Corn Commentary

Corn Production Speculation Running High

With corn planting running well ahead of schedule, speculation is running high about how much corn could be produced this year if the USDA’s acreage estimate is correct.

Just a week or so ago, the USDA Prospective Planting report predicted that corn growers will plant nearly 96 million acres of corn this year – four percent more than last year and nine percent higher than in 2010. Using the five year average corn yield of 154.3 bushels per acre, that shows a potential 14.8 billion bushel crop!

“Certainly if we have a trend yield, we’ll see record production and we should see substantial rebuilding of stocks,” says USDA chief economist Joe Glauber. “We were calculating with even 94 million acres we would see almost a doubling of stock yields.”

Glauber says they were actually pretty surprised by the significant increase in corn acreage intentions, but he reminds us that this is still just an educated guess at this point, since farmers were surveyed back in early March. “For some producers, they will plant that because they’ve already purchased corn seed, purchased fertilizer, they have their plans and barring any problems with weather, they’ll get those acres in,” he said. “But for some, they still haven’t necessarily made up their minds and will be watching market prices over the next few weeks.”

Those who have made up their minds are wasting no time getting their crop in the ground. Seven percent of the nation’s corn crop is now planted – more than double normal for this time of year. Progress in some states must be record setting with double digits even in the Midwest. Missouri has 23% of the crop planted compared to the five-year average of 8% and Illinois is at 17% where just 3% is normal. Huge gains were seen from the previous week in states like Tennessee, which jumped from 15 to 46% planted in a week, while Kentucky went from 5 to 32%. Normally, only 10 of the 18 top corn states have corn in the ground by this time of year but right now only North Dakota and Wisconsin have nothing to report.

Small Numbers Indicate a Big Change for Corn Farmers

Planting Progress as of April 2, 2012While the numbers released in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Crop Progress report might not have appeared stunning at first glance, closer examination shows that farmers across the Corn Belt are planting earlier than normal.  The report, which indicated that planting was three-percent complete nationally, showed corn planting progress prior to the first or second Sunday in April for the first time in 32 years.

What will this mean?  Possibly nothing, but, then again, it could indicate a variety of outcomes for the 2012 crop.

Higher-than-normal soil temperatures and favorable soil moisture across the Midwest, which weather forecasts suggest will persist, could provide an early window for rapid progress and germination.

For two years now, farmers in many areas have seen lower-than-expected yields due to weather difficulties.  While early, the possibility that 2012 will usher in more favorable conditions and a more bountiful crop is certainly welcome.

Coupling the optimistic outlook early planting demonstrates with estimates that more acres will be planted to corn than since 1937, it becomes possible to envision an abundant harvest this fall.

As any veteran agriculturalist understands, fall remains far in the distance and many troubles could still impede progress.  Just for a moment though, many feel a warm sun beating on their backs as, like every year, they toil in their fields in the hopes that this year will prove better than the last.

Is it Summer Already?

If you thought it was unusually warm last month, you were right. It was officially the warmest March on record.

According to MDA EarthSat Weather, based upon natural gas weighted Heated Degree Days (GWHDDs), the March monthly total of 387.02, shattered the previous record of 525.09 from 2007. “The core of the warmth settled over the Midwest for much of the month and created anomalies in excess of 15F. Chicago closed out the month carrying an average temperature of 53.5F, 15.5F above their monthly normal, and an incredible 4.9F warmer than any other March on record (previous record from 1910 & 1945).”

Other cities which saw record breaking warmth included Minneapolis with an average of 48.3F or 15.5F above normal; St. Louis was nearly 15 degrees higher; Indianapolis was 14.3F higher; and Milwaukee was up nearly 14 degrees over normal.

Cities that set all-time records for March high temps also included Cincinnati, Cleveland, Des Moines, Detroit, Kansas City, and Nashville. According to the National Weather Service, the average temperature in Des Moines of 55.7 beat the old record of 51.5 (set in 1910) by over degrees, “the widest margin by which a monthly temperature record has ever been broken at Des Moines.”

