Corn Commentary

Energy Independence No Greased Pig Fantasy

There is an old saying…”make hay while the sun is shining.” Dating back to at least 1546 this traditional farmer logic translates into grab opportunity while you can. This has never been truer regarding the nation’s energy situation. A new report by the Energy Information Administration makes that abundantly clear. EIA says the greased pig fantasy of energy independence in the US is real.

We’ve reduced our dependence on foreign oil from 60 percent to 45 percent in the last few years. This is real, quantifiable progress brought on by smaller, high mileage vehicles, less driving due to a sagging economy, 15 billion gallons of ethanol capacity and domestic oil production on steroids.

Net oil imports to the U.S. could fall to zero by 2037 because of robust production in areas including North Dakota’s Bakken field and Texas’s Eagle Ford formation, according to this Department of Energy projection released this week.

Most days I am just numb about government studies and gasoline prices. I pull up to the pump, try to ignore the price and move on about my day. But there are other days too when I am angry about being held hostage by oil companies, and especially about their cavalier approach to crushing any real competition.

And that is exactly that they are trying to do with ethanol today.  So, here is a novel thought. Let’s take this time of energy abundance to think big and invest in a more sustainable energy future rather than waiting until the wolf is at the door. Because, rest assured petroleum remains finite and the next generation will wonder why we squandered this brief respite from oil piracy.

Oil imports have fallen to about 5 million barrels a day from a peak of almost 13 million barrels in 2006, thanks in part to advances in techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in shale rock. Despite this, we continue to spend $1 billion a day protecting our assets in foreign oil. And there is no getting around that gasoline is bad for our health and the environment.

make-hayNow would be a great time to call your Congressman and Senator and ask them to show some vision regarding biofuels and our energy future. The rapid growth in ethanol production has shown us the promise of a bio-based fuel future. It’s time to make hay!

 

 

 

Farmers Continue Fighting Cynical Snark with Open, Inclusive Conversations

Last week, Corn Commentary ran a post on how CommonGround volunteers have begun answering Chipotle’s claims and explaining why they are farmed but not dangerous. Click here to view.

This week, more volunteers answered the call, creating fantastic content. In addition to the original post by Maryland farmer Jennie Schmidt, four Iowa volunteers also took the initiative to tell their side of the story. The inside chatter suggests that even more may be on the way soon.

Take a moment to find out what these farmers have to say as they open the farm gate and foster conversation.

To view Steph Essick’s post, click here.

To view Katie Olthoff’s post, click here.

To view Nicole Patterson’s post, click here.

To view Jennie Schmidt’s post, click here.

To view Jill Vander Veen’s post, click here.

Moms who grow food sharing stories with moms who buy it. The concept seems simple, but it can make a world of difference for a concerned consumer with real questions about how their food is grown and raised. Helping everyone enjoy food without the fear may be more revolutionary than the snarky marketing campaigns created to generate unnecessary concern in the first place.

Big Oil Labels Family Farmers Extremists

A true David and Goliath battle is under way between the nation’s family farmers and Big Oil in the form of the American Petroleum Institute (API). And farmers in recent weeks bounced a big rock off the head of the petroleum behemoth. At issue is American ethanol.

For months the oil industry has been involved in a well-funded campaign of both public and covert efforts to undermine the growing role of sustainable biofuel like ethanol. They capped this massive misinformation campaign by leaning on the White House and EPA to propose a change to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) that would reduce ethanol use by 1.4 billion gallons this year.

The bad news is the most recent slap in the face, if successful, has the potential to hammer farmers and slappythe rural economy to the tune of more than 10 billion dollars.

Before this recommendation can be accepted EPA’s proposal must go through a formal public comment period. Thousands of corn farmers across the country have responded with a vengeance submitting comments urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to retract its proposed 10 percent cut in the amount of corn ethanol in the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard.

The volume of supportive comments coming from farmers as well as equipment dealers, bankers, school administrators and consumers who favor a fuel choice has been incredible so thanks to everyone who has taken the time to register your opinion.

The response has been so terrific that it tweaked API and in response they have launched yet another effort to remove any competition from the fuel marketplace. It takes the form of an annoying and deceptive “robo-call.”

On the pre-recorded action request API refers to those supporting ethanol as both a “special interest group” and as “extremists.” Since most those making the calls are farmers, I guess that means you. They also use the same old hackneyed and debunked arguments saying ethanol leads to higher food prices and damages car engines.

If being called an extremist makes you a little angry fight back. If having one of the world’s most prosperous industries try to increase their profits at your expense….fight back.

Corn growers: Click here to send a public comment to the EPA.

Non-farmers: Click here to customize and send a public comment to the EPA.

