Corn Commentary

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!




Long Winter Takes a Hard Toll

red-barn-on-very-cold-winter-morning-dan-jurakFrom the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic, the long, cold winter has taken a toll on the spirits of people from all walks of life. From commuters sick of slugging away in traffic during snowy commutes to parents worn down by a barrage of weather-related school cancelations, winter’s death grip on much of the country seems to be firmly clenched as spring rapidly approaches.

For farmers, another concern looms on the horizon. While, like everyone else, they feel the physical and mental toll of the long, dark winter, many also see what may be a frantic late spring as deeper-than-normal frost level and below-normal temperatures will likely delay planting from the western Midwest to the Northern Plains. Soggy fields drenched in melting snow could spread the planting problems to the eastern Midwest too, according to DTN Senior Meteorologist Bryce Anderson.

What will happen when winter finally gives way may be pure speculation but predictions of frenzied planting seem a likely prospect. The work may be hard, with planters running late into the night, but know that America’s corn farmers are up to the task. Using modern technology, such as planters that can cover ground quickly and seeds that can reach maturity despite delays, American agriculture stands ready to roll as soon as winter’s icy claws loosen their hold.

For now, we all wait for a much-anticipated spring together. When it comes, Americans can enjoy the warm rays and relax knowing farmers will be hard at work preparing a crop to get them restocked with food, feed and fuel for the year to come.

National Corn Growers Association members can get a head start planning for planting by using the FMC Weather Advisor Benefit. Offering the latest scientific information regarding outlooks for temperature and precipitation, this valuable service shines a ray of light on how weather conditions will impact farms across the country over the weeks and months to come. So, get insider insight today that will help plan for tomorrow by clicking here.

Water is Life and Drought Equals Higher Food Prices


Food prices are on the rise again and you probably already noticed. Thankfully, the mainstream media thus far is covering it in a balanced way and pointing out the primary drivers behind the increase. Those include things like drought in key growing regions, and an anticipated cut in planted acres in the Ukraine due to political unrest.

But as surely as the birds outside your window are a precursor to Spring, before this is over someone will find a way to blame high corn prices and ethanol fuel by default. Prodded on by Big Oil, who is losing market share to ethanol, and abetted by folks who prosper when corn is cheap, they will once again try to make 2 + 2 = 9.

According to today’s Wall Street Journal federal forecasters estimate retail food prices will rise as much as 3.5% this year, the biggest annual increase in three years. This should provide a real kick in the pants for American consumers who are still dealing with the lingering effects of sluggish economy.

But rest assured the corn industry is doing its part to provide the corn the nation needs. In fact we grew so much corn in 2013 that corn prices have been hovering at levels that barely cover the cost of production for many farmers. Some analysts in the Wall Street Journal article hint that the lingering effects of a drought that hit major corn growing regions in 2012 might be another factor in inflated food prices.

Don’t buy into this for a second. Despite the 2012 drought farmers grew the eight largest corn crop in history, providing a testament to modern farming technology in use on family farms.  And as we all know there is nothing tentative about food manufacturers when it comes to raising food prices. Even a hint of any issues in the supply chain and they react by jacking prices like Usain Bolt leaving the starting block. I wish they were as efficient at lowering prices when normalcy returns to the market place.

Scratch the surface a little harder and you will find the real reason many products we often take for granted are seeing major price bumps.  Beef prices are up and it is directly linked to years of drought in the Texas and the south western US. Cattle need lots of water and when it’s not available ranchers reduce heard size. Initially this results in a big supply of beef hitting the market at great prices. However, that window has closed and now the public will pay more until kinder weather and a rebuilding of the nation’s beef herd which takes time.

Ditto on dairy prices where growing demand from Asia is putting upward pressure on prices. Add a brutal drought in California which supplies much of the dairy products we love and you get the picture. Cows eat lots of grass and hay, both of which are in short supply on the west coast. And I don’t even want to mention how much of the fresh produce you consumer comes from the big CA. There are similar tales behind other rising food items but I think you get the idea.

And remember being skeptical of what you hear is a virtue.

