Corn Commentary

Go Grist! Journalist Looks Beyond Media Hype to Find True Story of U.S. Farming

Kudos to Grist for taking a real look at agriculture in Iowa. As the primary season starts, candidates will visit the state and many outlets may off-handedly deride the stances they express on the issues important to farmers. But Liz Core, a Grist journalist, took the time to visit the state and talk to farmers about the issues that they face. What she found is a much deeper, more nuanced understanding of Iowa’s farm families.

“Iowa commodity growers are often demonized for what and how they grow, and monocultures and ethanol aren’t exactly healthy for the planet. But all of the farming families I talked to expressed a deep respect for the land and the desire to take good care of it for the next generation. If we want to understand how and why our agriculture system is the way it is, we’d be wise to approach all farmers with an open mind.”

To read the full article, click here.

Core goes on to introduce three of the farm families she met during her time in Iowa, including CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney. Showing the real people and exploring their honest concerns, she provides a balanced picture of both agriculture and the impact public policies have upon farmers.

When you take the time to look beyond the sound bites and have an open conversation, a much more interesting story emerges. Through programs such as CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, the men and women who grow our food start a dialogue with those who buy it to foster this sort of honest, two-way dialogue. Reach out and you might find the same thing that Core did – on or off the farm, most of us want the same things for our families and our country.

Putting Agriculture in the Political Spotlight

iowa-summitNine potential Republican presidential candidates were asked their opinions on various agricultural issues at the Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines on Saturday.

Comments made by at the event by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are still generating stories from major national news sources.

Over 270 journalists who attended the event, representing most if not all of the major news outlets nationwide, heard about some of the top issues for agriculture including trade, regulations, conservation, food safety, biotechnology, renewable fuels, and immigration as each taking candidate sat down on a stage with agribusiness entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter for about 20 minutes.

The main focus of the event was to get the potential candidates to take a stand on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Six of the nine expressed at least conditional support, including Wisconsin Governor Walker who recently had been criticized by biofuel producers in his state for not taking a stand on the law. Three of the candidates – Cruz, Pataki, and Perry – came out firmly against the RFS, while at the same time saying they supported ethanol and other renewable fuels.

couser-cruzThe summit was organized with the support of America’s Renewable Future, a quasi-political campaign for the RFS introduced earlier this year. Co-chair Bill Couser, pictured here with Sen. Cruz, says their goal is to educate potential presidential candidates.

“Show them why we do this, how we do this, and say what do you think?” said Couser, an Iowa cattle producer and ethanol advocate. “I can say, let’s go look at a corn field, let’s go look at a feedlot, let’s go look at some windmills, let’s go look at Lincolnway Energy, and then let’s go to the DuPont plant right next door and I’ll show you what we’re doing with the whole plant and being sustainable.”

Couser says they plan to approach all potential presidential candidates individually and invite them to visit and learn more about agriculture and renewable energy, including Hillary Clinton. “Wouldn’t that be something if she showed up?” he said.

Listen to my interview with Bill at the recent National Ethanol Conference here: Interview with Bill Couser, America's Renewable Future Co-Chair

Leno Anti-Ethanol Rant Smells Like BO

leno-e85-corvetteThis picture from an April 2008 Popular Mechanics article written by former Tonight Show host Jay Leno shows him with a 2006 Corvette Z06 that he said “has a top speed of 208 mph and runs on a homegrown alternative to gasoline – cleaner burning E85 ethanol.”

In this interview with DomesticFuel in 2007, Leno talks about biodiesel specifically but all renewable fuels in general about being good for America and agriculture. “We try to support companies that make products here in America,” he said. “To me, it’s a great thing to see people no longer losing their farms because they can’t make a crop that’s viable anymore …you support the farmers, they watch my TV show, I buy their products.” 2007 Interview with Jay Leno on Renewable Fuels

Leno is a car enthusiast who has always supported renewable fuels, so his full-out attack monologue on ethanol this week in AutoWeek has to leave one wondering what inspired him to write it, since it has the distinctive smell of B.O. – that would be Big Oil.

Leno’s attack is not only blatantly false, but mean-spirited.

I just don’t see the need for ethanol. I understand the theory—these giant agri-business companies can process corn, add the resulting blend to gasoline and we’ll be using and importing less gasoline. But they say this diversion of the corn supply is negatively affecting food prices, and the ethanol-spiked gas we’re forced to buy is really awful.

