Posted By Cindy February 17, 2012
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) left LightSquared scrambling in the dark this week after the determination was made that the plan for a wireless broadband/satellite network will indeed disrupt GPS signals.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its decision to the FCC this week that the LightSquared plan to build a nationwide 4G broadband network would impact “both general/personal navigation and certified aviation GPS receivers.” NTIA said the latest round of testing showed there is “no practical way to mitigate the potential interference at this time.”
As a result, the FCC is revoking the conditional waiver which was granted last year and required LightSquared prove the interference problems could be fixed before moving forward.
The Coalition to Save Our GPS is pleased with the move. “The FCC has acted appropriately by declaring that its non-interference condition has not been satisfied and that LightSquared will not be permitted to move forward with its proposal to build a nationwide high-powered terrestrial network in the mobile satellite band,” says a statement from the coalition which is made up of a wide variety of industries and companies – from agriculture and airlines to construction, manufacturing and transportation. Agricultural interests involved include the Agricultural Retailers Association, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, National Agricultural Aviation Association, and farm equipment and technology companies like Ag Leader, John Deere, and New Holland.
National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer of Illinois says they have been monitoring this issue closely on behalf of farmers who rely on GPS technology for crop production. “Expanded internet access is important to our members but not when it compromises the use of high-precision GPS equipment,” he said.
Despite the ruling, LightSquared is not giving up just yet. “This was not a decision based on science or technology but was a politically motivated decision fueled by special interest groups in the GPS and telecom industry,” said LightSquared backer Philip Falcone in a statement. “There are solutions to this problem that can and will address the needs of the GPS community.” The Wall Street Journal reports today that Falcone and other investors have hired a team of lawyers to consider possible litigation over the FCC ruling.
It is interesting that the hedge fund billionaire behind this venture is crying foul and blaming “special interests” from stopping the plan from going forward. Those “special interests” include first responders, airlines, mariners, civil engineering, construction and surveying, agriculture, and everyday consumers in their cars and on handheld devices. Falcone appears to be most concerned about the hedge funds that own some of LightSquared’s $1.6 billion of loans. Kinda seems like a pretty narrow range of special interests on that side.
As Niemeyer notes, internet access is very important to farmers and others in rural communities, but this proposal was being rushed through the regulatory process without properly determining potential unintended consequences, until the coalition was formed in March of last year to make sure that was done.
There’s no need to have to choose between GPS and broadband internet. With careful planning, we can have both.
Posted By Cindy February 16, 2012
University of Illinois Professor of Plant Physiology Dr. Fred Below is always excited to point out to growers how seven factors work together for high yield corn – weather, nitrogen, hybrid, previous crop, plant population, tillage and growth regulators.
Dr. Below talked about his seven wonders of corn yield research at a recent meeting of growers pursuing the dream of consistent maximum yields. He says of the seven factors, only one is really beyond the control of growers. “The largest factor affecting corn yield is obviously the weather,” he said, adding that his research has assigned a value of 70+ the impact of weather on bushels per acre.
On the other hand, Below says good fertilizer nitrogen management can have almost as much impact as weather and it’s the one that farmers have the most control over. “70 bushels is the current average for getting it just right,” he said.
For much of the Corn Belt, 2011 was one of those bad years for weather, but we still saw some good yields. “The weather worked against us in 2011 and we were geared up to grow 300 bushels right out of the ground. It looked pretty good,” he said. “If our management had not made yield by the third week of June, we were pretty well done.” Still, over at his research plots in Illinois, Below says they managed to get better yields with high tech management. “Even under those poor conditions, by managing from the very beginning and planning for high yields, we managed to eke out an extra 26 bushels in a bad year,” he said.
Dr. Below has been researching how to get higher corn yields for a couple of years now and even has a website about the “7 Wonders of Corn” and this coming year is will be doing some complementary research on soybeans. With no nitrogen component to soybeans, there will only be six wonders for soybean success.
Listen to my interview with Dr. Below here: Dr. Fred Below Interview
Posted By Cathryn February 13, 2012
For years now, musicians and actors have taken time out from patting themselves on the back during awards ceremonies to advance politicized causes. The mega-produced shows, which take a public willingness to indulge the already pampered in self-congratulation all the way to the bank, now serve as a platform for entertainers to remind us that they are thoughtful, culturally-aware types. Seemingly, it wasn’t enough for them to be richer and more attractive. Now, they have to prove an intellectual and moral superiority by raising a ruckus on the hot issue of the day.
