Posted By Cindy March 4, 2014
As long as he has been Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack has made it a priority to address the annual Commodity Classic, so for the fifth time he took the stage last week at the event in front of a record crowd of more than 7,000.
“It is awfully nice to come here today to talk about the PASSAGE of a farm bill, as opposed the need for a farm bill,” Vilsack began, adding that people don’t thank farmers enough for the work they do, especially considering how vital they are in the food, energy and economic security America enjoys. In return, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with making sure the implementation of the Farm Bill translates into hope for all farmers, old and new alike. “Our Farm Bill, which you helped pass, for me creates a hopeful set of opportunities and rewards, and will invest in innovation.”
While he did not mention the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) specifically during his address, Vilsack did talk about the need to increase exports of ethanol. “We think the world is ready for American biofuel,” he said. Secretary Vilsack at Commodity Classic
The Secretary did meet with farmer leaders at the Classic and discussed the pending EPA proposal to lower the RFS volume obligations this year and he was asked about his discussions with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during a press conference following his address. “I have focused not simply on talking to her and repeating what she’s getting from comments about people’s attitudes about this, I’m looking for ways that we can help this industry regardless of what EPA does, because I think it’s critically important,” said Vilsack.
That includes not only promoting exports of ethanol to countries such as India, China and Japan, but also finding ways to add infrastructure. “Congress sort of closed one door by saying we no longer could use the REAP program for pumping systems… but there are other rural development programs so we’ll just be creative about using the other programs until Congress decides to shut that door,” he said.
Vilsack stressed that he will continue to do everything he can to help the biofuels industry and “trust that EPA at the end of the day makes the right set of decisions.”Vilsack Classic Press Conference
2014 Commodity Classic Photos
Posted By Cindy March 4, 2014
The granddaughter of the father of the Green Revolution is carrying on with his mission to help feed the world, and Julie Borlaug believes that must include communicating the benefits of biotechnology on a more personal level.
“For years, we in the ag sector have been on the losing end of the argument, partly because we thought we could win the day on science alone and with scientists doing the talking,” said Borlaug, who is Associate Director of External Relations at the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, during the Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum prior to Commodity Classic last week. “Scientists like my grandfather were unfortunately a lot better at doing science than communicating about it.”
Borlaug says her famous grandfather Dr. Norman Borlaug, who will be honored this month with bronze statue in the U.S. Capitol, had a “lifelong passion for feeding the hungry and miserable” and was a supporter of biotechnology just as she is. But she says that agriculture needs take a more personal approach to talking about biotechnology. “We must remember we are talking to those outside of agriculture who have never been on a farm,” she said. “We are talking to moms who believe everything on Facebook.”
You can listen to Julie’s remarks here: Julie Borlaug Remarks
Posted By Cindy March 1, 2014
The man directly responsible for the EPA proposal to lower the 2014 volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) last week addressed members of the ethanol industry directly impacted by that plan.
“I really wanted to provide you with some context and what our thinking was behind our 2014 RVO proposal,” said Chris Grundler, EPA Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency speaking at the National Ethanol Conference. “And it is a proposal,” he stressed several times.
First off, Grundler wanted to make it clear that EPA does support biofuels. “The most disappointing thing I heard in the reporting is that EPA no longer supports the development of biofuels, and I’m hear to tell you that’s wrong,” he said. “We know that if we’re going to achieve what science is telling us we must achieve in terms of greenhouse gas reduction … biofuels has got to be part of that solution set.”
Gundler says they came up with the proposal to address marketplace realities for biofuels. “Our overriding goal with this 2014 RVO proposal is to put the RFS in what we call a manageable trajectory while continuing to support the growth of renewable fuels in our transportation supply,” he said. “We have to address some of the practical realities that we see today in the marketplace.” Comments by Chris Grundler, EPA at National Ethanol Conference
During a brief press availability after his remarks, Grundler defined manageable trajectory as “steady growth in overall biofuels space … where the market is able to move those fuels and people use them.”
Grundler also said specifically that the EPA can definitely change the proposal Grundler stressed that the proposal is just that and it could be changed. He also noted that EPA received over 100,000 written comments during the comment period with 6,000 “unique” comments, and that the hearing held in early December was a record. He added that they do intend to try and meet the goal of finalizing the rule by the end of spring. Press Avail Chris Grundler, EPA
Posted By Cindy February 19, 2014
Now that the farm bill is a done deal, National Corn Growers Association Public Policy Vice President Jon Doggett says his organization has three main priorities for this year in Washington – protect the RFS, and protect the RFS, and protect the RFS.
That may seem redundant, but that’s just how important the Renewable Fuel Standard is for corn growers.
