Corn Commentary

IFF Takes Chicago Moms to the Lab to Investigate GMOs

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining a group of Chicago-area moms for a tour of a major biotechnology provider’s research center. These women, who came as a part of the Illinois Farm Families program, had voiced concerns about GMOs and wanted the chance to see first-hand what biotech really means for their families. After an incredible afternoon of learning and discussions with women who work in biotech, women with families and lives much like their own, these influential thought leaders found that there is less to fear about food than they previously suspected.

Starting early on a Saturday morning, the group of about two dozen boarded a flight to St. Louis. These moms, busy women with hectic schedules themselves, showed not only the importance they placed upon learning about GMOs but also the value they place upon the Illinois Farm Families program as a whole. They embraced the idea of exploring agriculture and actively seeking knowledge upon which to base their judgments on a topic we all value- feeding our families the best that we can.

Sponsored by Illinois Farm Families with additional support provided by the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, IFF invited all the women who participated in traditional IFF farm tours since the program began in 2012.  Nearly half of them signed up for the GMO tour that was designed specifically for IFF alums.

After leaving, the participants filled out surveys to help IFF evaluate how the tour impacted their views. The results were clear; the day was a success for farmers and consumers alike.

Delving into the data, the numbers backed IFF’s approach. The moms reported a 26 percent reduction in their overall concerns about GMOs. What did they gain? According to the women themselves, they left with a much better understanding of the human safety of GMO seeds and crops after the tour.

The knowledge they gained furthers IFFs goal of dispelling the many myths, perpetuated by the media, which lead to food fears. With so many removed from the farm, the concerns of these women are understandable. They only want to feel good about the decisions they make for their families.

More so than knowledge, the women began building trust. Sitting face-to-face with scientists who share their values and having open, honest conversations establishes a relationship. These experiences and connections bring us together and establish a mutual understanding both stronger and more satisfying than pop culture propaganda could ever be.

Don’t take my word for it. Be like these moms and find out for yourself. Over the next few months, the women will blogging and share their experiences on their personal social media channels. Check back with the IFF website, www.watchusgrow.org, and explore their worlds like they explore ours. 

Corn Planting Zooms Ahead

plant-2015A week ago corn planting was running behind schedule but thanks to the very latest precision technology corn farmers are now 17% ahead of the five year average with 55% of the crop in the ground, according to the latest crop progress report.

“We saw more than one-third of the nation’s corn acres planted in a single week,” said USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.

“The incredible progress that we saw over the past week is a testament to the old fashioned, hardworking nature of farmers as well as the incredible advantages offered by modern farming technology,” said National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling.

The phenomenal progress included an increase of 38% in Nebraska and Illinois, 41% more in Missouri, 45% in Minnesota and an additional 54% of the acreage in Iowa. “Conditions were nearly ideal in much of the state last week and as a result farmers were able to make tremendous progress,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey.

Emergence, however, is running a bit behind schedule at this point. As of May 3, only nine percent of total corn acres had emerged, which is three points behind the five-year average but three ahead of corn emergence in 2014 at this time.

The New Recipe for Growing Sales While Growing Waistlines

Today, Panera Bread Co. announced they would join the anti-everything parade of restaurants phasing out ingredients en masse in what they believe to be an attempt to gain a marketing advantage over competitors. While this sort of food snobbery may be trendy, it does little good for actual consumers and pushes the food conversation even further into the realm of unrealistic, self-righteous ridiculousness.

First off, Panera presumably hopes that consumers will assume that the exclusion of ingredients on their “no-no” list leads to a healthier product. With items like the steak and white cheddar panini, this couldn’t be further from the truth. At 1050 calories and a whopping 46 grams of fat, this purportedly natural option will naturally lead to an ever-increasing waistline for the average American.

Simply, just because an ingredient is hard to pronounce does not mean it is bad. Just because it sounds “natural” does not mean it is the healthy option. It is easy to fall into the natural trap, but easy is not always best. Healthy eating requires actually reading about the nutritional value of food, not casually complying with the latest fad.

