Corn Commentary

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.

To Bee or Not to Beepocalypse

A research paper released last week beats back the buzz over honeybee health and says bans and restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides “will do more harm than good for honeybees as more toxic chemicals” will likely replace them.

bee-worldAngela Logomasini, who specializes in environmental risk issues, offers some interesting facts about honeybees that are being overlooked in the frenzy over pollinator health in her paper cleverly titled “Beepocalypse” Not.

For example, Logomasini notes that Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which is being attributed by some to use of neonics, is only responsible for about seven percent of hive losses, according to the United Nations. “In fact, the more significant problem is not really CCD, but instead compromised hive health, which is affected by a combination of factors, including: diseases and parasites, poor queen bee health, hive transport for pollination services, and nutritional issues,” she says. Further, she says similar types of honeybee disappearances were recorded in the 1880s, 1920s, and 1960s – long before the use of modern pesticides.

Logomasini also disputes the “Beepocalypse” alarmist claims that honeybees are on the verge of extinction. “Honeybees are nowhere near going extinct. In fact, the number of hives has increased globally,” she said. “According to the United Nations Food Agricultural Organization (FAO) statistics the number of beehives kept globally has grown from nearly 50 million in 1961 to more than 80 million in 2013.”

While commercial hives in Europe and the United States have declined, Logomasini notes that hives kept for pollination services in these countries have shown better survival rates in recent years, despite continued use of neonicotinoids.

Logomasini is concerned about the potential for bans and restrictions on an entire class of safe and effective pesticides and urges the federal government to carefully study the issue. “Regulations are slow to develop, governed by political rather than practical and scientific goals, and hard to modify, even when they become counterproductive. In the case of honeybees, the best solutions will emerge with collaboration among the parties with an interest in protecting bees, including beekeepers, farmers and home gardeners.”

Both pollinators and effective crop protection are important to agriculture and the industry is taking steps to achieve that balance so both can survive and continue to help us produce an increasing supply of food for a growing population without getting stung.

Monday’s Maize Mutant

Brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association and the Maize Genetics and Genomics Database

One thing we have learned from the National Corn Yield Contest is that plant populations are increasing. But as plant populations increase, how do we keep plants from crowding or shading each other? The answer is to change the plant’s architecture, specifically the angle of the leaves.

The liguleless1 gene in corn controls leaf angle by allowing the development of a small collar near the base of the leaf which allows the leaf to bend without breaking.  When the liguleless1 gene is mutated, the collar is absent and leaves assume a more upright angle that allows plants to grow closer together without crowding or shading each other.  Many modern hybrids carry the mutated liguleless1 gene.

The liguleless1 mutant is on the left.

Photo courtesy of Dr. M. G. Neuffer, University of Missouri.

Fellow Farmers: Tell Your Story and Meet Growing Consumer Demand for Information

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post written by CommonGround Minnesota volunteer Kristie Swenson. It originally appeared on the Minnesota Cornerstone blog and can be viewed there by clicking here.

Fellow Farmers: Tell Your Story and Meet Growing Consumer Demand for Information

Kristie Swenson is a family farmer in Trimont and CommonGround volunteer.

Kristie Swenson is a family farmer in Trimont and CommonGround volunteer.

Recently, I had one of the most intimidating experiences of my entire life: I did multiple live media interviews about agriculture.

Along with three other CommonGround volunteer farm women, I traveled to New York City to give TV and radio interviews about agriculture. During one of the interviews, we rattled off the eight GMO crops, and the interviewer was clearly surprised. “Wow,” he said.  “I had no idea there were only eight. It seems like there are many more than that because you hear about it all the time.”

THAT is exactly why it is so important for farmers to be sharing our stories. THAT is exactly why it is so important for farmers to raise our voices and answer questions. And THAT is exactly why it is so important that we, as farmers, become more willing to connect with consumers.

Farmers have an awesome and unique story to tell. How many times have you seen the sun rise in the East, set in the West, and stars fill the night sky – all in the same day? How many times have you planted seeds, waited, and watched for them to break through the ground? How many times have you been one of the VIPs watching (or helping) a mama animal give birth, and then cheering when the newborn gets to its feet for the first time? How many times have your children or grandchildren ridden with you in the tractor and fallen asleep on the buddy seat?

Farmers are blessed with these opportunities. They may seem “normal” or “everyday” to us, but to the average consumer who has never seen an animal being born or ridden in a tractor, these experiences are nothing short of exotic and rare. Farmers are some of the select few who get to see nature’s beauty at her finest hours. We have a deep appreciation for the earth and for the cycle of life. We understand that we need to care for and respect our environment, our soil, and our livestock, because we rely on them for our livelihood.

These are things that can be difficult to understand for the average consumer. The average consumer is bombarded with information and is ill-equipped to sort through it all for a simple, clear, and straightforward answer.

Kristie Swenson, left, recently talked food and farming during a media tour in New York City.

Kristie Swenson, left, recently talked food and farming during a media tour in New York City.

This is where we, as farmers, can answer questions and help clear up the misinformation. Farmers can be – no, farmers should be — the people consumers turn to when they have questions about how food is grown and raised.

