Posted By Cathryn March 6, 2013
Commodity 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.
Posted By Cathryn May 9, 2012
In coverage of the recent “occupation” of agricultural research land at the University of California- Berkley, one essential point was striking in its absence. While a public university, the land these so-called activists forcibly took over is, in fact, private property. Their actions in doing so showed complete disregard for the principles upon which our nation was founded, for the well-being of the institution’s students and for the rapidly growing world population whose food security depends upon the products of agricultural research.
Clinging to worn-out rhetoric shrouded in a mindless, trendy façade, these protesters stand against a fundamental principle upon which the nation is based. The ownership of private property has been held as a fundamental value of American society since the revolution. The nation’s forefathers enshrined it in the Constitution, and, in doing so, created a country to which many have fled in order to gain this protection. Placing their judgment above that of the university governing board, state government and of the people which those legislators represent, this fringe group forcibly chose to repurpose land to suit its own agenda.
What did the people who support this university lose?
They lost a valuable asset that provided the university with an outdoor laboratory. Agricultural research often culminates in necessary field trials that allow scientists to test how new varieties or products will react in circumstances similar to those in which they may ultimately grow. This land was not a common area without a stated purpose. These protestors stole a valuable resource.
They lost the valuable time. Right now, the future food security of the world depends upon agricultural research. In next 40 years, farmers will need to produce more food than was produced in the last 10,000 years combined to ensure the food supply keeps up with population growth. In light of this challenge, taking fields used for research into the products which will make this possible is tantamount to taking food from the mouths of those who will need it within our lifetime.
Actions have real consequences. The “Occupy the Farm” movement has shown how disregard for the basic ground rules governing our society, no matter how supposedly well-intentioned, results in real harm. Their lack of foresight and careful scrutiny of the possibly consequences of their actions shows the irresponsibility inherent in policies they espouse.
Posted By Cathryn February 13, 2012
For years now, musicians and actors have taken time out from patting themselves on the back during awards ceremonies to advance politicized causes. The mega-produced shows, which take a public willingness to indulge the already pampered in self-congratulation all the way to the bank, now serve as a platform for entertainers to remind us that they are thoughtful, culturally-aware types. Seemingly, it wasn’t enough for them to be richer and more attractive. Now, they have to prove an intellectual and moral superiority by raising a ruckus on the hot issue of the day.
At the Grammy Awards this year, Chipotle cashed in on this trend releasing a two-minute commercial decrying the evil of modern animal agriculture. Willie Nelson, long known to be a fan of a different type of farmer, strummed and sang to a Coldplay tune as cartoon images of a farmer and sweet little cartoon piggies drifted across the screen.
Personal repulsion to the insufferably self-aggrandizing, overly-produced, pseudo-intellectual impersonation of actual pain that underlies Coldplay’s music aside, the commercial plays upon the tendency of people to project what they want onto what they see.
Without a word, the ad strums along with melancholy nostalgia. The pictures show that many animals now, yes, live in barns. The sweet little cartoon pigs are shown actually locked behind a jail cell door like criminals. The farmer debates medicating himself, as shown through a thought bubble with a pill inside, or releasing his pigs back into pastures and blue sky with chickens running about too.
Luckily, it isn’t an actual depiction of how tender piglets might fare in a cold Iowa winter or how chickens do interact when left to their own devices. Instead, it is the same sort of wishy-washy, rose-tinted vision that most people would like to be true, despite the many difficulties with the realities of such a situation. If you are already projecting an actual message for Chipotle, it isn’t a stretch to willfully block out the fiction underpinning the situation.
Instead of buying into the portrayal of agriculture in the commercial, Nebraska farmers and ranchers fought back by showing the amazing story of the livestock industry in a commercial of their own. With solid information presented by actual human beings, the ad stands in stark contrast to Chipotle’s. Unlike its counterpart it offers a forthright message too – Farming is ethical. Learn about it and become a fan.
