Corn Commentary

Record Distillers Grains Exports in 2013

Patriot Renewable Fuels DDGsU.S. exports of the ethanol co-product distillers grains set a new record last year with China continuing to lead the demand.

According to the latest government statistics, exports of distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) totaled a record 9.7 million metric tons (mmt) last year, up 31% from 2012 and well above the previous record of 9.0 mmt set in 2010. China was responsible for nearly half of the total – 46%, with Mexico and Canada a distant second and third.

Credit for driving the demand for DDGS exports can be given to the U.S. Grains Council and the Renewable Fuels Association, which sponsor the Export Exchange every two years to bring buyers and sellers of coarse grains and ethanol co-products together. The event this year will be held October 20-22 in Seattle.

Meanwhile, U.S. exports of ethanol were down a bit from the previous year, but at 621.5 million that’s still the third-highest annual total on record. Canada was by far the leading export market for the year, receiving 52% of the total. The Philippines ranked second, followed by Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, and Mexico. Meanwhile, U.S. ethanol imports were down 27% from 2012, making the United States a net exporter of 226.3 mg in 2013, roughly a 24% increase over 2012 net exports.

Exports of both DDGS and ethanol from the United States are expected to continue to increase to meet demand, which could make up the difference if the EPA follows through on its proposal to lower the RFS.

Corn Growers Strong at Farm Progress Show

fps13-ncgaThe National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is out in full force at the 2013 Farm Progress Show, with both president Pam Johnson of Iowa and First Vice President Martin Barbre in his home state of Illinois on site.

They were doing interviews with all the farm media at the show, talking about a variety of topics. We chatted about the condition of the crop – which Pam says is “coming along” in Iowa and Martin says is “better than we’ve ever seen” in southern Illinois.

The farm bill is still a big concern for the corn growers and Pam says they are “not waiting very patiently anymore” for Congress to get the job done. They are strongly encouraging all members to contact their representatives during this August recess and urge them to make some real progress during the few days they are in session during September.

When it comes to membership, NCGA is now over 40,000 strong, which is a lot of voices that can make a big difference. “Our association has shown membership growth every year for the past 15 years,” Martin said. “Makes us feel like we’re really doing our job, really promoting the policy that the members create and making it happen.”

Pam and Martin also talk about the Renewable Fuel Standard, trade, WRDA and biotechnology in this interview.Interview with Pam Johnson and Martin Barbre

Japan Ready to Beef Up Again

neb-corn-japanA group of Nebraska corn farmers and cattlemen are convinced after a recent trade mission that Japan will soon return to its traditional spot as the number one export customer for U.S. beef.

The Nebraska Corn Board funded the participation of five Nebraska producers on the Japan mission, which centered on Tokyo and the Sendai region. They are pictured here next to an ad for U.S. beef in Tokyo Station, one of the city’s busiest metro stops. Left to right, the team consisted of Tim Scheer of St. Paul (Nebraska Corn Board), Dale Spencer of Brewster (Nebraska Cattlemen), Doug Parde of Sterling (Nebraska Cattlemen), Kyle Cantrell of Anselmo (Nebraska Corn Growers Association) and Mark Jagels of Davenport (Nebraska Corn Board and chair-elect of the U.S. Meat Export Federation).

Earlier this year, Japan finally agreed to ease up on import restrictions on U.S. beef implemented after an isolated case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in 2003. “During that time, Australia and New Zealand have been very aggressive in promoting their product into Japan with considerable success,” Jagels said. “We need to reintroduce Japanese consumers to the robust flavor of American corn-fed beef—and teach them ways to prepare and enjoy convenient and delicious dishes featuring U.S. beef.”

Already, sales of U.S. beef into Japan are on track to exceed $1 billion in value this year, up from virtually zero in 2006.

Read more from the Nebraska Corn Board and be sure to check out the mission blog for more insights and photos.

Importance of Biotechnology to the World

As an Iowa farmer, National Corn Growers Association President Pam Johnson knows how important biotechnology is for American farmers and this week she was on the road trying to get the message out that it is vital to the world as a whole.

“The continued use of biotechnology in agriculture is a key component to food security,” Johnson said during the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture in New York on Tuesday. “However, we need to greatly improve the public’s acceptance of biotechnology. Agriculture needs to lead the conversation on this important topic and provide education on the advancements of the industry. Consumers should be able to make decisions based on science and facts, not fearmongering.”

pam-ttipJohnson followed up that appearance by provided policy recommendations for the U.S. Trade Representative during a House Committee on Small Business hearing in Washington on Wednesday.

“For NCGA members, the biggest challenge is the approval of corn and corn products that are derived through biotechnology,” she said. “Unjustified regulations are costing family farmers millions in lost sales to the EU and could result in even great losses of U.S. exports if they are adopted by other countries.” She pointed out that 88% of the corn grown in the United States is derived from biotechnology, as it is in Brazil and Argentina.

