Posted By Cathryn April 21, 2014
Forbes proved that by carefully presenting numbers in a persuasively plotted manner one can confuse a reader this weekend in its story “It’s Final – Corn Ethanol Is Of No Use”. Referencing the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group reports released at the end of last month, energy writer James Conca conca-cocted a seemingly sensible argument. Unfortunately, he used slanted stats to obfuscate the truth and, with the skill of a math-magician, create an illusion instead of a solid story.
In his argument, Conca cleverly hides reality through the use of percentages. Comparing the total percent of the corn crop used to feed people and livestock in 2000 (90 percent) to the broken out figures for livestock and food and beverage feed in 2013 (45 percent and 15 percent respectively). He clearly intends to shock by using the smallest possible numbers for 2013 instead of using a more mentally honest direct comparison.
But this is only the beginning of the show. Much of the story happens off the stage.
Behind the curtain, Conca hides the hard numbers that would show his sleight of hand for what it actually is. In 2000, the United States produced only 9.9 billion bushels of corn. In 2013, U.S. farmers grew a record 13.9 billion bushels. Percentages working as they do, a larger percentage of a smaller crop can (and often does) equal a smaller percentage of a larger.
Usage for starch held steady. Sweetener, cereal and food usage rose.
Corn used for livestock feed rose too. In 2000, 5.2 billion bushels of U.S. corn went to livestock feed. In 2013, 4.3 billion bushels went directly to the livestock feed market with the equivalent of an additional 1.1 billion bushels going to feed use as distillers dried grains and corn gluten feed. That is a total of 5.4 billion bushels of corn in 2013.
Overlooking real magic, Conca fails to mention how ethanol co-product DDGs help maximize the potential of each kernel of corn by creating both feed and fuel from it.
While he puts on a complicated, carefully choreographed performance, Conca’s performance falls flat as a piece of unbiased journalism. Instead of shining the spotlight on the real fallacies, he follows the other righteously indignant frauds into a fog of reactionary rhetoric that obscures the bright role biofuels play in building an honestly better future.
Posted By Mark January 17, 2014
A true David and Goliath battle is under way between the nation’s family farmers and Big Oil in the form of the American Petroleum Institute (API). And farmers in recent weeks bounced a big rock off the head of the petroleum behemoth. At issue is American ethanol.
For months the oil industry has been involved in a well-funded campaign of both public and covert efforts to undermine the growing role of sustainable biofuel like ethanol. They capped this massive misinformation campaign by leaning on the White House and EPA to propose a change to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) that would reduce ethanol use by 1.4 billion gallons this year.
The bad news is the most recent slap in the face, if successful, has the potential to hammer farmers and the rural economy to the tune of more than 10 billion dollars.
Before this recommendation can be accepted EPA’s proposal must go through a formal public comment period. Thousands of corn farmers across the country have responded with a vengeance submitting comments urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to retract its proposed 10 percent cut in the amount of corn ethanol in the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard.
The volume of supportive comments coming from farmers as well as equipment dealers, bankers, school administrators and consumers who favor a fuel choice has been incredible so thanks to everyone who has taken the time to register your opinion.
The response has been so terrific that it tweaked API and in response they have launched yet another effort to remove any competition from the fuel marketplace. It takes the form of an annoying and deceptive “robo-call.”
On the pre-recorded action request API refers to those supporting ethanol as both a “special interest group” and as “extremists.” Since most those making the calls are farmers, I guess that means you. They also use the same old hackneyed and debunked arguments saying ethanol leads to higher food prices and damages car engines.
If being called an extremist makes you a little angry fight back. If having one of the world’s most prosperous industries try to increase their profits at your expense….fight back.
Corn growers: Click here to send a public comment to the EPA.
Non-farmers: Click here to customize and send a public comment to the EPA.
I wish it was a real person calling rather than some digital dweeb called Tom, because I would tell him to quit bugging hard working Americans and get back to cleaning up the their latest oil spill.
