Posted By Cathryn June 12, 2013
For years now, the National Corn Growers Association, along with a broad array of other agricultural groups, has stressed the need for farmers to tell their own stories about food and farming. Time and time again, they have tried to direct attention to the growing public desire to understand what happens to the food on their tables prior to its arrival at their grocery stores. Through programs like CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, they have created pathways for farmers to reach broad audiences and offered training tools that help increase the effectiveness of their efforts.
The everyday business of farming and ranching often saps the time and energy of the men and women who grow our food though. With so many demands already placed upon them, the task of volunteering these precious resources for something so seemingly apparent to those involved in agriculture seems daunting, if not impossible.
Last week, the attendees at BlogHer Food 2013 had the opportunity to meet real life farmers and have honest, open discussions about food. Their incredible interest and insightful questions served as a strong reminder that this need for dialogue is not only real, but it is actually growing.
CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross and Morgan Kontz, who farm in Iowa and South Dakota respectively, saw firsthand how great this need for an open dialogue with consumers is. As bloggers, many of whom have thousands of avid followers, stopped at the booth, they warmly received these real-life farmers. Many expressed gratitude for the chance to talk about what happens on modern farms and ranches. Even those who disagreed with some practices came to these conversations with an open, respectful spirit and an honest desire to not only express their own viewpoints but to also truly listen to what these women had to say.
Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.
Friday night, Ross and Kontz joined USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching winners Chris Chin and Will Gilmer, along with other hog and cattle ranchers, to share a meal with a group of approximately 40 bloggers who took time away from the conference, foregoing a night of fun on Austin’s Sixth Street, to visit an urban farm and learn more about how the foods about which they write are grown and raised. The incredible variety of bloggers who attended was astounding. The interest that they brought was genuine.
The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.
From Google Glass-wearing hipsters to DC policy wonks, the dinner attendees illustrated how diverse the demand for dialogue about agriculture has become. While these women and men brought a myriad of interests and perspectives, they shared two main commonalities. They wield significant influence on broader consumer opinion through their work, and they want to know more about what happens on America’s farms.
Volunteers like Ross and Kontz have taken on the challenge, giving of themselves to become a part of that conversation. As the demand from consumers for a greater understanding of farming grows, so to must the supply of farmers and ranchers willing to become a part of that conversation.
CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?
Today, less than 2 percent of the population is directly involved in agriculture, but 99.999 percent of the population eats. Learn what you can do to help make the math work by visiting the websites for CommonGround or USFRA.
Conversations about food and farming will happen regardless of farmer involvement. Show consumers that you care about their concerns and want to share with them the amazing story of today’s American farmer.
Posted By Cindy June 11, 2013
Iowa State University professor Dr. Elwynn Taylor is one of the nation’s foremost extension climatologists, but even the best sometimes get the weather forecasts wrong.
When asked this time last year what the drought possibilities were for Iowa he said “less than 50%.” Take those odds to the racetrack and you would have been a big winner last year if you had bet on the drought.
At the World Pork Expo last week, Dr. Taylor provided his insights for 2013. “My outlook I put out most recently for the national corn yield is 147 bushels to the acre,” he began. “147 is considerably better than 123 for last year’s corn yield for the U.S. and considerably below the trend line which is 160.”
He noted the radical weather extremes Iowa has already seen this year, going from snow in early May to 101 degrees on May 14 to flood on May 24, breaking all kinds of records set in 1947. “Seems like I’m mentioning 1947 quite a bit,” said Taylor. “This is the year that we’re in right now with the volatility of weather that we had seen in ’47.”
“We’ve got a hurricane season just started expected to be on the harsh side, drought likely to persist in the western part of the Corn Belt, temperature high and low both being significant and more extreme than usual, and climate likely increasingly erratic during the next 25 years,” Taylor summarized. “Manage your risk, that’s the way we live through the volatile weather.”
Listen to Dr. Taylor’s full presentation here: ISU Climatologist Dr. Elwynn Taylor
Posted By Cindy May 21, 2013
It’s truly amazing to see how quickly farmers can make progress in the field given just a little window of opportunity.
