Corn Commentary

Crops in the Path of the Storm

The impact of Hurricane Sandy on agriculture is still being assessed but the storm did have one immediate effect – delaying the release of USDA’s crop progress report by two days.

Meterologist Brad Rippey says the corn crop is now 91% harvested nationwide, well ahead of the five year average of 60%, but while much of the corn belt is done, some areas that got hit by the storm were still underway. “Pennsylvania, for example, on October 28 – a day or two before the storm hit – had the crop just 64% harvested. That is ahead of average but leaves virtually a third of the crop in the field,” said Rippey. “Same is true in Ohio with 64% harvested by October 28.”

Rippey says it’s a similar situation for the soybean harvest which is 87% complete nationwide. “We saw very little harvest underway in North Carolina, Virginia and on up into Maryland and Delaware,” he said, noting that just 17% of the crop in North Carolina was harvested by October 28.

Rippey adds that next week’s crop progress report will provide more information on just how bad the damage was from Sandy.

World Grain Buyers Get US Producer Perspectives

Grain buyers from around the world at the recent 2012 Export Exchange had the opportunity to hear directly from U.S. farmers themselves about the impact of the drought on the 2012 crop through a producer panel during the opening general session. Among the panelists was Ron Gray, an Illinois farmer and Secretary/Treasurer of the US Grains Council.

Gray related how this season got off to a great start but quickly went downhill due to lack of rainfall, resulting in a severely diminished corn crop. “Our farm probably averaged 50 bushels an acre, which is approximately 1/3 of our normal production. The rainfall did come later and the soybean crop is a fairly good crop, but the corn crop was devastated,” Gray said.

However, Gray notes that “hope springs eternal in the farm community” and farmers are forging ahead with optimism in 2013. “That will mean it’s not 2012 anymore and that will be a good thing,” he said, pointing out that most farmers who had crop insurance this year will be in good shape for next season.

His take home message for international grain buyers was that U.S. corn and distillers grains will still be available for the export market. “We do have quality product available,” he said.

Listen to Jamie Johansen interview Ron at the Export Exchange: Ron Gray Interview

You can find photos from this years Export Exchange here: 2012 Export Exchange

Biotech Could Help Feed the World

The list continues to grow of newspapers, organizations and companies opposed to California’s Proposition 37, that would require the labeling of any foods containing genetically modified crops.

“It’s just awful in my opinion,” said Truth About Trade & Technology (TATT) Chairman Emeritus and former American Farm Bureau president Dean Kleckner. “It’s as though there’s something wrong with biotech. Seventy percent of the food that we buy in the supermarket in this country has some element of biotechnology in it – could be corn oil, could be soybean oil.”

“Biotech is here to stay,” Kleckner added. “It’s the new conventional agriculture, really.”

TATT hosted its annual Global Farmer Roundtable at the World Food Prize in Iowa recently, which featured a visit to the seed lab at Iowa State University and Couser Cattle Company adjacent to Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa. Participants at this event included 17 producers from Canada, Honduras, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Swaziland, United Kingdom, Uruguay, US, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Kleckner says most farmers in the world want to use biotechnology and those living in countries where the use of biotech crops is prohibited believe they are at a disadvantage. “And I agree with them that they are disadvantaged against the U.S. and Argentina and Canada and South Africa and other countries that do use biotechnology.”

Exposing producers in other countries to the advantages of using distillers grains as livestock feed is also important, which is why the visit to the Couser operation is a regular feature for roundtable participants.

“I’m a believer in ethanol from corn,” said Kleckner. “The corn that is used for ethanol, a lot of that comes back to farmers in the form of distillers grains.”

Couser Cattle Company owner Bill Couser was instrumental in starting the farmer-owned Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant, which is located next to his operation so he can take full advantage of using distillers grains as feed for his livestock.

You can see more photos from the TATT Global Farmer Roundtable on their Facebook page.

Listen to my interview with Dean from World Food Prize: Interview with Dean Kleckner

Praying for Nine Inches

With harvest nearing 90 percent completion, many news stories address the impact of the drought in the past tense. The drought hit farmers. The drought impacted yields. The drought of 2012 did this or that.

According to climatologists and meteorologists who know what is needed to grow, farmers across the Midwest should be praying for nine inches.

Why is that the magic number?

According to Iowa State Climatologist Harry Hillaker and DTN Senior Meteorologist Bryce Anderson, the areas of the Corn Belt still categorized in some form of drought required nine inches of rain before the new year to ensure sufficient soil moisture for spring planting in 2013.

While these experts note that the likelihood of this happening is statistically slim, some areas of Illinois have gotten more than two inches of rain in the past 24 hours. With a few days of showers in the five-day forecast, some hold out hope for clouds on the horizon.

Many farmers have already begun purchasing next spring’s inputs and, for some, the risk of continued drought seems significant enough to factor into planting decisions. Yet, even for those with a less optimistic outlook, new varieties of drought resistant corn developed through biotechnology offer hope unimaginable only one generation ago.

