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.

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

America’s Farmers Thrown Under the Train Instead of Posted on It


American corn farmers do not often see how their lives might be impacted by high profile, First Amendment debates in the media. While we each value our Constitutional rights and deeply cherish liberty, our messages about growing food and stewarding the land generally do not stir up mainstream debate to a degree that lands us on the national stage.

Today, we did.

The Corn Farmers Coalition campaign, a six-year long tradition, normally places ads featuring facts about farmers presented by actual farm families in the DC Metro during the summer to help educate legislators and other Dc thought leaders. Sharing the unique stories of the men and women who grow corn while highlighting their constantly-improving practices and technology helps those in the capital understand what happens across the nation’s countryside and why it matters.

Today, those ads have not gone up on schedule.

Media outlets have spotlighted recent events that transpired between Pamela Gellar’s American Freedom Defense Initiative and the DC Metro over the ability of one group to purchase ad space from the latter. DC Metro, eventually, chose to resolve the issue by banning new issue-oriented advertising in the transit system for the remainder of the year. (Read more here)

America’s corn farmers know that, while CFC brings new information to DC every year, the campaign’s concept does not waiver or qualify as “new.” While the messages may change slightly, the intent remains the same.

They also know that the ads provide information without urging for any particular issue-oriented action. Showing images of real Americans in their fields with their families helps farmers share a little perspective on American agriculture with a town often farm removed from its rural roots. Featuring US Department of Agriculture data and facts, supported by reputable research, educates Washingtonians on the ever-evolving, ever-improving achievements on America’s farms.

Yet, DC Metro has stalled progress on the campaign’s scheduled June 1 launch due to a conflict in which we played no role. In the headline-grabbing dispute between AFDI and DC Metro, America’s corn farmers pay the price for highly politicized positions. Every year, real farmers invest real dollars to send the farm to Washington. Without a reasonable resolution of this conflict, America’s farmers will be thrown under the train rather than on it.

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.

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

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


Conversations with Consumers Work!

Conversations about food between the women who grow food and the women who buy it are having a real impact as indicated by a recent post authored by Denver blogger Mama Bird. Originally an attendee of CommonGround Colorado’s launch event, Bird has developed a real relationship with the farmer volunteers in her state. What has grown from that initial encounter is a real understanding that she shares with many others in the Denver area.

In her post on GMO labeling bills, Bird shows the incredible importance of having open, honest conversations about what farmers do and why they do it. Focusing on the need for consumers to make informed choices, she empowers readers with real information.

So often, farmers hear the call to share their stories and open the farm gate to Americans interested in food. It can seem overwhelming. Does anyone really care?

The answer shown in Bird’s story is a resounding yes. Whether we grow food or buy it at the store, Americans all benefit when they come together around the table to learn more about one of the most essential parts of their collective experience – the foods that they eat.

From volunteering with a program like CommonGround to helping a Facebook friend off the farm find out more about a food question, farmers can create positive, real change in how America views food. To find out more, click here.

Entertainers Should Entertain, Not Preach

jason mraz 2As a former journalist I have a deeply ingrained sense of outrage when the public is being misled, bilked or fooled. This is especially true when misinformation is used to strip away their hard earned cash.
So I thought I would send an open letter to Jason Mraz, a singer/songwriter and niche celebrity, who also spends a lot of time and money working on causes he finds important including the environment.

If you don’t have time to read any further I have two messages for the obviously talented Mraz, who played to an appreciative crowd at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis last night:

Scientific experts say organic foods are not healthier that food grown using conventional methods contrary to what Mraz told the audience last night.
2 – Good for you for having the conviction of your beliefs. I appreciate your willing to use your celebrity to help a cause. But please keep your personal politics off the stage unless you do it through your songs themselves, that way fans know what they signed up for going in.

Using the interlude between music to espouse lifestyle choices, support political candidates, or give advice on something as personal as food is just bad form. Most people go to concerts, movies, sporting events, etc… to get a mental break from the headlines of the day or meditating on philosophical issues. I have never been a Jason Mraz fan, in part due to lack of exposure, so didn’t know too much about him. Still, I admit to being very surprised when a photo of his personal garden popped up on the stage and he proceeded to espouse the benefits of organic food production.

