and does not have the dents in the kernels. Flint corn is one of three types of corn cultivated by Native Americans – from whence the Indian corn moniker comes. Cultivation of flint corn was typical to tribes in New England and across the northern tier, including by tribes such as the Pawnee on the Great Plains. But, archeologists have found evidence of such corn cultivation by the Pawnee and others before 1000 BC. Cultivation of corn occurred hundreds of years earlier among the Mississippian culture people, whose civilization arose based on population density and trade because of surplus corn crops.There is also evidence that flint corn was grown in China, India and South America for centuries.

While we use the colorful ears for decoration, our ancestors actually ate it and it is still eaten in countries like Argentina and other areas of South America, Latin America and southern Europe. Heavy in starch, it can be compared to hominy, which is used to make grits. Indian corn can be ground to make flour, or the whole kernel can be reserved for popcorn. It can also be used as livestock feed.

Indian corn for decoration these days is the result of several hybrid varieties developed within the last 50 years. Calico-patterned or speckled varieties of Indian corn result from cross-pollination of single-shaded plants. In addition to the multicolored ears, there are solid ears in shades of white, ruby, blue and black. Many varieties have names as colorful as the corn – like Autumn Explosion, Robust Ruby Red, Big Chief and Glass Gem. There are even miniature varieties with cute names like Indian Fingers, Cutie Pops, Little Boy Blue and Miniature Blue, Cutie Pink, Little Miss Muffet, Little Bo Peep and Miniature Pink.

NCGA President at NAFB Trade Talk

nafb-14-ncgaBiotechnology and GMO labeling, Waters of the U.S., and soil health were just a few of the issues on the mind of National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling at the recent National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention where he did dozens of interviews with farm broadcasters nationwide.

Bowling says corn growers are very concerned about the growing number of initiatives nationwide called for labeling of GMO products, and passage of a temporary ban on biotech crop production in Maui where many agribusiness companies do research on new traits. “The issue in Hawaii is critical,” he said. “We Hawaii is a place we can grow crops all year long and the companies that test their traits out there needs to have the accessibility to those areas.” Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences have filed suit over the ban, which was passed by a slim margin, and a judge has blocked its implementation.

One of the most important issues facing farmers right now, in Bowling’s opinion, is the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. “It’s not going to go away,” he said. “We need them to withdraw the interpretive rule and clarify what they mean to regulate and we need to make sure that it’s not overreaching.” Bowling recently had officials from EPA out to his farm in Maryland to take a look at ditches and ponds and get their opinions on how they would interpret the rule.

Bowling is pleased with NCGA’s participation in the Soil Health Partnership (SHP). “We understand that we need to be good stewards of the land,” said Bowling. “It’s all about doing the right thing at the right time and we want to make sure that the farmers that we represent have all the information that they can get.”

Bowling talks about a variety of other issues in this interview: Interview with Chip Bowling, NCGA president


2014 NAFB Convention Photos

New Study Disputes Indirect Land Use Models

CARD LogoA new analysis of real-world land use data by Iowa State University raises serious concerns about the accuracy of models used by regulatory agencies regarding “indirect land use changes” (ILUC) attributed to biofuels production.

The study, conducted by Prof. Bruce Babcock and Zabid Iqbal at ISU’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), examined actual observed global land use changes in the period spanning from 2004 to 2012 and was compared to predictions from the economic models used by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop ILUC penalty factors for regulated biofuels. The report concluded that farmers around the world have responded to higher crop prices in the past decade by using available land resources more efficiently rather than expanding the amount of land brought into production.

“There hasn’t been much land use change in terms of converting non-agricultural land into crop land,” said Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper of the report results. “We’ve seen more double-cropping, we’ve seen triple-cropping in some parts of the world. And, very interestingly, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of planted acres that are harvested.”

Cooper says the study, which was funded in part by RFA, comes at a time when the California ARB is in the process of re-adopting its low carbon fuel standard, which includes revisiting their land use analysis. “So this paper, we hope, should inform that debate and bring some clarity and commonsense,” said Cooper. More importantly, this new analysis can provide input to states like Oregon and Washington which are currently working on developing low carbon fuel standards.

Cooper explains more in this interview: Interview with Geoff Cooper, RFA



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