Doggett sat on a panel with one of his best lobbyist friends at the National Ethanol Conference this week – Bob Greco of the American Petroleum Institute.
Well, maybe not BEST friends, but Jon says they are friends, although they do disagree on important issues, like the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “I like Bob Greco, I have friends at API, but if any person in this room doesn’t think that they will leap at the chance to get rid of the RFS between now and the election or during the lame duck session – you’re crazy!” said Jon during the panel session, warning the ethanol industry sternly, “Don’t be complacent.”
Besides Greco, Jon shared the annual Washington Insiders panel at NEC with Aaron Whitesel of DuPont, Kris Kiser with the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, and Shane Karr from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
Listen to the whole conversation between them, moderated by Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen: NEC Washington Insiders Panel
Listen to my interview with Jon from the NEC where he talks about the importance of the RFS, next week’s Commodity Classic, and what NCGA likes best about the new farm bill: Interview with Jon Doggett, NCGA
2014 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album
Posted By Cindy February 10, 2014
There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion.
- Winston Churchill -
Some of the nation’s largest media outlets were on-line for the conference call Thursday announcing the new “Coalition for Safe Affordable Food” (CFSAF), a group of nearly 30 companies and organizations united to seed a federal solution on the labeling of food products derived from genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). Many of the resulting reports were predictably cynical of the effort.
Several of the headlines read some modification of Bloomberg’s “Food Industry Forms Group to Stop Gene-Modified Labeling Laws”, referring to CFSAF as an “anti-labeling coalition.”
The goal of the group makes perfect sense in seeking national standards for labeling of food that may or may not contain genetically modified crops, instead of the looming potential of a patchwork quilt of laws in different states and municipalities. “A federal solution on GMO labeling will bolster consumer confidence in the safety of American food by reaffirming the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) role as the nation’s foremost authority on the use and labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients,” said National Corn Growers Association president Martin Barbre.
American Soybean Association President Ray Gaesser of Iowa used Missouri, bordered by eight states, as an example of what kind of nightmare various labeling laws could create. “If every one of those states passed their own labeling requirements with different thresholds for GM ingredients, your average soybean farmer would have to establish eight different supply chains, sanitize his equipment between each one, and then trace them religiously,” he said, noting that it could increase prices by 15-30%.
“When you look at the real world impact of these state-by-state regulations, it simply becomes too much for farmers to bear,” Gaesser said.
With a growing number of states and municipalities from Hawaii to Vermont considering some kind of GMO labeling, the coalition is asking Congress to take action, but as of yet no bills have been offered. With the farm bill off the plate now, farmers are optimistic it will happen soon.
Listen to the conference call here: GMO Coalition Announcement
Posted By Cindy February 5, 2014
In recent years, the U.S. propane industry has been growing by leaps and bounds, producing so much that they were even had a good export market going.
But a perfect storm arose this winter that has caused pain at the propane tank, with shortages and prices skyrocketing to $5 a gallon before settling back down a bit. “It pretty much began in the fall with the grain harvest that was wet and having to dry down the crops,” said Scott Long, manager of propane marketing and business development for GROWMARK, who added that the wet harvest meant nearly 5 times the amount of propane was used to dry the crop than normal.
Follow that up with one of the coldest winters on record nearly everywhere in the country and propane supplies that had been abundant enough for export were quickly downsized, putting a squeeze on livestock and poultry producers. “Particularly in the broiler and turkey sector, the majority of houses are heated by propane,” said U.S. Poultry and Egg Association president John Starkey. “The bitter cold weather we’ve had throughout the poultry belt has caused shortages … so that means it’s very difficult for some folks to find propane gas right now.” Interview with John Starkey, U.S. Poultry and Egg
There have been calls for investigations into the high prices and some states have taken emergency actions to get more propane moving to areas that need it most. The good news, according to Long, is that things should be getting better soon. “I’m hoping that we hit our peak,” he said last week. “Hopefully within the next couple of weeks we’ll see quite a bit of relief.” Interview with Scott Long, GROWMARK
“Hopefully” — Just as the groundhog saw his shadow and the cold weather hits just keep coming.
Posted By Cindy January 31, 2014
We recently got to meet Sara Ross, Iowa farmer and part of CommonGround Iowa. Sara and her husband Kevin operate a diversified farm near Minden, IA. She loves the volunteer work through CommonGround and talks about how it is helping her engage with non-farm folks about where their food comes from. She has been featured a couple of times in posts here on Corn Commentary, but here we have an interview in both audio and Google Glass form! Chuck Zimmerman did one of his new Google Glass project interviews with Sara at the National Biodiesel Conference.
