Corn Commentary

What Facts Are Really Facts?

whats in gas

(This guest blog is provided by Matt Reese who writes for Ohio’s Country Journal).

It can be really hard to know which way to feel about some issues because these days it seems everyone has their own set of “facts” that conclusively proves their point. The problem, of course, is that as soon as you conclusively prove a point, you run into someone else who has an entirely different set of facts that definitively proves their point, which happens to be the opposite view of the first point that was proven. Confused yet? I know I am.

One only has to sit and listen to a political debate on any issue between any candidates of any party to get all caught up in a muddled mess of my-facts-versus-your-facts. Then there is often a behind-the-scenes reporter who does a fact check on the aforementioned facts to clarify the situation. Unfortunately, more often than not, these fact checks often just compound the problem by providing another opportunity to spin the issue with a set of suspect facts about the facts.

Of course, in my line of work I see this all the time in great detail with the wide variety of complicated issues facing food and agriculture. This is certainly true in the current debate over the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending decision about the levels set in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The recent story by Joel Penhorwood on this issue highlights the divergent facts in the RFS debate. Here is an excerpt:

ACCF (an anti-ethanol group) Executive Vice President Dave Banks responded strongly to the outcry by Ohio ag and pro-ethanol groups.

“I think these guys sometimes get lost in this weird, parallel universe in which they actually convince themselves that this mountain of damning, definitive science and data about corn ethanol’s environmental impact doesn’t exist, or that folks don’t actually know about it,” Banks said in a statement.

That environmental impact Banks spoke of is one of negative consequence. The ACCF points to research that they say shows the production of ethanol doubles greenhouse emissions when compared to gasoline over 30 years, making it a dirtier fuel in the end — a highly disputed claim. 

“It’s just misinformation,” said Ohio grain farmer Chad Kemp about the anti-RFS ads. “The things they’re saying there is no scientific backing for. They’re trying to get the people to jump on board with it and basically, their idea is to kill renewable fuels in this country.”

The heated debate over the RFS really ramped up in recent weeks with dueling ad campaigns in Ohio and Washington, D.C. highlighting very different sets of facts pertaining to ethanol’s impact on the environment, the economy and so forth. So whose facts are right?

In the end, the complexities of these various issues generally boil down to some basic truths. The key for me is getting down to those basic truths and sorting out how I feel about those. So, here are some facts about the RFS (that are really facts) that helped me to form my opinion.

  1. Congress created and approved the RFS.
  2. Businesses planned their investment strategies based upon the RFS.
  3. The RFS was implemented and businesses responded as they saw fit.

While there are many more nuances to the RFS debate, for me this set of undisputable facts is reason enough to support it. The government made a deal. Regardless of whether you like the deal or not, it was made and I believe it should be upheld and seen through to fruition. Maybe this set of facts doesn’t address your primary concerns about he RFS. Here are more real facts.

  1. Ethanol offsets the purchase of foreign oil.
  2. Ethanol is made from corn produced by American farmers.

I would rather support farmers in the U.S. with my energy dollar than who knows who I am supporting when I use petroleum.

In the end, there is usually at least some kernel of truth in either side of these debates. Which facts matter to you? The way I sort through them is by identifying the key (and real) facts of the matter that really matter to me.

Either way, the RFS is a no-brainer in my book.

Love the Earth? Organic May Not Be Your Best Bet

Switching to an all-organic agricultural system in the United States would have serious, negative consequences according to analysis of government reports published in Forbes. With clear documentation of a yield gap between conventional and organic production indicating increased land use would be required to make such a switch, the authors detail why, amongst many other reasons, organic is not the more environmentally-friendly choice.


Noting that all-organic crop production would require the use of an area the size of “all parkland and wildland areas in the lower 48 states,” the piece examines the findings of the USDA’s recently released survey of organic farmers. The implications of such a land shift to America’s environment would be catastrophic.


