Corn Commentary

Economic Impact of Ethanol is Personal

A new study out from the Fuels America coalition shows that the industry supports more than 850,000 American jobs and drives $184.5 billion of economic output.

fuels-americaIt also is responsible for $46.2 billion in wages and generates $14.5 billion in tax revenue each year.

But numbers are impersonal and fail to show the real personal impact of what ethanol production has meant for rural areas. National Corn Growers Association Vice President of Public Policy Jon Doggett says farmers tell him ethanol is the reason their children have come back or decided to stay on the farm. “When I get tough farmers come up with misty eyes and say ‘that’s why this is so important because my kid came back,’” said Doggett during a press conference announcing the Fuels America report. “It gives them a way to pass that farm on to the next generation.”

Listen to Doggett’s comments here: Jon Doggett, NCGA

Listen to the full press conference here: Fuels America new economic report

The Littlest Ethanol Lobbyist

ace14-dc-ethan1Wearing a tie and sporting a “Don’t Mess with the RFS” button, 10-year-old Ethan Fagen was the youngest of the grassroots lobbyists at the recent American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Biofuels Beltway March on Capitol Hill.

Ethan came along with his grandfather, Ron Fagen of Fagen, Inc., and he was right in the trenches with him handing out materials and talking about the benefits of ethanol, like how good it is for the environment compared to fossil fuels. “Think in 200 years if you run ethanol there will be cleaner air for the next generation,” said Ethan, who is part of that next generation.

ace14-dc-fagensSitting in the front as the ACE Fly-in participants heard from government officials, Ethan caught the attention of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who thought it was “pretty cool” he was there for the event.

In my interview with Ethan, he told me that he would like to be a farmer someday and grow corn and have cattle. It’s interesting that if you add two letters to Ethan’s name, it becomes ethanol. That could be intentional, considering his grandfather is a pioneer in the ethanol industry! Interview with Ethan Fagen, ACE Fly-in Participant


2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Talking with Lawmakers on Capitol Hill

capitol-snowDuring National Agriculture Day and American Coalition for Ethanol Fly-in activities just two weeks ago, I was able to interview three farm-state lawmakers from the Midwest about issues important to agriculture.

All three are strong supporters for farmers and ranchers and all serve on their agriculture committees. I asked all of them about the Renewable Fuel Standard and we discussed several other issues like WRRDA, over-regulation, and rail delays.

Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois discusses ethanol and the RFS, his experience working on the farm bill, and the water resources development bill.
Freshman Lawmaker Learns & Teaches on Farm BillInterview with Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) talked about ethanol and the RFS, rail delays, farm bill implementation and livestock disaster aid.
Sen. Thune Talks Rail Delays and Livestock AidInterview with Senator John Thune (R-SD)

Retiring Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) talks about the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the problem farmer face with over regulation, and what his vision is for the future of agriculture.
Conversation with Sen. Mike JohannsInterview with Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE)

2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Corn Farmers March for Biofuels in the Beltway

ace14-dc-alversonThere were over 25 battalions of ethanol troops on Capitol Hill last week as part of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) sixth annual Biofuels Beltway March

ACE president Ron Alverson, a South Dakota farmer and board member for Dakota Ethanol, says the teams had appointments with the offices of more than 130 senators and representatives, and he thought they were well received, even in enemy territory. “We went into what we thought were going to be some pretty hard places – representatives from Alabama, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island,” he said. “They were very cordial and they listened well … we were really pleased.”

Their main weapon against ethanol foes was good information to defend against some of the more popular arguments against ethanol, such as food versus fuel and engine issues with higher blends. “We’ve got some really good arguments and good data…all we can do is go out and tell our story,” said Alverson.Interview with Ron Alverson, ACE president

ace14-dc-corn-teamOver 80 people turned out for the ACE event this year, the most ever, and the diverse group included ethanol producers, retailers, bankers, truckers, cattle ranchers, students – and a whole bunch of corn farmers. The team here consisted of (LtoR) Missouri farmer Gary Porter, Missouri Corn Growers public policy director Shane Kinne, and Minnesota farmers on the board of Chippewa Valley Ethanol Dale Tolifson and Dave Thompson.

I caught up with them as they were heading out of the Capitol after making their rounds and asked them each to give a brief impression of their visits. Interview with Biofuels March team


2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Farmland Coming to a Theater Near You

FarmlandThe latest screening of the feature length film documentary Farmland was a star-studded event this week in Washington D.C. While the movie has been previewed at several events this year, including the Commodity Classic, this one not only helped celebrate National Agriculture Day, it also marked the official announcement of its upcoming theatrical release.

On the red carpet here at the Ronald Reagan Amphitheater are Randy Krotz, CEO of the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), one of the film’s major supporters; director James Moll, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman, chairman of the USFRA.

farmlandThe movie provides an up close and personal look into the lives of six very different types of young farmers who talk about the challenges of becoming farm owners/managers. The story is told completely by the farmers and the imagery of them at work with no narration. “I don’t use a narrator,” said director Moll. “I’m delving into a world that I know nothing about … they can tell the story better than I can.”