I wish it was a real person calling rather than some digital dweeb called Tom, because I would tell him to quit bugging hard working Americans and get back to cleaning up the their latest oil spill.

Seeds of Trouble in Paradise

Most people are unaware that much of our nation’s seed corn supply hails from the Aloha State. In fact, seed corn is now the biggest segment of Hawaii’s agriculture sector, valued at $243 million, according to the most recent statistics.

hawaii-paperThe seed crop industry started about 50 years ago in Hawaii, but since 2000 the industry has grown by an astronomical 548%, with all of the major seed players having a stake in about ten farms totaling some 25,000 acres on four of the Hawaiian islands. These farms use both conventional as well as biotech plant breeding methods to grow seed crops, mostly corn, and all of it is exported to both North and South America for further development and distribution.

Needless to say, the industry is very valuable to Hawaii in terms of employment and economic benefit – as well as to farmers working to feed a growing world population – but in the past year movements have cropped up to place restrictions on seed companies in terms of pesticide use and genetically modified crops. After a heated and prolonged battle last year that included a veto by the mayor who then received death threats, Kauai County passed such an ordinance in November. Now three major seed companies impacted by the law have filed suit against the county.

Under the ordinance, scheduled to take effect in August, open-air testing of experimental pesticides would be prohibited and a moratorium would be placed on the development of new genetically modified crops. In the lawsuit, the companies note that their activities are already regulated by state and federal governmental agencies and that the local law would place “burdensome and baseless restrictions on farming operations.”

While cloaked with the purpose of protecting the “health and natural environment” of Kauai and its people, this is clearly the work of anti-GMO activists, such as The Center for Food Safety which has been heavily involved in the local action. Just another weapon being used in the war against progress to feed a growing world population.

While Farmers Excel, Journalism Falls Another Rung Down the Ladder

The Washington Examiner needs to examine their facts before publishing pure poppycock. In an article which ran on December 20, the paper claimed that National Corn Growers Association National Corn Yield Contest record holder David Hula grew his record-breaking bounty using organic production practices. Contest records clearly show this is completely untrue.

Hula, a perennial winner, deserves both recognition and admiration for his abilities. NCGA enthusiastically congratulates him on his accomplishment. The contest aims to encourage innovation and improvement, a goal Hula undoubtedly achieved.  The fact that he did not grow his corn organically in no way, shape or form diminishes his success.

The false story published in the Examiner does detract from the overall success of modern famers though. Within days, anti-GMO activists have latched on to this pseudo-story to aid in their agenda-driven arguments. A record yield such as Hula’s would support arguments for the production possibilities using organic methods. But the record was not set using organic methods. So, the support they so desire does not exist.

NCGA keeps detailed records from each entry submitted to the NCYC. The information these forward-facing farmers provide sheds light on possible advancements and supplies the documentation needed to ensure the integrity of the contest. .  The Biovante™ soil treatment Hula used may qualify as an organic treatment, but none of his other practices would qualify as organic.  Like the vast majority of corn growers, he planted corn hybrids that contain biotechnology, used synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. Organic production practices would not allow the use of any one of these tools.

The Examiner should take a closer look at how it fact checks its stories prior to publication. By not getting the story right, they turned a success story from America’s farms into a tool for activists who advocate against them.

2014 Resolution: Put Environment Back in EPA

oil spillI am rapidly getting in the holiday spirit but before I get to relaxed and magnanimous I have to send one final love letter to my friends in the petroleum industry. So with thoughts of sugar plums dancing in my head here goes:

In doing my regular reading today I came across three separate stories that if looked at individually are disturbing. The first touts fracking as the main driver in a U.S. energy revolution.

“America is in the midst of a game-changing energy revolution. This potential has been unlocked by innovations in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have made America the world’s top energy producer,” John Felmy, the American Petroleum Institute’s chief economist said. said.

No argument there but let’s drop the other shoe or pair of shoes if you will. I keep asking the same questions regarding fracking; at what cost? What are the environmental consequences of this intrusive, earth rending form of energy extraction? How long will the boom last?

More and more experts are saying enjoy our current respite of available energy because it won’t last. And now the US Coast Guard is looking into the possibility of allowing fracking waste to be barged along American rivers. Granted if they have to ship it this is likely the best way (or at least safest and most economical way), but isn’t it enough that international oil has slimed our oceans on a consistent basis for decades. Now they want to put these toxic substances on our rivers and risk our fresh water too?

Thus, the second article and issue; Every year petroleum finds itself wrapped up in a string of environmental misadventures, and many take place in remote locations and out of the glare of public scrutiny diminishing the attention but not the damage done. From pipeline spills in Arkansas to explosions in Qingdao, China petroleum is the gift that keeps on giving.