Lower Farm Income No Crisis

tractorcadeWord out of USDA this week that farm income is projected to drop dramatically this year brought visions of tractorcades and Farm Aids from the 1980s, but hold those calls to Willie and keep the tractors in the fields because a repeat of the infamous farm crisis is highly unlikely.

Net farm income is forecast to be $95.8 billion this year, down 26.5 percent from last year, and net cash income is expected to be almost 22 percent lower. “I wasn’t surprised at the farm income projections for 2014,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “After all, there are very little, if any, government payments involved in this projection because of the way in which the new farm bill is structured.”

Putting it in perspective, Vilsack says the projection is actually about $11 billion above the ten year average for farm income. “While it’s not as great as last year’s record, it’s still pretty doggone good,” he said.

USDA chief economist Joe Glauber says the reason another farm crisis is unlikely is that the farm financial picture going into this year is very positive. “Farmers are still carrying very low levels of debt relative to their assets,” said Glauber. In fact, farm asset values will likely increase this year, lowering the debt to asset ratio to just 10.5 percent, compared to the 25% seen during the ’80s. “You’d need almost a 70% reduction in land values to get you in that range,” he added.

In other words, this is not your father’s farm economy. And if the mood at the National Farm Machinery Show this week is any indication, farmers are pretty optimistic going into planting season this year and ready to plant some big crops to make up for lower prices.

Farmers Explain Why They Are Not Farmed and Dangerous

Have no fear, real farmers are here. And they want to tell you why Chipotle’s new TV series, “Farmed and Dangerous,” does not sit well with the farming community. For starters, the series, created for the online video-streaming service Hulu, mocks modern agriculture and warns viewers that today’s farming practices are dangerous and cruel.

The new series features Buck Marshall, an image consultant for Industrial Food Image Bureau, which spins and covers up negative behavior in the agriculture industry. In a recent New York Times article, Chipotle executives say the show intends to raise sustainability and animal-welfare concerns.

Farmers like Jennifer Schmidt would argue that the depiction of modern or, as the show refers to them, “industrial,” farmers is not accurate. Schmidt challenges Americans to go to the source with questions about food and to not believe everything you see on TV or the Internet.

“‘Farmed and Dangerous’ is intended to be a comedy, but I think the show is anything but funny,” says Schmidt. “As farmers, we want to open doors to open minds. And CommonGround volunteers like me want to invite consumers to take a peek behind our barn doors and see what really happens on our farms.”

The 100-plus CommonGround volunteers across the United States really want to help bridge the gap between farmers and those disconnected from farms. Americans can connect with CommonGround volunteers in multiple ways.

  1. Through blogs like Schmidt’s The Foodie Farmer
  2. Through social media – get a real-time glimpse of the farm. Check out which volunteers are on popular social media sites by heading over to our state page.
  3. Face to face – many CommonGround volunteers host farm tours. Connect online or through a state contact if you would like to visit a farm near you.

Growing Global Food Security through Growing Acceptance Modern Ag

A Reuters news story released today confirmed that the advanced tools and practices used by modern American farmers can have a massive positive impact in reducing global hunger if more widely adopted. Assuming the idea of reducing human suffering holds near universal appeal, this finding demonstrates how arguments for a return to the farming ways of yesterdays and against the use of tested, proven technologies would actually have a negative impact on anyone financially unable to pay the high price of adherence to these pseudointellectual ideals.

The study, conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute, concluded that widespread adoption of an array of technologies, including biotech seeds, could cut commodity prices in half and reduce global food insecurity by as much as 36 percent by 2050. Noting that no single technology alone can produce this impact, the researchers found that used together practices such as no till farming, irrigation and biotech seed technologies can substantively change the future of global hunger.

For an infographic summarizing the findings, click here.

An over-fed, under-questioned segment of the population is pushing to take away the very tools farmers need to feed a growing world. With full stomachs, they use misinformation and empty rhetoric to launch a full sail assault on scientific advancement in agriculture. Whether for personal profit or out of sincere short-sightedness, anti-GMO activists and their anti-ag allies fight for misguided movements that would directly result in a future where more poor children go hungry.

The fight for modern farming is a fight to feed the world.  Eschewing science in favor of foolish fanaticism has repercussions that reach far beyond U.S. borders and far into the future. Don’t let those born tomorrow suffer for the ignorance ignited today.