That’s what happened last week around the Midwest as the weather got warm and dry enough for growers to plant over 40% of the corn crop in seven days. According to the latest crop progress report, 71% of projected corn acres had been planted as of last Sunday. Illinois farmers jumped from just 17% planted the week ending May 12 to 74% on May 19, just 3% less than the five year average, while progress in Iowa increased by 56 points to 71%. “Farmers have the technology and the drive to accomplish more in a week than we could have in three only a few decades ago,” said Iowa farmer Pam Johnson, president of the National Corn Growers Association. “Last week, we knew that we needed a week of drier, warmer weather and, throughout much of the Corn Belt, we got just that.”
While farmers get the credit for working night and day when the window opens, it’s the new technology that really makes the fast pace possible, something noted in a Financial Times article today. “The blistering pace of planting shows how new technology, from global positioning systems and huge 48-row planters to self-driving tractors, has transformed farming from a small family business to an industry requiring huge capital investments. The largest corn planters could cost nearly $350,000 per unit.”
True that the new technology is costly, but it’s important to note that it is still small family businesses making those huge capital investments. As Pam Johnson added in her statement about the progress made last week “our nation’s family farmers will get the crop planted and work just as tirelessly through harvest to make sure that we provide the food, feed and fuel America needs.”
Emergence however is still lagging well behind normal with just 19% emerged nationwide, compared to the 46% average, but as NCGA chairman Garry Niemeyer said in the previous post, with more favorable weather, corn will probably “come flying out of the ground” now.
The photo in this post comes from the Kinze Manufacturing Facebook page taken last week in Ladora, Iowa by Alan and Barry Mohr.
Posted By Cindy May 20, 2013
There was lots of activity of interest to corn farmers last week – both on The Hill and in the field.
I caught up with National Corn Growers Association Chairman Garry Niemeyer of Auburn, Illinois on Friday as he was busy playing catch up on planting progress. “We are probably about a fourth done with planting corn,” Garry said. “We normally are finished planting corn by the middle of April.” He added that since June 1 is the cutoff date for crop insurance they still have quite a bit of time to get a crop in and “everybody here is feverishly working.” While it has been the longest cold, wet spring that he can remember, Garry says it has really warmed up now in the Midwest and he thinks the corn will probably “come flying out of the ground” now.
Up on Capitol Hill last week, as so many like Garry were busy in the field, two pieces of legislation very important to farmers made significant and long-awaited progress. One was the passage of a new five year farm bill through both the House and Senate Agriculture committees. However, Garry is quick to note that we are still no further along on a new bill than last year at this point. “We never got a House bill to the floor (last year),” Garry noted. “I’m going to hope that the House finishes up, then they go to conference and we get a reasonable bill which will help all American farmers.”
Meanwhile, the Senate finally passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) last week, paving the way for upgrades to the inland waterways system important for farmers. “It’s been a long time, since 2007, since we’ve had a WRDA bill and back before 2000 they used to have a WRDA bill every other year,” Garry says. “Now we just need the funding to get these project moving forward.”
Of specific interest to corn farmers, the bill contains provisions to remove the over-budget and long-delayed Olmsted lock and dam project from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), the remainder of the cost to be paid 100 percent by general treasury revenue and not cost-shared 50-50 through the IWTF. This action will free up around $750 million to the IWTF to complete critical priority navigation projects. An increase in the threshold for major rehabilitation, from the current $14 million to $20 million, was approved.
The bill now goes to the House for approval and Garry says they are encouraging farmers to call their representatives in Congress to tell them how important this legislation is to them.
Listen to Garry’s comments here: NCGA Chairman Garry Niemeyer
Posted By Cathryn May 14, 2013
Driving home from work last night, I was confronted with a story on NPR that showed just how short-sighted and visionless today’s media can be. The reporter characterized the Supreme Court Decision in Bowman v. Monsanto as a victory for big ag at the expense of farmers. Since then, countless radio and television talking heads have repeated this banal banter based in the bogus assumption that paying for something is always a bad thing.