The big growers of corn have sold us a bill of goods. Some people are making a lot of money because of ethanol. But as they divert production from food to fuel, food prices inevitably will rise. Now, if you don’t mind paying $10 for a tortilla …

Say it ain’t so, Leno. You seem like a basically nice guy we wouldn’t normally think would stoop to criticizing farmers. So, what gives?

Since the thrust of the article is contacting Congress to reform or eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard, it’s a good guess that there is some big money behind it.

Syndicated car show host and technician Bobby Likis also thinks Leno’s article seems uncharacteristic. “I cannot believe “what Jay said” is “what Jay really believes.” His words smack of otherwise invested horse-whisperers who use personal agendas to sway vulnerable-for-whatever-reason people towards their way,” says Likis in an editorial for the E-xchange Blog refuting all of Leno’s claims.

I love the title to Bobby’s counter article. With Leno’s article titled “Can’t we Just Get Rid of Ethanol,” Bobby responded, “Can’t We Just Get Rid of Ethanol Ignorance?” Can’t we?

RFS for President!

The 2016 presidential campaign is starting to percolate and in Iowa the biofuels industry is making the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) their candidate.

americas-futureIowa Governor Terry Branstad last week announced a major new bi-partisan campaign called America’s Renewable Future that will promote the RFS to both candidates and caucus-goes for the 2016 Iowa Presidential caucuses.

“I’m very passionate about the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Governor Branstad during a conference call to announce the effort. “It’s made a real difference for farm income and good jobs, reducing our dependency on foreign oil, improving the environment – so I’m really excited to see this strong, bi-partisan effort being made to educate people that come to Iowa and presidential candidates.”

Coordinating the effort will be Governor Branstad’s son Eric, a public affairs specialist and campaign operative. “We have partners coming in from all over the country and those partners have committed millions to fund this effort,” said Eric Branstad. “We are designing it to look like a presidential campaign and the RFS is our candidate.”

America’s Renewable Future is co-chaired by former Iowa State Representative Annette Sweeney, a Republican, and former state Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, a Democrat, as well as Iowa renewable fuels industry leader Bill Couser. The effort “will wage a mulitimillion dollar, multi-platform effort” to educate presidential candidates about the benefits of the RFS and ask them to take a stand.

That effort kicked off last Friday with an ad in the Des Moines Register as potential Republican presidential candidates began to gather for the Iowa Freedom Summit.

Still, the RFS went largely unmentioned during the Saturday summit. Asked about the RFS in an interview with the Des Moines Register on Friday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said he would continue his opposition to the law as “a matter of principle.”

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was the only one who showed up at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit on Tuesday, even though all potential candidates were invited, and he did show his support for the RFS, calling it “pro-environment, pro-competition and pro-American jobs.”

Gov. Branstad says Iowa is still an important state for a presidential candidate and the RFS is important to Iowa. “This is one of the battleground states that’s going to, I think, determine who’s going to be the next president of the United States,” said Branstad. “I think it would be a disadvantage in Iowa to not support the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Branstad said.

If It Looks Like Big Oil, and Walks Like Big Oil, It’s Probably…Big Oil

enviro impactsA story in today’s New York Times cites a new study by the World Resource Institute that attempts to discredit the significant and increasing contributions of biofuels to meet the world’s energy needs. On close inspection two things become abundantly clear.

First the so-called “new” study is nothing but the same old stuff trotted out by the anti-ethanol crowd nearly annually to see if any of the misinformation sticks to the wall. Take the wig and mustache off and it’s the same old pig.

Second, the former journalist in me always says to consider the veracity of the source to validate the data. In this case the World Resource Institute is funded by Shell and Statoil, two of the world’s largest oil companies. Always follow the money.

This fraudulent study has more holes than a colander but to address some of the most egregious point by point:

Ethanol production is not inefficient? Some of the best research to date from the University of Illinois Chicago shows you get a 40% net energy gain from ethanol production compared to all the energy used along the production chain from farm to gas pump.

The article begs the question why have so many invested billions of dollars in biofuels if they are a bad idea with no future? They do so because ethanol is a plug and play fuel source that meets the needs of our transportation fleet today. What makes it even more attractive is the bright future for biofuels. Automakers in Detroit make no secret of the fact that the next generation power plant for cars will be smaller, higher compression engines. And the best fuel for this future automotive technology is octane rich ethanol.