What’s stopping us? Too busy? Not interested in that facemail twittergram stuff? Fear?

I can relate to those things. I have two small children, my husband and I farm with my parents, plus I have a full-time job. I’m only on Facebook and LinkedIn, and it is scary for me or my family to be attacked online. But even though speaking up for agriculture can be nerve-wracking, it’s necessary.

I am fiercely proud and honored to have grown up on a farm. I am privileged that my husband and I get to farm the same land that my parents and grandparents farmed. We want our children to have the opportunity to farm. My passion for agriculture and my desire for my children to have the opportunity to farm outweigh the excuses that “I’m too busy”, “I’m not interested in social media”, and “I’m afraid of receiving hateful comments”.

Fellow farmers: Becoming a voice of truth, encouragement, and clarity is critical. Farmers have often responded to consumer demands, and one of those demands now is to simply know more about how food is grown and raised. Most consumers don’t work with it every day; they don’t know what lengths farmers go to raise safe, healthy animals and crops. So let’s meet this demand, answer questions, talk about concerns, and help build understanding in what we do and why we do it.

Will you help me? Will you be a voice for agriculture?

Kristie Swenson is a CommonGround volunteer who farms in Trimont, Minn., and also works as an ag lender. You can follow Kristie on Facebook here.

Washington Pro-GMO Buzz Grows

Today, The Hill ran a piece authored by Former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas) which asked “If GMOs Are Not the Answer, What Is?” This article adds to the growing chorus of voices on Capitol Hill speaking out in support of GM technology.

Like the editorial which ran in the Washington Post recently, Stenholm’s piece addresses the importance of GM technology to feed a growing world in a sustainable manner. The former representative, who now teaches a class at Tarleton State University in Texas on “agriculture, energy policy and political science,” formulated his observations on the GMO-debate through in-depth discussions balanced with scientific knowledge.

His letter asks:

“Why are so many in the anti-hunger community continually associated with the so-called environmental community that is against the use of technology? Given the scientific consensus regarding the safety of foods derived from GMOs, why put a cost on those least able to afford it in order to satisfy a political agenda? Product labeling, for example, should only focus on GMO-free products, not the other way around. Much in the same way that some of us desire the label ‘organic’: Those foods might cost more, but those that want it can afford it. Not to mention that a profitable niche market has developed around organics that, at last count, was approaching five percent of the market.”

Concluding, Stenholm offers the conclusions to which his class came following their discussions.

“Regulations that impose costs on our food and energy producers have a disproportionate effect on the poor. We will either balance our federal budget over the next 10 years or the marketplace will do it for us. A new political coalition of the anti-hunger community, the biotechnology community, the food and energy community, and the environmental community should be formed, one that will explore how technology must play a role in the future of our survival. The emphasis of this coalition should be on helping the less fortunate of the world. That final thought was summed up by one young lady’s question in my class: ‘Isn’t that what we are taught every Sunday morning?’”

Without doubt, Stenholm offers a great lesson in this article – a lesson many others seem to be embracing also. GMO technology plays an important role in growing enough safe, nutritious food for everyone while improving the sustainability of agriculture. If we as a country choose to ignore these benefits, we choose to ignore both our planet and the people with whom we share it.

Science Babe vs. Food Babe

If you put the Food Babe and the Science Babe in a ring together, I’d definitely put my money on Sci-Babe.

sci-babeScience Babe Yvette d’Entremont is an analytical chemist with a background in forensics and toxicology – and a big attitude that does not tolerate any BS when it comes to science. And that is where she has a big issue with the self-proclaimed food critic Vani Hari, aka Food Babe. Sci-Babe just wrote a scathing piece on Gawker (caution: Sci-Babe uses profanity liberally) that rightly takes the Food Babe to task for being “the worst assault on science on the Internet.”

“Reading Hari’s site, it’s rare to come across a single scientific fact,” writes Sci-Babe. “Between her egregious abuse of the word “toxin” anytime there’s a chemical she can’t pronounce and asserting that everyone who disagrees with her is a paid shill, it’s hard to pinpoint her biggest sin.”

food-babeHari’s rule? “If a third grader can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.”

My rule? Don’t base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an eight-year-old.

Sci-Babe notes that Food Babe is famous for calling anyone who questions or criticizes her “haters and shills, racist or sexist” – including anyone in the scientific community like Dr. Kevin Folta with the University of Florida. “If her arguments had merit, she could engage in a battle of wits with her detractors instead of making insidious accusations,” says Sci-Babe.

At the same time she labels most real scientists like Folta “shills” for the biotech industry, Food Babe is making her own fortune shilling for herself and her pet products like Suja organic juices.

The good news is that Food Babe is getting some serious negative press lately, like this article in the NY Times last month. One can only hope that some of this can get through to any of her loyal followers that have more scientific knowledge than the average third grader.

Better yet, how about a Boxing Babe Beatdown where the last babe standing wins? I’d still bet on Sci-Babe even against a whole #FoodBabeArmy.



Page 1 of 18512345...102030...Last »