Corn Commentary

Ethanol is World’s Lowest Cost Motor Fuel

corn-pumpDespite claims by detractors that ethanol makes the price of fuel more expensive, a new analysis released by the Renewable Fuels Association shows that over the past four years, ethanol has been the most economically competitive motor fuel and octane source in the world.

The ABF Economics study
found that even after accounting for transportation costs to the reference markets of Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, ethanol came out far cheaper than gasoline blend stock, according to RFA Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper. “The average over the past four years has been a 30-40 cent per gallon discount, and that’s been as high as a dollar in some cases,” he said.

Cooper says the study also found U.S. ethanol has been more cost competitive than Brazilian ethanol which has particular relevance in the California market. “Over the past four years, U.S. based ethanol has been 80 cents per gallon less expensive than ethanol imported from Brazil,” said Cooper, noting that Brazilian ethanol gets a lower carbon intensity score under California’s low carbon fuel standard. “So consumers in the California market place are bearing that cost,” he added.

Cooper adds that bigger corn crops and more efficient use of corn in making cellulosic ethanol will also contribute to lowering the cost of production.

Listen to Geoff explain the findings of the analysis here:
Geoff Cooper, Renewable Fuels Association

In the Drone Debate, Watch What You Wish For

Grist published another gripping piece today on the important role drones can play in the “fight against Big Ag.” The post, based on a blaring inaccuracy at its core, posited that “If you were privy to everything that went on inside a factory farm, you might never want to eat again.” Then, it proposed drones were the answer to getting behind those “closed doors.”

Putting aside the note that gates would create a more accurate analogy, let’s look at the base issues.

Gates paint a more accurate picture not only because they are what actually encompass most farms. They are also more similar in that you can see through them.

Farmers and ranchers across the country ARE opening their farms to show how they grow and raise our food. A wide array of groups, including programs like CommonGround, organize farm tours where bloggers, dietitians and just regular families can visit a wide array of farm and ranches to see ag in action. Simply pushing these efforts aside seems cynical or intentionally obtuse.

Next, the basic reasoning that agenda-driven cynics have a right to enter private property to see exactly what is “going on” makes little sense. In implying that anyone denying them immediate, complete access to the place where they not only work but also live, the author sets up a standard to which I doubt she would hold herself.

Simply, Samantha, do you ever write from home? As you work at home and I am skeptical of what may be “going on” there, may I come on over? Take a look around? I think people want to know if your work area creates mental confusion that comes through in your writing. Personally, I like to look through people’s medicine cabinets to get a clearer picture.

Better yet! Why not just have drones hover outside of your windows looking in at all times? That is what you propose for farmers and ranchers. Constant surveillance.

Farmers and ranchers do want to have a dialogue with the public about how food is grown and raised. They don’t want to invite people ideologically opposed to modern agriculture into the very place that they live. It isn’t because they have something to hide; it is because they know that their open, honest efforts are often met with closed minds and a blatant refusal to consider the validity of their statements.

Unless anti-ag activists feel perfectly comfortable being under constant drone surveillance themselves, it is radically hypocritical to promote doing so to someone else. And, for those who take this side of the argument, there is another question. How long until someone turns the drones on you?

Random thoughts from Corn Congress and Washington DC

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from Kansas Grains blogger and Kansas Corn Growers Association Director of Communications Sue Schulte. In this post, Schulte provides insight into the experience of attending Corn Congress. Don’t miss intern Paige McFarland’s post from the State and National Communications Summit last month too!

Random thoughts from Corn Congress and Washington DC

I was in Washington DC last week for the National Corn Growers Corn Congress. I extended my stay to do some sightseeing with my grown son, so I ended up spending 6 days in DC, which is way too long. I’ve been smiling nonstop since I returned home, just happy to be here, somewhere normal! It’s not my first trip to DC, but I did accumulate a lot of random observations.

I spent most of my time with farmers from Kansas and many other states. Words that describe my farmer friends include the following: kind, intelligent, polite, funny, sophisticated, outspoken, focused, professional, friendly, well-rounded, honest, informed. Our farmers sat through long committee meetings, two delegate sessions and visited every member of our Congressional Delegation. All the while, they were also using their smart phones and tablets to keep track of the markets, check email, and kept in contact with their families at home who were running the farm in their absence.

