Corn Commentary

A Corn-y Conversation

Kenney VideoIowa CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney brought the story of corn to internet viewers everywhere recently during an interview with Iowa Girl Eats blogger Kristin Porter. The video, made possible by the Iowa Food and Family Project, explains both the different types of corn people see in the field driving by as well as what their uses.

Find out more about the incredible story of corn with Julie by clicking here.

Like it? Check out other videos from the series, including one with Julie’s husband, Mark, or one with Iowa Corn Growers Association staffer Janet Wilwerding.

It’s Candy Corn Time!

candy-cornAt the same time of year when combines are running in the corn fields, billions of kernels of candy corn are being popped in mouths around the country.

That’s right, I said billions. According to the National Confectioners Association, 35 million pounds of candy corn are sold around Halloween, which is approximately 9 billion individual kernels of corn. That’s kind of scary!

Candy corn has been around for more than 100 years. George Renninger, an employee of the Wunderlee Candy Company, invented the popular confection in the 1880s and Wunderlee became the first to produce the candy. The Goelitz Candy Company (now Jelly Belly Candy Company) started producing the confection in 1900 and still produces candy corn today.

The main ingredient in candy corn actually is corn – corn syrup, that is. And the NCA points out that it was first made when most of America was still farming country. They don’t know if it was the fact that so many Americans had farm experience at that time, if urban dwellers found it charming or if it was some combination that made it so popular, but people went nuts over it.

And today, October 30 is National Candy Corn Day, so enjoy some of the sweet, tri-colored treats to celebrate – but save some for the trick-or-treaters!

Have a Little Corn with Your Beer

flying-dogPlato is quoted as saying “He was a wise man who invented beer.” With craft beers all the rage now, a wise brewery is taking a second look at corn as a main ingredient.

Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, Maryland calls its new brew Agave Cerveza.

Our latest Brewhouse Rarities release, Agave Cerveza, is the artisanal answer to the easy-drinking, light-bodied beers typically produced south of the border.

Flaked maize makes up one third of the malt bill and highlights the distinctive corn and cracker flavor typically found in Mexican lagers. The agave is added at the end of the boil and lime peel post-fermentation to impart a distinctively zesty character and a crisp, clean finish.

The Washington Post has a nice article about this craft beer and the history of corn and beer brewing. Interesting read will leave you saying, I did not know that!

Cut through the Dizzying Deluge of Confectionery Confusion

5344193519_Chocolate_Covered_CherriesIf you have anything in common with the blog staff at Corn Commentary, you probably have no clue what you might get your significant someone for Valentine’s Day yet. You may have spent endless hours flipping furiously through webpages on your phone with a blank mind and pounding pulse. What could bring a smile to the face of someone who always brings one to yours?

In your list of whirling worries, cross off one cause for concern and consternation. Whether the candies you buy are sweetened with corn, cane or beet, when it comes to digestion they are the same for you to eat.

So pick up chocolate covered cherries, bon bons or strawberries. Your Valentine’s preference is your biggest worry. Scientists have shown there’s no wondering which should be your chosen treat. Metabolisms burn as fast as you can get your heart to beat. It all burns the same in turn whether sugar comes from corn or cane or beet.

Scour the substantive studies on this sugary science here.

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.

Newspaper’s Credibility At Issue

In 36 years of being directly involved in agriculture and the issues that make it so…interesting, frustrating, rewarding, and painful…I have only seen one positive story written about the issues effecting the profession, especially ethanol, in the Chicago Tribune. I remain convinced to this day that it was a mistake that slipped by editors and that the cub reporter responsible is driving a cab in the Loop and speaking in tongues.

I think it is ok to say this Windy City pub never met a farm policy or ethanol issue they didn’t like to bash, facts aside. Apparently farmers are immune to the whims of business considerations like making enough to pay the bills and plant another crop. Why else would the Trib opine that farmers are getting more for their corn after a 25 year economic drought that saw farmers getting $2 to $2.50 a bushel regardless of real world cost or demand? (Let alone make such comments in the wake of prices just dropping 40 percent).

So, following their direction, I guess all of you farmers can get off your combines and retire. Apparently you have spent your entire life, not to mention several generations, involved in the most under appreciated hobby in history. No more production of food, feed, or fiber. No more ethanol fuel because we are just going to continue to depend on prickly and dangerous oil producing nations for their finite black gold.

On a more serious note, I think the Tribune needs to be called on the carpet for the sham they have been selling to the public for years that they have a pro-business/pro-jobs position.

Despite dozens of third party experts bringing them information backed by science that exposes the errors in their thinking the Trib, especially its editorial writers, remain steadfast in their spewing of misinformation and loathing of ethanol despite its emergence as a critical economic engine in much of the U.S. Are these folks not suspicious or troubled at all by the millions of dollars being spent by the petroleum industry in recent years to damage the reputation of ethanol. One of the tenants of good journalism is to follow the money in trying to understand societal issues. Clearly Goliath is trying to squash David and somebody should be asking why.