As a public, we should applaud this effort. Unlike the fast food giant, the farmers and ranchers of Nebraska trust that an informed public will see how amazing agriculture actually is today. They stand behind their production practices and invite those outside of the industry to learn more. They do not create a dream world with sappy music and emotionally evocative drawings. They treat thinking adults as such rather than signing them a lullaby.
So become a fan. Farmers work hard every day to produce a wide-variety of healthy, quality food options for us to enjoy. So many in fact, that it would be easy to avoid Chipotle, demonstrating an unwillingness to accept their uninspired brainwashing, in favor of a those other options until they hit a less condescending note.
BTW: If you want to know about the actual Chipotle, the one that they obscure through this kind of advertising, check out past reporting from Corn Commentary here.
Posted By Mark December 1, 2011
France’s top administrative court on Monday overturned a government order banning French farmers from planting genetically modified crops France’s agriculture ministry imposed a ban in February 2008 amid concerns over public safety, but its decision had already been called into question by the European Court and has now been annulled by the State Council.
Truthfully, their ongoing and Zombie-like fight against proven GMO technology has been like watching a bad movie that you just can’t stop watching. The ludicrous and persistent effort has been watched by farmers, scientists, regulators and some consumers without cable TV around the world. And one might suspect there might even be some betting pools initiated regarding who would finally put a bullet in the head of this persistent, riveting political theatre. (Ok, I have France planting their first GMO crop in 2013 with 3-1 odds).
Both courts overturned the national ban declaring the French Government presented no scientific evidence of any risk to health or the environment from these crops. EuropaBio’s Director of Green Biotechnology Europe, Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, said: “These judgments from the highest European court and the highest French court send one message loud and clear: bans of GM crops cannot be based on political dogma. As both judgments state, no ban on planting GM crops can be declared without valid scientific evidence, something that France and other European countries have not produced.”
Even if French corn growers don’t get to enter the modern world of corn production in 2012, this is yet another positive sign that the belabored and disingenuous GMO soap opera is on its final legs. Forgive me for saying this but I can hear the EU fat lady signing.
The French court’s decision also offers support for what U.S. scientists, regulators, and industry have been saying all along….there has been copious scientific testing and years of actual use in the real world and the GMO bogeyman remains firmly in the closet where he belongs. However, evidence rises that France will launch new restrictions. French president Nicolas Sarkozy said this week the government was preparing a “new safety clause” to forbid sowing of MON810 produced by Monsanto.
“The French government keeps and will keep its opposition against the cultivation of the Monsanto 810 maize on our soil,” Sarkozy said during a visit in southwestern France. Why do I have this feeling that President Sarkozy DVR’s the “Walking Dead?”
Posted By Mark November 8, 2011
The longest of journeys begins with a first step and perhaps the national idiocy over the evils of corn sugar (HFCS) may be about to subside. In the “Well Blog” in today’s New York Times they pronounce that soda bans in schools have limited impact.
I know business professionals aren’t supposed to say “Duh” but this is a blog and sometimes simple is better so “Duh.”
The NY Times blog notes that “State laws that ban soda in schools — but not other sweetened beverages — have virtually no impact on the amount of sugary drinks middle school students buy and consume at school, a new study shows.”
Their study took a look at thousands of public school students across 40 states, found that removing soda from cafeterias and school vending machines only prompted students to buy sports drinks, sweetened fruit drinks and other sugar-laden beverages instead. In states that banned only soda, students bought and consumed sugary drinks just as frequently at school as their peers in states where there were no bans at all.
Did somebody actually pay for this information? In the name of saving some money and urging the discussion along let me go one step further and save you the time and investment in other moments that make you slap your forehead and scream “Eureka.”
Some schools have actually removed all drinks containing sugar in an effort to protect the students from themselves and guess what happens. Teachers I know who work in the trenches elbow to elbow with the children and young adults say an interesting phenomenon occurs; students actually bring their own drink of choice to school…or even more than one.