With Senator Robers

With Senator Roberts

With Congresswoman Jenkins

With Congresswoman Jenkins

There were many farewell speeches at Corn Congress this year with NCGA Exec Rick Tolman retiring, as well as Nebraska Corn’s Don Hutchens, Monsanto’s Marsha Stanton and John Deere’s Don Borgman. Our own Jere White was honored at the March Corn Congress session for his retirement. New leaders will rise to take their places, but those are some big shoes to fill.

Speaking of leaders, I was so impressed with the members of the DuPont New Leaders Program offered through NCGA. Farm couples are encouraged to go through the program together. This cultivated two new leaders from Kansas: Tom and Sandy Tibbits of Minneapolis. The program’s final session was held around the Corn Congress event. We were happy to have them along on our Hill Visits and Tom was able to help Kansas Corn by serving as a delegate. Tom is already on the KCGA board and we have plans to use make use of Sandy’s skills as well as an advocate for agriculture.

Speaking of Hill Visits, many of the Congressional offices have offered Russell Stover candies to their visitors for years. With the new Mars candy factory in Topeka, many of our offices have candy bowls with Peanut M&Ms and Snickers bars as well! And Cheezits. Did you know all Cheezits are made in Kansas?

I serve on the Corn Farmers Coalition steering committee, an image program that aims to educate and inform Washington DC decision makers about corn farmers. This year’s campaign has just begun and I saw our full page ad in The Hill newspaper, as well as ads online and intheMetro trains. This year’s ads have an innovation and technology theme because the focus groups we used when planning this year’s campaign were fascinated by the use of technology on our farms. I remember one focus group participant saying, “It’s kind of neat to think that those farmers are using the same iPad as me.” It is not always easy to overcome the stereotypes about farmers that many people have. On one hand, they are surprised to learn that 98 percent of all corn farms are family farms–many folks think that our farms are owned by big corporations. On the other hand, they think farmers look and work on the farms just like they did 50 years ago. When we talk to these people about GPS guidance and mapping, precision agriculture, they get really excited.

This Metro passenger was extremely interested in our CFC ad!

This Metro passenger was extremely interested in our CFC ad!

There is some corn planted in front of USDA. And the US Botanic Gardens is featuring a wheat display called Amber Waves of Grain.

I saw a lot of advertising in DC. I saw an excellent ad in a Metro train placed byHumane Watch. It explained that HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States, only gives 1 percent of its funding to local humane shelters and encourages people to donate to local humane society shelters instead.

On the Metro, we sat next to a woman holding a takeout bag from Chipotle. Over the years, I’ve discouraged my kids from eating at Chipotle for various reasons (primarily because it’s danged expensive!), but also because of how the corporate burrito company bashes farmers who grow the food. Sitting next to my son, who is a devout capitalist, I pointed to the bag in the woman’s lap and told him to read it. This quote is from Chipotle’s “Cultivating Thought” Author Series.

If no one must work, who will make the burritos?

If no one must work, who will make the burritos?

I’m all for love and peace, but just sitting around feeling love for one another might get a little boring after a while.  More importantly, Chipotle, if no one works, where will all that free food come from? Who will make the burritos? I’m for free speech and an open exchange of ideas, and I enjoyed reading the bag that held a nine dollar burrito. But I do have the right to disagree. My capitalist son, who in the past has been disturbed by Chipotle’s anti-farmer statements but still ate the corporate burritos, was even more disturbed by that quote.

Norman Borlaug is the new guy in Statuary Hall at the Capitol.

Norman Borlaug is the new guy in Statuary Hall at the Capitol.

We saw the new statue of Norman Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution, during our tour of the Capitol. That an Iowa plant breeder is honored in this way Statuary Hall in the Capitol is significant. His work which created a high-yielding, disease resistant wheat is credited for saving a billion lives. Borlaug was a strong supporter of the promise of biotechnology and urged people to stand up to the anti-science crowd.