Also of note, what about their beverage options? The press releases thus far have stressed what they will cut from their foods, but it is hard to imagine that they will hold their beverages to the same standards. If the company truly holds that these ingredients should not be served in their establishments, they cannot then hypocritically offer the soda options that most people enjoy to wash down the sometimes dry sandwiches.

By 2016, Panera will have half-heartedly bought into the hypocrisy of marketing their food as healthy without actually changing the nutritional value of their menu. The information of actual importance, such as the calorie, fat or sodium count, doesn’t have to change by their logic – only consumer perceptions. Emotionally, it might feel good for some. In terms of actual impact, it could be a dietary disaster.

NCGA with NAFB on Capitol Hill

ww15-ncga-doggettMembers of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) were on Capitol Hill last week talking with lawmakers, administration officials, and industry organizations about topics important to agriculture, and the National Corn Growers Association was happy to once again be part of that event.

NCGA Executive Vice President Jon Doggett, Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs Manager Clint Raine, and Director of Public Policy Zach Kinne addressed several different topics with farm broadcasters from around the country.

Doggett talked about the current situation with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the timeline recently announced by EPA to release long overdue volume requirements for biofuels. “We won’t have the numbers until we have the numbers,” said Doggett. “We need to get this done right away and I don’t know that people are necessarily believing what EPA says, I think we’re going to have to wait and see what they do.”

Listen to the interview with Doggett conducting by Agri-Pulse reporter Spencer Chase: Interview with Jon Doggett, NCGA

ww15-ncga-raineRaine discussed NCGA’s comments to the Federal Aviation Administration on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for agriculture. “I think there were about 40,000 comments that were actually submitted,” said Raine. “But I think we’re looking at another 16 months until that final rule comes out.”

Raine says NCGA says unmanned aerial systems offer great potential for farmers, and will ultimately reduce costs, improve efficiency, and make farming operations more sustainable, but there are privacy issues. Interview with Clint Raine, NCGA

ww15-ncga-zachKinne’s area was biotechnology and specifically the recent announcement from the European Union that they would allow member nations the option to ban imports of biotech food and feed. “It would really just be a nightmare when you look at the supply chain and importing of the crops that we produce,” he said. At the same time, NCGA is encouraged by the EU’s approval last week of 17 biotech traits for import. “It’s a little hard to applaud them for not making a decision since 2013 but some of those approvals are corn events,” said Kinne.

In this interview, Kinne also discusses the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Interview with Zach Kinne, NCGA

Happy 5th Anniversary American Ethanol!

am-ethanol-carOver the weekend at Richmond International Raceway, American Ethanol and NASCAR officially celebrated five years and seven million miles of running on 15% ethanol blended Sunoco Green E15, unveiling a new paint scheme with E15 prominently located on the hood of Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet SS.

Dillon, who has been advocating the benefits of ethanol for three years now, drove his first American Ethanol paint of the 2015 racing season in the Saturday Toyota Owners 400 race, which was delayed by rain until Sunday. While he finished 27th in the race, ethanol still came in first.

American Ethanol driver Austin Dillon, National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, RCR Racing owner Richard Childress

American Ethanol driver Austin Dillon, National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, RCR Racing owner Richard Childress

During a press conference on Saturday, National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling talked about what the American Ethanol partnership has meant for American farmers. “E15 American Ethanol turns our unrivaled ability to produce corn into a national asset. Consumer demand for ethanol is good for family farmers and fans appreciate that,” said Bowling. “We have grown the 12 largest corn crops in history in the last 12 years so ethanol demand is critical. It means farmers can pay their bills, reinvest in the broader economy and keep family operations like mine viable for future generations.”

Bowling added that according to a 2014 study, NASCAR fans are over 75 percent more likely than non-fans to support the use of ethanol blended with gasoline to fuel their own car.