At the Grammy Awards this year, Chipotle cashed in on this trend releasing a two-minute commercial decrying the evil of modern animal agriculture. Willie Nelson, long known to be a fan of a different type of farmer, strummed and sang to a Coldplay tune as cartoon images of a farmer and sweet little cartoon piggies drifted across the screen.
Personal repulsion to the insufferably self-aggrandizing, overly-produced, pseudo-intellectual impersonation of actual pain that underlies Coldplay’s music aside, the commercial plays upon the tendency of people to project what they want onto what they see.
Without a word, the ad strums along with melancholy nostalgia. The pictures show that many animals now, yes, live in barns. The sweet little cartoon pigs are shown actually locked behind a jail cell door like criminals. The farmer debates medicating himself, as shown through a thought bubble with a pill inside, or releasing his pigs back into pastures and blue sky with chickens running about too.
Luckily, it isn’t an actual depiction of how tender piglets might fare in a cold Iowa winter or how chickens do interact when left to their own devices. Instead, it is the same sort of wishy-washy, rose-tinted vision that most people would like to be true, despite the many difficulties with the realities of such a situation. If you are already projecting an actual message for Chipotle, it isn’t a stretch to willfully block out the fiction underpinning the situation.
Instead of buying into the portrayal of agriculture in the commercial, Nebraska farmers and ranchers fought back by showing the amazing story of the livestock industry in a commercial of their own. With solid information presented by actual human beings, the ad stands in stark contrast to Chipotle’s. Unlike its counterpart it offers a forthright message too – Farming is ethical. Learn about it and become a fan.
As a public, we should applaud this effort. Unlike the fast food giant, the farmers and ranchers of Nebraska trust that an informed public will see how amazing agriculture actually is today. They stand behind their production practices and invite those outside of the industry to learn more. They do not create a dream world with sappy music and emotionally evocative drawings. They treat thinking adults as such rather than signing them a lullaby.
So become a fan. Farmers work hard every day to produce a wide-variety of healthy, quality food options for us to enjoy. So many in fact, that it would be easy to avoid Chipotle, demonstrating an unwillingness to accept their uninspired brainwashing, in favor of a those other options until they hit a less condescending note.
BTW: If you want to know about the actual Chipotle, the one that they obscure through this kind of advertising, check out past reporting from Corn Commentary here.
Posted By Cindy February 9, 2012
Energy issues relating to the production of corn and soybeans are more complex than some would like to think.
That’s the basic conclusion of a recent paper issued by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST).
“Quantifying energy issues associated with agricultural systems, even for a two-crop corn (Zea mays L.) and soybean (Glycine max [L.] Merr.) rotation, is not a simple task,” reads the abstract of the paper. “It becomes even more complicated if the goal is to include all aspects of sustainability (i.e., economic, environmental and social).”
That’s why the whole issue of lifecycle assessment and related indirect land use change is so difficult. In fact, the authors of the paper choose to say indirect land use change might be nearly impossible to evaluate with any degree of certainty, explaining that “because of the uncertainties involved, it may not be possible to reliably model the indirect effects of biofuels outside of the country in which they are produced.”
The relatively brief paper considers many key agricultural sustainability issues, including nitrogen management, economic viability, market prices and public policy. The authors ultimately make suggestions that might address some concerns, including:
- quantify real versus perceived effects of no-tillage on C sequestration and the associated GHG mitigation value;
- find ways to decrease adoption barriers for energy-conserving practices;
- develop integrated usage of renewable fuels and co-products; and
- develop consistent federal, state, and local policies for bioenergy development to provide guidance for private and public investment.
Interesting reading. The full text of www.cast-science.org”>’Energy Issues Affecting Corn/Soybean Systems: Challenges for Sustainable Production” may be downloaded free of charge on the CAST website at www.cast-science.org/publications, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications. The paper also is available in hard copy for a shipping/handling fee.
