Corn Commentary

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

2014 Resolution: Put Environment Back in EPA

oil spillI am rapidly getting in the holiday spirit but before I get to relaxed and magnanimous I have to send one final love letter to my friends in the petroleum industry. So with thoughts of sugar plums dancing in my head here goes:

In doing my regular reading today I came across three separate stories that if looked at individually are disturbing. The first touts fracking as the main driver in a U.S. energy revolution.

“America is in the midst of a game-changing energy revolution. This potential has been unlocked by innovations in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have made America the world’s top energy producer,” John Felmy, the American Petroleum Institute’s chief economist said. said.

No argument there but let’s drop the other shoe or pair of shoes if you will. I keep asking the same questions regarding fracking; at what cost? What are the environmental consequences of this intrusive, earth rending form of energy extraction? How long will the boom last?

More and more experts are saying enjoy our current respite of available energy because it won’t last. And now the US Coast Guard is looking into the possibility of allowing fracking waste to be barged along American rivers. Granted if they have to ship it this is likely the best way (or at least safest and most economical way), but isn’t it enough that international oil has slimed our oceans on a consistent basis for decades. Now they want to put these toxic substances on our rivers and risk our fresh water too?

Thus, the second article and issue; Every year petroleum finds itself wrapped up in a string of environmental misadventures, and many take place in remote locations and out of the glare of public scrutiny diminishing the attention but not the damage done. From pipeline spills in Arkansas to explosions in Qingdao, China petroleum is the gift that keeps on giving.

Sure they get fined, but amounts that amount to pocket change for Big Oil. On the rare occasion they really get their hand slapped, such as the with the Deep Water Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, they put on a good show for the media and as time passes they fight in court to get those penalties reduced.

The third leg of this nauseating oil epic is the ongoing efforts by the Obama Administration (hey, it’s your Environmental Protection Agency so you better own it) proposal to hamstring the only economically viable and environmentally responsible alternative to oil….ethanol.

For 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a 1.4 billion gallon reduction in how much corn ethanol will be required under the Renewable Fuel Standard, the federal law that helps get domestic, renewable, cleaner-burning corn ethanol blended in the nation’s fuel supply.

“It is unfortunate that the Obama administration has caved in to Big Oil rather than stand up for rural America and the environment,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey at a Protect the RFS rally on November 22, 2013. “The renewable fuels standard needs to be protected as it has helped hold down prices at the pump, created thousands of jobs in rural Iowa, and benefited the environment. The President should be focused on jobs and the economy rather than looking for ways to hurt rural America.” Read more here.

It’s still not too late to do something about this. So if you support renewable ethanol and want to put the environment back in EPA send a note. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

In World of Polluters Oil Has No Rivals

oil & $100 billThey call it black gold and Texas Tea but I prefer to call it environmental anathema; that rare combination of disgrace and abomination.  Better that than using the words that I would like to use that got my mouth washed out with soap as a child.

Ok, Thanksgiving is almost upon us so I want to purge a little bile so I will enjoy the day a little more. What better target than Big Oil?

You know, those heavily subsidized global scale polluters who control…I mean contribute to every politician to make sure they have their bases covered. Well after an announcement today, I guess we will see how well their “investment” pays off.

It seems gas and oil are almost singlehandedly responsible for the bulk of all the man-made global warming emissions since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Chevron, Exxon and BP are among the companies most responsible for climate change since dawn of industrial age, according to a new analysis.

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

I have always been a big fan of irony but this week takes the cake.  It seemed bizarre that earlier this week EPA announced their proposal to significantly weaken the Renewable Fuel Standard, reducing the volume of renewable fuels like ethanol for 2014; thus making us even more dependent on oil.

Odd that an agency with “Environment” in their name would turn away from a program that has cut emissions of greenhouse gas by 110 million metric tons, making it one of the most successful programs in the EPA arsenal. This is the equivalent of taking more than 20 million vehicles off the road.

Now it will get even more interesting to see how this same administration that purports to be on a crusade to fight greenhouse gases will deal with Big Oil now that the emperor has no clothes.




Don’t Till for Me Argentina

Argentina may be about 10 years behind the United States in adoption of precision farming technology, but the country is probably 20 years ahead in adoption of no till practices.

That was one of the most interesting bits of information I gleaned about Argentinean farming during the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) 2013 Congress in Argentina last week.

ifaj13-notillThe Argentinean No Till Farmers Association – Aapresid – was created in 1989 with the goal of helping farmers in the country adopt no-tillage practices on their farming operations. “Nowadays, about 80% of our crops are done by no till,” said Martin Descalzo Souto with the organization. That compares with about 35-40% here in the United States.