Reflections on the Earth

By Nick Goeser, Ph.D.

earth-dayAs we wind down this week’s celebrations of Earth Day, my mind focuses on the pressing issues facing our planet.  Global population growth, food security, water quantity and quality, air quality, increasing numbers of extreme weather events – and the list can go on.  Looking across the list, a common thread emerges in an area of focus that can help to mitigate the risks of several issues listed.  This common thread is soil health and many groups, including farmers, are working to improve this valuable resource as a means to improve their operations and as a means to improve food security, water use efficiency, water quality, air quality and resilience to extreme weather.

Let us look at a few of the areas that can be improved with soil health and the groups working hard to provide cropping systems solutions to farmers.

Well-functioning soils are a crucial component of ensuring continued crop productivity and securing our global food supply.  A number of months back, the Environmental Defense Fund invited me to discuss soil health effects on food security (“The key ingredient in a resilient food supply: healthy soil”).  This article focused on the tools we have to protect productive soils and to improve impaired soils- recognizing that there are no silver bullets and it takes time and effort to protect and improve soil.

Soil aggregate stability and adequate soil organic matter pools help to improve water quality through greater resistance to erosion, improved infiltration, and enhanced nutrient cycling for better crop nutrient use efficiency.  Soils with greater aggregate stability and shear strength can withstand greater amounts of rainfall without sediment losses to run off.  Throughout the growing season, a high level of soil organic matter and soil biological functioning increase soil decomposition of crop residues and release of nutrients to crops.  Components of soil organic matter also retain nutrients that improve nutrient use efficiency and reduce the risk of fertilizer loss to the environment.

Soil health plays a large role in improving agricultural water use efficiency.  Components of soil health—such as increasing soil infiltration rates, biological diversity, soil organic matter pools, soil porosity, and soil aggregate structure—all help a soil to accept and hold water from rain or melting snow.  These soil characteristics work together to improve the pool of water available to crops throughout the growing season.

As I continue to reflect on agriculture’s contributions to improving our planet, I am excited to see a great number of organizations working to help provide practical solutions for farmers to benefit their operations through improved soil functioning.  The Soil Health Partnership has the pleasure of working with a diverse group of collaborators Soil Renaissance, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and Agricultural Research Service, Noble Foundation, The Farm Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Technology Information Center, American Farmland Trust, state and national commodity associations, Monsanto, and many additional organizations in the agricultural industry.  It gives me great hope to see farmers contributing alongside such a large number of organizations with the skills to provide the solutions we all need.

Dr. Nick Goeser is NCGA’s manager for soil health and sustainability.

Captain Cornelius on Cardinals’ Farm Team

mfc-team-1The St. Louis Cardinals’ new roster this season includes some homegrown talent from the Show-Me State.

Missouri Farmers Care (MFC) and the St. Louis Cardinals are proud to bring to Busch Stadium the Farm Team, comprised of mascots Captain Cornelius, Simon the Soybean, and Sweet Bessie.

The farm team is part of the “Race to the Plate” educational campaign to increase awareness and understanding of today’s food production.

mfc-team2The mascots will be jockeying for bragging rights at each Friday night home game in Busch Stadium and racing to educate fans on Missouri agriculture. As the mascots vie for the win, in-stadium video boards will highlight facts about modern pork, dairy, soybean and corn production. Missouri’s farm families are also encouraging fans tuning into Cardinal Radio to learn more about today’s agriculture through radio spots highlighting farm facts and Friday night races. Print ads are also featured in the Cardinals Gameday Magazine and scorecard.

Missouri Farmers Care is a joint effort by Missouri’s agriculture community to stand together for the state’s top industry.

Spring Shows Media Warming to GMOs

What do The Daily Show, Gawker and Jezebel have in common? Well, probably quite a few things but one that probably didn’t pop out in most people’s minds. Over the past month, all three media outlets have run pieces actively confronting anti-GMO activists. Whether they see the incredible potential for GMOs to alleviate human suffering or they just prefer to base their opinions on sound science, pro-GMO media attention is popping up faster than GMO corn this spring.