Here are a few of the factual perversions in their latest diatribe:

  • Farmers are not planting as much corn as possible. In fact we are 20 million acres shy of planting the acres we did in the 1920s.
  • The Trib notes we use 40% of the corn crop to make ethanol. Actually we use the equivalent of only 27% of the crop because only the starch from the corn kernel is used to make ethanol. The protein for livestock feed is concentrated, easier to transport and a high value product.
  • Blaming corn for higher meat prices is also off base. Declining domestic meat consumption and the outrageous cost of transportation of all food products to market – thank you big oil – has something to do with that.
  • Plant diseases and pests are nothing new. Farmers deal with them all the time and do so very well thank you. Goss’s wilt that you reference touches only 10% of the corn crop, and is far from being devastating, unless of course you fall in the 10%.
  • And did you actually criticize crop insurance in one breath while also intimating we should take away a farmer’s ability to choose what to plant? That will make the kids want to return to the farm business.

Peterson Farm Brothers Heat Up a Cold Florida Night

Peterson Bros editedCommodity Classic heated up a cold Florida night last week when the Peterson Brothers took center stage during the Evening of Entertainment. The family farmers, whose “I’m Farming and I Grow It” video went viral last spring, accepted honors from event sponsor Monsanto for their work to promote the image of modern agriculture.

The brothers, who have created a series of YouTube videos parodying trendy songs, brought farmers into the tech spotlight, with their version of the party anthem gaining more than eight million views. Combining their youthful, fun-loving spirit with their passion for agriculture, these young men pushed family farmers into the national spotlight.

The air outside may have been unseasonably cold, but the brothers sparked warm enthusiasm in the crowd. Leading by example, the Peterson Brothers showed that farmers can effectively use social media to start a dialogue that gets consumers excited too.

Want to join the movement to get a conversation rolling about farming? Click here to learn about innovative programs offered by the National Corn Growers Association that can help you get started.

Sweet News about Your Valentine’s Day Sweets

Today, Corn Commentary offers a guest post from blogger Sara Ross, a CommonGround Iowa volunteer. Ross, along with 85 volunteers in 15 states, is participating in a movement that looks to open a conversation between the women who grow food and those why purchase it.

CommonGround was formed by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates to provide our nation’s female farmers with opportunities to connect with their urban and suburban counterparts on an issue important to all of them – the food they feed their families.

Corn HeartIt’s Valentine’s Day.  It’s a day of love, flowers, presents, candy and high fructose corn syrup….

Wait….what???

Yes, high fructose corn syrup will be present on Valentine’s Day in many of your candies and soft drinks.  Not to worry though!  In this post I’m going to clear up some common myths and misconceptions about this hot topic. Misconception 1:  High fructose corn syrup is bad for you.
Answer:  High fructose corn syrup has almost the same composition as table sugar, honey and fruit juices like grape and apple.  “When high fructose corn syrup and sugar are absorbed into our bloodstream, the two are indistinguishable by the body,” Joan Salge Blake, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.  Sugar is sugar and all of it should be consumed in moderation.

Misconception 2:  High fructose corn syrup is not natural.
Answer:  This is not true.  HFCS is made from corn, a naturally occurring food.  It contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives.  It also meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for use of the term “natural.”

Misconception 3:  High fructose corn syrup is causing wide-spread obesity in the United States.
Answer:  In 2008 the American Medical Association (AMA) concluded that HFCS does not appear to contribute more to obesity than any other caloric sweeteners.  “At this time there is insufficient evidence to restrict the use of high fructose syrup or label products that contain it with a warning,” said AMA Board Member William Dolan, MD. “We do recommend consumers limit the amount of all added caloric sweeteners to no more than 32 grams of sugar daily based on a 2,000 calorie diet in accordance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

“The real issue is not high fructose corn syrup. It’s that we’ve forgotten what a real serving size is. We have to eat less of everything,”stated David Klurfeld, Ph.D, from the Agricultural Research Service at the USDA.

Misconception 4:  High fructose corn syrup is used only as a sweetener in food and beverages.
Answer:  HFCS is a popular ingredient for many manufacturers.  Here are some of the ways it is used:

  • As a liquid, it is easily incorporated into beverages and also stays in solution better— making a higher quality product.
  • As a form of invert sugar, fructose combines with protein in the presence of heat to give browning—toasted bread is an example. Because it has a higher amount of fructose, HFCS provides better browning in baked products.
  • Using HFCS instead of granular sugar helps lock in moisture in baked products. This extends shelf life by keeping the baked product fresher for a longer time period. This same moistness also gives cookies and snack bars a softer texture.
  • Because it is a syrup (rather than granules), the fructose and glucose molecules do not form undesired crystals in candies and ice cream—giving those foods a smoother mouth feel and a more desirable product.
  • HFCS contributes thickness, or viscosity, to condiments and salad dressings.