The main point Johnson said the corn growers want to get across to USTR in these trade negotiations is that any agreement must be comprehensive and address any sanitary-phytosanitary barriers to agricultural trade up front. That means, she says, “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”

Listen to or download Pam’s testimony and answers to questions from lawmakers: NCGA president Pam Johnson Testimony

Minnesota Corn Growers Court Taiwan

The 2012 drought caused a little shake up in the top four corn producing states that produce more than a billion bushels a year. Normally Iowa and Illinois take the top two spots – sometimes Illinois is first but mostly it’s Iowa. Nebraska takes third and Minnesota usually comes in 4th. Last year, however, Minnesota moved up to second place because they actually increased corn production while the other three states were down due to the drought.

mn-corn-taiwanEncouraged by such a good year, the Minnesota corn growers are aggressively pursuing export markets and recently went on a trade mission to Taiwan. “We just want to emphasize that we had a very good crop this past year,” said Minnesota Corn Growers Association president Tom Haag, who noted that they also stressed the safety of genetically-modified corn. “We’re feeding them to our own livestock, so it’s safe for them to feed.”

Haag says they were able to meet with high level government and industry officials in Taiwan during the trade mission and would like to return the favor. “Every two years Taiwan has a mission to the U.S.,” he said. A delegation goes to Washington, D.C., to sign an agreement regarding corn purchases and then they visit corn producing states. “Two years ago when they came, they missed Minnesota as a state to visit and we were over there to convince them to come this time to show off our state,” said Haag.

Corn is Taiwan’s top agricultural import from the United States, with an annual trade value of $805 million.

Biotech Anniversary Triggering Accord

An important milestone for biotechnology is nearing, which will mean the beginning of a new era for genetically modified traits.

In 2015, patents for the very first ag biotech “events,” as they are called, will be expiring and becoming “generic.” Like pharmaceutical drugs are less expensive when they can be offered in a generic form, one benefit to the expiring patents may be lower seed prices and greater opportunities for the industry. However, also like drugs, International Seed Federation (ISF) president Tim Johnson of Illinois Foundation Seeds says these “events” are highly regulated. “We do not want biotechnology to disrupt markets,” he said, noting that the seed industry has been working on a framework to ensure access to the technology while addressing international trade concerns.

The initial step was announced recently by the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in “The Accord” – which has already been signed by most of the major companies involved in the biotech business for agriculture. “The Accord is a framework that we developed to provide a mechanism for that transition from proprietary biotech events to off-patent or generic biotech events,” says ASTA Vice President for Science and International Affairs Bernice Slutsky. “We view it as an opportunity for our broader membership to utilize events when they go off patent to provide farmers with a wide array of product.”

Interview with Bernice Slutsky

It’s amazing to think that the first biotech events aren’t even old enough to drink yet. That includes Bt corn and cotton, and Roundup Ready soybeans, as well as canola with modified oil composition and bromoxynil resistant cotton. “Biotechnology’s in its teenage years,” said Johnson, giving credit to Monsanto’s Hugh Grant for the analogy. “We’ve learned a tremendous amount over the last 15-20 years in biotechnology.”

If biotech is only a teenager, it’s achieved Justin Bieber-like popularity in that time. Between 90 and 95% of the U.S. canola, corn, cotton and soybean crops are genetically modified today – up from zero in 1994, when Justin Bieber was born.

“It’s important for us to find pathways that respect all technologies and all genetics to move forward on behalf of society,” Johnson says. “The accord lays that foundation down for us.”

Interview with Tim Johnson

Find out more about The Accord at agaccord.org.

World Grain Buyers Get US Producer Perspectives

Grain buyers from around the world at the recent 2012 Export Exchange had the opportunity to hear directly from U.S. farmers themselves about the impact of the drought on the 2012 crop through a producer panel during the opening general session. Among the panelists was Ron Gray, an Illinois farmer and Secretary/Treasurer of the US Grains Council.

Gray related how this season got off to a great start but quickly went downhill due to lack of rainfall, resulting in a severely diminished corn crop. “Our farm probably averaged 50 bushels an acre, which is approximately 1/3 of our normal production. The rainfall did come later and the soybean crop is a fairly good crop, but the corn crop was devastated,” Gray said.

However, Gray notes that “hope springs eternal in the farm community” and farmers are forging ahead with optimism in 2013. “That will mean it’s not 2012 anymore and that will be a good thing,” he said, pointing out that most farmers who had crop insurance this year will be in good shape for next season.

His take home message for international grain buyers was that U.S. corn and distillers grains will still be available for the export market. “We do have quality product available,” he said.

Listen to Jamie Johansen interview Ron at the Export Exchange: Ron Gray Interview

You can find photos from this years Export Exchange here: 2012 Export Exchange

Conference Addresses US Grains Importers Concerns

More than 200 international buyers and end-users were in Minneapolis earlier this week to meet with grain suppliers and to hear from industry and government leaders about prospects for U.S. export capacity, particularly in light of this year’s drought.

“What we’re telling customers around the world is how the U.S. producers will be there for them,” said Tom Sleight, President & CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, which sponsored the 2012 Export Exchange with the Renewable Fuels Association. “The US farmers will be there for them now and in the future. Yes, we have droughts, that’s a problem we have, but for the future the U.S. has always responded to production challenges with more acres, greater production. Our message to the international community is that the US farmer is there in the international market for keeps.”