This easy access to their first choice of drinks/drinks may actually increase their consumption. Most teachers and many school administrators get this but apparently school boards who are making these silly decisions do not.
I have said it here before and will likely say it again; trying to legislate or regulate common sense is a slippery slope. The national obesity problem amongst children and adults in this country is a real issue but it needs to be addressed through intelligent lifestyle choices that include better selections of food and quantity consumed as well as regular exercise. Good role models at home can have far more impact on students than any school board.
Posted By Cathryn November 2, 2011
Frequently, CornCommentary serves as a place to correct the many errors, fallacies and misrepresentations that plague media coverage of agriculture. With 98.5 percent of the population totally uninvolved in farming or farm-related activities and deep labor cuts at outlets across the country eliminating staff with any ag knowledge, this problem may seem endemic. Other times, it becomes evident that controversy sells and, should it not appear organically, some journalists happily create it.
Corn farmers have an unlikely ally in correcting the fallacies surrounding high fructose corn syrup though – Michael Pollan. Often viewed as an enemy of modern production agriculture, Pollan has come out clarifying statements he made that, in his own opinion, portray the sweetener unfairly.
This week, his rebuttals once again took center stage with websites highlighting a recent interview in which Pollan told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper, that his problem with sweetener in the American diet is based upon the amount consumed, not the type.
This statement is completely in line with earlier expressions of his viewpoint, such as that in his popular work Food Rules, an Eater’s Manual. While he does caution readers to cut down on their overall sugar intake, he pointedly notes that this includes sweetener of any kind and not just HFCS.
“Don’t fall for the food industry’s latest scam: products reformulated to contain ‘no HFCS’ or ‘real cane sugar,’” he states. “These claims imply these foods are somehow healthier, but they’re not. Sugar is sugar.”
Yet again, Pollan confirms the idea that a balanced diet leads to good health. It may be simpler to demonize a single ingredient, but the results of doing so will not be as effective. Instead, make healthy eating simple by moderating sugar intake without wasting time worrying about which specific sweetener it is.
Posted By Cathryn November 1, 2011
For more than a month and a half now, Occupy Wall Street protesters have taken over city parks and the national news programs protesting social and economic inequality and corporate greed and power. Within weeks of its beginning, the movement grew not just geographically, with satellite protests springing up across the nation, but also internally. By now, some protesters even carry signs with such articulate messaging as “I AM VERY UPSET,” as seen on the front page of a recent New York Times
Guess what? A lot of people are upset about a lot of things. But, as the many causes associated with the demonstrations multiply, some food elitists have started joining the “99%” while pushing an agenda that is not supported by the masses. Delivering misconstrued messaging that purportedly promotes democracy and touting dubitable sources, these fear mongers hype a plight that does not exist.
A recent blog post on Civil Eats outlines what the food-motivated occupiers actually want. The outcome of their desires would effectively squelch the freedom of average Americans to select the diet they prefer in favor of dictating a “healthier” America. By painting a seriously skewed picture of American agriculture, the elitist radicals deny the basic tenets of capitalism, an idea most Americans closely link with freedom. They condescend, offering only scant information provided by sources which either speak out of their field of expertise or have been debunked time and time again. Relying on a conception that Americans will embrace this emotionally charged propaganda without meaningful consideration, they aim to dictate both the choices of consumers and the ability of farmers to produce an abundant supply of healthy food choices.
Since an early age, children learn that they can “vote with their pocketbooks” as, in a free society the laws of supply and demand provide a tool with which they affect corporate America directly through their purchasing decisions. Yet, these protesters instead pose the idea that “75 percent of the population are obese or overweight and many are chronically ill with diet-related diseases” because of a corporate-controlled food supply. In doing so, they offer the easy out to anyone who makes poor choices by denying the long-valued ideal of personal responsibility.
Americans are not spoon-fed or force-fed the oversized portions of high-calorie foods that lead to weight gain. Instead, they choose a diet that they enjoy. Average Americans may not make the same choices as these activists, or even base them upon the same values, but that does not discount their opinions.
