Corn Commentary

If It Looks Like Big Oil, and Walks Like Big Oil, It’s Probably…Big Oil

enviro impactsA story in today’s New York Times cites a new study by the World Resource Institute that attempts to discredit the significant and increasing contributions of biofuels to meet the world’s energy needs. On close inspection two things become abundantly clear.

First the so-called “new” study is nothing but the same old stuff trotted out by the anti-ethanol crowd nearly annually to see if any of the misinformation sticks to the wall. Take the wig and mustache off and it’s the same old pig.

Second, the former journalist in me always says to consider the veracity of the source to validate the data. In this case the World Resource Institute is funded by Shell and Statoil, two of the world’s largest oil companies. Always follow the money.

This fraudulent study has more holes than a colander but to address some of the most egregious point by point:

Ethanol production is not inefficient? Some of the best research to date from the University of Illinois Chicago shows you get a 40% net energy gain from ethanol production compared to all the energy used along the production chain from farm to gas pump.

The article begs the question why have so many invested billions of dollars in biofuels if they are a bad idea with no future? They do so because ethanol is a plug and play fuel source that meets the needs of our transportation fleet today. What makes it even more attractive is the bright future for biofuels. Automakers in Detroit make no secret of the fact that the next generation power plant for cars will be smaller, higher compression engines. And the best fuel for this future automotive technology is octane rich ethanol.

It also becomes abundantly clear that these think tank folks might want to meander outside the Washington, DC beltway and visit a farm. They question the percentage of the corn crop being used for ethanol today. It’s not how much of the crop we are using for biofuels but how large the crop has gotten. We have grown the largest 11 corn crops in history in the last 11 years. We currently have the largest carryout (supply of corn) ever so feedstock is abundant to meet all demand for corn.

And all of the above has been accomplished in the US on virtually the same acreage, and with less environmental impact. This is an amazing accomplishment that should make all Americans proud.

The Year the Yields Went Up in Georgia

basf-classic13-randyGeorgia is a long way from the nation’s Corn Belt, but this year’s National Corn Yield Contest winner Randy Dowdy set a new record of 503 bushels per acre on his farm near Valdosta.

“While the contest does not award a single, national prize or have an overall winner, Dowdy’s accomplishment certainly deserves recognition,” said National Corn Yield Contest Manager Rachel Jungermann-Orf. “We congratulate him on this accomplishment and look forward to seeing further innovation from contest participants over the years to come.”

Dowdy has actually been achieving record yields since he started farming just seven years ago. “I’m a first generation farmer,” said Dowdy. “My first corn crop went in 2008.”

The Georgia farmer admits he did not know what he was doing so he was all about trying new things. “In 2010 when I entered the (corn yield) contest I made 279 (bushels per acre),” Dowdy says. “The next year, we went in to 350s, the next year 370s, the next year in the 400s. It’s rewarding, I’m thrilled about it, but I still know there’s some things I can do better, so the sky’s the limit.”

Just for comparison, all corn farmers nationwide this year are expected to average a yield of just over 174 bushels per acre – which is also a record.

One Economist’s Outlook for Corn

asta-css-14-basseAgResource Company president Dan Basse giving his economic outlook for the year at the ASTA CSS 2014 and Seed Expo last week.

Basse says the protein side of the plate is doing very well right now, dairy and beef in particular, “so we call it the Year of the Cow” and while grain farmers will likely struggle for the next few years, “they’ve had a very good 5-7 years behind them.”

Basse notes that this crop year is historic in that it’s the first time we’ve seen record world production for corn, wheat and soybeans and global stocks are also record high. “It should give us pause as agricultural producers that unless we start making some cuts or unless something happens in the world climatically speaking, we’re going to keep piling on those big stocks and it’s going to create issues going forward,” he said.

With the biofuels market reaching maturity, Basse says that means more stagnant demand for corn use to make ethanol. “We have an EPA that can’t even make a decision on what the mandate should have been for 2014 and surely can’t make one for 2015,” he said. “We’ll still see corn demand for ethanol somewhere in the vicinity of five billion bushels, but there’s not that growth engine we’ve had in the last five years.”

Basse expects U.S. corn demand to remain about 13.5 billion bushels for the foreseeable future as export demand is also slowing with China producing more corn than it needs with strong incentives for farmers. “China has produced eight consecutive record corn crops … it’s swimming in corn,” he said. “So the Chinese are doing what they can to keep world corn out of the market and that’s what this GMO issue with MIR 162 is all about and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.”