Not surprisingly, planting is ahead of schedule in the first crop progress report out from USDA, but not by too much. Overall, just one percent ahead of last year and the five year average with three percent of the corn planted nationwide. “But what’s notable is we see some planting taking place in Illinois, five percent of the crop planted,” said USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey. “Even more remarkable as you head to the west with Missouri at seven percent. But at the top of the list for the shock factor is that Michigan planted two percent of its corn by April 1st.” Indiana, Nebraska and Ohio have an early start with one percent planted. In the south, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky are ahead of normal, but Texas is actually a bit behind schedule with less than half the crop planted.

While April has started off like June with temperatures reaching 90 degrees in some areas of the Midwest, the weather watchers are predicting that the pattern is about to come to an end with more mild and seasonable numbers ahead for the rest of April.

USDA Expects Most Corn Acres Since 1937

The last time the United States planted as many corn acres as USDA is predicting for this year, Franklin D. Roosevelt was just entering his second term as president.

It was 1937 when an estimated 97.2 million acres were planted. This year, the USDA Prospective Planting report predicts that corn growers will plant nearly 96 million acres – 95.9 million to be exact. That’s four percent more than last year and nine percent higher than in 2010. Corn acres are expected to increase or stay the same in 40 states, with the biggest increases in Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio.

Meanwhile, soybean acreage is expected to be down about one percent at 73.9 million and wheat up three percent at 55.9 million.

If we get that much corn in the ground and Mother Nature is kind, it could very well more than make up for the lower grain stocks reported in the Quarterly Report, also out today. In that summary, USDA says corn stocks are 8% lower than they were a year ago at just over 6 billion bushels. Of that, 3.19 billion bushels are stored on farms, down 6% from last year.

The weather continues to be amazing all over the country and some planting is already underway in southern areas. we’ll find out just how much is getting planted on Monday when USDA’s first crop progress report is released.

Real World Data on Land Use

The debate over ethanol, greenhouse gases and land use continues but there is now a little more real world data to work with as opposed to just speculation.

Dr. Wally Tyner with Purdue University recently addressed the latest developments in GHG analysis at the 2012 National Ethanol Conference. Dr. Tyner presented actual data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing that in the last six years the world has added 105 million of crop land – mostly corn, soybeans, rice, rapeseed and wheat. “So, markets work – that’s basically the bottom line,” said Tyner.

The question is, how much of that can be attributed to biofuels? “Our estimate is that of that 105 million acres, 5.9 million is due to U.S. soybean and corn ethanol,” he said – or about 5.6%. “So, yes we’ve had a lot of land use change, and some of it’s been due to biofuels, but the lion’s share of it’s due to a lot of other things,” such as growing global population and increased income in countries such as India and China.

Tyner also presented some new estimates of carbon footprint, or land use versus biofuels production capacity for various feedstocks. “Our current estimate for corn is .18 hectares per thousand gallons of ethanol,” said Tyner. “That’s about a fifth of what the original Searchinger estimate was.” A hectare is approximately 2.5 acres.

The really good news Tyner’s research found was that using corn stover for cellulosic biofuels production showed zero land use change. “So in terms of greenhouse gasses, global warming, all of that, it’s golden,” he said, adding that miscanthus also shows great promise with .06 hectares per thousand gallons, but switchgrass did not show up much better than corn at .15.

Tyner is the first to admit that all of this can change and every economic is uncertain, so the debate over land use change could continue “forever.”

Listen to or download an interview with Dr. Tyner here: Dr. Wally Tyner

Would You Ask Your Doctor to Fix Your Car?

Every once in a while, someone phrases a sentiment underpinning a social push in such a succinct, crystal-clear manner that it cuts away the superfluous ramblings that obscure the true issue.

“There’s this tremendous push to be paternal over farmers, as if somehow they’re too dumb to take care of themselves,” said William Field, a professor at Purdue University who studies agricultural health and safety. “This language comes from people who have never been in agriculture, who don’t live on a farm and understand the complexities of living there.”