On April 22, The Daily Show, which normally skews a bit to the left, aired a truly hilarious, insightfully satirical piece on newly-approved GMO potatoes. Obliterating the self-admitted anti-GMO non-scientist, the show smashed preconceived notions on who is behind issues in our food industry and came to the “phew” mind-blowing conclusion it is actually anti-GMO activists. To watch the clip, which contains a steady stream of blue language, click here.

Jezebel, a site known for its racy commentary, closed out March with a story asking would “Everyone Just Shut Up About GMOs.” (Please, note warning above again here and in the next paragraph too.) Noting the potential for alleviating hunger and malnutrition in developing nations, the author emphasizes the safety of these crops and offers why state labeling laws actually do more harm than good.

On Gawker, the anti-anti-GMO articles have trickled out as steady as a stream swollen with rain this spring. From annihilating the Food Babe to obliterating Dr. Oz, Gawker is calling out anti-GMO pseudo-celebs left and right. Then, the same day that The Daily Show aired the aforementioned clip, Gawker broadened their scope, publishing “Is GMO Labeling Just a Long Con to Get You to Buy Organic?” Exposing the real winds blowing hot air into the labeling argument, Gawker shows how organics have become a big business and act accordingly.

Now, these pieces may not cast big businesses, organic or GMO-producing, in a gentle sunbeam, but they do cut through some of the manure. The seasons are a changing, and the forecast for GMOs looks sunnier than ever.

Go Grist! Journalist Looks Beyond Media Hype to Find True Story of U.S. Farming

Kudos to Grist for taking a real look at agriculture in Iowa. As the primary season starts, candidates will visit the state and many outlets may off-handedly deride the stances they express on the issues important to farmers. But Liz Core, a Grist journalist, took the time to visit the state and talk to farmers about the issues that they face. What she found is a much deeper, more nuanced understanding of Iowa’s farm families.

“Iowa commodity growers are often demonized for what and how they grow, and monocultures and ethanol aren’t exactly healthy for the planet. But all of the farming families I talked to expressed a deep respect for the land and the desire to take good care of it for the next generation. If we want to understand how and why our agriculture system is the way it is, we’d be wise to approach all farmers with an open mind.”

To read the full article, click here.

Core goes on to introduce three of the farm families she met during her time in Iowa, including CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney. Showing the real people and exploring their honest concerns, she provides a balanced picture of both agriculture and the impact public policies have upon farmers.

When you take the time to look beyond the sound bites and have an open conversation, a much more interesting story emerges. Through programs such as CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, the men and women who grow our food start a dialogue with those who buy it to foster this sort of honest, two-way dialogue. Reach out and you might find the same thing that Core did – on or off the farm, most of us want the same things for our families and our country.

2015 Corn Crop on Facebook

2015-corn-plantThe 2015 corn crop has barely begun to be planted but it already has its own Facebook page.

The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) launched the new Facebook page – Growing the 2015 U.S. Corn Crop – as a direct channel for communication between farmers and overseas customers about the condition and quality of the 2015 U.S. corn crop, according to USGC Chairman Ron Gray.

“This page helps illustrate this year’s theme of Global Awareness, Global Connections,” said Gray. “We are more globally connected than ever, and we are constantly looking for ways to use modern communications tools to build the connections between our farmers and their customers around the world.”

All U.S. corn farmers and international customers are invited to like and post on the page, and include regular updates on the progress of their corn crop with photos or videos and commentary.

Some farmers were busy last week in the fields, but most were not according to the latest USDA crop progress report. As of April 12, just two percent of the corn crop was planted, compared to three percent this time last year and five percent on average. The only states making progress right now are Kansas, North Carolina and Texas, with Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee gaining a little ground.



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