Today, Americans have an incredible array of healthy, nutritious foods from which they can choose. With less than half a percent of U.S. farmland in organic production, it is still increasingly easy for consumers to choose organic options if they so desire. It does not make sense for them to do so, however, under the assumption that switching to all-organic farming would benefit the environment.


To read the full article, click here.

Who Will Farm the Land When Farmers Are Gone?

Picture1“They keep farming even when their eyesight is failing and their hearts are going bad.” So starts a great story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today regarding escalating farm accidents among older farmers. “They get back on their tractors after farm accidents have put them in the hospital, sometimes with permanently disabling injuries.”

And it is very true that unlike most of us farmers might slow down but they rarely stop working at 65. As the article points out many die on the job, “because they gamble with their aging bodies once too often.” This is an accurate and tragic story, and likely not one that is going to go away.

Nationally, the typical farmer is past 58 years old and isn’t slowing down, up from 50.5 in 1982. Buried beneath this headline is an even broader social issue of who is on deck as these warriors of the soil drive their tractors into the sunset?

Farmers via their sheer efficiency and productivity have pulled a bushel basket over their incredible job performance. Society often takes them for granted, but this article begs the question who’s next. The recent rural renaissance brought on by large crops, steady exports and growing ethanol production, combined with higher prices had launched a migration of youth coming back to the farm.

However, this process appears to have stalled now, due to a return to break even prices, before the movement has even taken full flight. The vast majority of Americans say they want these family farmers, these storehouses of generations of specialized knowledge, to continue to provide their food, fuel and fiber. I am guessing most people have no clue how tenuous the future of family farmers really is, and unless we get creative it will be too late.


Sweet Reassurance for Consumers

Worried about what sweetens every item in your cart each time you step in your local market? Frazzled trying to determine if honey, cane sugar or HFCS is the “right” choice for your family? Guilty when you don’t have hours to stop and check every label?

There is no need to worry, according to a new article in the Journal of Nutrition highlighted on the Washington Post’s blog. All three sweeteners are essentially equal in terms of their affect on your health.

No matter if you choose cane, corn or beat, only 10 percent of one’s daily caloric intake should be made up of any sugar, according the the World Health Organization.  While this might mean you should watch how much sugar is in your food, it means that there is no need to worry of which type it may be.

Fast food chains marketing themselves as “healthy options” may want you to believe that their products are somehow superior because they eschew HFCS, but the science doesn’t support their claims. Their marketing departments probably have much more interest in your wallet than your health.

So, take a deep breath knowing you can put at least one dietary dilemma to rest. Honey, corn, cane or even beet, what is important is the amount of sweetener not which one is in what you eat.

Dear Consumer, They Tell Me Not to Get Angry But, Sometimes, I Do

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from Missouri CommonGround blogger Kate Lambert. A passionate agvocate who blogs at, Lambert describes the frustration many of her fellow farmers feel when trying to convey their passion and love of farming. Why struggle in this way? Because, as you will see, Lambert and many like her deeply understand the importance of communicating with consumers.

Dear Concerned Consumer,

The marketing research tells me that I should focus on the positive when I address you.   I shouldn’t talk about the environment, or the health of my soil – they say you do not care about those things.

They tell me not to discuss the challenge of feeding the world.  I should not detail the challenges of feeding my own family on a farmer’s income, with ever rising input costs, unpredictable weather patterns and buyer preferences that change with the direction of the wind.  They tell me this doesn’t register with you.

They tell me to only speak about things that directly impact you.  They tell me not to talk about the science, because the emotional registers more.  They tell me not to talk too long or write too much, you don’t have time.

They tell me not to get angry.  But if I am honest, sometimes I do.

I get angry that you have time to read  about the latest detox diets and “natural” foods, yet don’t have time to read how seed technology is increasing yields in developing nations, and helping us here at home to be better stewards of our land.

I get angry that you are willing to pay a premium, up to 60%, on a product with a label that doesn’t even mean what you think it does.

I get angry that you think “Big Agriculture” is waging some kind of war, but refuse to acknowledge the huge profits being made off those labels you are now demanding.