Listen to an interview with Sleight here: USGC President Tom Sleight

The Export Exchange focused heavily on exports of the ethanol co-product distillers dried grains (DDGS), which have increased substantially in recent years. RFA vice president of research and analysis Geoff Cooper addressed concerns that a waiver of the Renewable Fuels Standard could impact the supply of DDGS, quoting one study that estimated a waiver might reduce ethanol production by about 3% or 500 million gallons. “If a waiver was granted, you might see distillers grains prices increase about six percent commensurate with that 500 million gallon reduction,” he said.

However, Cooper says they expect a waiver will only reduce corn prices by about four cents a bushel. “We believe that a waiver of the RFS is completely unnecessary and we do not believe that it would noticeably impact corn prices or availability in the current marketing year,” he said. “The markets are already adjusting and there is no evidence that a waiver will provide any additional relief.”

Listen to Geoff’s comments here: Geoff Cooper Comments

At the conclusion of the Export Exchange conference, teams of international grain buyers fanned out across America, from Ohio to Washington State, and Minnesota to Louisiana to gain further first hand information about the current U.S. corn crop and build relationships leading to future sales. Teams from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Mexico and Taiwan got a head start, visiting U.S. farms, agribusinesses, and export terminals before heading to Minneapolis. This week after the conference, a Japanese team headed to Iowa and Minnesota, a European team went to Nebraska and a Chinese team had visits scheduled in Ohio and Louisiana.

You can find photos from this years Export Exchange here: 2012 Export Exchange

Ethanol Ships Passing in the Night

rfaThere’s a hot new craze called the “Ethanol Shuffle” sweeping seaports from Sao Paulo to Los Angeles as tankers carrying Brazilian sugarcane ethanol bound for California pass those carrying corn ethanol bound for Brazil.

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Vice President of Research and Analysis Geoff Cooper wrote about the “Ethanol Shuffle” last week on the RFA E-xchange Blog. Basically, we are shuffling sugarcane ethanol from Brazil to California to meet that state’s Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS) – while at the same time, Brazil is importing lower priced corn ethanol from the United States to make up for not only the ethanol it is exporting to California, but the shortfall that country has experienced in ethanol production recently.

rfaSo, that’s how the “Ethanol Shuffle” works. California imports sugarcane ethanol from Brazil rather than corn ethanol from Nebraska or Kansas; and in turn, corn ethanol from the Midwest travels to Houston or Galveston via rail, then is shipped to Brazil via tanker to “backfill” the volumes they sent to the U.S. Picture the irony of a tanker full of U.S. corn ethanol bound for Brazil passing a tanker full of cane ethanol bound for Los Angeles or Miami along a Caribbean shipping route.

This is more than ironic, it’s just plain ignorant. First of all, sugarcane ethanol costs more than corn ethanol. According to Cooper, the ethanol California has been importing from Brazil has been an average of $1.56 per gallon MORE than corn ethanol from the Midwest. “As far as E10 goes, that’s about a 16 cent per gallon differential,” said Cooper.

The reason California prefers sugarcane ethanol over corn is because they claim it is better for the environment, a claim which can be disputed, depending on how the life cycle analysis is determined (see previous post). But, even if sugarcane ethanol actually does have a better carbon footprint than corn ethanol, that advantage is lost in the transportation shuffle. “If we were serving the California market with corn ethanol from Nebraska and the Brazilians were satisfying their own demands with their own fuel, the emissions related with moving that fuel are about half of what we’re seeing with this shuffling dynamic,” said Cooper.

Listen to an interview with Cooper about the Ethanol Shuffle here: Geoff Cooper on the Ethanol Shuffle

Corn Grower Leaders On the Air

ncga at nafbOne of the busiest booths at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting Trade Talk last week was the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), where president Garry Niemeyer of Illinois and first vice president Pam Johnson of Iowa spent the day doing interviews with broadcasters from all over the country.

Among the topics of interest were farm policy, this year’s crop, the American Ethanol partnership with NASCAR, USFRA, exports and atrazine. I hit on just about all of those subjects during my interview with Garry. Here’s some of his comments:

Farm Bill – “Passing farm bills usually takes about 15 months, and ironically, this one – if it happens – will be one of the quickest ever in history.”

Corn Crop – “All the adversity we’ve had, and here we are with the 4th largest corn crop. I’m thoroughly amazed.”

USFRA - “We’ve been laying a lot of the ground work here to get the message out to defend agriculture. We have everybody working together on the same page for the first time, telling our story.”

Trade – “These three free trade agreements give us the impetus to move forward to improve our infrastructure – locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.”

American Ethanol – “We have been going back over the advertising and we’re at 71% acceptance, that’s with 75 million fans throughout the United States.”

Atrazine – “It’s been a stalwart, it works, it’s inexpensive, it keeps the price of food affordable for the American public.”

Listen to my interview with Garry here: NCGA president Garry Niemeyer



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