Corn Commentary

Save the Corn Farmers?

Google “save the rainforest” and watch all the organizations that pop up; everything from the World Rainforest Fund to Kids Saving the Rainforest.  I don’t have a problem with that because rainforests are a critical cog in the blue planet’s eco-system.

Rainforests provide incredible biodiversity and through the process of photosynthesis they also provide the duel function of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it to life-sustaining oxygen. Then I realized most the American public has a rudimentary understanding of  the importance of the Amazon on another continent but has little understanding of the contributions our corn crop makes just from the process of simply growing.  It was the accompany image that got me thinking.

grawk-earth-photosynthesis-crop-660x410The image from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center represents satellite measurements of plant fluorescence.  It represents a compilation of data collected over a four year period. During photosynthesis, the chlorophyll in healthy plants absorbs light to be converted into energy, but it also emits a little bit of light that’s not visible to the human eye. Scientists have now figured out how to use that fluorescent glow to measure the productivity of plants in a given region.

What it reflects is a startling revelation even to a corn-o-phile like me. Using existing data from satellites designed for entirely different purposes, such as ozone monitoring, NASA scientists were able to show that during the Northern Hemisphere’s growing season, the Midwestern U.S. has more photosynthetic activity than anywhere else on the planet, including the Amazon rainforest. Nearly all of this can be attributed to agriculture, and much of it to corn.

So, feeding people aside, providing cleaner ethanol fuel aside, corn takes bad things out of the air much like a tree and gives us oxygen to breathe.  So I want to start a new organization called Save the Corn….or maybe that should be corn farmers?  

Let’s Move! Science Backs GMOs

Whether one is a fan of the White House’s Let’s Move! initiative or not, it almost inarguably plays a large role in our nation’s discussions on food. Today, Let’s Move! Executive Director and White House Senior Advisor on Nutrition Policy Sam Kass made a major statement about the future of food during the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives conference backing the science behind GMOs and advocating for a cultural shift toward their acceptance.

Kass’s remarks, covered in Politico Pro, indicated his thoughts on how the impact of climate change and adaptive technologies will shift the currently fierce debate over GMO foods.

“I think this debate is naturally going to start to shift,” said Kass. “I think the science is pretty clear. Ultimately I think the science will win out.”

His comments echoed those often made by groups such as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and CommonGround in espousing the importance of consumer choice and access to factual information about the quality and safety of the abundant food options produced by U.S. farmers and ranchers.

“I think part of the problem with the debate as it stands is that it’s either one or the other,” said Kass. “Every side says my way is the best way. Diversity [in agriculture] is strength.”

The More You Know

The More You KnowRemember the PSA’s that used to run with a tagline of “The More You Know?” They provided a helpful little piece of info on a broad array of subject? Today, Real Clear Science writer Ross Pomeroy offered up a succinct PSA of his own correcting misconceptions about organic and conventional agriculture with scientific information.

So what is the 15-second sound bite? Produce, whether conventional or organic, is equally safe and nutritious.

His story, “The Biggest Myth about Organic Farming,” examines the scientific realities behind many common consumer misconceptions. From exploring whether one method is healthier to explaining organics are grown using pesticides too, Pomeroy pummels the marketing hype which fosters fear and gives way to guilt among well-intentioned shoppers.

To read the full article, click here.

The truth is simple. Consumers have many choices. American farmers work to grow healthy, nutritious foods, and American shoppers have the right to decide what they prefer to purchase. What consumers need to know though is the facts that empower them to make the best decisions for their families.

The more you know about American farming, the more you know what an incredible, innovative industry it is, and the more you know about the wide variety of production options which all provide equally nutritious, healthy food for people in a way that is equally good for the environment.

So, take a moment to share his story. The more we all know, the better off we will be.

Farmer’s View of Sustainability

walmartWalmart held a big event last week where the CEOs of major global companies made new commitments toward more sustainable products.

Among the food and agribusiness company CEOs taking part were Monsanto, Cargill, Dairy Farmers Incorporated, General Mills and Kellogg, many whom talked about how they will be working with farmers on sustainability goals.