I get angry that you demand “chemical free” farming, or even think that “chemical free” is possible.  I get angry so many of you do not seem to know what a chemical is.

I get angry that marketing hides that all types of farming – from organic to conventional – use chemicals.  They do it SAFELY and minimally, but they use them.

I get angry that you do not understand that farmers only  provide  raw product and that once it leaves our farm we are not responsible for what the food processors do to it.

I get angry that you don’t celebrate the fact that youspend less than 10% of your disposable income on food, when people in other nations spend 40%.

I get angry that you try to compare the decisions you make about your garden, to the management decisions my family has to make for our farm. If your garden has a bad crop, you go to the store. If we have a bad crop, we stand to lose our farm, our house, our source of income.  If entire areas have bad crops, thousands are affected by supply and price.

I get angry when you talk to a guy at the farmer’s market, who grows 40 organic tomato plants in his backyard where his 8 free range chickens live, and decide his opinion on agriculture policy is more trustworthy than mine.

I get angry that you expect us to change our farming practices as frequently as you change your diet fads, and to make such changes without using any technology.

I get angry that you demand “humane treatment” of livestock without having actually ever spent time with livestock.  I get angry that you think my cattle herd needs the same treatment as your toy poodle.

I get angry that you think I  need to be told how to treat my animals, like PETA is going to offer some insight that years of working with and caring for these animals hasn’t already taught me.

I get angry that you want the latest and greatest gadgets in every aspect of your life, and then expect me to put on overalls and grab a pitchfork, and farm the way someone told you that your great Grandfather did in the 1940’s.

I get angry that you think it’s fair to demand farming practices match some romanticized version of an early era and are perfectly accepting of the fact these changes will take my land and water, which I now use to feed hundreds, and use it to feed only dozens.

I get angry that you give more weight to Facebook memes than actual scientific studies.  I get angry that you take Food Babe’s word, who has yet to actually set foot on a modern farm and literally has no qualifications to talk about the things she does, over nearly the entire scientific community.

I get angry that you cannot tell the difference between  credible science and bad science.   Like the “GMO Pig Feed” study from Australia.  Or the “Glyphosate toxicity” study in rats.  I get angry that the real scientists even have to address claims from these studies.

I get angry that you think there is some kind of war going on in rural America.  That Monsanto has enslaved us all to fight their battle, and we are too “simple” to know any better.  That conventional farmers are fighting with organic farmers.  That big farmers are fighting with small farmers.

I get angry you don’t actually come out to rural America and see that we are all here, like we always have been, farming side by side and eating lunch together at noon.

The marketing research tells me you won’t have read this far down.  If you have, I am actually trying to apologize for my anger.

I KNOW it’s not your fault.  I KNOW that modern agriculture has failed to tell our story and companies took advantage of that.

I KNOW there is a ridiculous amount of information available that is often confusing and contradictory.

I KNOW we are a generation that didn’t get the core education we need to understand science.

I KNOW that nothing sells in the media better than fear.

I KNOW that most of you don’t know a farmer and that most of you have never set foot on a farm.

I am apologizing for my anger.  And I am going to continue to try and reach out, in a positive way.  But  I just want you to know, if my anger shows through and it feels like it’s at you, it’s not.

It’s more at myself, and my industry, for not doing a better job of explaining the truth to you sooner.   And yes, you do have the  RIGHT to know.  I just wish you had time for the whole story.


An American Farm Wife

Multiple Marketing Personalities Confounding

Does anyone else besides me get the impression that pet food companies are sporting multiple marketing personalities these days? They run about willy-nilly on television and online espousing the benefits of grain free dog food. These commercials and marketing materials are constructed in such a way as to make you believe dog food that contains corn is bad for your pet.

However, leave your set on a little longer and you are likely to see a spot from the same company pushing their traditional pet foods containing the good old golden grain….cohuskyrn. Likewise if you land on one web site you quickly get the impression corn is making spot throw up or Scooby Doo go, well, Scooby doo. Nearby on another piece of digital real estate the same company tells you corn provides protein, energy, and linoleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid for dogs. Ounce for ounce, corn has twice the level of antioxidants as an apple.

