Posted By Mark March 18, 2014
Food prices are on the rise again and you probably already noticed. Thankfully, the mainstream media thus far is covering it in a balanced way and pointing out the primary drivers behind the increase. Those include things like drought in key growing regions, and an anticipated cut in planted acres in the Ukraine due to political unrest.
But as surely as the birds outside your window are a precursor to Spring, before this is over someone will find a way to blame high corn prices and ethanol fuel by default. Prodded on by Big Oil, who is losing market share to ethanol, and abetted by folks who prosper when corn is cheap, they will once again try to make 2 + 2 = 9.
According to today’s Wall Street Journal federal forecasters estimate retail food prices will rise as much as 3.5% this year, the biggest annual increase in three years. This should provide a real kick in the pants for American consumers who are still dealing with the lingering effects of sluggish economy.
But rest assured the corn industry is doing its part to provide the corn the nation needs. In fact we grew so much corn in 2013 that corn prices have been hovering at levels that barely cover the cost of production for many farmers. Some analysts in the Wall Street Journal article hint that the lingering effects of a drought that hit major corn growing regions in 2012 might be another factor in inflated food prices.
Don’t buy into this for a second. Despite the 2012 drought farmers grew the eight largest corn crop in history, providing a testament to modern farming technology in use on family farms. And as we all know there is nothing tentative about food manufacturers when it comes to raising food prices. Even a hint of any issues in the supply chain and they react by jacking prices like Usain Bolt leaving the starting block. I wish they were as efficient at lowering prices when normalcy returns to the market place.
Scratch the surface a little harder and you will find the real reason many products we often take for granted are seeing major price bumps. Beef prices are up and it is directly linked to years of drought in the Texas and the south western US. Cattle need lots of water and when it’s not available ranchers reduce heard size. Initially this results in a big supply of beef hitting the market at great prices. However, that window has closed and now the public will pay more until kinder weather and a rebuilding of the nation’s beef herd which takes time.
Ditto on dairy prices where growing demand from Asia is putting upward pressure on prices. Add a brutal drought in California which supplies much of the dairy products we love and you get the picture. Cows eat lots of grass and hay, both of which are in short supply on the west coast. And I don’t even want to mention how much of the fresh produce you consumer comes from the big CA. There are similar tales behind other rising food items but I think you get the idea.
And remember being skeptical of what you hear is a virtue.
Posted By Cathryn February 13, 2014
A Reuters news story released today confirmed that the advanced tools and practices used by modern American farmers can have a massive positive impact in reducing global hunger if more widely adopted. Assuming the idea of reducing human suffering holds near universal appeal, this finding demonstrates how arguments for a return to the farming ways of yesterdays and against the use of tested, proven technologies would actually have a negative impact on anyone financially unable to pay the high price of adherence to these pseudointellectual ideals.
The study, conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute, concluded that widespread adoption of an array of technologies, including biotech seeds, could cut commodity prices in half and reduce global food insecurity by as much as 36 percent by 2050. Noting that no single technology alone can produce this impact, the researchers found that used together practices such as no till farming, irrigation and biotech seed technologies can substantively change the future of global hunger.
For an infographic summarizing the findings, click here.
An over-fed, under-questioned segment of the population is pushing to take away the very tools farmers need to feed a growing world. With full stomachs, they use misinformation and empty rhetoric to launch a full sail assault on scientific advancement in agriculture. Whether for personal profit or out of sincere short-sightedness, anti-GMO activists and their anti-ag allies fight for misguided movements that would directly result in a future where more poor children go hungry.
The fight for modern farming is a fight to feed the world. Eschewing science in favor of foolish fanaticism has repercussions that reach far beyond U.S. borders and far into the future. Don’t let those born tomorrow suffer for the ignorance ignited today.
Posted By Mark October 9, 2013
In 36 years of being directly involved in agriculture and the issues that make it so…interesting, frustrating, rewarding, and painful…I have only seen one positive story written about the issues effecting the profession, especially ethanol, in the Chicago Tribune. I remain convinced to this day that it was a mistake that slipped by editors and that the cub reporter responsible is driving a cab in the Loop and speaking in tongues.
I think it is ok to say this Windy City pub never met a farm policy or ethanol issue they didn’t like to bash, facts aside. Apparently farmers are immune to the whims of business considerations like making enough to pay the bills and plant another crop. Why else would the Trib opine that farmers are getting more for their corn after a 25 year economic drought that saw farmers getting $2 to $2.50 a bushel regardless of real world cost or demand? (Let alone make such comments in the wake of prices just dropping 40 percent).
So, following their direction, I guess all of you farmers can get off your combines and retire. Apparently you have spent your entire life, not to mention several generations, involved in the most under appreciated hobby in history. No more production of food, feed, or fiber. No more ethanol fuel because we are just going to continue to depend on prickly and dangerous oil producing nations for their finite black gold.