So, as far as demand for corn, Basse says, “We’re really looking at the livestock sector and maybe we’ll build herds or get meat exports going.”

Lots more in this interview with Basse here – a condensed version of his one hour breakfast presentation at CSS. Interview with Dan Basse, Ag Resources


2014 ASTA CSS & Seed Expo photo album

The Future for Corn Farming

bayer-zylstraWhat does the future hold for corn farmers? That was a question addressed at the Bayer CropScience Corn and Soybean Future Forum in Frankfurt, Germany last week, and some farmers gave their views.

Iowa Corn Growers
chairman Roger Zylstra, who farms in Jasper County, talked about the opportunities and challenges of sustainable corn production. “There are significant challenges right now in corn production because of the rapid drop in prices we’ve seen,” he said. “But I think there are tremendous opportunities in the world.”

The Bayer forum featured farmers from all over the world and Zylstra noted that farmers in different countries do their best when they “get along as neighbors and trading partners.” Interview with Iowa farmer Roger Zylstra

bayer-kip-tomIndiana farmer Kip Tom discussed successful farm management in a future digitalized farming world and the challenges of adopting new technology in agriculture. “A lot of it comes down to the connectivity of our rural areas,” Tom said. “But the other hurdle comes back to education. We’ve got to have a work force that understands how to use these tools if we’re going to get good information from it.”

Tom talked about “social license” when it comes to environmental resources. “We have a license to make sure that at the end of our lifetime, we return it to the next generation in as good as or better condition,” he said. “We’re all tenants. We make think we own the land, but in the end, we are tenants.” Interview with Indiana farmer Kip Tom

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.

Corn Growers in the Sunbelt

ncga-sunbeltThe National Corn Growers Association had a presence last week at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Georgia for the first time.

NCGA president Chip Bowling of Maryland visited with attendees at the event, including USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden who grew up on a Georgia peanut farm, and got to see some crops he doesn’t normally see. “I got to see some cotton and a few peanuts,” Bowling told Randall Weiseman with Southeast AgNet during an interview at Sunbelt.

Bowling noted that corn acreage has been increasing in the southeast. “In the last couple years, when corn prices shot up there for awhile, we started seeing more corn acres in the south,” he said. “We are growing a fair amount now – about a billion and a half bushels – which is way up from what it used to be.”

Listen to Randall’s interview with Chip here: Southeast AgNet interview with NCGA president Chip Bowling

Entertainers Should Entertain, Not Preach

jason mraz 2As a former journalist I have a deeply ingrained sense of outrage when the public is being misled, bilked or fooled. This is especially true when misinformation is used to strip away their hard earned cash.
So I thought I would send an open letter to Jason Mraz, a singer/songwriter and niche celebrity, who also spends a lot of time and money working on causes he finds important including the environment.

If you don’t have time to read any further I have two messages for the obviously talented Mraz, who played to an appreciative crowd at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis last night:

Scientific experts say organic foods are not healthier that food grown using conventional methods contrary to what Mraz told the audience last night.
2 – Good for you for having the conviction of your beliefs. I appreciate your willing to use your celebrity to help a cause. But please keep your personal politics off the stage unless you do it through your songs themselves, that way fans know what they signed up for going in.

Using the interlude between music to espouse lifestyle choices, support political candidates, or give advice on something as personal as food is just bad form. Most people go to concerts, movies, sporting events, etc… to get a mental break from the headlines of the day or meditating on philosophical issues. I have never been a Jason Mraz fan, in part due to lack of exposure, so didn’t know too much about him. Still, I admit to being very surprised when a photo of his personal garden popped up on the stage and he proceeded to espouse the benefits of organic food production.

My hat is off to Mraz for trying to live a health-conscious lifestyle, but I went to hear music not visit a lifestyle coach, let alone one without real credentials. You have every right to your opinion but please try being more selective in how you use your notoriety and bully pulpit.

An article in “Real Clear Science” earlier this summer points out the majority of Americans believe that organic foods are healthier than food grown through conventional methods. The majority of Americans are wrong. Science has shown that organic is neither healthier for you nor better for the environment. In fact, it’s not safer, more nutritious, not does it taste better. These are all notions promoted by organic food proponents who have a lot to gain or were just misled. Given the markedly higher prices for nearly all of these products, the public has a right to know they are being hoodwinked.