Sure they get fined, but amounts that amount to pocket change for Big Oil. On the rare occasion they really get their hand slapped, such as the with the Deep Water Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, they put on a good show for the media and as time passes they fight in court to get those penalties reduced.

The third leg of this nauseating oil epic is the ongoing efforts by the Obama Administration (hey, it’s your Environmental Protection Agency so you better own it) proposal to hamstring the only economically viable and environmentally responsible alternative to oil….ethanol.

For 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a 1.4 billion gallon reduction in how much corn ethanol will be required under the Renewable Fuel Standard, the federal law that helps get domestic, renewable, cleaner-burning corn ethanol blended in the nation’s fuel supply.

“It is unfortunate that the Obama administration has caved in to Big Oil rather than stand up for rural America and the environment,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey at a Protect the RFS rally on November 22, 2013. “The renewable fuels standard needs to be protected as it has helped hold down prices at the pump, created thousands of jobs in rural Iowa, and benefited the environment. The President should be focused on jobs and the economy rather than looking for ways to hurt rural America.” Read more here.

It’s still not too late to do something about this. So if you support renewable ethanol and want to put the environment back in EPA send a note. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

How to Write Like an Angry GMO Expert

judeDr. Jude Capper is a livestock sustainability consultant, professor of animal sciences, and a “bovidiva” according to her blog of the same name.

Last week she did a great post entitled “Activism 101 – How to Write Like An Angry Internet “Expert” on GMOs.” An asterisk after the word “expert” points to a footnote:

*Note that being an “expert” does not involve education, higher degrees or being employed within the industry in question. Nowadays you can only be an expert if you are entirely impartial, third-party, and preferably know nothing whatsoever about the system in question. On that basis, I’m off to write a book about Zen Dentistry.

She offers nine points on how to write like an angry GMO expert, the final one being – “If all else fails, invoke the name of the evil that must be named….ahem, Monsanto. If you say it three times into a mirror, an ancient agricultural god will appear and wreak vengeance upon the earth. Honestly, I saw it on Oprah.”

Jude is hilarious, satirical, and often outrageous and if so much of this blog post were not sadly true it would be a lot funnier.

Read it and weep or LOL – or both.

Oil Survey Shows Ethanol Is Clearly A Target

What was the second biggest policy story of the year in eyes of the petroleum industry? According to a recent membership survey by the American Petroleum Institute reconsidering biofuel (ethanol) blending. What was the second biggest transportation, storage and refining story of the year? The battle over biofuels blending. And what was listed 2nd on oil’s list of things they most want to see happen in 2014? Yep, reduction in EPA blending requirements.

Most of the public are too focused on their jobs, raising families and just paying the bills to have a deep understanding of the growing role of biofuels and renewable ethanol in our nation. However, years of education by supporters of the domestic fuel have generated a basic awareness of ethanol’s benefits such as job creation, reducing greenhouse gas, and providing a fuel choice that makes us less reliant on imported petroleum.

Because of this hard fought and well deserved perception that ethanol is good, many of my friends have been asking me lately what the heck is going on with the rash of negative information related to ethanol. How did proven ethanol suddenly become a bad idea over night? Most recently, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce the amount of ethanol to be blended in our fuel supply has been getting a lot of media attention.

Put simply, the oil industry has always been ok with ethanol as long as the market share didn’t get too large. In fact they need a certain amount of ethanol because it allows them to provide a high octane product at less cost…meaning more margin for them. Without ethanol they would be forced to do more extensive and costly refining in order to produce a product that won’t leave your car sputtering curbside.

But in today’s market things have changed. Increasing domestic oil production, more fuel efficient vehicles and a soft economy have shrunk the volume of fuel needed. Thus big oil finds themselves looking at the bigger market slice on ethanol’s plate and thinks “hey we want some of that back.”

The unspoken part of the previous statement is “and yes we will pay nicely to get it.” And they have done so in recent years. Their most recent onslaught has been sustained by millions of dollars of lobbying, advertising and poor pseudo-journalism.

You might be inclined to think the family farmers and independent businessmen that make up the ethanol industry are just paranoid but given the aforementioned high priority petroleum has placed on this issue, “it ain’t paranoia if they’re really out to get ya.”

 

Journal to Retract Seralini Rat Study

Today, Corn Commentary shares a guest post that originally ran on The Farmers Life. This blog, authored by Indiana farmer Brian, provides a window into ag and thoughtful, open conversation about the issues impacting farmers today.