When doing some research on candy companies and what their stances are about HFCS, I found thatThe Hershey Company says this, “The Hershey Company uses a variety of sweeteners to deliver products with well-known tastes and textures while maintaining our high quality standards. Different types of sweeteners are better suited for different types of products. High fructose corn syrup, although used sparingly, provides better functional properties in selected products.”

When I looked to Pepsi Co to see what their stance is on HFCS I found that they say, “HFCS and table sugar have the same calories and sweetness so the decision to use one or the other is based on a variety of other factors. For example, HFCS is an easier ingredient to work with because it is a liquid. It also costs less than table sugar which helps us keep the cost of our products down for consumers. However, since some consumers prefer beverages sweetened with table sugar, we give people choices in the different products we make.”

With all this information about HFCS, just remember that sugar is sugar and while eating candy on Valentine’s Day, moderation is the key!

This post originally ran on the blog Sara’s House HD.

To learn more about the CommonGround program or connect with it through social media, click here.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Next Year’s Crop)

BabyCornCorn farmers might be wise to take a cue from a certain sector of their counterparts in traditional business sectors and learn the value of expectations management.

In 2012, farmers felt the brunt of their own success as, after years of continually pushing the boundaries of how much they could grow using fewer resources, a massive drought hit the Corn Belt hard. Fields of young corn plants, the beginning of what many anticipated to be a record corn crop, withered in the relentlessly dry heat. Corn production powerhouses, including Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, found their crop would not meet initial projections.

For their inability to (literally) make it rain, these farmers faced massive cries from media outlets’ sensationalized stories. Ever vigilant in their quest for higher ratings, many journalists eschewed responsible research in favor of “commonsense” commentary, crying over and over that consumers would be shocked when they saw their grocery bills come fall.

From their self-claimed moral high ground, media mercenaries lobbed a frenzied attack. Will Americans starve to feed their cars? Should draconian rationing measures be instituted? Were the Mayans right?

With the USDA’s annual crop reports released, a clearer picture of the 2012 crop is forming. Corn farmers, who faced a serious adversary in Mother Nature, managed to grow 10.8 billion bushels of corn. No, the crop did not break all previous records, but it made the top ten lists.

Despite the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, farmers raised the eighth-largest corn crop since the United States started keeping records. Through better seed varieties, developed through biotechnology, improved practices and cutting-edge technology, our nation’s corn farmers fought back against Mother Nature’s assault.

They struck major blows at key times. Iowa took the front despite the drought, growing 1.87 billion bushels of corn. Minnesota and Nebraska stepped up production and buttressed the crop, growing 1.37 and 1.29 billion bushels respectively. Even Illinois, who saw their normally chart topping yields shrivel in the sun, made a major contribution to the nation’s overall totals, producing 1.28 billion bushels.

The lesson therein? Corn farmers fell victim to their own success in 2012. While striving to produce even more bounty year after year, their achievements became commonplace. Thus, when these over-achievers faced a natural disaster, their efforts were met with backlash instead of understanding support. When their fields suffer, farmers suffer. Yet, this fact was largely ignored.

The eighth-largest corn crop on record does not generate the sort of excitement that a record-breaking harvest may have. It does show the strength and reliability of U.S. farmers. Even in the face of a drought that would have decimated the crop only decades ago, they succeeded in providing a top ten crop. Expectations placed upon America’s farmers have obfuscated the triumphs of 2012.

Sadly, it is a story that deserves telling. Though neither glamorous nor sensational, U.S. corn farmers can provide a dependable abundance that Americans can count on for food, feed, fuel and fiber. Maybe this does not make a headline, but it does provide for a secure tomorrow. That’s an expectation farmers are proud to meet.

It May Sound Corny…

Corny ArtIt may sound corny, but lately it seems that a lot of people talk about the omnipresence of corn. While this fact is inarguable, the negative tone of many articles on the corn-centric nature of our lives seems befuddling.  This week, the Kansas City Star took a more insightful approach to exploring how people interact with the crop in their daily lives.  As it turns out, a world without corn doesn’t seems like such a great place to live.

The author carefully walks through what a day without corn might look like. Unable to brush his teeth, scramble a decent egg and with his clothes falling to rags, he finds that corn actually makes small improvements to an incredible number of the items that make our lives more pleasant, healthy or comfortable.

The properties inherent to corn make it our nation’s most abundant crop for a reason. Lending useful applications to products as varied as pharmaceuticals and fireworks, corn may really be the glue the binds us together in many ways.

Another kernel of wisdom, it helps to make that glue too.

Corn is king not because it rules over us. Corn it king because IT RULES! Take a minute to check out how many great, interesting, useful ways that corn is used.

Farmers across the country work hard year in and year out to make sure there is a supply of corn so that consumers can enjoy everything from cosmetics to cola.  Let’s support the great efforts of our nation’s hardworking family farmers, even if it may sound corny to some ears.



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