Corn Commentary

Celebrity Chefs Forget a Pinch of Humility, Whip Up Bitter Baloney

This election year, Americans are already growing increasingly agitated with pompous, self-important celebrities who feel an uncontrollable desire to pontificate upon politics. Qualified only by having played a politician in a made-for-TV movie or having co-written a B-side flop, these self-anointed bearers of the divine torch of celebri-smarts help us regular folk understand our mistaken, unworldly personal ponderings.

Honestly, who could take a multi-millionaire who plays dress-up for a living seriously when he or she banters on about the plight of the common folk? Did they learn about Main Street in a Method class?

Another group of sell-out celebrats, the chefs of cable TV, who not only feed actors but often host their own insightful television programs, want to tell average Americans how to think about the farm bill.  In a letter proudly coordinated by the Environmental Working Group, intellectual icons including Mario Batali and Tom Colicchio trumpeted their opposition to big, rich commodity farms while wrapping themselves in the trendy terminology of the local, organic and environmental movements. As much as they criticize the Senate legislation, how many of these signers even read it?

To be frank, it seems a tad hypocritical to take the bully pulpit preaching a populist gospel while rubbing elbows with the sophomoric socialites who get a kick out of menus that offer greater detail about each truffle-decorated tapa than their letter offers about the world-changing policies proposed. It’s like they all live in Portlandia.

The only advice these elitist epicureans have the expertise to dish out pertains to the dishes in their ovens. Most Americans cannot afford to dine at their establishments; America cannot afford to bite into their half-baked policies.

Farmers feed us in a meaningful, sustainable fashion. So, call the trendy wannabes out for what they are and stand by a classic.  America’s farm families need a farm bill now.  America’s top chefs need a new hobby.

More Friendly Farm Family Faces in the Capitol

Friendly farm family faces will be greeting those who work in and visit the nation’s capitol again this summer.

The Corn Farmers Coalition (CFC) is launching its major advertising campaign by taking over every available ad space at Union Station. The effort will also put prominent facts about family farmers in Capitol Hill publications, radio, frequently used websites, and other Metro locations in June and July.

“Nine of the largest corn crops in U.S. history have been grown in the last decade by family farmers,” said Jay Lynch, a fifth-generation farmer from Humboldt, Iowa whose family is featured in one of the new ads. “Direct outreach by farmers like me is putting a face on today’s family farmers and raising overall awareness with legislators, leaders or governmental agencies from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of State, think tanks, lobbyists and environmental groups.”

Corn farmers from 14 states and the National Corn Growers Association are supporting the Corn Farmers Coalition program to introduce a foundation of facts seen as essential to decision making, rather than directly influencing legislation and regulation.

Learn more about the family farmers behind CFC in this short video.

Thanks Dominos For Not Caving to HSUS Whims

Farmers are always getting asked these days to get involved; write a letter, call your Congressman, but how about eat a pizza?  Now activation by the slice is something I think we can sink our teeth into and all wrap our minds around.

With many corporate players caving in to environmental whackos and misinformed consumer groups it is refreshing to see a major player in the restaurant industry like Dominos Pizza tell The Humane Society of the United States to “hold that thought” when they asked them to require pork suppliers to stop housing sows in gestation stalls.

When HSUS asked stockholders to bow down before their warm fuzzy image and the millions in lobbying and PR dollars they wield, Dominos shareholders rejected the resolution.  A Domino’s spokesperson explained that the company relies on animal experts to determine the best way to raise an animal that’s used for food.

Ok, now it is time for full disclosure on my personal bias. Unlike HSUS – that hides behind their false image as the savior of puppies and kitties, while giving a pittance to actual animal shelters.  When I was in college I have to admit to having a real gastronomic romance with Domino’s Pizza. The food was inexpensive which is critical to a student on a budget and they delivered faster than any other food establishment. Also, an important factor for those who get a random hunger for pizza late at night.

I still have that pizza problem today…love it, eat it weekly and still a fan of Dominos. I can openly live with this “pizza problem.”