Posted By Cathryn January 20, 2012
The volunteer farm women involved in CommonGround state programs across the country are talking and, increasingly, the evidence shows that urban and suburban moms are joining in the conversation. With many states recently launching their programs or preparing to do so this spring, the buzz surrounding this open, honest approach to discussing food is spreading too.
Earlier this month, CommonGround Kansas launched its program with a full court press during the University of Kansas women’s basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.
The Lady Jayhawks may have fallen to Kansas State University’s Lady Wildcats, but the ladies of CommonGround stood tall as they explained how they grow food and the facts about modern agriculture. For a few hours on the cold January evening, volunteers shared in outstanding Kansas City barbeque and in conversations on subjects including the locavore movement, organic fruits and vegetables, sustainability and livestock production to a group of reporters, bloggers, government representatives and community influencers.
While bringing together farm women and the people who speak to urban and suburban moms on a large scale started a conversation, what truly matters is knowing that the dialogue opened that night made a difference. Judging by an article featuring volunteer LaVelle Winsor that ran in the Lawrence World Journal, the stories these women have to tell and understanding they offer about food scored with attendees.
In explaining the program’s goals and offering it as a resource, the article spread the word that there is another source of information for moms concerned about the foods they prepare for their family.
“We aren’t trying to tell anyone how to eat,” Winsor was quoted as saying in the article. “But we would like them to know what actually happens on our farm.”
Want to learn more? “Like” the CommonGround Facebook page and look to see if there are upcoming events in your area.
Posted By Cindy January 20, 2012
A syndicated kid’s show that explores the outdoors will feature the life of a corn kernel in an episode airing this week.
An episode of the Into the Outdoors series titled, “Big Things from Small Stuff” will be shown this weekend, January 21-22, on local channels in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.
Wisconsin Farmers Mark Schroeder and Bill Hoffman and Cambria-based Didion Milling are featured as the episode follows the life of a corn kernel from planting to harvest. Production of corn kernels into products is displayed in the balance of the episode, which features Didion Milling’s innovative fractionation process at its dry corn mill and the company’s line of HarvestGold Family of Corn Products. The episode also features Didion Ethanol and their co-product dried distillers grains.
Find out more here.
Posted By Cindy January 17, 2012
USDA’s final crop summary for 2011 released last week surprised many by showing an increase the average corn yield by a half bushel per acre and slightly more harvested acres to come up with a final total of 12.4 billion bushels, up a little bit from the November forecast and not too much lower than the 2010 crop.
“Despite lost acres and a 2011 yield that’s 5.6 bushels below the 2010 average, the corn crop itself is only one percentage point below last year’s number,” said National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer of Illinois. In comparison, final soybean production for 2011 was down 8% from 2010, sorghum and cotton were both down 13%, and rice was down 24%.
The slightly higher corn production means increased U.S. feed grain supplies for 2011/12 slightly over the December estimate, according to the World Agricultural Supply Demand Report. Worldwide, coarse grain supplies for 2011/12 remained almost unchanged this month as higher corn production in the United States, Ukraine, EU-27, and Russia is mostly offset by lower expected corn production in Argentina and the lower sorghum production estimate for the United States.
On the use side of the equation, exports were increased by 50 million bushels reflecting the strong pace of sales to date and reduced prospects for Argentina. Ending stocks are projected 2 million bushels lower at 846 million bushels.
What this all meant for corn futures at the end of last week was a big drop, but most analysts expect the market to rebound quickly as demand remains strong.
Posted By Cindy January 3, 2012
2011 was a wild year for farm market prices and ag economists generally expect that to continue into 2012.
“We had a lot of things that came together and pushed prices up for a wide variety of products the last couple of years,” said Patrick Westhoff, Director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) during a visit at the St. Louis Agribusiness Club. “We expect a lot of volatility in the year ahead.”
One of the main reasons is an “ordinary garden variety one” – the weather. “People tend to forget that sometimes,” said Westhoff. On top of that, the biggest factors to consider are land markets and what Congress will decide to do with farm policy. No surprises there!
He notes that tight stocks will continue to keep corn prices particularly volatile. “Every little piece of news, either positive or negative, can make the market move around a lot,” Westhoff added.