Monsanto chairman and CEO Hugh Grant announced two commitments to help address challenges in the areas of water and nutrient efficiency. First, the company will work to increase water-use efficiency in irrigation across its own global seed production operations by 25 percent by 2020. Grant also pledged that the company “will continue to innovate and advance smarter seeds and precision management tools that enable farmers to use nutrients more efficiently and curb greenhouse gas emissions on one million acres in the United States by 2020.”

corzine2In making the announcement, Grant asked Illinois farmer and former National Corn Growers Association president Leon Corzine to join him and talk about what these commitments mean for the agriculture community. “As we have these discussions, farmers need to be represented so everyone has a better understanding of what farmers are actually doing on the farm,” said Leon, noting he was able to attend the event because they had just finished corn planting so his son Craig said it was okay for him to go.

“One of the things Craig and I talk about that I learned from my dad and granddad is a personal initiative to leave the farm better than we found it,” Leon said. “That’s really what sustainability is all about.”

Leon talked about the “awesome” technology farmers have today that helps farmers be more efficient and “increase productivity while lowering our environmental footprint.” He just made a great case for farmers as stewards of the land that the non-ag media on the call really need to hear.

Listen to Leon’s comments were: Illinois Farmer Leon Corzine on Sustainability

White House on Climate Change and Farmers

climate-agAgriculture is a big part of the new White House climate change assessment report out this week.

“Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience,” the report states.

Immediately after the report was released on Tuesday, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency discussed it with members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting meeting in Washington DC.

“It’s a really good document in terms of focusing on the United States,” she said. “In particular, it looks at the agriculture sector. It talks about the droughts and floods that we’re seeing that have created challenges for our farmers and ranchers and to take a look at some of the ways the president’s climate action plan can work collaboratively with agriculture to try and address those challenges more effectively.”

McCarthy says when she talks with farmers and ranchers about climate change, it’s not a debate. “We’re talking about what we can do together to recognize the challenges and to provide the farmers the adaptive management techniques that will allow them to be successful… and allow them to address these challenges,” she concludes. McCarthy climate change report comments

Read the report’s section on agriculture here.

Binging on Earth Day Irony

dead dolphinOk, I admit I love irony. So I had to chuckle a little bit as everyone was getting fired up about the arrival of another Earth Day. The irony lies in the fact that this momentous occasion occurs two days after the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

To refresh your memory this was the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, estimated to be up to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest, the Ixtoc I oil spill. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days, until it was capped on 15 July 2010. The US Government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels.

That’s 210 million gallons of oil and we don’t even want to talk about the 2 million gallons of toxic chemicals they call dispersants which were either to:

  • Hide BP’s Faux Pas and remove it from public display
  • or allow nature to recover faster

The irony gets tastier if you are my age because I am old enough, ok more than old enough, to have celebrated the first Earth Day and remember how this whole affirmation of Mother Terra Firma began. It started 44 years ago after a US Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.

Well the Earth Day recognition has lasted but the public consciousness and the leadership of our elected officials lacks a little staying power. Today, the oil industry continues to be one of the largest polluters in the world. And because of their deep pockets and political influence they have been allowed to blithely go about their business with little or no consequences.

The BP spill offers a great case in point. Big oil responded initially and spent money for clean-up efforts and they put on a contrite face while the cameras were on. But take a closer look today at their efforts in court to dodge any more clean-up costs and the fines that were imposed. They say their job is done even as the number of dead dolphin washing up on beaches topped 900 last week. Kemp sea turtle have been nearly ravaged into extinction in Gulf waters.

And to add insult to injury petroleum interests are now spending millions to mislead the public. Big oil is poisoning the system as well as the environment. They are doing everything they can to keep a death grip on the liquid transportation fuel market.

That’s why today—Earth Day — you should take few minutes to educate yourself regarding the sheer audacity of oil. It’s as simple as going to OilRigged.com to shine a spotlight on the oil companies’ dirty tricks and dishonest attacks. Americans deserve to know how oil companies have rigged the system to make us pay more at the pump—sending their profits up while our air and water quality goes down.

