Corn Commentary

One Economist’s Outlook for Corn

asta-css-14-basseAgResource Company president Dan Basse giving his economic outlook for the year at the ASTA CSS 2014 and Seed Expo last week.

Basse says the protein side of the plate is doing very well right now, dairy and beef in particular, “so we call it the Year of the Cow” and while grain farmers will likely struggle for the next few years, “they’ve had a very good 5-7 years behind them.”

Basse notes that this crop year is historic in that it’s the first time we’ve seen record world production for corn, wheat and soybeans and global stocks are also record high. “It should give us pause as agricultural producers that unless we start making some cuts or unless something happens in the world climatically speaking, we’re going to keep piling on those big stocks and it’s going to create issues going forward,” he said.

With the biofuels market reaching maturity, Basse says that means more stagnant demand for corn use to make ethanol. “We have an EPA that can’t even make a decision on what the mandate should have been for 2014 and surely can’t make one for 2015,” he said. “We’ll still see corn demand for ethanol somewhere in the vicinity of five billion bushels, but there’s not that growth engine we’ve had in the last five years.”

Basse expects U.S. corn demand to remain about 13.5 billion bushels for the foreseeable future as export demand is also slowing with China producing more corn than it needs with strong incentives for farmers. “China has produced eight consecutive record corn crops … it’s swimming in corn,” he said. “So the Chinese are doing what they can to keep world corn out of the market and that’s what this GMO issue with MIR 162 is all about and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.”

So, as far as demand for corn, Basse says, “We’re really looking at the livestock sector and maybe we’ll build herds or get meat exports going.”

Lots more in this interview with Basse here – a condensed version of his one hour breakfast presentation at CSS. Interview with Dan Basse, Ag Resources


2014 ASTA CSS & Seed Expo photo album

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

NCGA President at NAFB Trade Talk

nafb-14-ncgaBiotechnology and GMO labeling, Waters of the U.S., and soil health were just a few of the issues on the mind of National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling at the recent National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention where he did dozens of interviews with farm broadcasters nationwide.

Bowling says corn growers are very concerned about the growing number of initiatives nationwide called for labeling of GMO products, and passage of a temporary ban on biotech crop production in Maui where many agribusiness companies do research on new traits. “The issue in Hawaii is critical,” he said. “We Hawaii is a place we can grow crops all year long and the companies that test their traits out there needs to have the accessibility to those areas.” Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences have filed suit over the ban, which was passed by a slim margin, and a judge has blocked its implementation.

One of the most important issues facing farmers right now, in Bowling’s opinion, is the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. “It’s not going to go away,” he said. “We need them to withdraw the interpretive rule and clarify what they mean to regulate and we need to make sure that it’s not overreaching.” Bowling recently had officials from EPA out to his farm in Maryland to take a look at ditches and ponds and get their opinions on how they would interpret the rule.

Bowling is pleased with NCGA’s participation in the Soil Health Partnership (SHP). “We understand that we need to be good stewards of the land,” said Bowling. “It’s all about doing the right thing at the right time and we want to make sure that the farmers that we represent have all the information that they can get.”

Bowling talks about a variety of other issues in this interview: Interview with Chip Bowling, NCGA president


2014 NAFB Convention Photos

New Study Disputes Indirect Land Use Models

CARD LogoA new analysis of real-world land use data by Iowa State University raises serious concerns about the accuracy of models used by regulatory agencies regarding “indirect land use changes” (ILUC) attributed to biofuels production.

The study, conducted by Prof. Bruce Babcock and Zabid Iqbal at ISU’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), examined actual observed global land use changes in the period spanning from 2004 to 2012 and was compared to predictions from the economic models used by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop ILUC penalty factors for regulated biofuels. The report concluded that farmers around the world have responded to higher crop prices in the past decade by using available land resources more efficiently rather than expanding the amount of land brought into production.

“There hasn’t been much land use change in terms of converting non-agricultural land into crop land,” said Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper of the report results. “We’ve seen more double-cropping, we’ve seen triple-cropping in some parts of the world. And, very interestingly, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of planted acres that are harvested.”

Cooper says the study, which was funded in part by RFA, comes at a time when the California ARB is in the process of re-adopting its low carbon fuel standard, which includes revisiting their land use analysis. “So this paper, we hope, should inform that debate and bring some clarity and commonsense,” said Cooper. More importantly, this new analysis can provide input to states like Oregon and Washington which are currently working on developing low carbon fuel standards.

Cooper explains more in this interview: Interview with Geoff Cooper, RFA

Meet the new NCGA CEO

ncga-novakThe new CEO of the National Corn Growers Association had his first chance to visit with members of the agricultural media during the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention last week in Kansas City.

Chris Novak previously served as chief executive officer of the National Pork Board, but prior to that, he was executive director of the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, the Indiana Corn Growers Association and the Indiana Soybean Alliance. So he comes to NCGA with plenty of experience.

“I’ve spent 11 years working on behalf of pork farmers, but I’ve spent more than 10 years working with grain farmers, corn and soybeans, across this country,” he said. “Lots of big challenges ahead for us. Looking at a record crop and lower prices than we’d like to see but that’s an opportunity for me as well.”

Novak sees increasing demand as the most important challenge and opportunity for the industry. “How do we ensure that with a second record crop in a row that we’ve got the demand that can keep our farmers profitable?” he said. The primary demand sectors – livestock, ethanol and exports – all offer new growth potential.

“Certainly EPA’s support and implementation of the renewable fuels law as passed by Congress is going to be important to us in the short term,” he added. “Longer term we’re looking to build consumer demand for a renewable fuel that increases our energy independence and helps reduce greenhouse gases.”