On a more serious note, I think the Tribune needs to be called on the carpet for the sham they have been selling to the public for years that they have a pro-business/pro-jobs position.
Despite dozens of third party experts bringing them information backed by science that exposes the errors in their thinking the Trib, especially its editorial writers, remain steadfast in their spewing of misinformation and loathing of ethanol despite its emergence as a critical economic engine in much of the U.S. Are these folks not suspicious or troubled at all by the millions of dollars being spent by the petroleum industry in recent years to damage the reputation of ethanol. One of the tenants of good journalism is to follow the money in trying to understand societal issues. Clearly Goliath is trying to squash David and somebody should be asking why.
Here are a few of the factual perversions in their latest diatribe:
- Farmers are not planting as much corn as possible. In fact we are 20 million acres shy of planting the acres we did in the 1920s.
- The Trib notes we use 40% of the corn crop to make ethanol. Actually we use the equivalent of only 27% of the crop because only the starch from the corn kernel is used to make ethanol. The protein for livestock feed is concentrated, easier to transport and a high value product.
- Blaming corn for higher meat prices is also off base. Declining domestic meat consumption and the outrageous cost of transportation of all food products to market – thank you big oil – has something to do with that.
- Plant diseases and pests are nothing new. Farmers deal with them all the time and do so very well thank you. Goss’s wilt that you reference touches only 10% of the corn crop, and is far from being devastating, unless of course you fall in the 10%.
- And did you actually criticize crop insurance in one breath while also intimating we should take away a farmer’s ability to choose what to plant? That will make the kids want to return to the farm business.
Posted By Cathryn August 29, 2013
With cotton prices falling, reports indicating larger profit margins for apparel manufacturers are surfacing. In the discussion, reporters do not seem to even ask if the companies that cover our rears will lower the price of a pair of jeans. The fact that they will keep the profits comes as a given.
So, why does the idea that falling corn prices will lower the price of food have so much traction?
In relating food prices to the use of corn for ethanol, consumers are expected to assume that food manufacturers would pass these savings along. Simply, why is different corporate behavior expected from the apparel industry than from the grocery? Given that both operate with the goal of turning a profit for shareholders, this makes little sense.
Common sense underlies the public understanding of the economics of cotton. It should underlie the public understanding of economics of corn.
Posted By Mark July 17, 2013
In the maelstrom that is modern society, with a hyperactive media and a beleaguered work force, I think many of us rarely have the time to do research or critical thinking related to the issues of the day. I place myself firmly in that ilk.
Today a very simple question set the wheels turning. The question came from a farmer who asked how we can explain complex farm programs and support programs designed to keep family farmers producing food and raw materials to a well fed public.
Several thoughts immediately came to mind. First, farm programs have changed and today policy is moving toward a new paradigm, one that focuses on a safety net approach. At a fundamental level this insurance kicks in to assist growers only when developments beyond their control – such as a wide spread drought – put farm survival at risk.
This well considered and analyzed approach recognizes the intrinsic value of the small slice of our population that feed us and much of the world today. This small group is the receptacle of generations of irreplaceable farming knowledge that have made American agriculture the envy of the world. They have allowed generations of us to take food for granted, and miss a very simple fact…once a farmer calls it quits they don’t return.
Unlike a factory layoff, when a farmer moves on so does the complex storehouse of diversified skills that make farmers a productive juggernaut. There are no recalls when things get better. Likewise there is little incentive for another generation to return to the farm given the entry level investment and associated risk.
So I suggested rather than try to give someone a crash course in agriculture, we speak to the public with the goal of giving this issue a perspective that is undeniably powerful and defies flippant responses and misinformation.
So here goes. The next time you speak to a group or an individual ask them to name the industries that are the top contributors to the Gross Domestic product. Then add agriculture to the list if it isn’t already there. Now tell them they can only save one. In my experience, nearly without fail, they will universally select agriculture. This simple exercise puts the incredible necessity of a safe and abundant food supply under the bright light of reason.
Now take the next step in your thinking and consider the important role an agricultural safety net, and the stability it brings, plays in allowing us to spend less of our disposable income on food than any other nation. (About 10% in recent years). Suddenly, that agricultural safety net, becomes an investment in consumers number one need…sustenance. Not a “farm subsidy.”
If you are wondering, the hottest industries in terms of contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the Department of Commerce:
- Durable Goods/Manufacturing
- Wholesale Trade – raw and intermediate materials used to produce non-durable goods
Top Industries in terms of job creation:
Interestingly, five of the top ten industries in terms of job creation are social media and internet related. But when the rubber meets the road, social networks feed nobody, video games are not nutritious, and wires and processors have little to do with our immediate survival.