It also becomes abundantly clear that these think tank folks might want to meander outside the Washington, DC beltway and visit a farm. They question the percentage of the corn crop being used for ethanol today. It’s not how much of the crop we are using for biofuels but how large the crop has gotten. We have grown the largest 11 corn crops in history in the last 11 years. We currently have the largest carryout (supply of corn) ever so feedstock is abundant to meet all demand for corn.

And all of the above has been accomplished in the US on virtually the same acreage, and with less environmental impact. This is an amazing accomplishment that should make all Americans proud.

Enjoy the Cheap Gas Ride

cheap gasNot to sound like a lunatic but it may be entirely possible, maybe even likely, the American public will be begging for a return to $3.60 gas in the near future.

I know it sounds crazy, but if you are following the public debate you can already see the discussion heating up to argue the true implications of today’s bargain basement petroleum prices. The euphoria consumers and market analysts alike were experiencing a few weeks ago is wearing off like a cheap wine hangover.

One big concern is that near term economic gains in the US related to cheaper fuel may be overstated and ultimately result in deflation and a global economic slowdown.

It is becoming increasingly evident that it could take a few years before the full ramifications of this gas guzzlers holiday are known. However, some comments by an oil industry executive this week provide a peek behind the curtain that often shields the business maneuvering and real objectives of international big oil.

The boss of oil giant BP Bob Dudley has said that oil prices could remain low for up to three years. What results next may make our previous high oil prices seem like a gift from grandma.

Once big oil has beaten oil upstarts like the domestic fracking industry to a bloody pulp, they will remerge from the ashes like a phoenix ready to spank bad little consumers for cheering the development. The paddle they will use according to some industry experts will be $200 a-barrel oil, a considerably richer prize than the $110 a barrel which preceded the $47 a barrel we are currently experiencing.

Any reasonable person would wonder why a business would take such a gamble, cut investment, cut jobs and sustain such a huge loss? The simple answer is they will do it because they can and the payoff is immense.

Sure oil countries like Norway, Russia, Venezuela, Scotland, Nigeria and Angola will take a beating but the big players in OPEC – the ones with the large expanses of beach and no water – have lower production costs and care only marginally more for their business partners than they do the consumers that they bleed every day.

People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan also points out low oil prices could slow down China’s development of renewable energy projects. In a wondrous masterpiece of understatement he says: “We worry a little bit that the price signal may give disincentive for new energy types to develop and could reduce investment in new non-fossil energy.”

Does anyone know how to say “duh” in Mandarin?

If we really want to throw the market manipulating overlords at OPEC a curve we should do the opposite of what they expect. Instead of grumbling and driving circus clown size cars we should immediately find ways to encourage an expansion of existing non-fossil energy development such as ethanol. Then we should back that up by launching the largest energy research and development project in history. I contend we will be forced to do this as finite oil supplies run out. Why not do it now rather than waiting until the wolf is at the door.

Besides, in the business world innovation is one of the few things that can still trump monetary muscle.

Ag Secretary Stresses Biofuels Support at AFBF

afbf15-vilsack-stallmanFarmers from around the country had a chance to ask Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack questions during an informal town hall-style meeting at the American Farm Bureau convention this week in San Diego.

The last question he took was from a South Dakota farmer who asked about continuation of strong biofuels policy in the United States. Vilsack detailed his continued support for the industry, particularly in the area of exports. “I am a firm believer in the future of the biofuels industry,” he said. “Ethanol production is at record levels…we’re now beginning to see great interest in the export market, not just for ethanol but also for dried distillers grains.”

Vilsack also noted the need to update the research on ethanol when it comes to indirect land use. “A lot of the push back to the industry is based on studies that took place 15 years ago, 10 years ago, and there have been enormous increases in productivity of American farmers, that basically suggest the indirect land use calculations are not as accurate as they need to be,” he said.

Listen to the secretary’s comments on biofuels here: Secretary Vilsack at AFBF on biofuels


2015 AFBF Convention photo album

Big Oil Wants It Both Ways

Falling gas prices have dominated news coverage over recent months. From “price at the pump” reports to longer diatribes over the economic and political impacts of falling oil prices, media outlets of all genres present a wide array of viewpoints on the topic.