That argument sounds strangely familiar…
Many people take the easy academic out and blame corporations for producing the choices that they secretly favor. So, the protesters validate them. By blaming obesity on the corporations, these master debaters place the blame on faceless, callous mental images of corporations. These arguments further disguise an elitist agenda under the blanket of anger against corporations spun with the threads of discontent with financial entities whose corporate irresponsibility pushed our nation toward recession.
While these protestors claim to stand up to corporate farming, they rage against a corporate machine that doesn’t exist in the way they portray it. g. In all reality, 95 percent of all farms in America are still family owned. These growers, most often the descendants of a proud tradition of the rugged individualists who first made farming flourish here, make informed decisions every year on what to put in their fields. Farmers understand what types of climates and soil produce certain crops. They know first-hand that selecting seeds that can resist stressors common in their area will increase the chance of a successful harvest. They study their land, growing the most abundant crop possible in a way that preserves the environment- the single greatest resource as growers.
Pushing this reality aside, the blog post in particular jumps to the idea many espouse: somehow, big companies are behind what farmers produce. While a variety of companies do sell seeds, as consumers farmers select what they see as the product that will grow the best crop given their particular circumstances. If they did not see value in biotech, they wouldn’t pay for it.
Pointing to the rapid growth of sales for corn seeds with the Roundup Ready trait, the blog implies that, in order to achieve this type of success, the seed provider must be exercising some sort of secret power. In a way, successful seed providers are exercising a power that may be mysterious to the protestors. They make effective, proven, safe products that farmers like. Most average citizens understand that, when you make something that people like instead of just empty rhetoric, it tends to become popular quickly. Mystery solved.
The activists cite self-proclaimed “experts.” Again relying on the inaccurate assumption that the average Americans they claim to represent will be too lazy to examine these experts credibility, their arguments rely heavily on the claims made in the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc. (To read up on the problems of the documentary, read American Agri-Women’s Food Inc Analysis.)
The aforementioned blog post in particular also cites a doctorate. Instead of the logical selection of citing a medical doctor for information on human health, or even a biologist, nutritionist or dietician, the information sourced are the opinions of a physicist. While a doctorate requires mental aptitude and dedication, it seems like a large leap to place trust in someone speaking so far outside of their area of expertise. If a physicist is in no way licensed to practice medicine or dispense dietary advice, it might appear more credible if the expert cited in these areas were thus raising the question of how the author made such a selection. The word “desperation” comes to mind…
Opponents rely on inaccurate data and select seemingly odd sources only when no better choices exist. This proves true yet again with the implication that Americans chose processed foods because they are cheaper. Looking at the research shows, cooking homemade meals from the ingredients that they deem healthy, albeit produced using more modern practices, actually saves money. Again, food choice has not been obliterated by a corporate plot. The average American simply does not chose the foods that the protestors’ agenda would dictate.
Instead of occupying a park only to spout propaganda, those seeking to occupy our nation’s fields and stomachs should face reality. The food system, while as much of a work-in-progress as any other human endeavor, is functional. Every year, farmers provide an abundant supply of quality food. They do so at prices lower than anywhere else in the developed world. They do so despite challenges both from the weather and from the very people eating the food they grow.
Do not let the occupiers win. The monopoly they seek to create would take away choice, push up prices and kill the efficiency that allows farmers to feed the actually impoverished, hungry masses they pretend to represent.
Posted By Cathryn August 19, 2011
Some things from grade school still hold true. You shouldn’t forget what you learned over the summer, you should try your hardest, and there should always be a playground monitor. This August, while Congress is at recess, they need you to act as a playground monitor by reminding them of what they learned about the importance of pending trade agreements to agriculture.
First, take a moment to review the lesson.
The United States is the largest producer and exporter of corn in the world. Developing new markets for our country’s agricultural products is vital to producer income and it also helps our sector lead the nation in economic growth and international competitiveness. USDA is forecasting the United States will reach a record high $135.5 billion in exports this year. Agriculture’s trade surplus is not something other sectors of our economy achieve. Passing FTAs will ensure our market share stays strong in existing and developing markets.
