Corn Commentary

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.

A Sign of the Times

SIGN CORN SKAGITPersonal experience provides the lens through which we view the world. Looking out at the road while driving by, every person tends to make analogies. Maybe a house looks like the one in which he grew up. Maybe a certain tree reminds her of a great day in grade school. The visual evokes a mental image and thus creates feelings wholly unrelated to the actual object.

While this may be waxing the philosophical, it actually explains something very important when trying to understand how consumers have come to believe that so many farms are actually owned and run by corporations.

Heading up Interstate 55 from St. Louis to Chicago, signs with the names of seed companies line the fields. To a farmer, these markers indicate something clear. To someone who may live in a city or may have not ever been on a farm, they look completely foreign.

So, how does that exacerbate the Big Ag misperception? Because when faced with something foreign, most people subconsciously make an analogy that provides context for the current situation. Looking out at the fields, the signs look like a corporate advertisement tacked onto the side of a building. The seemingly logical conclusion leads that person to believe the corporation on that sign must own that farm or, at the very minimum, have advertising rights.

Jenny, author of the blog Prairie Californian, provided a great post today that helps describe what these signs really mean in terms that make sense whether or not you have ever set foot in a field. To read it, click here.

With farmers’ numbers constituting less than 1.5 percent of the American public today, it becomes increasingly imperative that they share their story. Everyone eats. The vast majority of people want to know where their food comes from and what all of the terms that they hear mean. Share your story. What American farmers have to say is overwhelmingly positive and powerful. So speak up.

It’s Time to Speak Up!

Today, Corn Commentary shares a post from CommonGround Wisconsin volunteer Kim Bremmer. To find more posts on a wide variety of subjects authored by CommonGround volunteers, click here.

It’s Time to Speak Up!

Kim BremmerOne of my favorite ways to start the day is at the counter of my favorite coffee place, ordering a grande triple shot caramel macchiato and a spinach and feta breakfast wrap. But I ALWAYS ask them to use regular eggs instead of cage-free eggs.

I am usually met with looks of question, not only from the barista but also from all the people in line with me. The response is always a disappointed, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that, ma’am.”  I then smile and ask them to please pass on my message to the corporate office that I would like the choice.

But the best part is that I then have a captive audience for the next 20 seconds or so.

I use that time to explain that I prefer eggs from chickens grown in cages. I used to raise chickens outside, and I know how much they like to eat things out of the dirt, including bugs, grubs and more. I also have friends who have some really nice chicken barns, where they raise very healthy, happy birds in cages.

It’s time to speak up.

With less than two percent of the population actually farming today in the United States, we have opportunities every day to talk to about food production with a very large audience that has never actually “been there and done that.”

We now live in a time when the opinions of journalists and marketing that plays on emotions trump solid peer-reviewed science every single day.

All of this well-funded creative marketing wants consumers to buy the latest and greatest trend: organic, natural, GMO-free, rBST-free, cage-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, humanely raised, responsibly produced and the list could go on and on. Consumers are led to believe that the latest buzzword must be good and conventional food production must be bad. But, all of these strategically worded labels come at the expense of consumers’ trust in agriculture.  The story of agriculture is being told by people selling stories, not by those actually involved in agriculture every day.

Well, it’s time for us to sell our story.

Another one of my favorite things to do is go to the grocery store either on Friday afternoons at 5:00 or Sunday mornings right after church. Some of my very best conversations about farming and food happen then!

It is so easy to strike up a conversation with someone comparing labels in the dairy aisle or meat counter and ask if they have any questions. I tell them I am simply a mom who understands the importance of feeding my family the healthiest food.

I also tell them I get the great opportunity to work on different farms every day. I can share my perspective on the different food-production practices because I work with all of them. The real tragedy is how truly scared people have become of food, even though we are producing the safest food in history, using fewer resources than ever before. My mission at every visit to the grocery store is to give people permission to not fear their food.

It’s time to speak up.

I am proud of conventional agriculture and not afraid to feed my family conventional food. I see how the animals are raised every day and how the land is cared for. I have friends who are organic farmers, but I would never pay more for the food they produce.

The biggest misconception is that a label means something is safer or healthier. A great example of this is the fact that added steroids and hormones aren’t even allowed in poultry production in the United States, yet consumers continually pay a premium for “hormone-free” chicken in the grocery store.

I believe that it doesn’t matter which production method a farmer uses because it is really the human element that makes all the difference. I always encourage people who have questions about agriculture to visit a farm instead of just “Googling” it.

Or ask a farmer by contacting a farmer-volunteer at www.findourcommonground.com. I could take you to visit a beautiful 35-cow dairy or a beautiful 3,500-cow dairy. Both use very different management practices, but both provide safe, high-quality food. If the farmers I see every day choose to do their job by responsibly using antibiotics, GMOs, rBST, cages and barns, I feel they should be able to.  I don’t ever want to be forced to pay more for food with a fancy label when I understand the safety of conventionally raised food and get to see how it’s produced every day.

I am proud of agriculture today. You should be, too. Share the real story.

It’s time to speak up.

In the Drone Debate, Watch What You Wish For

Grist published another gripping piece today on the important role drones can play in the “fight against Big Ag.” The post, based on a blaring inaccuracy at its core, posited that “If you were privy to everything that went on inside a factory farm, you might never want to eat again.” Then, it proposed drones were the answer to getting behind those “closed doors.”

Putting aside the note that gates would create a more accurate analogy, let’s look at the base issues.

Gates paint a more accurate picture not only because they are what actually encompass most farms. They are also more similar in that you can see through them.

Farmers and ranchers across the country ARE opening their farms to show how they grow and raise our food. A wide array of groups, including programs like CommonGround, organize farm tours where bloggers, dietitians and just regular families can visit a wide array of farm and ranches to see ag in action. Simply pushing these efforts aside seems cynical or intentionally obtuse.

Next, the basic reasoning that agenda-driven cynics have a right to enter private property to see exactly what is “going on” makes little sense. In implying that anyone denying them immediate, complete access to the place where they not only work but also live, the author sets up a standard to which I doubt she would hold herself.

Simply, Samantha, do you ever write from home? As you work at home and I am skeptical of what may be “going on” there, may I come on over? Take a look around? I think people want to know if your work area creates mental confusion that comes through in your writing. Personally, I like to look through people’s medicine cabinets to get a clearer picture.

Better yet! Why not just have drones hover outside of your windows looking in at all times? That is what you propose for farmers and ranchers. Constant surveillance.

Farmers and ranchers do want to have a dialogue with the public about how food is grown and raised. They don’t want to invite people ideologically opposed to modern agriculture into the very place that they live. It isn’t because they have something to hide; it is because they know that their open, honest efforts are often met with closed minds and a blatant refusal to consider the validity of their statements.

Unless anti-ag activists feel perfectly comfortable being under constant drone surveillance themselves, it is radically hypocritical to promote doing so to someone else. And, for those who take this side of the argument, there is another question. How long until someone turns the drones on you?



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