One has to wonder how HSUS employees sleep at night knowing full well that they are spending their vast resources to drive a vegetarian agenda and hides a lifestyle choice as a moral cause. And they do so while constantly misrepresenting themselves to the general public.

Thankfully many people are taking note of the online “Farmers Paying It Forward with Pizza” campaign that was the brainchild of Clarence, Missouri pork producer and Ag blogger Chris Chinn.

The Brownfield Network became the most recent public entity to take note of Dominos act of corporate heroism. A logical decision really, but heroic none-the-less given the lack of spine and sense of right that seems to have invaded much of corporate America.

So, thanks to Chris, Brownfield and many others for bringing this into the light of day and challenging us all to show support of Dominos. And for the record I like my activism with parmesan sprinkled on top.

Optimism for the Corn Crop

The first U.S. Department of Agriculture outlook for this year’s corn crop is calling for record yields and record production.

The May 10 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report projects U.S. feed grain supplies for 2012/13 at a record 416.3 million tons, up 16 percent from 2011/12 at a record 416.3 million tons, with corn production called at a record 14.8 billion bushels, up 2.4 billion from 2011/12.

A projected 5.1-million acre increase in harvested area and higher expected yields, compared with 2011/12, sharply boost production prospects. The 2012/13 corn yield is projected at a record 166.0 bushels per acre, 2.0 bushels above the 1990-2010 trend reflecting the rapid pace of planting and emergence. Despite the lowest expected carry-in in 16 years, corn supplies for 2012/13 are projected at a record 15.7 billion bushels, up 2.2 billion from 2011/12. Total U.S. corn use for 2012/13 is projected up 9 percent from 2011/12 on higher feed and residual disappearance, increased use for sweeteners and starch, and larger exports.

Under the corn usage category, USDA is increasing feed and residual use by 900 million bushels based on a sharp rebound in residual disappearance with the record crop and an increase in feeding with lower corn prices and higher expected pork and poultry production and exports are projected to be 200 million bushels higher than last year on abundant domestic supplies, lower prices, and higher expected China demand. Projected corn use for ethanol is unchanged at five billion bushels on the year as weak gasoline consumption limits domestic blending opportunities.

Of course, the downside to bigger supplies is lower prices. USDA is projecting at this point that the season-average farm price this year will be somewhere around $4.20 to $5.00 per bushel, down sharply from the 2011/12 record projected at $5.95 to $6.25 per bushel but still much better than it used to be.

Corn Progress Remains Ahead of Normal

Nationwide, over 70% of the corn crop is planted now, well ahead of the less than half average for this time of year, according to the latest report from USDA.

“In spite of the wettest weather of the spring, producers in the Midwest still managed to plant a significant acreage of corn and soybeans” last week, says USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey. “Corn emergence was greatly benefited by the rain and continuing warm weather.” Nearly a third of the crop is emerged nationwide, compared to the average of 13%. Last year, just six percent was emerged by this time.

Couple of weeks ago, Iowa was one of only a couple of states behind in corn planting, but farmers have surged ahead since then and progress now stands at 64%, compared to the five year average of 58%. Emergence of 23% in Iowa is more than twice the normal pace for this time of year. Only Texas remains behind the average, with 75% planted compared to 80% normal. Emergence-wise, three states are behind schedule – Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, along with Texas. But everyone else is well ahead of normal and soybean planting is now surging ahead as well with 24% planted, compared to 11% on average.

“What growers optimistically viewed as a potentially optimal planting season has become a reality in many areas,” said National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer. “Conditions could still change, but either way, farmers will meet the challenge and produce an affordable, abundant supply of corn.”

Farmers are making good progress, but it’s no record. The record for this time of year was set in 2010 with 81% planted.

Protecting Farming’s Future

corn familyGreat news this week for the future of America’s farming families.

The U.S. Labor Department officially withdrew proposed rules that would have prevented many young people from working on farms and ranches.

“The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations,” said the department in a press release. “Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders — such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H — to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.”