Now, it is time to try your hardest. Today, that entails actually meeting directly with your members of Congress. It is the most effective way to inform them how important the pending Free Trade Agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama are for rural America, consumers and the agriculture industry. Opponents of free trade agreements will be working hard this summer to kill support for the agreements. But your message, told in person, will make sure Congress knows the truth about the benefits of FTAs.
For more information on the FTAs, click here.
Scheduling a meeting with your member of Congress requires some homework. First, you will need to talk to their scheduler, typically located in Washington, DC. You can find your member’s contact information online at www.senate.gov, www.house.gov or by calling the Congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to connect you to their office.
Be aware that many schedulers have a policy requiring that all meeting requests be submitted by fax or email, so be prepared to send the following information: your name, hometown, and title; description of the issue(s) you wish to discuss; other meeting attendees (along with their names, hometowns, and titles). You can then expect the scheduler to follow up with you via phone or email.
Be prepared to offer the scheduler your available dates and times. The greater your flexibility, the greater the odds are that you will be able to meet with the member. If the member is not available to meet with you, there are still options. Schedule a meeting with their legislative aide responsible for agriculture or trade issues.
If you have difficulty scheduling time with your representative, you may also ask the scheduler if the member will be holding any public events, town hall meetings or similar listening sessions in the District that you might be able to attend.
Life, and government in particular, can seem complex and confusing at times. Just remember, the lessons that you learned early on are still applicable today. Use playground rules and make sure that Congress spends their recess doing something productive. It takes some work, but it can pay off for corn growers across the country.
Posted By Cathryn August 3, 2011
According to many St. Louis meteorologists, the heat dome of 2011 will relent today, finally ushering in still-hot, but not life-threatening temperatures. In retrospect, the seemingly epic heat wave does offer some degree of humor. It just isn’t summer in the Midwest until some crack journalist attempts to fry an egg, cook macaroni and cheese, or even pop corn on a sidewalk.
While the epic creativity of the ever-rotating crop of insightful local reporters attempting such crazy feats allows us to giggle at the heat, or at least their tired antics, for many, the heat brought about a level of panic, suffering and problems more likely to make a sane person cry. From illness to electric bills that trigger a special sort of nausea, the heat wave wreaked havoc on what could otherwise have been a productive, enjoyable summer.
Children trapped indoors and sidelined runners aren’t the only groups stopped dead in their tracks by the blistering bubble. Corn farmers have watched as the crop they worked late into the night to plant following this spring’s unrelenting monsoon season begins to show signs of heat stress.
While the farmers themselves can escape to the icy, dark confines of the closest movie house, corn plants must find ways to endure the heat and preserve precious moisture. As corn plants are past the pollination stage at this point in the season, each individual plant makes a variety of small adaptations that best allow it to produce the maximum amount of viable seed possible.
As for each of us who has eschewed a morning jog or skipped an outdoor barbeque to cope with the insipid temperatures, corn plants make sacrifices to survive in these conditions. These sacrifices, although vital to preserving the corn and to the inherent objective of spreading its own genetic material, negatively impact the crop in a number of ways that can subsequently impinge on each individual farmer’s profitability at harvest.
Just walking through a corn field, the toll heat stress takes on a plant becomes obvious. The normally green, flat leaves that jet from the stalk have rolled in around the edges to reduce surface area, therefore preserving moisture. Near the ground, leaves have been fired from the stalk completely and now lie in brown, crumpled piles. The once lush, green field no longer resembles the perfect stands picturesquely surrounding the baseball diamond in “Field of Dreams.”
Heat damage affects more than the cosmetic in corn. As the nights stay hot and days reach record highs, the plant must further shut down to preserve the seeds encasing its valuable genetic material. The small kernels from the top of the ear abort to save the more desirable brethren at the base. Even the kernels for which much of the plant was sacrificed may not reach their maximum potential.