Thankfully, one of the oldest and most respected pet food companies, Purina, has publically stated that corn contributes to a balanced canine diet. “You want to give your dog a food that supports health and enrichment. A balanced diet will keep your dog healthy and improve his life. That’s why we include corn in many of our dog foods.”

But Purina doesn’t get a pass on this issue as they exhibit some of the same dissociative disorder seen in many companies marketing human and pet foods today. They are marketing an entire line of dry and wet, grain free dog food products despite the acknowledgement that a miniscule number of dogs have any physical abnormalities that would require such a product.

Which begs the question….Hey, Sybil, why are you spending so much money marketing a product that is more expensive and that Fido doesn’t really need? You don’t need a psychiatrist to figure this one out. In an increasingly competitive market, producers of human and dog food are willing to market to an uninformed minority in the name of market share. At least when their paws are held to the fire, Purina confirms, “Our careful research has indicated to us that corn is not only acceptable in a dog’s diet, but benefits their health. 99-percent of dogs are not allergic to grains and thrive on a diet that includes them.

Good Dog!

Refinery Shutdown Like a E15 Advertisement

If you live in the heart of the Midwest soaring fuel prices are a reality, not a nightmare, figment of your imagination or Wile E. Coyote cartoon. An equipment failure at one the region’s largest oil refineries caused an immediate and painful spike at the gas pump for consumers across the Midwest this week. The BP Whiting Refinery located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, had a breakdown of its crude distillation unit. The device, not made by ACME apparently,  is critical to the output of 120,000 barrels of gasoline a day. Whiting is the sixth-largest refinery in the United States and is a pivotal supplier of gasolineacme for drivers in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Missouri.

“Gasoline prices are already on their way up and are expected to go up more than $1 a gallon in these markets,” according to NCGA President Chip Bowling. “Everyone is talking about these crazy gas prices right now so I am encouraging folks to use this as a teaching opportunity. This is a great way to drive home to family, friends and others how tenuous our relationship is with petroleum. We rely too much on imported oil and on a small number of aging oil refineries.”

A 250,000 barrel-per-day crude distillation unit went down with a mechanical problem at the facility, knocking out half the plants productive capacity for an undisclosed time.

“All of the lost gasoline output resulting from this outage could be offset if all gasoline in the Midwest region immediately transitioned from E10 to E15,” said Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “Moreover, ethanol in the Chicago wholesale market is roughly $1 per gallon lower than gasoline today. That means if refiners and blenders serving the Midwest market immediately switched to producing E15 to blunt the impacts of this refinery outage, gas prices would instantly fall by at least 5 cents per gallon and drivers in the Midwest would save about $6 million per day,” he said.

RFA is calling on EPA to immediately waive RVP requirements for E15 and also allow E12 blending–based on the fact that it is substantially similar to E10–in the Midwest region to facilitate expanded ethanol blending and blunt the consumer impacts of this refinery outage.

“I hope the Environmental Protection Agency is paying attention. If cleaner air alone is not enough to get them to leave the current Renewable Fuels Standard alone, then maybe this incident at Whiting will convince them,” Bowling said. “Incidents like these are not unusual and are getting more common as refineries continue to age and oil companies show no stomach for building new facilities. Agriculture has the corn and the desire to boost production.”






Corn’s Big Change: Why Mutants are Good

By Tom Mueller

EXTRA, EXTRA, read all about it! Plant scientists identify the gene mutation that turned grass into corn!

Not exactly the headline heard or seen on any news outlet this week. So, what’s the big deal?

Teosinte. Image via UW-Madison, from cited story in Washington Post.

Washington Post journalist Robert Gebelhoff captured the significance in a recent Speaking of Science column. In the article, University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher and study author John Doebley compared the impact of teosinte’s mutation from grass to corn to that of humans evolving from four-legged creatures to upright bipeds.