A corn capital at the Capitol

A corn capital at the Capitol

I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone has ever counted up the number of Greek columns in DC? It made me remember the Architecture Appreciation class I took at K-State where we learned about Doric, Corinthian and Ionic columns. Speaking of art and architecture, if you are a corn grower, look around in DC–there are many depictions of corn in the Capitol and many other places. In fact, the photo here shows a corn capital in the Capitol. A capital is the top of a column. According to the Architect of the Capitol: Carved by Giuseppe Franzoni from Aquia Creek sandstone, these columns were installed in the Hall of Columns of the U.S. Capitol in 1809. The fluting of a conventional shaft was recalled by bundled corn stalks. On the capital, husks were folded back to reveal the cob and kernels of corn.

I was struck by the friendliness of the people in DC on this trip. I think this was influenced by the unusually cool weather. One cab driver told us that the cooler weather was a disaster for cabbies because everyone wanted to walk instead of taking a cab. He joked that he would have to charge us double. Judging by his meandering route to our destination, I don’t think he was kidding.

 

 

Corn Growers Have Busy Week in DC

2014-corn-congressMembers of the National Corn Growers Association had a busy week in the nation’s capital last week – hearing from and meeting with administration officials and lawmakers, saying goodbye to retiring industry leaders, and inspiring new young leaders.

I talked with NCGA president Martin Barbre today about what all they did last week and we only scratched the surface. One of the highlights was an update from EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe on the proposed Waters of the United States rule. “NCGA is taking the position that yes, we are opposed to the interpretive rule and yes, we think the rule itself needs to be changed immensely, but we want to work with EPA and see if we can’t put our stamp on that to make it better for farmers and still work for the environment,” said Barbre.

NCGA members also wanted to know when they might hear from EPA on a final rule for 2014 volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “The number needs to be out,” Barbre said. “Hopefully it will be good for us when it comes down to it.”

ncga-zimmermanThe week in DC also included updates from NCGA action teams and committees on a variety of topics, such as ethanol, biotechnology, government regulation and trade. Delegates also re-elected four board members and elected one new one last week. Re-elected were Bob Bowman of Iowa, Lynn Chrisp of Nebraska, Kevin Skunes of North Dakota and Paul Taylor of Illinois and new to the board is Jim Zimmerman of Wisconsin. Jim is no relation to this Zimmerman, but I did interview him last October at the Truth About Trade and Technology (TATT) Global Farmer Roundtable.

There were quite a few good-byes said to corn industry members who are retiring this year, including Don Hutchens of the Nebraska Corn Board, Marsha Stanton of Monsanto, and Don Borgman with John Deere – as well as NCGA CEO Rick Tolman, who received a special tribute.

NCGA members also spent some time on the Hill talking with their lawmakers about important issues and Barbre presented NCGA’s 2014 President’s Award to Representative John Shimkus (R-IL).

Finally, last week graduated the inaugural class of the NCGA DuPont New Leaders Program, which Barbre says included some enthusiastic new young people for the future of the industry.

Listen to my interview with Martin here: Interview with NCGA president Martin Barbre

Check out pictures from the event in the NCGA Flickr photo album.

Quick and Easy Corn on the Cob

Sweet corn is a summer treat, but few people will go to the trouble of cooking corn on the cob for just themselves. This YouTube video showing a fast and easy way to make corn on the cob for one has gone viral this summer. I can’t wait to try it!

Corn Starch Bioplastics and Farm Pest Control

Hamed AbbasMore and more research is being done on biological control of all forms of pests including in the agricultural market. Dr. Hamed Abbas, USDA, talked about “Bioplastics Made from Corn Starch as an Effective Biological Delivery Vehicle for Control of Agricultural Pests” at the recent Corn Utilization Technology Conference. Here’s another example of a new use for corn starch.

Before he got started I asked him to explain how bioplastics play a role and provide examples of the form they take. He says bioplastics make an excellent delivery system for biological controls. The beneficial fungus used in biologicals love bioplastic because it provides them with nutrition and it has longer shelf life.

Listen to my interview with Hamed here: Interview with Hamed Abbas

2014 CUTC Photo Album

Save the Corn Farmers?