“I know when I had my first drought in 1977 that we actually had three bushels to the acre,” said Nevada, Iowa farmer Bill Couser in a recent interview with the Kansas City Star. “If I would have had the hybrids today back then, we would have never had that kind of a drought, because with the hybrids today it’s just amazing what they’re pulling through.”

Whether more rains come or farmers consider corn designed to tolerate a drought, U.S. corn farmers are preparing to put 2012 in the past, resiliently looking ahead toward the 2013 planting season. Hope remains that Mother Nature may yet give them what they need, but America’s farmers will be ready to meet the challenge with the help of technology should the drought persist.

Record Harvest Pace Continues

The numbers for the corn harvest progress so far are staggering in some states.

“We continue to see some respectable to even record setting harvest progress for both corn and soybeans,” said USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey of the latest harvest progress report. For corn, “we see harvest passing the three quarters mark for the week ending October 14 to reach 79 percent, more than twice the five year average of 38 percent.”

For the Corn Belt states, Missouri takes the lead with 95 percent of the corn crop harvested, compared to 66 percent normal for this time of year. So, that’s just about 30 percentage points ahead of average, but look at the other states. North Dakota has 84 percent harvested, which is a whopping 70 points ahead of normal. South Dakota with 90 percent complete is up 68 points compared to the five-year average. Minnesota has 90 percent harvested also, compared to 27 percent average, Iowa is 57 points ahead of the average with 87 percent harvested and Nebraska is running 54 points ahead of schedule with 80 percent complete. In Illinois, 87 percent of the corn is harvested, but that’s only 34 points ahead of normal.

The soybean harvest is also roaring along a breakneck speed, with over 70 percent harvested with Minnesota, North and South Dakota virtually done already. So, it may not be the best of years for production, but at least farmers are getting the harvest behind them quickly so they can focus on next year!

Harvesting Corn Nonstop

This guest post comes courtesy of Brian Scott, a farmer featured in NCGA’s Field Notes series and the author of The Farmers Life blog. Scott also agvocates on Twitter as @thefarmerslife.

In this post, Scott offers his personal insight into why the impressive field machinery visible from the road makes modern agriculture possible.

Harvesting Corn Nonstop

Being efficient is important during harvest for many reasons. When conditions are right you want to get crops harvested in a timely manner while those conditions are still in effect. Maximizing productivity can also cut fuel costs and puts less hours on machinery which preserves value when it’s time to sell or trade equipment.

Our combine and grain cart taking a rest at the end of the day.

One way we keep the combine combining is through the use of a grain cart. The cart allows the combine operator to unload grain while harvesting so he doesn’t have to stop to fill a truck. Combines have separate hour meters for the engine and threshing components. You’d be surprised to see how much time a combine spends not harvesting. You have idle time, road travel, moving in and out of tool sheds, and so on.

All this time adds up. If memory serves, the last combine we traded had close to 1000 engine hours and 650 separator hours. So a machine whose sole purpose is to harvest grain spent 35% of its life not harvesting. That’s why we often use a grain cart especially in corn. Corn yield per acre is much higher than soybean’s, which fills the combine frequently. Not so frequently this year, but still much more so than our soybeans. Corn generally yields 3-4 times more grain per acre than beans.

In a normal year I can’t get the combine to the far end of a field and back before it’s full. Without a grain cart that means stopping somewhere in the middle to pull out of the corn and drive over to a truck waiting to be filled. Then I either have to drive back to where I stopped or start a new pass. That’s generally what I do if we don’t have someone around to operate the cart. I’ll harvest as much as I can to fill the combine and cut as many full passes as I can. Then when I get to where I might be waiting for an empty truck to return I go back and get the short rows I couldn’t finish earlier.

Last night I fired up the camera on my tablet I have mounted on the window of the combine cab so you can see the combine unloading on the move.

You can see how this process keeps the combine doing what it does best instead of spending half the time driving loaded or empty across the field to get unloaded without harvesting anything. John Deere Machine Sync is a great new technology allowing a combine operator to take control of the tractor pulling the grain cart when it gets close enough. The tractor will link up with the combine and stay a certain distance away. After that the combine operator has the ability to shuttle the cart back and forth in order to fill the cart to capacity. If you’ve ever driven a or filled a grain cart you know with two humans at the controls of two machines you can’t quite get the cart full every time. Another part of this technology benefits a grain cart operator chasing more than one combine. The grain cart can now monitor which combine needs unloaded first and chase that machine down before it gets full. Pretty cool!

 

Mike Rowe Gives Alcohol History Lessons

Ethanol and farming have roles to play a new series on the Discovery Channel hosted by Mike “Dirty Jobs” Rowe.

The three-part series is called “How Booze Built America” and it premiers this Wednesday evening September 19th at 10pm ET/PT, repeating at the same day and time for the following two weeks. The series examines the critical role alcohol has played in our nation’s history, according to a Discovery Channel press release:

Did you know that the Puritans landed the Mayflower early on Plymouth Rock… because they ran out of beer? Or that Johnny Appleseed was actually creating farms to sell hard apple cider? Mike Rowe does, and he’ll walk you through all of this and more. He’s proven that Dirty Jobs can be fun. He’s ready to do the same for history.

