Posted By Cindy March 30, 2012
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.
Posted By Cindy March 20, 2012
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
Posted By Cathryn March 13, 2012
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.
Posted By Cindy March 9, 2012
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.
Among 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
Posted By Cathryn February 23, 2012
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.
Posted By Cindy February 22, 2012
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
Posted By Cathryn February 21, 2012
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.
Posted By Cindy February 17, 2012
One little gene in corn can make the difference in susceptibility to three major leaf diseases, according to USDA researchers. Three diseases – southern corn leaf blight, northern leaf blight, and gray leaf spot – all cause lesions on corn leaves worldwide and the latter two are significant problems for Midwest corn growers.
The discovery, by a team of USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists and university colleagues, could potentially help plant breeders build disease-resistance traits into future corn plants.
The researchers examined 300 corn varieties from around the world to look for those with resistance to the three diseases in order to determine which genes underlie disease resistance. When they tested the lines for resistance, they found that if a corn variety was resistant to one disease, chances were favorable that it was also resistant to the other two.
The researchers applied a statistical analysis technique called “association mapping” to identify regions of the genome associated with variation in disease resistance. According to Balint-Kurti, the scientists knew there was a strong correlation between resistance of one disease and the other two. They postulated that some resistance genes conferred resistance to two or more different diseases, and they identified a gene that seemed to confer multiple disease resistance.
This gene, a GST (glutathione S-transferase), is part of a family of genes known for their roles in regulating oxidative stress and in detoxification. Both of these functions are consistent with a role in disease resistance.
Read more from USDA-ARS.
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