The Labor Department said it received “thousands of comments” against the proposal rule regarding youth in agriculture and made it clear that the “regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”

The rule ideally would have included an exemption for children of farming families, but once that door was opened it would only be a matter of time before they would have been included under it as well. It could have prevented the next generation of farmers and ranchers from acquiring skills and passion for the profession and definitely would have kept urban kids from working on farms and learning from the solid worth ethic found in this industry.

This is a great victory for farmers and ranchers and truly shows the strength of American agriculture and grassroots action. Thanks to the administration for using some common sense!

Starvation Through Snobbery

Think that everyone should eat only organic foods?  A new study published in Nature magazine disputes this notion as, if a move of this sort were made, many people would not eat at all.

Ignoring ongoing disputes over the value of different types of farming, many of which are based on anti-technology myths and misinformation, the study finds that, in most cases, truly organic production practices cannot meet the demands of a hungry world.

“Crop yields from organic farming are as much as 34% lower than those from comparable conventional farming practices,” the article cites. “Organic agriculture performs particularly poorly for vegetables and some cereal crops such as wheat, which make up the lion’s share of the food consumed around the world.”

In the end, the choice of whether to select organic or conventionally grown food comes down to consumer preference.  America’s farmers work hard to provide an abundant, affordable variety of safe options every year.  Don’t take away the very tools helping ensure that they can continue to do so.

Ready, Set, GROW!

emerging cornThe first USDA crop progress report counting the corn emerged so far this year is out and the number is just one short of double digits.

That’s still almost a full one-tenth of the crop already breaking ground and soaking up the sunshine, like the plants in these photos taken at a field along I-70 in Missouri over the weekend. That’s a full 7 percent more than last year and the five year average. Pretty amazing.

emerging cornPlanting progress is even more amazing, with 28 percent of the crop in the ground, compared to 15% normal for this time of year. How about some of these numbers? Tennessee is leading the pack with 88% planted, twice the average. North Carolina has 79% and Kentucky is at 75%. Okay, so those are Southern states, but the Midwest is no less impressive – maybe even more so. Illinois has 59% planted, Missouri is up to half the crop in the ground and Indiana growers are getting near that halfway point with 46% done. Compare that with the averages for this time of year – Illinois 17%, Missouri 27% and Indiana just 10% – and yeah, that is amazing.

I talked with a couple of growers earlier this month, one in southwest Missouri and one in northern Indiana and both already had gotten quite a bit of corn in the ground. Kip Tom of Indiana had 45% planted as of April 12 and Kip Cullers of Missouri said he had been planting “for 12 straight days and never shut the planters off.” That was April 10 and he already had corn emerging at that time.

Normally at this time of year, less than half of the states have any corn emerged, but this year right now only five have no little sprouts to report. Illinois and Missouri are over 20% emerged and Indiana has 10% up.

While 16 of the 18 major corn producing states are running ahead of normal in planting, there are a couple of notable exceptions – one of them being Iowa. Only 9% of the Iowa corn crop is in the ground, compared to 16% average. But they are ahead of last year when it was only 3%. The only other state running behind is Minnesota, just a percentage point behind normal, but that’s 11% more than last year at this time when none was planted.

Never can tell what kind of weather surprises may be in store later this year, but it’s nice to see the season get off to such a great start! A good start is half the race won.

News: Common Sense No Longer Common

Today, the Associated Press demonstrated why common sense is no longer common and often does not make a significant amount of so-called sense.  In a story written to promote a Eurocentric anti-modern meat agenda, the media source rambles on about the evils of administering antibiotics to sick cattle, pigs and chickens. Fear-mongering at its finest, the author uses sparse quotes from agenda-driven groups, unaccredited consumers and specialty producers who would personally benefit from a ban, to supplement the single, credible quote from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which states clearly, when taken on its own, that indiscriminant antibiotic use is not favorable.

The questions ignored are myriad.  Do antibiotics have a role to play in animal agriculture? How are they actually used on a normal American farm? Why do the current regulations remain in place?