This research documented how a simple nucleotide change can alter protein function. Until now, there was disagreement among scientists on whether a single change in the DNA could make such a difference. Armed with DNA diversity data (i.e. a measure of genetic variation), researchers identified the location within the corn genome where the covered kernels of teosinte became the naked kernels of the corn plant. When teosinte’s tough protective kernel husk vanished, the diversity of the plant was unleased and this mother-load of calorie dense food took form.

Genetic mutation is a natural and frequent occurrence. Most mutations are neutral and innocuous. However, when a significant mutation takes place, we experience a game changer.

Corn’s mutative evolution has been big, but just how big was it? In Tamar Haspel’s Washington Post article In defense of corn, one expert noted that corn has adapted to almost every climate that humans have, and that it is three times as productive as 95 percent of the world’s flowing plants. That mutant really packed a punch.

By all accounts, corn has a few more benefits up its genetic sleeve. As it turns out, the gene identified in the University of Wisconsin-Madison study also affects the shape of corn kernels. The size and shape of corn seed does have an impact on emergence and early growth when environmental stresses such as early planting, cool soil temperatures and soil crusting are present.

So, embrace the mutants.

About the author: Tom Mueller, chairman of NCGA’s Research and Business Development Action Team, farms in Illinois.

Paltrow’s Pretentious Propaganda Heads to the Hill


Gwyneth Paltrow has faced her fair share of criticism for her food theories. From failing the Food Stamp Challenge 2015 to promoting incredibly pricey diets on Goop, she has clearly shown, time and again, that her point of view does not take into account the financial realities faced by average American families. Her status as Hollywood royalty creates an insular bubble which not only allows her to ignore the plight of the people who shell out hard earned money to see her movies but it also allows her to continue promoting her Patrician food politics on a national stage.

Today, she will join her equally aristocratic ancestor Blythe Danner to petition our legislators in Washington to stand on her side, one consciously uncoupled from reality, in opposing the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. This legislation, which would create a national, science-based standard for the labeling of foods created with the use of biotechnology, plays an important role in keeping food affordable for American families.

Unlike Paltrow, look at the reality facing all of us today. Should the 50-state patchwork of labeling legislation which would most probably come to fruition without Congressional action go into effect, starting with Vermont next July, the average American family would see their grocery bill go up by $500 per year. They would gain a sticker, one based on marketing misinformation in many cases, without improving the quality of food or information they receive for their grocery dollars one iota.

Paltrow poses as a lifestyle guru, laboring under the delusion every one of us should aspire to her holier-than-thou views of food. It is hypocrisy. She eschews science, promotes profit-driven propaganda and advocates for a position which harms the very people who pay for her ludicrous lifestyle.

Don’t fall for it.

Our representatives in Washington should represent us. While most of us do not have the time to fly to DC or a staff to splash our views across the headlines, we do have a voice. There are more of us than her. In a democracy where every one of us is entitled to an equal vote, we can stand up for ourselves, creating a system where science and economics actually matter.

Contact your elected officials today. Let them know the real impact failing to support this key legislation would have on the people who actually matter, their constituents. It is easy to do. Start by clicking here.

A Recipe for Relationships

This week, CommonGround Maryland volunteers took to the airwaves in our nation’s capital to discuss upcoming events where people who have questions about food can have real conversations with the women who grow and raise it. Sharing an incredible recipe for roasted sweet corn and blue crab gazpacho, Paula Linthicum and Jennifer Cross reached out to the audience of ABC News Channel 8 to help residents of Washington DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia understand that they can enjoy food without the fear.

To view the clip, click here.

This Friday, Common Ground will host a crab feast at NCGA President Chip Bowling’s farm in Newburg, Maryland to begin that same conversation with DC media and Congressional staff. Working together, the volunteers who make up this grassroots movement are gaining momentum in their effort to get Washington buzzing about the real story behind American farming – one they live every day.

Check back next week to find out more or go to Common Ground to learn more!


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