Corn Commentary

If Farming Were Easy…

farmingThis little saying was in this week’s newsletter from Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) – “If farming were easy Congressmen would do it.”

Truly, if farming were easy, everyone would do it – and most of us either can’t or don’t want to. The same could be said for many professions, but most of them don’t have everyone from the president on down trying to tell them how to do their jobs.

If farming were easy, the bureaucrats on the federal to the local level would be doing it themselves instead of making up regulations that make it more difficult to produce food, fiber and fuel.

If farming were easy, the people who are against biotechnology innovations that help produce more food would all be self-sufficiently producing their own daily sustenance.

And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

CommonGround Volunteers Take Stories from behind the Farm Gate to Consumers Over Breakfast Plates

Today, Corn Commentary shares a guest post authored by Iowa farmer and CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney. The narrative, which discusses her recent work taping an episode of “The Balancing Act” on GMOs, originally ran on her blog www.farmeatscitystreets.com.

TV Interviews and Kid-Friendly Sloppy Joes

I have been traveling a little bit lately. Not a ton, but just enough to scratch the itch of getting out of town for a while and being around some amazing, brilliant people (and great friends, too!). I couldn’t pass up the opportunity last week to travel to Florida to tape an interview with The Balancing Act on Lifetime Network. The host, Julie Moran, asked me all kinds of questions about food, farming and GMOs.

Kelsey Pope, a rancher from Colorado, also did an interview about her ranch and how they care for their cattle. I hadn’t met Kelsey before, but was so impressed with her and loved hearing about her ranch. I’m thinking a trip to Colorado for a nice, juicy steak on her ranch might be in order.

balancingact-juliekenneykelseypope

Working from home and around the farm these days doesn’t lend itself to getting dolled up much anymore, so having someone do my hair and makeup was an added bonus! After the interview, Julie Moran gave us a tour of her dressing room and wardrobe collection. If she wasn’t an itty bitty size 2, I might have asked to borrow something. Kidding (kind of).

balancingact-juliemoranjuliekenney

My interview is scheduled to air on Lifetime Network in April and Kelsey’s will be on in April and May. I’ll let you know when the exact dates are set.

To read the full post, including how Kenney sets her family up for success at the dinner table while she shares stories from the farm with consumers at their breakfast tables, click here.

Interested in CommonGround and how it brings together the women who grow and raise food with those who buy it? Visit www.findourcommonground.com to learn more about the women at the heart of this program, which is supported through a collaboration of NCGA, USB and their state affiliates.

Pope Francis Considers Farming a Vocation

“There is no humanity without the cultivation of the land; there is no good life without the food it produces for the men and women of every continent.” Pope Francis, 1/31/15

pope-francis-unWith the patron saint of all things of nature as his namesake, Pope Francis has serious views about protecting the environment, but he believes that agriculture plays a “central role” in the “cultivation and stewardship of the land.”

That’s what he said recently
in a meeting with the National Confederation of Direct Cultivators, which is some kind of agricultural organization, as the pontiff noted that the name “direct cultivators” refers to cultivation, “a typically human and fundamental activity.” Pope Francis said that farming and ranching constitutes “a true vocation.”

“It deserves to be recognised and suitably valued as such, also in concrete political and economic decisions. This means eliminating the obstacles that penalise such a valuable activity and that often make it appear unattractive to new generations, even though statistics show an increase in the number of students in schools and institutes of agriculture, which leads us to foresee and increase in the numbers of those employed in the agricultural sector. At the same time, it is necessary to pay due attention to the removal of land from agricultural use, to make it available for apparently more lucrative purposes”

castel2The pope actually has his own farm at the traditional summer place for pontiffs, Castel Gandolfo.

The 55 acre farm dates back to the early 1930s under Pope Pius XI as part of the renovation of the summer vacation home which has been in use since the 16th century. The farm includes cows, chickens, bee hives, ostriches, turkeys, rabbits, vegetables and more. The farm reportedly produces 185 gallons of milk a day, 50,000 eggs a year, honey, olive oil and vegetables.

There are news reports that the farm may be opened for public tours this year, but the Vatican has not confirmed that yet. I’d be interested in a visit if it happens!

Soil Health Hinges on Farmers

The first year of the Soil Health Partnership (SHP), introduced at the 2014 Commodity Classic, enrolled 20 farmers in six states to be demonstration sites for the effort and by the end of five years they expect to have 100. These farmers have agreed to basically be the “guinea pigs” to help other farmers learn from their experiments and innovations.

shps15-smithOne of those farmers is Tim Smith of Iowa who was one of the demonstration farmers on a panel at the Soil Health Summit in St. Louis last week. “I can see the soil conservation benefits and I can see the nutrient reduction benefits, but I think the soil health benefits are what’s going to help sell it to other farmers,” said Smith. His conservation efforts earned him the first National Corn Growers Association Good Steward award presented at last year’s Commodity Classic.

Smith believes that improving soil health is critical and just the right thing to do. “In the last 150 our average top soil (in Iowa) has gone from 14 inches down to eight inches,” he said. “We can’t continue that because it will run out if we don’t start taking care of it … any soil loss is not tolerable.” Listen to my interview with Tim here: Interview with Tim Smith, SHP farmer from Iowa

shps15-ncga-rossThe National Corn Growers Association is the administrator for the Soil Health Partnership and Corn Board member Kevin Ross believes it’s a very worthwhile initiative for farmers and all involved.

“I’m really pleased with the direction it’s heading,” said Ross during the summit last week. “It’s really good to see these groups on the same page with a common goal and that’s soil health.”

Ross, who is a farmer from Minden, Iowa, says he thinks of soil as a living, breathing thing that needs care to maintain and improve its health. “It’s just like your personal health, you have to manage it and correct things if there’s an issue,” he said. Interview with Iowa corn grower Kevin Ross, NCGA Corn Board


2015 Soil Health Summit Photo Album

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



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