Posted By Cathryn April 16, 2013
Without question, most Americans have probably wondered at one point or another where some members of the U.S. House of Representatives get their information. Prone to tossing about wildly inaccurate blanket statements, a segment of politicians aiming to bring down the Renewable Fuel Standard and our nation’s energy security are playing fast and loose with the truth.
And it seems like no one is watching.
Just today, CNN Money released a story about how the price for many consumer goods fell. Based upon information released by the Labor Department on changes during March to the Consumer Price Index, the story explained that one major factor contributing to the decreased CPI was a drop in food prices at the grocery store.
“Prices on whole milk, potatoes, lettuce and pork chops all declined during the month,” the article stated. “But food prices at restaurants and cafeterias rose slightly.”
Yet, only days ago, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) introduced legislation that would remove corn-based ethanol from the federal Renewable Fuels Standard in 2014. Calling the RFS an “unworkable federal policy”, Goodlatte even noted that he plans to introduce legislation which would eliminate the RFS entirely.
How do the bill’s supporters justify this attack?
Fellow sponsor Jim Costa (D-Calif.) explained, “We can’t afford to keep putting food in our fuel tanks. It’s no longer just about agriculture or energy. It’s about putting food on our families’ tables.”
With food prices at the grocery story, presumably the most common place to purchase affordable food for our families’ tables, actually falling and a lower percentage of our income going to food than any other developed nation, how does this justification make sense?
Simply, no one is taking time to connect the dots.
Allegations are thrown out and accepted as fact without any real evaluation. Looking at the news in its totality instead of as a series of unconnected sound bites shows the inherent fallacies in basis upon which these legislators are putting forth a bill that would have a massive impact on our nation’s energy supply.
An attack on the RFS is an attack on legislation that has successfully decreased our dependence on foreign oil while moving our nation toward a renewable, more environmentally friendly fuel. Make no mistake, a step in this direction will have consequences that every American feels in one way or another. Whether it is by paying more at the pump next year or by breathing in more harmful pollutants, handing back the gains made through the RFS will harm American families.
Good policy may be complex. It may not make a snappy sound bite. It is what Americans must protect to ensure a better future for their families.
Posted By Cathryn January 29, 2013
Newspapers, online sources and television reports alike have spent days now terrifying a hungry public with reports that party food favorite buffalo chicken wings will be in short supply this Super Bowl. Linking the supposed shortage to a variety of factors, from the drought to government biofuels policy, these reporters need to check their readily available facts.
Chicken wings will be abundant for the Sunday night football festivities in 2013. Actually, chicken wing supplies are currently 68 percent higher than at this time last year. All of the commotion is for naught.
Using data available to the public, and to the reporters who promote this bogus story, the above chart details the amount of chicken wings in cold storage over the past few years. This information, updated monthly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides unbiased, factual data about our nation’s food situation. As it turns out, there will be wings enough for all.
So how does such blatantly false fodder gain national attention?
A group, interested in whipping up public panic and a loud uproar that could work to their own benefit, concocts a pace quickening story that ties directly into a major event. Media outlets, looking for a quick space filler that will attract attention without creating additional work for already strapped staffers, picks up said story. Then, the attention grabbing atrocity takes on a life of its own.
The age old strategy might have worked too. If only it weren’t for those pesky publicly available government reports.
So go ahead and invite a few extra friends over for the big game without fearing a fight will break out over the wings. America’s farmers have you covered.
Posted By Cathryn January 15, 2013
Corn farmers might be wise to take a cue from a certain sector of their counterparts in traditional business sectors and learn the value of expectations management.
In 2012, farmers felt the brunt of their own success as, after years of continually pushing the boundaries of how much they could grow using fewer resources, a massive drought hit the Corn Belt hard. Fields of young corn plants, the beginning of what many anticipated to be a record corn crop, withered in the relentlessly dry heat. Corn production powerhouses, including Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, found their crop would not meet initial projections.
For their inability to (literally) make it rain, these farmers faced massive cries from media outlets’ sensationalized stories. Ever vigilant in their quest for higher ratings, many journalists eschewed responsible research in favor of “commonsense” commentary, crying over and over that consumers would be shocked when they saw their grocery bills come fall.
From their self-claimed moral high ground, media mercenaries lobbed a frenzied attack. Will Americans starve to feed their cars? Should draconian rationing measures be instituted? Were the Mayans right?
With the USDA’s annual crop reports released, a clearer picture of the 2012 crop is forming. Corn farmers, who faced a serious adversary in Mother Nature, managed to grow 10.8 billion bushels of corn. No, the crop did not break all previous records, but it made the top ten lists.