Listen to Sara talk about her work with CommonGround and see it by Glass video below. Sara Ross, farmer and CommonGround volunteer
Posted By Cindy January 24, 2014
The turnout was huge in Des Moines Thursday for a “Hearing in the Heartland” to support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
The event was hosted by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and included comments from dozens of lawmakers, government officials, farmers, biofuel producers, and other interested parties from seven states – as well as a crowd of hundreds.
“I urge President Obama, Administrator McCarthy and the EPA to listen to the people of Iowa and the Midwest, and continue to support a robust and strong Renewable Fuel Standard — as they have in the past,” said Branstad. Governor Brandstad comments
Among the speakers at the event were Congressmen Tom Latham and Steve King, both Republicans from Iowa who signed a letter this week from U.S. House representatives asking the EPA to revise its proposal for 2014 biofuel volume obligations under the RFS. “It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the economy, it’s 45,000 jobs,” said King. “The RFS is market access, market access, market access – that’s all it is.” Rep. King comments
Rep. Latham urged those present at the hearing to comment on the proposal if they have not done so already. “It’s up to those of you who are most dramatically and directly impacted by this fundamental shift in policy against biofuel to tell your stories and make your views heard,” said Latham. Rep. Latham comments
The comment period on the EPA proposal to lower volume requirements for biofuels under the renewable fuel standard is just days away now and it appears evident that they are being deluged with comments opposing the plan. Nebraska Corn Board executive director Don Hutchens reports that they received over 5,000 letters expressing opposition to the proposal. “This is the greatest grassroots response in the history of the corn checkoff program since its implementation in 1978,” said Hutchens. Earlier this month, the state group had sent farmers letters to the EPA that they could sign and return. These letters will be forwarded to EPA before the comment period deadline of January 28.
Imagine that! Over 5,000 letters from farmers in just ONE STATE! If you have not done so yet, please send in your comments today.
RFS: Hearing in the Heartland photo album
Posted By Cindy January 23, 2014
In case you haven’t heard, lots of folks are droning on about the great potential for the use of drones in agriculture.
The politically correct term is actually Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV, but drone still seems to be the preferred word, despite any negative connotations it may have.
When it comes to the potential for agriculture, Kansas State University precision agriculture specialist Dr. Kevin Price thinks the growth in the next few years “is gonna blow your socks off.”
“About 80% of the money that will be spent on the unmanned aircraft systems will be spent in the area of agriculture. There are ten times more applications in agriculture then there is in any of the other application areas,” said Dr. Price. “They’re predicting it’s going to be close to a 100 billion dollar industry by the year 2025.”
He said agriculture applications for drones in development include data collection on crop health and yields, nitrogen and chemical applications, spot treating of insects and disease, and much more. Data collection of field images by cameras mounted on drones within an inch of accuracy.
Dr. Price says the cost of a UAV, depending on the type, can range from under $1000 to as much as $12,000, but the returns could make it worth the price tag. “We believe that if we can save a farmer even one percent, the technology will pay for itself very quickly,” he said, adding it could be as much as three percent in terms of saving on fertilizer costs and catching diseases earlier.
While there is great good potential for drone use in agriculture, there are also concerns about abuse or misuse, such as the government or activists using them to gather data on farming operations. That’s why the American Farm Bureau adopted new policy on drones at the recent annual meeting, supporting the use for commercial agricultural but opposing government use of drones for regulatory enforcement, litigation or natural resource inventory surveys. AFBF delegates also advocate consent requirements for drone users flying over private land.
“There’s no question this technology is moving forward and moving fast,” said Dr. Price. “FAA is scrambling to set some regulations so this doesn’t become like the wild west with people doing lots of crazy things with it.”
Listen to Dr. Price answer questions from agricultural reporters at the AFBF meeting: Kevin Price Press Conference
Posted By Cindy January 22, 2014
During the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) annual meeting this week in San Antonio, delegates voted to reaffirm support for the renewable fuels standard and approved a policy “supporting renewable fuels tax incentives for the production of biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol and installation of blender pumps.”
New Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert says maintaining a strong RFS for ethanol and biodiesel production remains the top priority for farmers in his state and the region.
“Midwest farmers have worked so hard and so long to get those standards where they are today,” he said. “It’s just difficult for us to understand why we’re being forced to rollback those standards.” He says he can’t understand how the EPA could propose a policy that most experts agree will hurt biofuel producers and markets, especially in the rural economy, considering how the president has repeated his dedication to green energy, including biofuels, time and time again.
Listen to an interview with Richard here: Interview with Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert
Just a reminder, if you have not yet submitted comments to the EPA regarding the proposal to scale back volume requirements under the RFS, you have until January 28 to do so. Shout it out and make your voices heard!!!
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