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 Cathryn August 22, 2013
What do you call a woman who whines about high grocery prices but shops at Whole Foods while she does it? What if she is wearing high-end yoga apparel, a designer handbag and jewelry from the most exclusive collections while she does it? Out of touch? Worse?
Big Oil thinks that most Americans would call her my neighbor, share her values and understand her experience. Furthermore, they think we would take her offhanded analysis of the correlation between energy policy and consumer economics as reliable fact.
This time, it seems that Big Oil’s attack on corn ethanol exposed a real truth – that their priorities are seriously out-of-whack.
Click here to watch the ad. Pay careful attention to the “everyday mom” at the grocery store while you do so.
Now, allow for a moment of somewhat catty contemplation.
The receipt she holds up clearly has a Whole Foods logo at the top. With bags overflowing with groceries, she bemoans how much she has to pay and attributes rising prices to ethanol in her “impromptu” analysis.
Did you roll your eyes at some point and think “Whole Paycheck’s more like it?” Think that just maybe she isn’t doing her best to shop in an even moderately cost-conscious way? Just maybe?
Let’s go back to her outfit. Is that jacket Lululemon or Athleta? Either way, it certainly isn’t from Walmart or Target. The handbag stitching and perfect riveting show an attention to detail that comes more often from Nordstrom than a no name bag. The twisted gold necklace with its delicate work could be Yurman. It could be Hardy. One thing it isn’t is cheap.
Don’t even start to contemplate how she flits her hand about with a rock like that on it…
In reality, most women head to the market with less shiny hair tucked in a ball cap. They wear sweats not expertly coordinated to set off their coloring. They carry a bag big enough to tote around the million and one emergency items their kids might need. You find them at Krogers or Kmart.
What Big Oil got wrong in this ad is that they cast a reflection of themselves, instead of one real Americans identify with. The showed a well-heeled elitist who wants to keep enough in her very lovely pocketbook to maintain her luxe lifestyle. They showed, in essence, exactly why they campaign to keep a stranglehold on our energy market. Much like the woman in their ad, they don’t want to keep their own lavish lifestyles funded.
They want to do so at the expense of the American consumer. Someone they obviously do not understand and whose best interests they do not have at heart.
The farmers who grow ethanol want the best for American consumers because that is who they are too. In towns from Sioux Falls to South Bend, they are the farm families just down the road. Like you, they want to stop paying more than they should at the pump and in the store.
Find out more about how ethanol is fueling a movement toward consumer choice by clicking here.
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 28, 2013
Big Food is running in circles to rehash old – and incorrect – claims about renewable fuel.
This time, it’s the National Chicken Council trying to scare football fans about the supply of chicken wings, and it’s déjà vu all over again: the industry repeatedly ignores the true drivers of food costs.
Despite the Chicken Council’s claims, the poultry industry hardly seems to be cutting back on feed and animal production.
Click here for the full post as it originally ran on the Fuels America blog.
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 November 21, 2012
Today’s post originally ran on the Fuels America blog. Fuels America, of which the National Corn Growers Association is a founding member, is a coalition of organizations committed to protecting America’s Renewable Fuel Standard and promoting the benefits of all types of renewable fuel already growing in America. Fuels America is founded on a simple core principle: Renewable fuel is good for the U.S. economy, for our nation’s energy security and for the environment.
Some special interests are claiming that renewable fuel is raising the cost of your Thanksgiving turkey. The fact is that turkey prices are lower this year than they were in October of last year. Renewable fuel does not dictate the price of a turkey and it does not dictate the price of your food.
Despite a decrease in the price of a turkey, food prices on the whole have gone up. But that is a result of rising oil prices, which have skyrocketed since 2005.
The oil sector, threatened by increasing fuel diversity, is trying to mislead consumers to turn back the clock on our progress in creating alternatives to oil.
Let’s take a closer look. Corn makes up 3 cents of every dollar spent on food at the grocery store. The rest comes from things like transportation, marketing, labor and packaging. Those Super Bowl commercials advertising for your favorite snack aren’t cheap. And paying for the petroleum to transport food inputs isn’t cheap either. Costs like those—costs that have nothing to do with the crops that go into your food—make up $.84 of each food dollar you spend at the market. As oil prices fluctuate, food prices follow because petroleum is a large input into food prices. Corn is not.
