Corn Commentary

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?

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?  

Corn Acres are Lower but Weather is Key

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is now estimating corn acreage planted is at 91.6 million acres, down 4 percent from last year, which represents the lowest planted acreage in the United States since 2010, but still the fifth-largest acreage planted since 1944.

USDA chief economist Joe Glauber says with the numbers in, the attention shifts from acres to weather and yield prospects. “July is a very important month for corn,” said Glauber. “So for the next six weeks, the attention is going to be shifting to what those yields look like.”

corn-damageAs of Sunday, the corn crop was looking pretty good, according to meteorologist Brad Rippey. “The corn now 75% good to excellent on June 29, an increase of one percent from a week ago, eight points better than this time in 2013,” Rippey says.

Rippey notes there are problem areas like Minnesota with 10% of the crop in poor to very poor condition due to flooding. And since the crop progress survey was done on Sunday, corn fields in Iowa, like the one pictured here, were literally flattened after severe storms brought heavy rain, hail and high winds.

Just saw a meme that seems applicable. “Mother Nature is not only bipolar, but clearly off her meds.” Keep that in mind farmers, you are at the whim of a crazy lady.

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.

Corn is Coming Along

ky-corn-14There are a few states that are still struggling, but overall the corn crop is off to a great start.

Lots of farmers were in the fields over the Memorial Day holiday, planting over one fourth of the nation’s crop last week to tie the five year average at 88 percent, according to USDA. Emergence is catching up with 60 percent of the crop out of the ground, just four points behind the average.

“Modern farm technology allowed farmers across the country to spring into action and plant at a pace unimaginable just a few decades ago,” said National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre of Illinois. “America’s corn farmers can plant faster, taking better advantage of shorter windows of time, and this definitely benefits America’s economy and consumers in the end. Today, we can produce abundance in the face of adversity.”

Check out the Wall Street Journal’s look about “Planting Corn at Warp Speed” – people need to know this stuff!

Put Your FFA Jacket in the Smithsonian?

You know how they refer to outlaw motorcycle gangs like Hell’s Angels as 1 percenters? Well, I jokingly referred to the omnipresent blue corduroy jacket ffa jacket historicalwearing FFA members in high school as 2 percenters. That’s because only about 2 percent of the population had a real shot at becoming a farmer and feeding the world.

There are more than 20 million jobs in this country that are in related agricultural fields but the number of people who will make a career of farming is even lower today. Pretty elite company and many never parted with their old trusty jacket. Now you might have a shot to put yours in the Smithsonian museum.

No, I am not kidding. A new exhibit entitled “American Enterprise” is scheduled to open in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum next summer and agriculture will be well represented in the exhibit including FFA. Specifically, they are looking for a jacket that tells a great personal story and how FFA affected the wearer’s life.

If “Old Blue” was retired years ago the Smithsonian also wants to hear your story anyway about how FFA gave you purpose and direction and landed you on a tractor instead of a motorcycle.

 

Planting Zooms Ahead on Potential Record Crop

USDA is calling for record corn and soybean crops in the first outlook report for the 2014-2015 season. Chief economist Joe Glauber says corn production is forecast at just a little bit more than last year’s record crop with higher expected yields more than offsetting a reduction in planted area.

corn-emerge“What would be a record yield at 165.3 bushels per acre,” he said. Glauber says they are also expecting higher ending stocks but lower prices compared to this year. “I think we’re looking at a season average corn price of around $4.25, which I might add is higher than what we were carrying back at Outlook Conference when we were thinking prices would potentially be below $4, but still down 10% from this year.”

USDA is also forecasting a record soybean crop for the U-S at 3.635 billion bushels and record global production.

Of course it all depends on the weather, but USDA meteorologist Brad Rippy says Mother Nature helped corn planting seriously pick up the pace last week. “For just the single week ending May 11, we saw 30% of the U.S. corn planting during that seven day period,” he said. “The overall progress by May 11 reached 59%, that is now ahead of the five year average and more than twice last year’s pace.”

“All it takes is good weather, good equipment and long hours for our farmers to be able to catch up,” said NCGA President Martin Barbre. Out in front is Iowa with nearly half the state’s corn acreage was planted last week, with the state going from 23 percent to 70 percent planted. Some states however, such as North Dakota, are still lagging behind at 3 percent, with Michigan and Wisconsin following at 20 percent.

Meanwhile, corn emergence also continues to catch up, with 18 percent of the crop now emerged, compared to the five-year average of 25 percent.

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.

Corn Planting Slow and Steady

corn-plant-14So corn planting is running behind the five year average right now – but it’s ahead of last year’s progress at this time and we had a record crop in 2013. Remember how the tortoise beat the hare in the old fable – slow and steady wins the race!

Illinois, Indiana and Iowa have barely begun to plant, according to the latest report out of USDA NASS this week. Just one percent in Iowa, two in Indiana and five in Illinois so far, but that is more than last year. And Missouri is actually just about caught up to the five year average with 26 percent planted while Kansas is ahead of average at 21 percent.

National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre of Illinois is confident planting progress will take off quickly as the weather warms. “Keep in mind that last year, planting season started off slowly, and we harvest a record corn crop in the fall. In 2012, planting flew by quickly, but severe drought plagued much of the country and damaged the overall crop. Farmers realize that a long planting and growing season, which may present opportunities and obstacles, still lies ahead.”



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