Forbes Fuzzy Math

Forbes proved that by carefully presenting numbers in a persuasively plotted manner one can confuse a reader this weekend in its story “It’s Final – Corn Ethanol Is Of No Use”. Referencing the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group reports released at the end of last month, energy writer James Conca conca-cocted a seemingly sensible argument. Unfortunately, he used slanted stats to obfuscate the truth and, with the skill of a math-magician, create an illusion instead of a solid story.

In his argument, Conca cleverly hides reality through the use of percentages. Comparing the total percent of the corn crop used to feed people and livestock in 2000 (90 percent) to the broken out figures for livestock and food and beverage feed in 2013 (45 percent and 15 percent respectively). He clearly intends to shock by using the smallest possible numbers for 2013 instead of using a more mentally honest direct comparison.

But this is only the beginning of the show. Much of the story happens off the stage.

Behind the curtain, Conca hides the hard numbers that would show his sleight of hand for what it actually is. In 2000, the United States produced only 9.9 billion bushels of corn. In 2013, U.S. farmers grew a record 13.9 billion bushels. Percentages working as they do, a larger percentage of a smaller crop can (and often does) equal a smaller percentage of a larger.

Usage for starch held steady. Sweetener, cereal and food usage rose.

Corn used for livestock feed rose too. In 2000, 5.2 billion bushels of U.S. corn went to livestock feed. In 2013, 4.3 billion bushels went directly to the livestock feed market with the equivalent of an additional 1.1 billion bushels going to feed use as distillers dried grains and corn gluten feed. That is a total of 5.4 billion bushels of corn in 2013.

Overlooking real magic, Conca fails to mention how ethanol co-product DDGs help maximize the potential of each kernel of corn by creating both feed and fuel from it.

While he puts on a complicated, carefully choreographed performance, Conca’s performance falls flat as a piece of unbiased journalism. Instead of shining the spotlight on the real fallacies, he follows the other righteously indignant frauds into a fog of reactionary rhetoric that obscures the bright role biofuels play in building an honestly better future.

Energy Independence No Greased Pig Fantasy

There is an old saying…”make hay while the sun is shining.” Dating back to at least 1546 this traditional farmer logic translates into grab opportunity while you can. This has never been truer regarding the nation’s energy situation. A new report by the Energy Information Administration makes that abundantly clear. EIA says the greased pig fantasy of energy independence in the US is real.

We’ve reduced our dependence on foreign oil from 60 percent to 45 percent in the last few years. This is real, quantifiable progress brought on by smaller, high mileage vehicles, less driving due to a sagging economy, 15 billion gallons of ethanol capacity and domestic oil production on steroids.

Net oil imports to the U.S. could fall to zero by 2037 because of robust production in areas including North Dakota’s Bakken field and Texas’s Eagle Ford formation, according to this Department of Energy projection released this week.

Most days I am just numb about government studies and gasoline prices. I pull up to the pump, try to ignore the price and move on about my day. But there are other days too when I am angry about being held hostage by oil companies, and especially about their cavalier approach to crushing any real competition.

And that is exactly that they are trying to do with ethanol today.  So, here is a novel thought. Let’s take this time of energy abundance to think big and invest in a more sustainable energy future rather than waiting until the wolf is at the door. Because, rest assured petroleum remains finite and the next generation will wonder why we squandered this brief respite from oil piracy.

Oil imports have fallen to about 5 million barrels a day from a peak of almost 13 million barrels in 2006, thanks in part to advances in techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in shale rock. Despite this, we continue to spend $1 billion a day protecting our assets in foreign oil. And there is no getting around that gasoline is bad for our health and the environment.

make-hayNow would be a great time to call your Congressman and Senator and ask them to show some vision regarding biofuels and our energy future. The rapid growth in ethanol production has shown us the promise of a bio-based fuel future. It’s time to make hay!