While Field’s quote comes from a longer interview with National Public Radio on that misinterpretations of child safety statistics often cited in debates over proposed child labor restrictions for farms, it sums up a significant amount of the public debate around agriculture recently.  People with little to no knowledge of modern farming techniques, tools or practices interject themselves into complex arguments over the nuances of an advanced production system that benefits from cutting-edge research and generations of practical knowledge.

Self ordained experts from lawyers who wish they were scientists to chefs who wish they were nutritionists wrap themselves in a cloak of self-righteous indignation to hide their lack of actual knowledge.  For-profit environmentalists bite the very hand that feeds the country, and armchair agriculturalists blast biotech on their blogs.

Something is seriously wrong.

Asking questions about where food comes from is natural.  It makes sense to be concerned with what we feed ourselves and our families.  What does not seem logical is the seeming mass acceptance of the answers that agenda-driven non-experts provide.  If you want to know about how your food is actually produced, why not ask the men and women who grow it?

Today’s farmers are technology-savvy entrepreneurs who run incredibly productive operations that grow more food using fewer chemicals and resources.  They thrive because they take the time to learn about the newest, best ways to improve.  They understand why they grow their crop in a certain fashion in incredible detail, and many have volunteered to act as a resource for consumers who would like to learn about it.

An informed public has every right to ask questions about food.  They have every right to come to the table and discuss this with the people growing it for them.  Allowing propaganda and misinformation perpetuated by anti-experts unwilling to understand the very practices they criticize places American agriculture at risk.

Farmers know enough about the industry they so love to allow most Americans to live off of the farm.  Take the time to benefit from their knowledge.

Lawmakers Mingle with Farmers at Ag Day Event

National Agriculture Day came early this year in Washington DC.

The annual commemoration of the importance of agriculture is traditionally celebrated on the first day of spring to recognize the start of planting season, but the event in the nation’s capitol is held a little earlier in the month when Congress is in session so lawmakers can attend.

colin peterson and ncga chairman bart schottAmong those who attended the festivities on Thursday was Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN), Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, pictured here chatting with National Corn Growers Association Chairman Bart Schott of North Dakota during the Ag Day Meet and Mingle Luncheon.

During brief remarks, the Congressman talked about his desire to do what he can to support the effort to communicate the importance of agriculture to the general public and those who implement policies in the nation’s capitol. “People think that they know better than farmers how to do things. Most of them have no clue what they’re doing,” he said.

Peterson also talked about how the agriculture committee worked together across party lines to try and get a farm bill as part of last year’s “super committee” process. “Unfortunately, we were the only committee in Congress that did what was required and that is to come together with a bill that would actually reduce our budget,” he said. “No other committee even tried to do it and the super committee fell apart.”

He says the farm bill process will begin in earnest over the next few weeks. “Our goal is to try and get this done by May or early June. It will not be easy, given the climate around here.” the congressman said. “We’re determined to work together and try to do what’s best for agriculture and for America.” He added that agriculture is “the only part of the economy is working.”

Listen to remarks from Congressman Peterson here: Remarks from Congressman Collin Peterson

2012 National Agriculture Day Activities Photo Album

Join Bill Gates’ New Digital Revolution

Bill Gates, respected for his visionary work as founder of both Microsoft and the philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, called for a new digital revolution today.  This time, instead of promoting software to improve office productivity, he passionately advocated for application of the advanced technology to help end world hunger.

Many stop reading the story here, assuming that through massive donations Gates will provide the cash needed to revolutionize farming in the developing world.  A closer look turns up a more interesting, nuanced viewpoint, one which requires public recognition of the amazing technologies American farmers use today.

In short, supporting the Gates Foundation’s fight against hunger does mean supporting the use of advanced farming techniques including genetically-engineered seed varieties.

While Mr. Gates may not have always been known for his ability to fit-in or follow the “cool” crowd, he changed the world around him for the better by having the intellect to analyze a situation fully, evaluate each facet meticulously and act accordingly even when doing so required courage.