How’s Your Harvest Going?

il-harvest-14The corn harvest nationwide is running behind average for this time of year and just a bit ahead of last year, but the crop continues to look good.

According to USDA, the condition of the corn crop remains 74% good to excellent, 60% of the crop is mature, and 12% was harvested as of Sunday. All states are behind normal pace in the harvest.

Meanwhile, there’s more grain in the bins than there was a year ago at this time. USDA’s newest Grain Stocks report shows 1.24 billion bushels of old crop corn in all positions as of September 1, up 50 percent from the same time last year. Of the total stocks, 462 million bushels of corn were stored on farms and 774 million bushels were stored off the farm, up 68 and 42 percent from the prior year, respectively. The U.S. corn disappearance totaled 2.62 billion bushels during June-August, up from 1.95 billion bushels during the same period last year.

The Illinois Corn Growers Facebook page has been showcasing harvest photos from around the state, including this one here submitted by Jordan Miles. So, how is your harvest going?

And don’t forget — You can enter your harvest pictures in the competition at Fields-of-Corn.com.

NCGA Busy at FPS

fps14-ncga1National Corn Growers Association officers were out in force at the 2014 Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa this week.

Right out of the gate on the first day I met up with NCGA chairwoman Pam Johnson of Iowa, First VP Chip Bowling of Maryland, and President Martin Barbre of Illinois. It was a soggy start to the show on day one, while day two was lovely, and day three looks to be a complete wash out.

gps14-ncga-chipChip stepped up to the podium in the media tent on day one to talk about our record corn crop in the fields this year. “We’re keeping a close eye on corn prices and are greatly concerned about efforts in Washington that may reduce or stifle demand for corn and raise the cost of production,” said Bowling, specifically noting the EPA’s proposal to lower volume obligations for ethanol under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Chip Bowling, NCGA comments on record corn crop
Interview with Chip Bowling, NCGA

fps14-ncga-robNCGA soon-to-be Vice President Rob Elliott of Illinois sat down with us to talk about NCGA’s involvement in the American Ethanol NASCAR program which has had the popular racing platform running on 15% ethanol. “We’ve had about a four year program with Growth Energy and others to talk to 100 million NASCAR fans,” he said. “NASCAR in its three levels has run over six million miles (on E15) which is the same number of miles EPA drove to prove E15 to be a good fuel!”

Listen to our interview with Rob here: Interview with Rob Elliott, NCGA

2014 Farm Progress Show photo album

Marketing Magic

Yesterday, the Center for Consumer Freedom ran a story highlighting Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap’s verbal sleight of hand in promoting consumer information while clearly providing slightly deceptive details on its own products.

Reflecting upon the specifics of the situation, I got to thinking. The comments about Dr. Bronner’s could be applied to so many situations involving the marketing of both organic and non-GMO.

During a recent walk through the Barney’s cosmetic department in Chicago, a pale hipster accosted me ranting about the amazing non-GMO skincare line now available just to my left. Raving how exciting this addition was, he threw out a stream of inspiring, lofty adjectives to describe its virtues.

Confused as to why a non-GMO skincare line might yield superior results, I asked what he felt to be a terribly silly question from someone obviously unacquainted with the horrors of biotechnology.

Simply, how do GMO’s damage your skin?

Sputtering a stream of noncommittal, barely discernible propaganda, he claimed that everyone knew it was better. He had no clue as to why everyone came to this conclusion.

From picking up a bottle of magic soap to sinking serious cash into the clout-heavy, science-light scrubs, consumers feel pressured every day to pony up pretty sums for products developed with top notch marketing and second-rate science. Pressured to buy based on status instead of sound reason, we feel compelled to comply with something at its core based in capitalism and cloaked in the carefully-crafted, feel-good fallacies.

In the end, consumers get pick-pocketed by stylishly-clad, silver tongued shysters. We urge teens not to give in to peer pressure, not to be lemmings. Maybe, more adults should do the same.

Peer reviewed, sound scientific studies have shown repeatedly biotechnology and GMOs provide incredible environmental and, in the future, nutritional benefits while impacting people in the same way as non-GMOs.

Whether you slather it on your skin or sip it with a straw, someone will always try and spruce up a description to sell you on paying more for something just like you have had before. Think for yourself. Real facts show what is best for your physical and financial health.



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