 

 

 

Would Someone Please Tax Me Like Big Oil?

oily bird picIt’s tax time again. You know that short window during the year when it’s ok to complain about being taxed. Given the number of people who remain unemployed it really is kind of bad form to complain the rest of the year.

So as you belly up to do your part to keep the skids of government greased here is a whopper of a tax tale to help you really get the bile out and make your complaining count. I am guessing that it will come as no shock to you that each year the average American pays more than 20 percent of their income in federal taxes. This does not include state and local taxes.

So this begs the question; shouldn’t an industry that makes $175,000 per minute pay at least that much? This is a real number reflecting the profits of the five largest oil companies. Together they earn more in one minute than 95 percent of Americans earn in a year.

However, Reuters news service estimates that Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil pays effective federal tax rates of 19 percent, 18 percent, and 13 percent, respectively. Reuters noted that this is “a far cry from the 35 percent top corporate tax rate.” Likewise the tax bracket for the most successful Americans is 35%.

The petrol industry has prospered over the past decade, thanks to high oil and gasoline prices. The five largest companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell — earned more than $1 trillion during this time. In the first nine months of 2013, these five companies realized a combined $71 billion in profits. Certainly, these companies can prosper without $2.4 billion in annual special tax breaks.

The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that three tax preferences provide $24 billion per decade in annual benefits to these five companies. The “limitation on Section 199 deduction,” designed to encourage domestic manufacturing to remain on shore, costs the Treasury $14.4 billion per decade for these five companies. The foreign tax credit deduction saves the big three domestic oil companies $7.5 billion per decade. The “intangible drilling costs” deduction saved the five companies another $2 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

It also seems the oil and gas industry has been the largest beneficiary of federal financial support in the entire energy sector benefitting from nearly 60 percent of all federal energy support since 1950.   Shouldn’t the lion’s share of these dollars be spent on new, alternative, renewable sources to make us less dependent on something as finite and as devastating to the environment as oil?

Big Oil will argue that these breaks are critical to job creation, but recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows oil industry employment is off 10 percent. This is not nearly as bleak as it sounds given that nearly half of the direct jobs touted by big oil are service station positions.

Simply put, it’s time to end special tax breaks for BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell.

Big Oil Labels Family Farmers Extremists

A true David and Goliath battle is under way between the nation’s family farmers and Big Oil in the form of the American Petroleum Institute (API). And farmers in recent weeks bounced a big rock off the head of the petroleum behemoth. At issue is American ethanol.

For months the oil industry has been involved in a well-funded campaign of both public and covert efforts to undermine the growing role of sustainable biofuel like ethanol. They capped this massive misinformation campaign by leaning on the White House and EPA to propose a change to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) that would reduce ethanol use by 1.4 billion gallons this year.

The bad news is the most recent slap in the face, if successful, has the potential to hammer farmers and slappythe rural economy to the tune of more than 10 billion dollars.

Before this recommendation can be accepted EPA’s proposal must go through a formal public comment period. Thousands of corn farmers across the country have responded with a vengeance submitting comments urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to retract its proposed 10 percent cut in the amount of corn ethanol in the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard.

The volume of supportive comments coming from farmers as well as equipment dealers, bankers, school administrators and consumers who favor a fuel choice has been incredible so thanks to everyone who has taken the time to register your opinion.

The response has been so terrific that it tweaked API and in response they have launched yet another effort to remove any competition from the fuel marketplace. It takes the form of an annoying and deceptive “robo-call.”

On the pre-recorded action request API refers to those supporting ethanol as both a “special interest group” and as “extremists.” Since most those making the calls are farmers, I guess that means you. They also use the same old hackneyed and debunked arguments saying ethanol leads to higher food prices and damages car engines.

If being called an extremist makes you a little angry fight back. If having one of the world’s most prosperous industries try to increase their profits at your expense….fight back.

Corn growers: Click here to send a public comment to the EPA.

Non-farmers: Click here to customize and send a public comment to the EPA.

I wish it was a real person calling rather than some digital dweeb called Tom, because I would tell him to quit bugging hard working Americans and get back to cleaning up the their latest oil spill.



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