Farmland has a deal with D&E Entertainment for the film to first be distributed to 60 major market theaters beginning May 1. “I hope that people watch it, relate to it, come away from it wanting to learn more about farming and ranching, and feeling like they actually had an opportunity to meet and get to know some of them,” said Moll.

Between now and May 1, Farmland will be competing in several film festivals during the month of April. After the theatrical release, Moll says they plan on the film being released on DVD and through the usual channels for home viewing. Interview with James Moll

classic14-usfra-farmlandThe farmer stars of the film are Leighton Cooley of Georgia, Brad Bellah from Texas, David Loberg of Nebraska, Sutton Morgan of California, Margaret Schlass from Pennsylvania, and Ryan Veldhuizen of Minnesota. A couple were at the premier last night and four of the six were at Commodity Classic where they participated in a press conference with USFRA.

The four pictured here, from left to right (around Randy from USFRA again in the middle) are Loberg, Veldhuizen, Cooley and Bellah. Listen to them talk about themselves and their experiences in making the movie here: Farmland Movie Press Conference

The Future’s so Bright…

classic14-martin-shadesMartin’s got to wear shades.

That was National Corn Growers Association president Martin Barbre looking like a rock star at the final Corn Congress session of Commodity Classic. Not by choice, he actually broke his regular glasses the night before and had to wear his prescription shades to read.

But, Martin really does think the future is bright for corn farmers and agriculture in general, especially now that we finally have a finished farm bill and NCGA has reached a new membership record of 40,287 as of the end of February.

Two initiatives Martin is especially excited about right now are the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF) and the Soil Health Partnership.

“There’s no doubt that GMOs have become a hot button issue in recent years,” he said of the CFSAF, which advocates a federal solution that would establish standards for the safety and labeling of food and beverage products made with genetically modified ingredients. “We’re just getting the coalition together and getting a game plan together and when we do we’ll start moving forward.”

The Soil Health Partnership has the support of Monsanto and the Walton Family Foundation and relies on a science advisory council made up of government and university experts as well as environmental groups. “These are just examples of the coalitions we’ve been able to work on.”

Martin is even optimistic about the number one policy issue facing NCGA this year – protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “We’re proud of the grassroots action we saw on the part of our nation’s corn farmers” to get thousands of comments in to the EPA on the proposal and thousands of calls to the White House. “We don’t know when the decision will come down or what it will be but we know we’ve done our part and we’ll continue to keep pressure on the administration.”

Martin talked about these issues and others in the following audio segments:

Interview with Martin Barbre, NCGA president
NCGA president on the Classic stage
NCGA Press Conference with Martin Barbre


2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Smithsonian Wants Iconic Corn Ads

classic14-tolmanNational Corn Growers Association (NCGA) CEO Rick Tolman had bushels of great corn farmer news to share at the recent Commodity Classic about what the organization has done in the past year and what is happening now. We have since learned that this was the last Commodity Classic for Rick, as he has announced that he will be retiring at the end of September to enjoy more family time. He will surely be missed after 14 years of service to NCGA, but his retirement is well-deserved.

One exciting bit of news Rick announced at the NCGA banquet was that the Smithsonian Institution wants to put the Corn Farmers Coalition DC metro campaign ads in a new exhibit. “Those ads have been very iconic,” he said. “The Smithsonian Institution is doing a new exhibition called “American Enterprise” and they contacted us and said they really liked them because they’re about education, not about selling.”

cfc-20The ads have been featured in the Corn Farmers Coalition annual campaign which takes over every ad space in a single DC metro station for two weeks, a campaign that has been running for five years now.

The Smithsonian will include the ads in a new permanent exhibit scheduled to open next year in the Museum of American History. “It will last for 20 years and we anticipate about 90 million people seeing it,” Rick said.

In this interview on the final day of Classic, Rick also talks about the great corn grower response last year to commenting on the EPA proposal to gut the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and how NCGA plans to keep that momentum going. Interview with Rick Tolman, NCGA CEO

Classic Records Smashed

classic14-openWith more than 7,300 total attendees, the 2014 Commodity Classic convention and trade show, which took place last week in San Antonio, Texas, shattered previous records for the landmark event.

“We knew it was the biggest event ever, but the numbers really surprised us as we saw them rolling in over the course of the event,” said Commodity Classic Co-Chair Rob Elliott.

And the numbers are impressive:
Total attendance – 7,325 – up 18% from 2013
Number of growers – 3,874 – up 16.5%
First time attendees – 1,261
Trade show companies – 301

I talked to Rob just before the Classic actually got underway and he was already optimistic that it would be a record breaker. Interview with Rob Elliott, Classic Co-Chair


2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Secretary Vilsack at Commodity Classic

classic14-vilsack-stageAs 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

Speak Biotech in Simple Language

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.

Julie Borlaug“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



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