“It was a very important saving of fuel so it was economically important for the farmer, and they also have an important saving of water,” Souto said, adding there are some areas of the country that can only be planted without tillage.

Aapresid is now taking no-till to the next level by providing a certification program for farmers who keep records of their practices and use crop rotation to reduce chemical use and improve soil. “We are looking at it not just as a practice but as a process,” said Souto.

Adoption of even the most basic precision technology is becoming more prevalent in Argentina, but Souto says they still need agronomists to work with that information for it to become more widespread. Interview with Martin Descalzo Souto, Argentinean No Till Farmers Association

2013 IFAJ Congress Photo Album

Corn Growers Support Conservation in Action

“Without soil, we’re out of business.”

ctic-13-5That is the simple reason why corn growers support cutting edge conservation practices, according to Illinois farmer Dan Cole, a member of the National Corn Growers Association Production & Stewardship Action Team (PSAT) who took part in last week’s Conservation Technology Information Center 2013 Conservation in Action Tour. “PSAT is in charge of water quality and sustainability,” he said. “We also do the corn grower contest, river transportation, but today we’re focused more on soil health.”

“This is cutting edge,” Dan told Chuck Zimmerman during the event. “We went from the mold board plow to the chisel plow, now we’re looking at more sustainable cover crops, no-till, strip till. Everything is to make that organic matter cycle quicker in production agriculture.” Interview with Illinois farmer Dan Cole

ctic-12-wellerConservation is no longer an option for farmers. “It’s really become part of the business plan” for farmers, said USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service acting chief Jason Weller. That’s why it is so critical to get a five year farm bill in place. “It’s really important for us to have that farm bill in place so that our customers, the farmers and ranchers of America, know what the programs are” to put a long term plan in place for land stewardship.

Weller says conservation programs help ensure the wise use of resources and allows farmers to be more successful. “Conservation can help them better manage the soil resources, be more efficient with nutrient application, be more energy efficient, be more water efficient, and ultimately more productive,” he said. Interview with Jason Weller, USDA-NRCS

American Ethanol and NASCAR Make a Splash in USA Today

In an era of compartmentalized media, USA Today holds a unique position. A truly national newspaper with circulation only surpassed by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today reaches Americans across the country every day with bright graphics and its bold layout.

This Friday, American Ethanol and NASCAR celebrated hitting the three million mile mark in a very public way running a full-page announcement on the back cover of the popular daily’s Sports section. Drawing readers in with a visually arresting image showing the American Ethanol flag flying high over the pulse pounding racetrack action, the spread also provided exciting information about what switching to a 15 percent ethanol fuel blend has done for the sport and could do for American drivers off track too.

For two years, every vehicle in every NASCAR race has raced toward victory with E15 in the tank. Through the American Ethanol and NASCAR partnership, the nation’s top drivers, whether they race in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Trucks series, have trusted their tanks to this sustainable, renewable biofuel blend.

What have they found?

Running on a 15 percent ethanol blend has not only reduced their emissions by 20 percent, it has actually increased their horsepower. Ethanol provides the performance NASCAR drivers demand and fuels the pulse quickening action that keeps fans on the edge of their seats.

American Ethanol and NASCAR want to share the great news and celebrate this achievement with NASCAR fans and environmentalists alike. Whether reading USA Today in a hotel lobby or at the end of a driveway, sports fans across the country are joining in the celebration of America’s homegrown sport’s successes running on its homegrown fuel.

Want Cutting-Edge Technology in Your Workplace? Farmers Do Too

Imagine how differently a day at the office might have been in 1961.  A secretarial pool takes the place of word processing software.  Googling a subject might take hours and physical labor sifting through back editions of the paper or encyclopedias and still yield limited results.  Email communications require a phone call, paper memo or even a written letter sent through courier or mail without the Internet.  Once out of the office, communication ceases unless a coworker dials a landline nearby.

While most people have capriciously wished for an end to modern technology following a particularly annoying late-night text from an employer, only the smallest minority actually advocates a return to the workplace technology of 50 years ago.

So, why do so many people outside of agriculture think that a return to equally antiquated technology would actually improve farming?

Recently, a column in Stock and Land magazine examined the impact of a large-scale return to the farming methods of our forefathers, a romantic notion with dismal consequences. Instead of growing a crop large enough to share with the world, U.S. farmers would produce only enough food to feed half of the country’s current population.  Maintaining levels of dairy, meat and milk production would require two-thirds more land.  Increased environmental degradation and social unrest further complicate this already hungry scenario.