In HOW BOOZE BUILT AMERICA, Mike Rowe will crisscross the country, stiff drink in hand and beer goggles firmly strapped on, to take an in depth and slightly unusual look at the story of our nation. Between reenactments of actual historical events, and current day interviews with historians and experts, Rowe will make the case that alcohol is clearly one of the key ingredients that formed our culture and our country.

In one of the series’ promos on the Discovery Channel, Rowe takes a look at “Energetic Ethanol” in his usual funny way. Watch it below:

Catching Up With NCGA’s 1st VP

It was great to see National Corn Growers Association First Vice President Pam Johnson in her home state of Iowa last week at the 2012 Farm Progress Show. She had the opportunity to do lots of interviews with the media there for the show and talk about – what else? – the drought and the need for a new farm bill.

Pam raises corn and soybeans with her husband and two sons on their farm in Floyd, which is located a little east of Mason City and not too far from the northern state line. Like many other farmers, the Johnson’s have had a hot and dry summer. “We’ve got some corn that doesn’t have an ear on it, some that might not be so bad, but just guessing I’d say we’re maybe going to have 60% of a crop that we normally have,” she said, adding that the soybeans might fair a little better with some recent rain and cooler temperatures, but the bottom line is that they really don’t know yet.

Pam took part in the Farm Bill Now Coalition press conference at Farm Progress Show and was handing out Farm Bill Now buttons around the show. She also talked about the NCGA’s position regarding the request for a waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard, noting that they strongly support the RFS and respect the waiver process. “If the EPA with their due diligence finds that the RFS has caused severe economic harm, then a partial, temporary waiver is in order,” Pam said, but otherwise, a waiver should not be granted. “Let’s take a big picture, long-term view, and figure out what’s best for our farmers and for our country.”

Due to the uncertainty of this year’s crop, NCGA has already requested an additional 30 days for comments regarding the waiver. “We think it’s a little too early to call this crop. I can’t even really tell what it’s like on my own farm,” Pam said. “We know what this crop is not, we don’t know what this crop is.”

Listen to my interview with Pam here: NCGA 1st VP Pam Johnson

2012 Farm Progress Show Photo Album

Aflatoxin Rears its Ugly Head

As the corn harvest takes off way ahead of normal, yet another consequence of the epic 2012 drought is rearing its very ugly head – aflatoxin, which is caused by a fungus that just loves the kind of weather we’ve had this summer.

“Hot, dry conditions actually promote the fungus Aspergillus flavus,” said USDA plant pathologist Dr. Kitty Cardwell. “When the plant is stressed, particularly high heat stress, it really disposes the crop to be vulnerable to this fungus getting into the grain. Then when it’s harvested and put in storage for awhile, the toxin starts building up in the grain.”

Reports of aflatoxin have already been coming in from states including Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Indiana. Last week the Iowa Department of Agriculture started requiring aflatoxin screening and testing of milk and is also instituting a state-wide corn sampling program. “It will show up in the milk if aflatoxin affected corn is used for feed for dairy cattle,” said Dr. Cardwell, noting that there is zero tolerance for aflatoxin when it comes to food that can be fed to infants and young children.

While there are normally reports of aflatoxin every year in some areas, Dr. Cardwell expects that some farmers who have never had the problem will be facing it this year. She offers some advice for growers to self test for the fungus. “Take 10 kernels and put them in a moist paper towel for a day or so,” she said. “If what grows out of the kernel is bright, pea green, that will be Aspergillus flavus.” If all of them turn bright green, it’s time to get your corn tested at a lab.

Former Ag Secretary and USTR at FPS

A former Secretary of Agriculture and US Trade Ambassador doubts Congress will get a farm bill done this month and he hopes the nation will stay focused on increasing export opportunities.

Dr. Clayton Yeutter touched on those topics and several others during a brief press appearance at the 2012 Farm Progress Show last week.

While Yeutter admits that Congress could pass a new farm bill if lawmakers wanted to do it, “the odds are that they won’t get it done before September 30th” and will probably pass some sort of extension, possibly until after the election or maybe for another year. “If they do it for six months, maybe they can still get it done by spring planting time, but if they extend for a year, then there’s a likelihood it will spill past spring planting which means you leave everyone in a position of uncertainty,” he said. “I don’t know what Congress will ultimately do, your guess is as good as mine.”

Clayton Yeutter, who served as agriculture secretary under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1991, says there’s really not that much difference between the two bills, one passed by the full Senate and one yet to make it to the floor of the House. “My general reaction is, for Heaven’s sake folks, why can’t you mesh those differences because they’re not all that great,” Yeutter said.

Yeutter also served at USTR under President Reagen from 1985-1989 and he had some words of wisdom about trade agreements. “We have to keep our nose to the grindstone in this area and we need to make sure that the United States gets our due market share around the world,” he said. “We want to continue to develop the China market and we want to develop India as it begins to emerge and if we can get Japan in the TransPacific partnership negotiations, we’ve got a lot of additional opportunities in Japan.”

You can listen to all of Dr. Yeutter’s comments here: Clayton Yeutter at FPS

2012 Farm Progress Show Photo Album



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