Corn Commentary

In the Drone Debate, Watch What You Wish For

Grist published another gripping piece today on the important role drones can play in the “fight against Big Ag.” The post, based on a blaring inaccuracy at its core, posited that “If you were privy to everything that went on inside a factory farm, you might never want to eat again.” Then, it proposed drones were the answer to getting behind those “closed doors.”

Putting aside the note that gates would create a more accurate analogy, let’s look at the base issues.

Gates paint a more accurate picture not only because they are what actually encompass most farms. They are also more similar in that you can see through them.

Farmers and ranchers across the country ARE opening their farms to show how they grow and raise our food. A wide array of groups, including programs like CommonGround, organize farm tours where bloggers, dietitians and just regular families can visit a wide array of farm and ranches to see ag in action. Simply pushing these efforts aside seems cynical or intentionally obtuse.

Next, the basic reasoning that agenda-driven cynics have a right to enter private property to see exactly what is “going on” makes little sense. In implying that anyone denying them immediate, complete access to the place where they not only work but also live, the author sets up a standard to which I doubt she would hold herself.

Simply, Samantha, do you ever write from home? As you work at home and I am skeptical of what may be “going on” there, may I come on over? Take a look around? I think people want to know if your work area creates mental confusion that comes through in your writing. Personally, I like to look through people’s medicine cabinets to get a clearer picture.

Better yet! Why not just have drones hover outside of your windows looking in at all times? That is what you propose for farmers and ranchers. Constant surveillance.

Farmers and ranchers do want to have a dialogue with the public about how food is grown and raised. They don’t want to invite people ideologically opposed to modern agriculture into the very place that they live. It isn’t because they have something to hide; it is because they know that their open, honest efforts are often met with closed minds and a blatant refusal to consider the validity of their statements.

Unless anti-ag activists feel perfectly comfortable being under constant drone surveillance themselves, it is radically hypocritical to promote doing so to someone else. And, for those who take this side of the argument, there is another question. How long until someone turns the drones on you?

In Battle Against Misinformation, Barbre Leads by Example

NCGA President Martin Barbre put pen to paper this week to correct an anti-ethanol article run by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Taking decisive action to address the misinformation published, Barbre not only shed light on an important subject for readers but also led by example.

To read “Opinion Piece on Ethanol Gets Three Things Wrong,” click here.

So often, farmers see, hear or read fallacies about their industry perpetuated in the media. It is easy to fall victim to inertia. It is easy to get worked up among one’s peers. It takes greater effort and even a bit of hutzpah to speak out publicly, answering back critics in a respectful, well-considered manner. Yet, it is only in using your voices, your energy and your knowledge that you can become an advocate and shape the world around you.

Newspapers accept letters to the editor and opinion pieces every day. Likewise, calling the local television or radio newsroom producer can yield results too. So, take the initiative. Write a letter, offer to speak as an expert on a news program and provide a farmer’s point of view. The first step away from that resting position is the hardest; realize it gets easier from there.

Support Solid Science, Speak Out for Solid Journalism

This weekend, The Washington Post stood up to the fear-fueled tactics of anti-GMO activists in a brilliant editorial, “Genetically Modified Crops Could Help Improve the Lives of Millions.” The piece, which points out the incredible benefit GMOs offer for both farmers and anyone who depends upon them, denounces the anti-GMO movement for its promotion of mandatory labeling and outright bans.

Noting that consumers wishing for whatever reason to avoid GMOs can do so by simply buying food bearing the “organic” label, the Post brings common sense back into a discussion where it often has been sorely lacking. Furthermore, the piece focuses on the real victims of the anti-GMO movement – the starving and malnourished stating:

“The prospect of helping to feed the starving and improve the lives of people across the planet should not be nipped because of the self-indulgent fretting of first-world activists.”

Discussing both the anti-GMO laws passed in Oregon and other states, and proposed labeling that would “stigmatize products with a label that suggests the potential for harm,” the editors take a straight forward position in defense of this important technology saying:

“Voters and their representatives should worry less about “Frankenfood” and more about the vast global challenges that genetically modified crops can help address.”

Predictably, a small but vocal contingent of science-eschewing activists launched an immediate assault in the comments section. Clearly, the level-headed, clearly constructed piece pointed out both the logical fallacies in their arguments and the real results their proposed policies would inflict.

Take a stand in support of The Washington Post’s editorial staff. Click here to make sure the voices of farmers and those who depend on them are not drowned out. The Post took a stand which many have longed to see in mass media, one that is supported by science and un-intimidated by the fringe. Let them know that their efforts did not fall upon deaf ears.

Women Finding “Common Ground” Through Food and Talk

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from CommonGround Minnesota volunteer and social media maven Wanda Patsche. In her post, Patsche offers links to common questions CommonGround volunteers hear and offers the inside scoop on the group’s recent dinner event.

Women Finding “Common Ground” Through Food and Talk

Cooks of Crocus Hill.

Cooks of Crocus Hill.

What happens when 24 urban women join 5 farm women and cook a meal together?  Let’s just say you would have seen a roomful of conversations, joy, and camaraderie. Food is an emotional topic for many of us and this night of talking about food and preparing it was no exception. We talked, laughed and truly enjoyed each other’s company and at the end of the night, learned a little more about each other. Yes, we found common ground through food and talk.

CommonGround is a volunteer organization of farm women who connect with other women answering questions they may have about their food. CommonGround invited a cross-section of women from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to participate in a cooking class held at Cooks at Crocus Hill. These women represented academia, mommy bloggers, nutrition and dietetics and media.