The author, through crafty copy, attempts to sway the reader from asking these basic, simple questions through a subtext appealing to the idea that all readers with common sense would make the same assumptions he does.  If using antibiotics can be bad, it cannot ever be beneficial.  If the interest groups and niche marketers seem like good, conscientious people, then the family farmers who day in and out produce safe, nutritious, affordable food choices in abundance for the country must be the party at fault.  The more modern technology, here in the form of medication, used to produce that food, the higher the chance that it will not be as wholesome as what our forefathers and mothers ate.

Useless nostalgia for a past seen through rose-tinted glasses aside, Americans today benefit from the safest food supply in recorded history.  They have a much wider array of healthy, safe choices than could have been conceived in a pre-penicillin past.

How can the average person find information, both facts and firsthand accounts, from knowledgeable sources willing to explain what they say?  In the case of food questions, CommonGround volunteers across the country share true accounts of how they grow and raise food on their own farms.  Plus, their stories are supported by credible, complete information from actual experts.

If you want to know more about antibiotics than the mainstream media is able to provide, take a moment to meet Teresa Brandenberg, a cattle rancher from Kansas.  A young mother who cares deeply for both her family and her cattle, Teresa understands the government regulations for antibiotic use, the reasoning behind those rules and how it affects families, both hers and yours.

Maybe, it could more accurately be said that common sense still plays an important role in the life of most Americans.  With so many urban and suburbanites far removed from the farm, asking questions about what feeds their families both natural and responsible. Talking to the people who live that story makes a lot of sense.

Listening to over-hyped, sensationalized accounts of farming written by Washington media? Maybe that is what doesn’t make sense after all.

Agriculture Wins One with the EPA

Despite the increasing pressure on farming from over-regulation, agriculture was handed a victory this week by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the agency denied a 2008 petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) seeking to cancel 2,4-D herbicide registrations and revoke all tolerances for use.

According to the agency, “EPA evaluated all the data cited by NRDC and new studies submitted to EPA in response to the reregistration decision. Included in the new studies is a state-of-the-science extended one-generation reproduction study. That study provides an in-depth examination of 2,4-D’s potential for endocrine disruptor, neurotoxic, and immunotoxic effects. This study and EPA’s comprehensive review confirmed EPA’s previous finding that the 2,4-D tolerances are safe.”

In the decision, EPA noted that based on “studies addressing endocrine effects on wildlife species and the adequacy of personal protective equipment for workers, the Agency concluded that the science behind our current ecological and worker risk assessments for 2,4-D is sound and there is no basis to change the registrations.”

“The impact of this decision should not be understated,” said Jim Gray, executive director of the Industry Task Force II on 2,4-D Research Data. “This has been one of the most widely used and successful herbicides in history and growers along with other users around the U.S. and the world can continue to use it with confidence.”

The original patent for 2,4-D – a phenoxy herbicide and plant growth regulator – was issues in 1945 and today it is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. It is currently found in approximately 600 products registered for agricultural, residential, industrial, and aquatic uses. It is used on a variety of crops including wheat, corn, rice, soybeans, potatoes, sugar cane, pome fruits, stone fruits and nuts. In addition, 2,4-D controls invasive species in pastures, aquatic areas and federally protected areas and broadleaf weeds in turf grass.

Right now, corn is not among the big users of 2,4-D, but that is expected to change in the future since one of its major manufacturers, Dow Chemical, has developed a 2,4-D resistant hybrid and is seeking federal approval for it. USDA is currently accepting comments on approval for that hybrid, which runs through April 27, but they are being pressured by non-agricultural interests to decline.

While this is an important victory for agricultural users of the herbicide, it is just as significant for suburban lawn care and other non-agricultural uses, such as controlling invasive plant species that pose risks to the environment. The major problem with 2,4-D is that it is perpetually linked with Agent Orange, the defoliant used in the Vietnam War. However, while it was an ingredient of Agent Orange, it is now widely believed that the main health problems came from contamination of 2,4,5-T, the other major ingredient in Agent Orange. Regardless, the link still creates a bit of an image problem.

NRDC is none too happy with EPA’s decision and may yet appeal it because the underlying agenda here is to get rid of ALL chemicals used in crop protection, no matter how safe they are. Thanks to the EPA for standing their ground this time around.

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