Journal to Retract Seralini Rat Study

Last year French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini made news when a paper by his team was published in Food and Chemical Toxicology.  Data concerning long-term feeding of genetically modified Monsanto corn and the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) in the Seralini study suggested the rats being studied developed cancerous tumors.  Of course this news spread around the internet like wildfire among those who detest biotech crops.  Finally they had a really high profile study published proving their point.

Criticism of Seralini Study

The scientific community widely criticized the study’s statistical methods.  The number of rats used was questionable, and the data drawn from test and control groups seemed incomplete at best. Test groups of Harlan Sprague-Dawley rats used in the feeding study were given various amounts of NK603 corn over a two-year period.  Test subjects were also given varying amounts of glyphosate in drinking water.  Control rats received non-GM corn and regular drinking water.  Rats fed GMO corn and glyphosate developed tumors during their two-year life span, and pictures of tumor riddled rats plagued the internet.

Seralini rats as described by scientist Kevin Folta. “Sometimes the way data are presented can expose the relative objectivity and hidden intent of a study. Left-rat that ate GMO corn. Center- rat eating GMO corn and roundup. Right- rat fed roundup. Their associated tumors shown on the right. Wait! What about the control rats, the ones that also got tumors? How convenient to leave them out!”

Seralini rats as described by scientist Kevin Folta. “Sometimes the way data are presented can expose the relative objectivity and hidden intent of a study. Left-rat that ate GMO corn. Center- rat eating GMO corn and roundup. Right- rat fed roundup. Their associated tumors shown on the right. Wait! What about the control rats, the ones that also got tumors? How convenient to leave them out!”

But what about the control rats?  They developed tumors as well.  Sprague-Dawley rats are known to develop tumors during their lifespan. In fact a majority of them are known to do so within two years.  Further analysis of Seralini’s data shows rats fed NK603 corn and Roundup-laced water sometimes had less incidence of tumors than the control group.  Shouldn’t that bit of information thrown up some red flags possibly before the study was originally published inFood and Chemical Toxicology?  Flags were thrown for and by many scientists, and now the tables are turning as the editor of the journal, A. Wallace Hayes, stated this week he would retract the paper from the journal if Seralini did not withdraw it himself.

When I first heard news of Seralini’s study in 2012 I was skeptical as you might imagine.  Livestock have been fed GM corn and soybeans for almost 20 years now.  If it was so awful as to cause all the ailments claimed by those who seem to pander to anti-GMO sentiment I think it stands to reason that farmers would have backed off the stuff long ago.  But that kind of logic doesn’t fit the narrative of GMO = Bad.  The Seralini paper was, and likely still is, validation for those who were predisposed to interpret it as definitive proof that biotechnology should be outlawed.

Seralini Going Forward

Although I am glad to see this fear mongering study being pulled from publication I’m afraid the damage has already been done.  And if you’re a GMO hater you can still easily feel like you’ve won.  I’ve already seen the internet gearing up to portray the retraction as a result of great pressure applied to the journal by Big Ag and the politicians supposedly paid off by industry money.  People who believe such narratives don’t have to change their minds when new information comes to light.  Even if the old information was questionable to begin.  All they need do is move the goal post.  Kevin Folta agrees “we’ll see the wagons circle“ while suggesting steps for Seralini to take since he is standing behind his team’s research.

Science is a process, and I’m happy the process is working.

To view the original post, click here.

Oil Giants Lining Pocket in Wake of EPA Announcement

If you happen to be an ethanol proponent and you get asked by friends over the holiday what all the hub-bub is about related to the Environmental Protection Agency and their recent ethanol snub, just tell them to follow the money.

You see the stock values of four of the five biggest oil companies surged by a combined $23 billion in a single day after the Obama administration proposed to scale back the biofuel blending requirements, according to Americans United for Change.

“Big Oil hit the jackpot, but we are risking a huge slowdown in the development of next generation biofuels that are our best hope for reducing America’s dangerous dependence on foreign oil,” said Brad Woodhouse, the group’s president.

It almost appears that the administration is succumbing to the pressure and millions of dollars spent by big oil to slander ethanol in order to avoid another self-inflicted political wound, said one Washington insider. “Obamacare is too white hot for them to risk another hot potato and the petroleum industry made a lot of noise in Congress. The only way to overturn this EPA proposed action is to make them equally uncomfortable.”

In the interim one unavoidable fact remains in the favor of ethanol proponents…the Renewable Fuels Standard was designed by Congress to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and give consumers a fuel choice. It has done that nicely and created jobs and saved consumers money in the process.

It has honestly been awhile since the nation’s family farmers who grow corn have been in a political gunfight of this magnitude, but this is a fight worth winning. Corn prices below the cost of production should provide a powerful incentive. Stay tuned in the weeks ahead and be prepared to take action when the time comes.



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