CommonGround Iowa Volunteer

We recently got to meet Sara Ross, Iowa farmer and part of CommonGround Iowa. Sara and her husband Kevin operate a diversified farm near Minden, IA. She loves the volunteer work through CommonGround and talks about how it is helping her engage with non-farm folks about where their food comes from. She has been featured a couple of times in posts here on Corn Commentary, but here we have an interview in both audio and Google Glass form! Chuck Zimmerman did one of his new Google Glass project interviews with Sara at the National Biodiesel Conference.

Listen to Sara talk about her work with CommonGround and see it by Glass video below. Sara Ross, farmer and CommonGround volunteer

Is Ag Entering the Drone Zone?

In case you haven’t heard, lots of folks are droning on about the great potential for the use of drones in agriculture.

The politically correct term is actually Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV, but drone still seems to be the preferred word, despite any negative connotations it may have.

ag-droneWhen it comes to the potential for agriculture, Kansas State University precision agriculture specialist Dr. Kevin Price thinks the growth in the next few years “is gonna blow your socks off.”

“About 80% of the money that will be spent on the unmanned aircraft systems will be spent in the area of agriculture. There are ten times more applications in agriculture then there is in any of the other application areas,” said Dr. Price. “They’re predicting it’s going to be close to a 100 billion dollar industry by the year 2025.”

He said agriculture applications for drones in development include data collection on crop health and yields, nitrogen and chemical applications, spot treating of insects and disease, and much more. Data collection of field images by cameras mounted on drones within an inch of accuracy.

Dr. Price says the cost of a UAV, depending on the type, can range from under $1000 to as much as $12,000, but the returns could make it worth the price tag. “We believe that if we can save a farmer even one percent, the technology will pay for itself very quickly,” he said, adding it could be as much as three percent in terms of saving on fertilizer costs and catching diseases earlier.

While there is great good potential for drone use in agriculture, there are also concerns about abuse or misuse, such as the government or activists using them to gather data on farming operations. That’s why the American Farm Bureau adopted new policy on drones at the recent annual meeting, supporting the use for commercial agricultural but opposing government use of drones for regulatory enforcement, litigation or natural resource inventory surveys. AFBF delegates also advocate consent requirements for drone users flying over private land.

“There’s no question this technology is moving forward and moving fast,” said Dr. Price. “FAA is scrambling to set some regulations so this doesn’t become like the wild west with people doing lots of crazy things with it.”

Listen to Dr. Price answer questions from agricultural reporters at the AFBF meeting: Kevin Price Press Conference

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.

While Farmers Excel, Journalism Falls Another Rung Down the Ladder

The Washington Examiner needs to examine their facts before publishing pure poppycock. In an article which ran on December 20, the paper claimed that National Corn Growers Association National Corn Yield Contest record holder David Hula grew his record-breaking bounty using organic production practices. Contest records clearly show this is completely untrue.

Hula, a perennial winner, deserves both recognition and admiration for his abilities. NCGA enthusiastically congratulates him on his accomplishment. The contest aims to encourage innovation and improvement, a goal Hula undoubtedly achieved.  The fact that he did not grow his corn organically in no way, shape or form diminishes his success.

The false story published in the Examiner does detract from the overall success of modern famers though. Within days, anti-GMO activists have latched on to this pseudo-story to aid in their agenda-driven arguments. A record yield such as Hula’s would support arguments for the production possibilities using organic methods. But the record was not set using organic methods. So, the support they so desire does not exist.

NCGA keeps detailed records from each entry submitted to the NCYC. The information these forward-facing farmers provide sheds light on possible advancements and supplies the documentation needed to ensure the integrity of the contest. .  The Biovante™ soil treatment Hula used may qualify as an organic treatment, but none of his other practices would qualify as organic.  Like the vast majority of corn growers, he planted corn hybrids that contain biotechnology, used synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. Organic production practices would not allow the use of any one of these tools.

The Examiner should take a closer look at how it fact checks its stories prior to publication. By not getting the story right, they turned a success story from America’s farms into a tool for activists who advocate against them.

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