Not surprisingly, this puts the American Petroleum Institute in the spotlight once again as eager journalists inquire about the causes of the downswing. Not shockingly, Big Oil’s mouthpiece provides a persuasive argument for why increased domestic production pushed prices down. While this makes sense, it diametrically opposes their earlier stance on the correlation between production and price in their industry.

In late October, the Renewable Fuel Association’s Geoff Cooper first pointed out the inexplicable shift in how API views the laws of supply and demand. Simply, it somehow seems that if the increased supply comes from ethanol, and thus not the petroleum industry which it represents, it increases prices. If the increased supply comes from their Big Oil-backers, it decreases prices.

The basic laws learned by every student in an entry-level econ class only apply if they suit Big Oil’s all oil agenda. When they do not, one is to believe the basic tenets of economics reverse themselves. The laws of economics actually bend to suit API’s needs.

To read his full post, click here.

In reality, the rules do not change. Through well-funded, carefully crafted campaigns of confusion, API obfuscates the obvious – ethanol benefits American consumers by lowering the price at the pump. But, as it does not line Big Oil’s already bulging pockets, it remains an inconvenient truth that they would rather repudiate until its basis suits their own base interests.

American consumers can certainly celebrate the momentary relief falling oil prices bring, but it makes sense to remember the hard facts every day.

Ethanol lowers prices and decreases reliance upon the Big Oil’s near monopoly. Fuel choice fuels the economy in a more reliable, substantial manner than volatile market conditions ever could. Supporting domestically produced, renewable ethanol means supporting a paradigm shift toward a more stable, more affordable energy future.

Freedom Isn’t Free

While we often hear politicians declare that they know “the greatest problem of our time,” few have the courage to face what really confronts us- a finite supply of oil.

Yes, today, oil is cheap. American consumers do not currently fork out the incredible sum to which they have become accustomed. Despite the momentary reprieve, oil remains of incredible importance for not only our country but the rest of the developing world.

Drivers increasingly demand an ever-growing supply of the fossil fuel abroad. At home, demand has declined somewhat but remains high when viewed in light of less auto-dependent nations. The family car remains a symbol of both status and freedom that elicits incredible desire.

This week, the Des Moines Register ran a commentary authored by a Gulf War veteran explaining not only how our oil-dependence impacted the wars of the past but fuels the conflicts of the future. Simply, continuing to depend upon oil dooms the U.S. to a cycle of conflict in the Middle East.

“Sadly, our continued addiction to petroleum here in the U.S. and across the globe makes doing so nearly impossible, and the rise of ISIS on the profits of the oil trade should remind us all that our oil dependence is dangerous and unsustainable,” David May explains in his piece. “Thus far, elected officials have opted to use military force to protect our national security by disrupting ISIS’s ability to bring a supply to the oil market. But another option — one that every American can play a part in — is decreasing the amount of oil needed to fuel our cars, trucks and heavy machinery.”

To read the original post, click here.

The news has made the growing threat of ISIS incredibly visible to Americans. Media portrayals, whether created by ISIS itself or domestic commentators, have shown the brutal reality faced by those living under its rule.

The danger appears larger-than-life. The underlying support hides in its shadow.

May argues on behalf of the Renewable Fuel Standard. This veteran, someone with real experience and hard-gained understanding, supports fueling our nation with fuel produced in our nation. His argument deserves serious consideration.

American corn farmers proudly grow the largest feedstock for domestic fuels. At the same time, rural America also supplies a disproportionately large number of America’s troops.

While more and more articles announce the return of a cheap oil economy, consider the ramifications. Depending on a finite resource has consequences. Ethanol offers a solution.

The future can be both greener and more peaceful. It is in our national interest.

Happy Anniversary to the RFS

rfs-7Friday marks the seventh anniversary of the signing into law of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) which expanded the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as we know it today.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has compiled a report that examines the successful impact of the RFS over the past seven years on the economy, job creation, agriculture, the environment, fuel prices, petroleum import dependence, and food prices.

Among its findings, the report notes that “Renewable fuel production and consumption have grown dramatically. Dependence on petroleum—particularly imports—is down significantly. Greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector have fallen. The value of agricultural products is up appreciably. And communities across the country have benefited from the job creation, increased tax revenue, and heightened household income that stem from the construction and operation of a biorefinery.”

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen remembers that day seven years ago and talks about its accomplishments so far and how EPA needs to move ahead with the law as written. Ethanol Report on RFS Anniversary



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