Google “save the rainforest” and watch all the organizations that pop up; everything from the World Rainforest Fund to Kids Saving the Rainforest.  I don’t have a problem with that because rainforests are a critical cog in the blue planet’s eco-system.

Rainforests provide incredible biodiversity and through the process of photosynthesis they also provide the duel function of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it to life-sustaining oxygen. Then I realized most the American public has a rudimentary understanding of  the importance of the Amazon on another continent but has little understanding of the contributions our corn crop makes just from the process of simply growing.  It was the accompany image that got me thinking.

grawk-earth-photosynthesis-crop-660x410The image from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center represents satellite measurements of plant fluorescence.  It represents a compilation of data collected over a four year period. During photosynthesis, the chlorophyll in healthy plants absorbs light to be converted into energy, but it also emits a little bit of light that’s not visible to the human eye. Scientists have now figured out how to use that fluorescent glow to measure the productivity of plants in a given region.

What it reflects is a startling revelation even to a corn-o-phile like me. Using existing data from satellites designed for entirely different purposes, such as ozone monitoring, NASA scientists were able to show that during the Northern Hemisphere’s growing season, the Midwestern U.S. has more photosynthetic activity than anywhere else on the planet, including the Amazon rainforest. Nearly all of this can be attributed to agriculture, and much of it to corn.

So, feeding people aside, providing cleaner ethanol fuel aside, corn takes bad things out of the air much like a tree and gives us oxygen to breathe.  So I want to start a new organization called Save the Corn….or maybe that should be corn farmers?  

EPA Chief Hopes RFS Rule Coming “Soon”

epa-mccarthyA final rule on the volume obligations for this year under the Renewable Fuel Standard is taking longer than expected, but Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy says they want to get it right.

“I’m hoping it will come out soon,” she said during a press conference on agricultural issues this week. Explaining about the delay in releasing the final rule, which was expected by the end of June, McCarthy said it has become clear that there is concern “not only about what the volumes of the fuels are but the way in which we are adjusting those volumes.”

McCarthy stressed that the administration “continues to have a strong commitment to biofuels” and they want to make sure the final rule “clearly reflects that interest.”

“My goal is always to make sure we get it right,” she concluded.

Listen to McCarthy explain here: EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on RFS rule release

2014 CUTC Receives Rave Reviews

NCGA BoothIt takes a team to have a great CUTC conference. But the man who was actively checking on everything to make sure all was well is Richard Vierling. I talked with Richard at the conclusion of this year’s conference. He says it was a fabulous conference with nothing but rave reviews from attendees. He says the planning committee hit a home run on the topics that are important to farmers and important to the industry.

Richard says they often had to cut off the Q&A sessions after presentations because they were going over their time limits. That’s a sure sign of strong interest. A unique part of CUTC is having researchers interacting with industry representatives as well as farmers. Richard says that helps encourage the free flow of ideas.

Listen to my interview with Richard here for more on this year’s conference: Interview with Richard Vierling

2014 CUTC Photo Album

Don’t Worry, Consumers! Big Oil Will Make Those Pesky Choices for You

Standing at the pump, have you even wondered who decides which options you will have? Maybe the gas station owner? The government? Who knows?

If you thought that it impacted what you pay, would you care? What if it was cheaper and kept money in the United States and out of oil regimes in the Middles East? Maybe then?

According to a report card released today by the Renewable Fuels Association, Big Oil is taking care of the big decisions in most cases. The biggest names in the oil industry have been stacking the deck in favor of their product for years by writing a series of restrictions into every franchise agreement. If consumers want to go to a name they know, chances are they have to take whatever Big Oil is willing to give.

The reasoning behind the regs is simple. By making it cost prohibitive or even forbidden to carry renewable fuel blends currently available, like E15 or E85, they make sure that their pockets will be as full as possible. As for consumer wallets? Oh well.

Take a second to find out more by clicking here.

Big Oil does an incredible job of watching out for itself. What they fail to do is watch out for consumers, the environment, the U.S. economy and U.S. energy security.

Next time you fill up, take a second to wonder why you are paying more, and losing more, because of the undue influence of a modern monopoly. Take a look at the options. They do exist.



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