Westhoff believes that the spending cuts presented to the “super committee” by the House and Senate agriculture leadership should help start the conversation for a new farm bill in 2012, “but it certainly won’t be the end of that conversation.”
Listen to Chuck Zimmerman’s interview with Patrick Westhoff here: Patrick Westhoff Interview
Posted By Cindy January 3, 2012
There’s nothing indirect about the land use changes reported in the most recent summary from USDA, which shows that the only land use in the United States that is declining is cropland.
According to the report, “Major Uses of Land in the United States 2007,” the amount of land in the United States devoted to growing crops declined by 34 million acres – or nearly 8 percent – between 2002 and 2007. At 408 million acres, total cropland was at its lowest level since records were started in 1945.
Cropland accounted for 18 percent of the total land area in the country – the third largest land use behind forest (30%) and grassland (27%) – both of which increased over the same five-year period while cropland declined.
The smallest total use of land in the U.S. is urban, at 61 million or 3 percent. However, while urban land use accounts for the smallest percentage, the USDA report shows that it accounts for the biggest increase in land use, quadrupling between 1945 and 2007, increasing at about twice the rate of population growth over the period. Urban land use increased almost 2 percent from 2002 to 2007.
The report is significant because it shows with actual data that cropland acres declined at the same time ethanol production was increasing – which means no direct or indirect land use change as a result of corn being used for ethanol. Instead, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president Bob Dinneen said what the report does show is how farmers are producing more on less land, while urban land uses increase.
“It is ironic that the land use debate has fixated on biofuels, when the actual culprit of land conversion has clearly been urban and suburban sprawl,” Dinneen said. “Subdivisions full of mini-mansions, big box stores, shopping malls, and parking lots are encroaching on productive farmland across the country.”
Read the USDA report here.
Posted By Cindy December 14, 2011
According to USDA, global corn production for 2011/12 is projected at a new record high of 867.5 million tons, despite a smaller crop here in the U.S. Our crop was down 3.5 million tons compared to last year, but foreign corn production is expected to be 43.4 million tons higher, with China alone up 7.3 million tons this month based on the recently released government estimates.
The latest World Agricultural Supply Demand report also showed an increase in domestic corn ending stocks for 2011/12 of 5 million bushels to 848 million, thanks to an equal decrease in corn food, seed, and industrial use with early marketing-year corn use for sweeteners down slightly.
As farmers are starting to look ahead to the 2012 season, they will respond to the market signals like they always do. “I think you’re going to see the emphasis going to corn acres and I think the price is probably going to reflect that going into spring planting intentions,” said Jonah Ford of Ceres Hedge in Minneapolis in his evaluation of the report. USDA now forecasts the 2011/12 season-average farm price for corn to be about 30 cents lower than previously, but that is still a strong $5.90 to $6.90 per bushel.
As we head into 2012, one wild card in the corn demand situation is likely to be ethanol, with the expiration of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) at the end of this year. “That could potentially change how much ethanol is blended into gasoline,” said USDA chief economist Joe Glauber. “There are mandates in terms of overall production that has to be blended into gasoline, the issue is how much gets produced above and beyond the mandates.” However, industry analysts expect ethanol prices are expected to drop 30-40 cents per gallon at the wholesale level after the blenders tax credit expires, which should be incentive to blend more.
Ethanol production hit an all time high for the week ending December 2, according to the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration, averaging 954,000 barrels or over 40 million gallons daily, up about 2.5 percent from the previous record. Production this year could top 14 billion gallons, maybe a billion more than last year – but corn for ethanol production is actually down from last year at 5 billion bushels even. As a percentage of daily gasoline demand, daily ethanol production is nearing 12%. Meanwhile, U.S. ethanol exports have already doubled last year and are expected to hit 1 billion gallons this year.
All this is just a bunch of numbers, but the bottom line is that corn farmers, both here and abroad, are meeting increasing demand – and they will continue to do so. “We always hold that, no matter the challenge we face, the global marketplace will respond to make sure all needs are covered,” said National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer.
I’m reminded of a quote from the classic Saturday Night Live character Father Guido Sarducci in his bit about the “Five Minute University” where you learn what the average college graduate remembers after five years out of school. “Economics? Supply and Demand.” It’s really that simple.