As he turned his attention to the plight of global hunger and malnutrition, Gates encountered a wealth of information on possible farming practices.  Most consumers in the United States have access to a great deal of the same sources today because of Microsoft innovations he fostered decades ago.  Instead of unquestioningly buying into bogus arguments cloaked in a soft, fuzzy, nuevo-hippie, organic wool sweater, he delved into the science.

What he found was that to feed our world’s growing population we need to use the most productive, innovative techniques available. To grow more food using fewer resources and creating less waste, we need the rapid-paced developments brought about by biotech engineering.  Using what many consider a “dirty word”, Gates outspokenly promoted wide-spread public acceptance of biotechnology.

Afterward, when reporters questioned him during a roundtable, Gates refused to back down encouraging doubters to “go out and talk to people growing rice and say do they mind that it was created in a laboratory when their child has enough to eat?”

Pragmatic and effective, Gates sees what many do not.  He sees that failure to embrace agricultural advancements directly impacts the ability of farmers to achieve their potential productivity.  At the same time, feeding the world requires them not only to meet it but to push beyond its current bounds.

Join the real, active movement to end hunger by embracing Gates’ message.  Farmers, scientists and their allies are working hard to create change with palpable results that fill empty bellies and nourish real people who are really hungry right now.  Have the courage to be like Bill.  Billions of lives depend on it.

Former House Speaker on Importance of Ethanol

The 59th Speaker of the House, a farm boy from Illinois, served as one of the nation’s leaders during a pivotal time in the history of this country – smack in the middle of 9/11. It was a time that helped Denny Hastert realize the importance of national energy security.

“If we’re going to be a dynamic progressive, productive country we have to have our own source of energy at a reasonable price,” Hastert said during an appearance at a GROWMARK, FS System event in East Peoria this week. “Whether it comes from Iran or Iraq or Saudi Arabia or Nigeria or Venezuela – those are countries that we don’t necessarily have the ability to trust.”

Hastert is adamant about the importance of renewable fuels and ethanol in particular. “We need to use ethanol,” he said. “I fought for ethanol from the time that I was in Congress for 15 years and finally got through the Ways and Means Committee along with a guy named Nussle from Iowa and we got ethanol with the tax credits so it could be a viable product. If we sit back and don’t do anything about it, we’re going to lose it.”

Listen to Speaker Hastert’s comments about ethanol during his address: Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert

I also had the opportunity to interview Hastert after his address and he expanded on his comments about the importance of domestic energy production to agriculture. “I always believed that farmers were best off when they sold more than a commodity, if they could sell something that has value-added,” he said. “When you look across our corn fields in the Midwest and see one out of every four rows of corn that goes to ethanol, you know that you’re securing a price that farmers can put a crop in the field and make a living.”

That ties in with what the former speaker thinks will happen in the next farm bill. “I think you’ll see some of the subsidies that farmers have grown to rely on are going to be gone just because of the shortage in the budget,” Hastert said, noting that he has two farms himself. “What we need to do in the farm community is to make sure we keep those markets for our products that we have and can be independent of government subsidies.”

Hastert served as Speaker of the House from 1998 to 2007, the longest-serving Republican Speaker in history.

Listen to the interview here: Dennis Hastert Interview

Stroll Through the Past to Find the Truth Today

Sometimes, the cacophony deriding corn grows loud enough to drown out reason. Vague allegations based in variations on the big-is-bad theme swirl about creating a tornado of talk that obscures reality.

Now, through simple, concise facts, the National Corn Growers Association is helping sweep aside the clutter and show that corn is, and always has been, a quintessentially American crop, fueling innovation and national growth.

A new NCGA-developed timeline, available both online and as a supplement to the 2012 World of Corn, shows how corn played an integral role in the development of the Model T, the clean air movement and feeding our forefathers as they established the country.  With additional information on production trends that increase yields and sustainability simultaneously and fun facts about corn, this poster-sized infographic makes finding the facts about corn both easy and enjoyable.

Take a minute to stroll through the history of corn in America by clicking here and gaze out at the golden fields that fed and inspired history.

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