Quite often, paying for something can be a good thing. In this case, paying for the use of a product that requires extensive research and years of testing provides an incentive for companies like Monsanto to develop improved seeds that have the traits farmers want. From corn varieties that can maintain yields under heat or drought stress to plants that have stronger stalks, companies must spend extremely large amounts of money and make astonishing time and resource investments in these traits well before ever seeing one dime of return.
Even large companies need to make a profit in order to reinvest in research and development. Even large companies need an incentive to innovate. Intellectual property rights provide that incentive by creating a fair system in which innovation is rewarded .
Likewise, the companies developing these traits monitor that quality of the products they bring to market. Farmers who invest in their seeds have a clear picture of what they are buying. The further down the genetic line from these original seeds that a farmer gets, the less likely it is that the advantages of the original variety are preserved. In this case, violating intellectual property rights is breaking the law to steal an unknown.
The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Bowman v. Monsanto was not a victory for big ag at the expense of the farmer. It was a victory for innovators and for the people who need those innovations to thrive in their own profession.
Everyone may grumble when the check comes, but it makes little sense to declare having to pay for a product one wants a loss. When it comes down to it, no one works for free.
Note: CommonGround Kentucky volunteer and family farmer Mary Courtney explained why she feels it is important to pay for GMO technology in a recent interview with Modern Farmer. Check out what she had to say by clicking here.
Posted By Cindy May 13, 2013
It’s a safe bet that few people in the world know more about corn than A. Forrest Troyer, who has devoted his long life to developing improved corn hybrids and has been involved in the development of at least 40 commercial corn hybrids that have sold over 60 million bags of seed. That’s more than enough to plant all the corn in North America for two years!
Troyer worked for Pioneer Hi-Bred, Pfizer Genetics, Dekalb and Cargill Hybrid Seeds, and in his “retirement” is now adjunct professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois. Recently, Todd Gleason wtih the University of Illinois and WILL Radio interviewed Troyer for a great series on “The Story of Corn.” From the evolution of open pollinated corn to today’s genetics, it’s a fascinating story.
Listen to Todd’s report here: Todd Gleason with Forrest Troyer
Posted By Cindy May 7, 2013
Nothing like a little snow in May to really slow down a planter!
This photo from Minnesota was posted last week on the Case IH Facebook page. Despite the snow, Minnesota farmers did manage to get two percent of their corn crop in the ground last week, but they should have over half of it planted by now.
Nearly 50% of the crop nationwide should be planted by now in an average year, but only 12% was planted as of Sunday according to USDA. Last year at this time, nearly 70% of the crop was planted.
There was more progress last week than in recent weeks, even in states that saw more white stuff on the ground. Minnesota, Michigan, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin all finally got a few points on the board after making no progress in the previous weeks. Illinois, Indiana and Iowa move up a few notches from 1-2% to 7-8%. But, again, all should be at or nearing the halfway point by now.
Emergence is far behind normal as well with 11 of the 18 top corn producing states showing no corn above ground yet. Just three percent of the crop has emerged compared to 29% last year and 15% average.
Not to worry yet, however. “It is still early in the planting season and slow progress at this point should not cause alarm,” said National Corn Growers Association President Pam Johnson, a grower in Iowa. “Modern farming technology has dramatically reduced the time needed for farmers to plant a large number of acres, and this means we can begin planting much later if need be.”
And a little cooperation from Mother Nature would help.
Posted By Cathryn May 6, 2013
In recent conversations about the environment, some fingers have been pointed toward corn farmers. The finger pointers wrongly allege that growing corn emits massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
If you want to see an enviro-villain responsible for a far greater percentage of our nation’s CO2 emissions, just look out your front door.
Residential lawns actually emit more CO2 than corn fields according to a study recently published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal. As more exurbs push city boundaries further and residential developments move land out of agricultural production, the effect can even intensify according to David Bowne, an assistant professor of biology at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania who led the study.