My hat is off to Mraz for trying to live a health-conscious lifestyle, but I went to hear music not visit a lifestyle coach, let alone one without real credentials. You have every right to your opinion but please try being more selective in how you use your notoriety and bully pulpit.

An article in “Real Clear Science” earlier this summer points out the majority of Americans believe that organic foods are healthier than food grown through conventional methods. The majority of Americans are wrong. Science has shown that organic is neither healthier for you nor better for the environment. In fact, it’s not safer, more nutritious, not does it taste better. These are all notions promoted by organic food proponents who have a lot to gain or were just misled. Given the markedly higher prices for nearly all of these products, the public has a right to know they are being hoodwinked.

Food Babe’s Science Is as Fluffy as Her Marabou Slippers

From suburban dog parks to Park Avenue, people are buzzing about the Food Babe. Using crazy videos filmed in low-cut workout clothes, she has garnered quite a bit of attention seemingly overnight. Television being a visual medium, talk shows book the petite brunette with the telegenic face. She is getting more attention than counterparts whose credentials outshine their smiles.

All of that is changing though. Today, Bloomberg news compiled a growing list of media critiques of the Food Babe and her pseudoscientific comrades. The article, based on the premise that public conversations on food should actually include credible data from certified subject matter experts, dissects how she rose to internet empowerment and how the food industry is responding. While the article approaches her from a less biased, more respectful place than she uses in her own work, it shines a spotlight on something that has been missing from her pseudoscience stunts – the truth.

“They are attacking the messengers who are spreading the truth,” she vented to her Facebook fans in August. “They are hoping I, along with other activists, including you, just give up.”

Ms. Food Babe, the truth is not a flexible concept. A computer scientist has no business pretending engineering classes qualify her to speak on food chemistry and public health issues. Every ingredient that you cannot pronounce, which notably you might be able to if you were an actual expert, does not secretly cause death. Your own personal ignorance does not provide a substantive basis for your public indignance.

People spend years upon years studying the vast array of subjects necessary to form a well-qualified, thoughtful opinion on food issues. From doctors to dieticians and nurses to nutrition scientists, credible, scientifically sound data does exist.

Cash hungry charlatans touting trumped up theories provide more flash than facts. Don’t fall for their hip hype.

Serious conversations deserve serious participants. In conversations about food, too much is at stake to substitute pseudoscience for the real thing, even if it comes in a prettier package.

A Sign of the Times

SIGN CORN SKAGITPersonal experience provides the lens through which we view the world. Looking out at the road while driving by, every person tends to make analogies. Maybe a house looks like the one in which he grew up. Maybe a certain tree reminds her of a great day in grade school. The visual evokes a mental image and thus creates feelings wholly unrelated to the actual object.

While this may be waxing the philosophical, it actually explains something very important when trying to understand how consumers have come to believe that so many farms are actually owned and run by corporations.

Heading up Interstate 55 from St. Louis to Chicago, signs with the names of seed companies line the fields. To a farmer, these markers indicate something clear. To someone who may live in a city or may have not ever been on a farm, they look completely foreign.

So, how does that exacerbate the Big Ag misperception? Because when faced with something foreign, most people subconsciously make an analogy that provides context for the current situation. Looking out at the fields, the signs look like a corporate advertisement tacked onto the side of a building. The seemingly logical conclusion leads that person to believe the corporation on that sign must own that farm or, at the very minimum, have advertising rights.

Jenny, author of the blog Prairie Californian, provided a great post today that helps describe what these signs really mean in terms that make sense whether or not you have ever set foot in a field. To read it, click here.

With farmers’ numbers constituting less than 1.5 percent of the American public today, it becomes increasingly imperative that they share their story. Everyone eats. The vast majority of people want to know where their food comes from and what all of the terms that they hear mean. Share your story. What American farmers have to say is overwhelmingly positive and powerful. So speak up.

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