At harvest, these ears of corn will still be useful. The crop will still provide food, feed or fuel depending upon its destination. Yet, the farmer will again suffer as low test weights and diminished yields chip away at the profitability of the year’s corn crop. With high fertilizer prices and increasingly expensive land, farmers may find the heat burning them in the pocketbook long after a chilly fall breeze begins to blow in the evenings.
Farmers know from a very young age, most often by observing as their parents and grandparents worked that same land, that every year, every day their livelihood is at the mercy of the weather. Long after the average person’s electric bill is paid, farmers feel the impact of a long, hot summer.
So, next time a peppy freshman reporter cracks an egg onto a white hot sidewalk remember that the heat dome of 2011 will continue to loom large in the memories of many long after the holidays. America’s family farmers toil on despite the risk because they realize the importance of producing enough corn to supply the world’s growing demand.
Say thank you by becoming more informed. Take a moment to read a simple, short brief on how farm programs, such as those coming before Congress next year, help protect farmers from the heat and ensure a vibrant future for this key industry. If the television station can invest in the same tired heat story year-after-year, the country should invest in the men and women who provide the food that actually ends up on a plate.
Posted By Cathryn July 8, 2011
As high school English teachers hand out research paper assignments to eye rolls and sighs, they must know that their students feel nearly certain that the knowledge gained in carefully sourcing their final assignment will never serve them later in life. This attitude remains pervasive into adulthood it seems as many legislators, food elitists and a broad array of anti-ag activists have forgotten one of the keys to a successful assignment: Always base your thesis on information from academically credible sources.
Right now, arguments against corn-based ethanol, corn sugar and production agriculture have gained a significant amount of public attention. What we must do is question the information the nay-sayers build their arguments upon because, as high school also taught, popularity does not equal substance.
But it seems legislators forgot these valuable lessons as the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment decided to invite chicken lobbyists, environmentalists and Big Oil to testify during a hearing examining the science behind E15. While each of these groups most certainly has an opinion, albeit a self-serving one, on ethanol, none can claim to have conducted the unbiased, scientific research that would lend their arguments credibility.
If the subcommittee had truly intended to take a hard look at the scientific knowledge on E15, there were many groups who could have offered more pertinent, reliable data. Institutions that publish actual research that holds weight in scientific circles, including the Rochester Institute of Technology and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have conducted extensive research on the matter. Yet, somehow, our elected officials chose to listen to groups with obvious agendas and little expertise in the matter.
Food elitists have taken the same route as the armchair activists who perpetuate the idea that corn sugar, also known as high fructose corn syrup, somehow adds to the obesity epidemic, predisposes persons toward diabetes or is just generally bad. A majority of the HFCS-bashing public cannot accurately explain why they believe it to be worse beyond knowing that they heard something about some study.
Performing a routine Facebook search for the term yields telling results immediately. The very first result offered is a page advocating a complete ban of HFCS. Put together by a high school graduate with no discernible other credentials, the page explains that corn sugar differs from other sweeteners as the body metabolizes fructose and glucose differently. He even cites scientific evidence.
While this appears credible on the surface, it isn’t. What this vocal activist, who has been written about in publications as lofty as the New York Times, fails to understand is that corn sugar, cane sugar and beet sugar are nearly identical in their ratio of glucose to fructose, approximately 50 percent of each. Dieticians, physicians and reputable voices throughout the industry already know that corn sugar does not differ from other sweeteners. So why are more than 20,000 people fans of this inaccurate, bitter propaganda? The only logical conclusion is that they too decided to lazily accept whatever information they were handfed rather than critically evaluate the source.
It is time that we ask as much of ourselves as was required in high school – that we act as critical thinkers. The assignments today include developing sensible policies that serve the public good and are based in science and not propaganda-driven hysteria. Much more is at stake than an A this time so follow your English teacher’s instructions and make sure that the information you share comes from a source deserving of your trust.
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