Simply, removing technology and scientific advances from modern life seriously damages productivity and effectiveness whether done in corporate or agrarian America.  Notably, the negative impact on farming creates a food shortage thus depriving an incredible number of those in towns and cities of the sustenance needed to survive.

Instead of buying into the soft-focus vision of farming that replaces knowledge and understanding with a vague sense of nostalgia, get the facts.  Question the farmers and ranchers who produce food about how and why they use the technology and practices that they do.  Look at the bounty of healthy options U.S. agriculture offers.  Become part of national discussion about food that seeks a better tomorrow instead of a rose-tinted version of the past.

Do Not Let Awareness of this Springs Flood Recede Along with the River

In a summer plagued by extreme weather, farmers along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers watched as water swelled from its banks and, eventually, covered many of their fields.  These farmers continue working to salvage the 400,000 acres lost to the flood. This is about more than flooded farms and homes though– this is about people’s lives and livelihoods.

2011 has been a devastating year for farmers along the rivers.  In May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew up three levees in southeast Missouri, flooding 200 square miles of homes, fields and businesses along the banks of the Mississippi River. Shortly thereafter, they released historic amounts of water from the Missouri River Reservoir System, flooding an estimated 400,000 acres of prime farmland for four months. Stress, frustration and a sense of hopeless rolled in with the water.

The Missouri Corn Growers Association and Missouri Corn Merchandising Council are working along these growers that the government does not turn its back on the farms that they chose to flood.  Through a new documentary, Underwater and Overlooked: Crisis on the Missouri River, the groups bring the facts  to the forefront, holding the Corps accountable for the 2011 flood along the Missouri River banks and pushing them to take steps to ensure this never happens again.

The Army Corps of Engineers made the decisions that changed the lives of Missouri farmers. Now is the time to hear their stories, understand this tragedy and join with those supporting the victims as they rebuild.  Click here to see what actually happened in Missouri’s farmlands as they sat flooded for 16 weeks.  When the water goes down, the cameras go away and the spotlight dims, keep this story in the public eye until the levees are repaired and flood management is recognized as the top priority by the Corps.

Practicing Socially Responsible Social Media

Yesterday, like most Mondays, tweets linking to vegetarian recipes and reminders of “Meatless Mondays” littered the screen.  Armchair activists urged their online minions to help save the planet from either incinerating or freezing by simply selecting meat-free options weekly on a day designated solely due to a public love of alliteration. Like clockwork, retweets of the original musings of the more prominent easy-fix promoters added to the cacophony. If logging off were an option, it would have been appealing.

With a fight or flight response in overdrive, an article suddenly appeared.  The hashtags seemed to match the ongoing conversation, but the link carried a significantly more scientific, sensible message.   Simply, demonizing specific foods or taking one action cannot and will not save the planet.  People need to develop an actual understanding of the real consequences each of their choices have and then act in an informed manner.

Written by Dr. Judith Capper, an assistant professor of Dairy Science at Washington State University, the article looks at how, because no one took the time to look at the studies for indications that eating meat on Mondays can make a key impact on climate change, an industry that produces an affordable, quality food option which the majority of Americans enjoy comes off on social media as providing a socially irresponsible product.

This week, take back the Twitterverse.  Spread the word that no one should base decisions on 140 characters or less.  Maligning an entire industry based upon misinformation propagated due to laziness is socially irresponsible.  Send out the aforementioned link and promote real science. Take a moment to ask for credible, current information on the environmental impact of livestock production.

If a Picture is Worth 1,000 Words, Let’s Send 1,000 Pictures to Start a Conversation

From Main Street to MTV, everyone is talking about food. Unfortunately, this conversation does not often include the people who grow it. CommonGround Conversations creates a space for America’s farm families, and the people who support them, to share the story.  Here, we have a meeting ground that will let you discover the values and hard work that underlie our nation’s abundant, safe harvest. Help us share our story!  By submitting photos of yourself, family and friends waving at the camera, join your voice with like-minded people to open a national dialogue saying, “Hi! I support farmers.  Let’s talk about how we grow our food.”

Now’s your chance to join in on the CommonGround movement and let your voice be heard.

Right now, the movement is growing.  Help us find the CommonGround between the people who grow food and those who buy it.  Start today on CommonGround’s Facebook fan page. Here’s how to join the conversation:

  1. “Like” the CommonGround fan page.
  2. Take a photo of yourself, your friends or your family waving as if to say, “When you want to talk about food, talk to a farmer.”
  3. Click here to submit your story and photo.

Learn More About CommonGround

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