Cooks of Crocus Hill is a kitchen cookware and gadget store in St. Paul.  In addition to their retail store, they also provide cooking classes. Their cooking philosophy surrounds two words –joy and connection. And that describes our evening as we cooked and enjoyed a meal together. The evening started with wine and appetizers, followed by a short introduction of the CommonGround volunteers. We immediately broke into five random groups, where each group was assigned to cook a certain portion of the meal. Just imagine a large kitchen with nearly 30 women cooking and preparing a meal together! You may think chaos, but it was the exact opposite. The cooks of Crocus Hill had everything in place and were very helpful in keeping us on task. Here is the menu that we prepared (along with recipes and pictures!):

Warm French Herbed Potatoes

Roasted Root Vegetables with Gremolata

Boston Bibb Salad with Walnuts

Pork Medallions with Mustard-Braised Leeks

Fresh Berry Mini-Shortcakes

As we were preparing the meal, the chefs gave us cooking tips and information. I must admit I grilled Chef Mike on how he cooks pork. Let’s just say he knows his “pork.” When we finished, it was time to eat. And I must say, the food was fabulous!

There is no question there is a food movement happening in our society.  People are wanting to cook more healthy foods in their own homes and even though I am a “church cookbook” type of cook, I would definitely make these dishes again. My favorites were the pork medallions (they were so moist and tender they practically melted in your mouth – cooked the way pork was meant to be cooked) and the berry shortcakes (can you say heavenly?)

After we finished eating, the CommonGround volunteers sat together in front of our guests for a Q & A forum. With food being such an emotional topic, no question was off the table. The majority of the questions centered around animal antibiotic use and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). There were great questions and we as CommonGround learned a lot also by listening to concerns and questions our guests had about the health and safety of food. Something we all share.

On a personal note – I don’t think you can downplay the openness and connectedness that I saw with this roomful of women.  Another observation was the genuine passion for agriculture showed by the CommonGround volunteers. It really took me aback as I listened to the other volunteers speak . I am proud to be a part of this group.

At the end of the night, I was pleased how well the evening went. I had never been to a cooking class before and somewhat sheepishly, I must admit that I am not very adventurous in my cooking endeavors. But that may change! The only problem of the evening? It ended too soon! Great comments of the night were received and many of them told us they hoped to be invited again. And I do too.

Do you have food questions? Be sure to check out CommonGround  or Minnesota’s CommonGround for answers to your questions!

Here are a few more links to other questions you may have about your food.

Why It Is Okay to Feed Your Family GMOs

Top 5 GMOs Myths From a Mom’s Perspective

Why I’m Pro-GMO

Antibiotics are Rampant in our Food Supply

CommonGround is a program to increase awareness among urban and suburban consumers of the value of modern production agriculture in their lives.  As the name implies, the program emphasizes that urban and farm families share the same values and concerns and that urban consumers can trust the process and the people that provide their food.

With more Americans growing up in urban and suburban areas, miles from farm life, there is an increasing disconnect between consumers and the people who grow their food.  CommonGround is an effort to tell the truth about modern agriculture – that thanks to modern American farmers, U.S. families enjoy the safest, healthiest and most affordable food choices in the world.

CommonGround is a shared collaboration between the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates.  It is built upon broad messages that promote modern agriculture of all kinds.  It does not focus on corn or soy issues necessarily, but rather works to promote the importance of our country’s efficient and effective system of agriculture.

To find out more about CommonGround, click here.

Binging on Earth Day Irony

dead dolphinOk, I admit I love irony. So I had to chuckle a little bit as everyone was getting fired up about the arrival of another Earth Day. The irony lies in the fact that this momentous occasion occurs two days after the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

To refresh your memory this was the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, estimated to be up to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest, the Ixtoc I oil spill. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days, until it was capped on 15 July 2010. The US Government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels.

That’s 210 million gallons of oil and we don’t even want to talk about the 2 million gallons of toxic chemicals they call dispersants which were either to:

  • Hide BP’s Faux Pas and remove it from public display
  • or allow nature to recover faster

The irony gets tastier if you are my age because I am old enough, ok more than old enough, to have celebrated the first Earth Day and remember how this whole affirmation of Mother Terra Firma began. It started 44 years ago after a US Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.

Well the Earth Day recognition has lasted but the public consciousness and the leadership of our elected officials lacks a little staying power. Today, the oil industry continues to be one of the largest polluters in the world. And because of their deep pockets and political influence they have been allowed to blithely go about their business with little or no consequences.

The BP spill offers a great case in point. Big oil responded initially and spent money for clean-up efforts and they put on a contrite face while the cameras were on. But take a closer look today at their efforts in court to dodge any more clean-up costs and the fines that were imposed. They say their job is done even as the number of dead dolphin washing up on beaches topped 900 last week. Kemp sea turtle have been nearly ravaged into extinction in Gulf waters.

And to add insult to injury petroleum interests are now spending millions to mislead the public. Big oil is poisoning the system as well as the environment. They are doing everything they can to keep a death grip on the liquid transportation fuel market.

That’s why today—Earth Day — you should take few minutes to educate yourself regarding the sheer audacity of oil. It’s as simple as going to OilRigged.com to shine a spotlight on the oil companies’ dirty tricks and dishonest attacks. Americans deserve to know how oil companies have rigged the system to make us pay more at the pump—sending their profits up while our air and water quality goes down.

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.



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