Everyone needs a place to call home. Everyone needs nutritious, healthy foods. Instead of pointing a finger at a farmer because, as such a small subset of the population, very few outside of agriculture personally know about and have experienced our nation’s incredible farming and ranching tradition.
Farmers work hard to act as good stewards of the land, air and water upon which they depend for their livelihood. The original environmentalists, farmers want to work with their counterparts from all parts of the country to ensure that their children will be able to continue farming the land that their grandparents once did.
All fruitful efforts start when we extend an open hand instead of wagging a finger. So take a moment to look at the facts. We have all contributed to the problem. Now, we all must be part of the solution.
Posted By Cindy May 6, 2013
Representatives from eight nations just gathered in Washington DC to discuss how they can work together to share important agricultural data with the rest of the planet with the ultimate goal of increasing global food security. Overall, they agreed that they need to make government data sets such as research and crop production as accessible as possible.
At the G8 Open Data for Agriculture conference, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack revealed how the U.S. data would be made available in a new virtual community for Food, Agriculture and Rural issue, located at www.data.gov.
“This new online community is a big step toward opening information for agriculture, making it public in useable formats,” said Vilsack. “This will increase the value of the investments U.S. taxpayers make in agricultural research, it will create a data ecosystem that will fuel economic growth, it will help drive that innovation to meet our global food challenge we all face.”
Other G8 countries represented at the conference are also making their ag data available in similar ways. USDA Chief Scientist Dr. Catherine Woteki says the idea is to share research and production information particularly with farmers in Africa to help them increase productivity. “Some of that is coming from our plant and animal research program, where we’re mapping the genomes of important crops and animal species for agriculture,” she said. “We’re also including all of our agricultural statistics that traditionally we have made available but now it’s going to be easier through this new community on data.gov.”
Paul Welbig of Raven Industries, who attended the G8 conference as an industry partner actively involved in data distribution platform development, says the ability to share information with farmers in less developed nations is easier than ever before. “Remarkably enough, although they may not have running water or electricity, a lot of these communities actually do have good wireless access and cell phones are a main means of communications” especially by SMS or text messaging. So, applications have been developed taking the ag data sets and communicating them by SMS platforms.
Why is this important? Welbig says one of the most significant developments in agricultural productivity in recent history was made possible by the sharing of open data. “And that was GPS,” he said. “The satellite signals that were once proprietary to the government. They made those signals available and now look at the precision ag industry as a result of what they can do with this open data.”
Posted By Cindy May 2, 2013
Planting progress continues to be slowed by wet and cold weather in most of the major corn producing states, with some states even getting more snow last week.
According to USDA, just 5% of the U.S. corn crop was planted as of Sunday, only a percentage point of difference compared to the previous week. Last year at this time, nearly half the crop was in the ground and normally at least 30% should be planted by now. All 18 major corn producing states are behind the five year average. The only states even close are North Carolina and Texas. Every state should be showing progress in the double digits, but only six are and five have nothing in the ground yet. Another half dozen have less than 3-4% planted.
In Missouri, where both the photos on this page were taken last week, corn planting was 15 percent complete as of Sunday, 24 days behind last year and 15 days behind normal. According to the Missouri Corn Growers Association, farmers in southeast Missouri were starting to see corn emerge last week, while some northern Missouri locations were dealing with snow. The Gary Porter family of Mercer in north central Missouri made a little snowman instead of planting last week.
Jason Mayer of Dexter, sent in this photo of his corn emerging. Johnny Hunter in the same southeast area of the state reported last week that he was finished corn planting and was hopeful the crop would make it through the cold temperatures. “Cold has caused a slow start and corn is only in V1 or V2 stage, which is pretty rare for almost the first of May,” Hunter reported to MCGA. “Cold is costing us bushels right now and corn doesn’t look that great, but we have an even stand so I’m happy with that.”
Just 2% of total U.S. corn has emerged, compared to 14% last year at this time and 6% on average. In Missouri, 9% of the crop has emerged.
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