The EPA set out to discover the true impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) on corn prices. And they found that the RFS has not had a significant impact on corn prices. In a study that included 500 scenarios, in nearly every case, EPA concluded that waiving the RFS for a year had no impact on corn prices.
Self-interested players are twisting the facts try to kill an industry that is creating American jobs, increasing our energy security and delivering alternatives to oil. Thanks to the EPA analyses, and a cornucopia of other data showing the reality that the RFS is working, we no longer need to eat the false choice between food and fuel.
For more information on Fuels America, click here.
Posted By Cathryn September 4, 2012
Drowned out by adamant cries rising from sides that oppose or support a waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard, an important question has been, in a large part, ignored. Would waiving the RFS have the desired affect? With a single, simple action, can the EPA actually lower corn prices and improve the profitability of the livestock industry?
This weekend, the Kansas City Star examined this important question and found that the frenzied fracas may be for naught. Simply, waiving the RFS might not significantly impact the price of corn.
Citing a variety of factors, from gasoline manufacturers’ dependence upon ethanol to increase the octane of our fuel to local and state clean air regulations, the article clearly outlines how many parties see enough value in ethanol to continue producing and blending it even if the mandate should be waived. Ethanol provides society with more benefits than satisfying a government regulation; one might even conclude that the benefits originally motivated the creation of that regulation.
What does this mean in the context of the ongoing waiver debate? It means that both sides should see the situation as complex and multifaceted. Full consideration and careful examination can help avoid unintended consequences, which it is in everyone’s benefit to avoid.
It also further illustrates the many ways in which ethanol benefits Americans. From lowering prices at the pump to helping keep the air clean, blending ethanol into fuel does more than check a box on a list of rules to follow. It blends the benefits of a domestically produced, environmentally friendly fuel into our nation.
Posted By Cathryn August 30, 2012
In yet another gross simplification of a complex situation, a media uproar has given new life to the food versus fuel debate of 2008. A throwback to election years past, this perennial panic-producing paradox invades our homes yet again coaxing us to join the fracas. It seems simple. Choose how the nation’s corn crop should be used.
Everyone scream an answer at the top of your terror-stricken lungs right now. As if generating mass thirst could somehow alleviate the effects of a drought…
Truth be told, with the exception of bio-engineered drought-resistant seeds, little does. Oversimplifying the problem and marching forward with blinders on to obscure any unnecessary, albeit factual and relevant factors, will only land us in a forest of unintended consequences.
Simply, there is nothing simple about corn use. In a piece on National Public Radio this morning, Lon Johnson, a feed coop manager from Minnesota, drove the complexity of the situation on the ground home while many drove to work. Johnson, who deals with the intricate relationship between price, availability and ethanol daily, explained how a halt in ethanol production locally affects his business, producing feed for cattle, chickens and other livestock.
“It doesn’t make it any easier for us because maybe we can buy our corn 20 cents a bushel cheaper, but it costs me 20 bucks more because we bought corn distillers from the ethanol plant. That’s one of the things people a lot of times keep forgetting with an ethanol plant. Even though they’re using a lot of corn, they’re still putting a lot of feed back into the market. Food versus fuel? I think we need ‘em both.”
Does the complexity of the situation make it any less important for the farmers, ranchers and ethanol plant investors who are all suffering through this hot, dry summer? Of course not. Nor does it make it less relevant for a public looking for answers in uncertain times.
Looking at the detail, whether it be the reintroduction of corn to the livestock from the feed market or the role ethanol plays in lowering fuel costs, does allow assessment of the situation in a comprehensive, accurate manner.
Sometimes, the correct answer turns out to be “all of the above.” Instead of being pushed to pick an arbitrary side of an oversimplified argument, take a cue from Johnson. Answer C, “we need ‘em both.”
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