Despite the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, farmers raised the eighth-largest corn crop since the United States started keeping records. Through better seed varieties, developed through biotechnology, improved practices and cutting-edge technology, our nation’s corn farmers fought back against Mother Nature’s assault.
They struck major blows at key times. Iowa took the front despite the drought, growing 1.87 billion bushels of corn. Minnesota and Nebraska stepped up production and buttressed the crop, growing 1.37 and 1.29 billion bushels respectively. Even Illinois, who saw their normally chart topping yields shrivel in the sun, made a major contribution to the nation’s overall totals, producing 1.28 billion bushels.
The lesson therein? Corn farmers fell victim to their own success in 2012. While striving to produce even more bounty year after year, their achievements became commonplace. Thus, when these over-achievers faced a natural disaster, their efforts were met with backlash instead of understanding support. When their fields suffer, farmers suffer. Yet, this fact was largely ignored.
The eighth-largest corn crop on record does not generate the sort of excitement that a record-breaking harvest may have. It does show the strength and reliability of U.S. farmers. Even in the face of a drought that would have decimated the crop only decades ago, they succeeded in providing a top ten crop. Expectations placed upon America’s farmers have obfuscated the triumphs of 2012.
Sadly, it is a story that deserves telling. Though neither glamorous nor sensational, U.S. corn farmers can provide a dependable abundance that Americans can count on for food, feed, fuel and fiber. Maybe this does not make a headline, but it does provide for a secure tomorrow. That’s an expectation farmers are proud to meet.
Posted By Cathryn December 3, 2012
Today, Corn Commentary shares a post from Kentucky Corn Growers Association Director of Communications Jennifer Elwell. On her new blog Kentucky Food and Farm Files, Elwell discusses a variety of interesting topics, including her work with the CommonGround Kentucky program.
What happens when you place a passionate, smiling farmer in the middle of a grocery store? It opens a door for conversations about food and farming. Many Kentucky farmers are now volunteering their time to talk with food buyers about what the heck is going on at their farms and within their food industry.
Programs such as CommonGround, Operation Main Street, AgChat (#agchat or #foodchat) and many others are providing volunteer farmers for speaking engagements and events, and the feedback has been very positive.
This past weekend, volunteers (including myself) set up at the newest Kroger location in Georgetown, Ky. to talk with shoppers and provide recipes and farm information. We had questions about different types of egg production, a conversation about how a diabetic needs to manage their diet, my nine-year-old daughter encouraged kids to eat lots of fruits and vegetables by trying new dishes, and many just wanted to share their appreciation for what farmers do.
Volunteer Becky Thomas of Elizabethtown talks with a shopper at the Georgetown Kroger.
My daughter and I ready with smiles on our faces. She was so good at sharing the good news about what our Kentucky farmers do and is ready to take on my other blog, Food, Mommy!
I am very thankful that grocery store chains are opening their doors to local farmers to talk with their customers. It puts a face on our food production and puts the notion away that most of our food is produced by “industrial-strength” farms. At least 98% of the farms in Kentucky are still family-owned and operated.
Volunteer Tonya Murphy from Owensboro talks with a customer at a Louisville Kroger this summer about how she cares for the chickens on her farm. Everyone loved seeing her photos.
Volunteer Carly Guinn, a grain and beef cattle farmer who lives in Danville has a long conversation about food myths and shares how she feels they hurt farmers.
Kentucky farmer volunteers Ashley Reding, Carrie Divine and Denise Jones talked with Louisville ValuMarket shoppers in 2011, shortly after the Common Ground program launched nationwide.
Elwell invites both comments and requests from groups looking for speakers on food and farming. Click here to find out more.
Posted By Cathryn November 21, 2012
Contrary to what many believe, higher food prices do not equal more money for farmers.
As the Northeast continues to deal with the effects of Hurricane Sandy, other parts of the United States are still dealing with the most severe and extensive drought in at least 25 years. And that drought has spurred some talk about whether consumers will pay more for food at the grocery store.
While the current USDA food-price forecast for 2012 is below some recent food-inflation rates, such as the spikes in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2011, shoppers can expect to pay a little more at the grocery checkout this year. And U.S. farmers, who saw firsthand the effects of the drought on their crops and livestock, want to be sure that consumers understand exactly where those extra food dollars end up. (Hint – it isn’t farmers’ pockets.)
“Believe me, as a farmer and a mom of one child, with another on the way, I definitely pay attention to food prices because they affect my family’s pocketbook, too,” says Iowa farmer and CommonGround volunteer Sara Ross. “I know it can sometimes be tough to look past the price tag. But it’s important for families to remember that, as Americans, we are very fortunate to only have to spend 10 percent of our income on food, versus the 18-25 percent spent by people in other countries around the world.”
Where does the money that families pay for their food go? CommonGround walks through the truth about food prices below:
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