Novak also talked about the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule, the extended comment period for which just ended on Friday, and what he expects from the lame duck session of Congress and the new Congress in January. Interview with Chris Novak, NCGA CEO


2014 NAFB Convention Photos

The Future for Corn Farming

bayer-zylstraWhat does the future hold for corn farmers? That was a question addressed at the Bayer CropScience Corn and Soybean Future Forum in Frankfurt, Germany last week, and some farmers gave their views.

Iowa Corn Growers
chairman Roger Zylstra, who farms in Jasper County, talked about the opportunities and challenges of sustainable corn production. “There are significant challenges right now in corn production because of the rapid drop in prices we’ve seen,” he said. “But I think there are tremendous opportunities in the world.”

The Bayer forum featured farmers from all over the world and Zylstra noted that farmers in different countries do their best when they “get along as neighbors and trading partners.” Interview with Iowa farmer Roger Zylstra

bayer-kip-tomIndiana farmer Kip Tom discussed successful farm management in a future digitalized farming world and the challenges of adopting new technology in agriculture. “A lot of it comes down to the connectivity of our rural areas,” Tom said. “But the other hurdle comes back to education. We’ve got to have a work force that understands how to use these tools if we’re going to get good information from it.”

Tom talked about “social license” when it comes to environmental resources. “We have a license to make sure that at the end of our lifetime, we return it to the next generation in as good as or better condition,” he said. “We’re all tenants. We make think we own the land, but in the end, we are tenants.” Interview with Indiana farmer Kip Tom

Best of Times for Agriculture?

Dr. Lowell CatlettCorn prices may be lower but eternal optimist Dr. Lowell Catlett says it’s still the best of times right now for agriculture.

“Historically, there’s never been a better time to be in agriculture,” said Catlett this week at the Bayer CropScience 2014 Corn and Soybean Future Forum being held in Germany. “The world has never known so much wealth, we’ve gone up 20 fold in the last 20 years.”

And that means more protein, which is good for corn and soybean producers. “We got to double meat protein production because of world wealth in the next 25 years,” said Catlett. “And if we double that, we’ve got to do it with some feed products with animals that are grown intensively – better health, better feed efficiency, and less impact on the environment.”

Listen to a quick interview with Dr. Catlett from Germany here: Interview with Dr. Catlett

Of course, if you have ever seen Dr. Catlett in action, you know he is not only an optimist, but a funny and informative entertainer – listen to an excerpt of his remarks this week here: Dr. Lowell Catlett Remarks

DDGS Supply Demand Picture

2014-export-exchangeHundreds of international buyers from dozens of countries heard about the supply-demand picture for the ethanol co-product distillers grains (DDGS) this week at the 2014 Export Exchange.

“We have ample supplies of distillers grains coming from the U.S. ethanol industry but the demand picture is somewhat murky,” says Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper. “That murkiness has to do with trade barriers and interruptions in the global trade of distillers grains that we’re seeing.”

Patriot Renewable Fuels DDGsCooper says the U.S. is expected to produce 36-37 million metric tons of DDGS in the current marketing year, but one of the biggest trade disruptions in the market is being created by China’s demand that shipments of distillers grains must be certified to be free of the MIR162 biotech corn trait. “That kind of certification is not possible,” said Cooper. “So, we expect exports to China to be significantly curtailed or even halted until this situation is resolved.”

Last year, half of the U.S. distillers grains exports went to China, but Cooper says there are other countries increasing imports. “We are seeing continued growth of distillers grains exports to other parts of Asia outside of China,” he said, adding that Mexico is increasing imports and countries such as Egypt and Turkey are also growing markets. Interview with RFA Senior VP Geoff Cooper at 2014 Export Exchange

Corn Growers in the Sunbelt

ncga-sunbeltThe National Corn Growers Association had a presence last week at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Georgia for the first time.

NCGA president Chip Bowling of Maryland visited with attendees at the event, including USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden who grew up on a Georgia peanut farm, and got to see some crops he doesn’t normally see. “I got to see some cotton and a few peanuts,” Bowling told Randall Weiseman with Southeast AgNet during an interview at Sunbelt.

Bowling noted that corn acreage has been increasing in the southeast. “In the last couple years, when corn prices shot up there for awhile, we started seeing more corn acres in the south,” he said. “We are growing a fair amount now – about a billion and a half bushels – which is way up from what it used to be.”

Listen to Randall’s interview with Chip here: Southeast AgNet interview with NCGA president Chip Bowling

Learning About Conservation in the Everglades

Normally, the Conservation Technology and Information Center stays pretty close to the Midwest for its annual Conservation in Action tour, but this year they headed way south into the Florida Everglades to get a look at some very different types of crops.

ctic-14-ncgaOn the tour was CTIC board member and National Corn Growers Association Soil Health and Sustainability Manager Nick Goeser, who was amazed by the sugarcane planting and harvesting he saw. “It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s different (compared to corn) but the level of mechanization is very similar, the level of farm management, the precision involved – it’s amazing.”

Farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) have implemented some very successful best management practices to protect the important ecosystem that provides the water supply for much of the state. “A lot of the management issues are similar,” said Goeser. “We learned they had about a 55% reduction in phosphorus, which is huge.”

Goeser says what farmers have been able to accomplish in the EAA can serve as a conservation case study for farmers in other parts of the country.

2014 CTIC Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Listen to my interview with Nick here and watch some of the sugarcane harvest in the video below: Interview with Nick Goeser, NCGA



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