Corn Commentary

Water is Life and Drought Equals Higher Food Prices

drought 

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.

Farmers Continue Fighting Cynical Snark with Open, Inclusive Conversations

Last week, Corn Commentary ran a post on how CommonGround volunteers have begun answering Chipotle’s claims and explaining why they are farmed but not dangerous. Click here to view.

This week, more volunteers answered the call, creating fantastic content. In addition to the original post by Maryland farmer Jennie Schmidt, four Iowa volunteers also took the initiative to tell their side of the story. The inside chatter suggests that even more may be on the way soon.

Take a moment to find out what these farmers have to say as they open the farm gate and foster conversation.

To view Steph Essick’s post, click here.

To view Katie Olthoff’s post, click here.

To view Nicole Patterson’s post, click here.

To view Jennie Schmidt’s post, click here.

To view Jill Vander Veen’s post, click here.

Moms who grow food sharing stories with moms who buy it. The concept seems simple, but it can make a world of difference for a concerned consumer with real questions about how their food is grown and raised. Helping everyone enjoy food without the fear may be more revolutionary than the snarky marketing campaigns created to generate unnecessary concern in the first place.

Growing Global Food Security through Growing Acceptance Modern Ag

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.

Cut through the Dizzying Deluge of Confectionery Confusion

5344193519_Chocolate_Covered_CherriesIf you have anything in common with the blog staff at Corn Commentary, you probably have no clue what you might get your significant someone for Valentine’s Day yet. You may have spent endless hours flipping furiously through webpages on your phone with a blank mind and pounding pulse. What could bring a smile to the face of someone who always brings one to yours?

In your list of whirling worries, cross off one cause for concern and consternation. Whether the candies you buy are sweetened with corn, cane or beet, when it comes to digestion they are the same for you to eat.

So pick up chocolate covered cherries, bon bons or strawberries. Your Valentine’s preference is your biggest worry. Scientists have shown there’s no wondering which should be your chosen treat. Metabolisms burn as fast as you can get your heart to beat. It all burns the same in turn whether sugar comes from corn or cane or beet.

Scour the substantive studies on this sugary science here.

A New Shape for Popcorn

PopCornersA new market for popcorn has taken shape in the snack food aisle – Popcorners.

Our Popcorners family proudly presents our wholesome, delicious new shape of popcorn to your family.

Here at Popcorners we have spent a great deal of time tasting, testing and perfecting what we genuinely believe will be a new generation of popcorn.

Now, take your time and enjoy all our classic and delicious flavors. We are going to be around to honorably carry on the traditional goodness of snacking on popcorn.

Popcorners flavors range from sweet to salty to cheesy – Caramel, Sweet Cinnamon, Twisted Salt, Sea Salt, Wisconsin Cheddar, White Cheddar, Cheesy Jalapeno, Kettle – and traditional Butter. They even have recipes for the new snacks for a new twist on meat loaf, tuna salad, nachos or noodle casserole.

What’s not to like?

CommonGround Volunteer Shares GMO Insight

The following blog post was authored by Minnesota family farmer and CommonGround volunteer Kristie Swenson. Swenson participates in CommonGround, which is a joint project of the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates, to help moms off the farm know how the moms on America’s farms grow and raise their food. By sharing her stories, she hopes to help consumers enjoy their food without fear.

 

kristie swansonThe topic of GMOs is complex, challenging, and emotional, regardless of your stance.  I have yet to have a straightforward conversation where we simply talk about one aspect of the GMOs because it’s so hard to talk about just one aspect when there are so many sides to the issue.  If one starts talking about the science itself, or the methodology used to genetically modify an organism, the conversation often goes on tangents like research, ethics, side effects, chemical use, labeling, corporations and so on.  It is so hard to separate each individual issue because they are connected and they are all valid issues that should be addressed.

 

Straight away, you should know that I am pro-GMO.  I do not believe that GMOs are the silver bullet or the solution for everything, but I do believe that GMOs have merits that should be considered on a case-by-case basis.  Do I think every single organism needs to be genetically modified?  No, I don’t.  But I do believe that genetically modifying some organisms can provide us with benefits, and I think those modifications should be researched.

 

Take papayas, for example.  In the 1990s, Hawaii’s papaya crop was devastated by the ringspot virus.  A Hawaiian scientist, Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, developed a virus-resistant variety of papaya through genetic modification and found a way to help the papaya industry.  In Hawaii today, both GMO and non-GMO papayas are produced.  (Read this article for an interview with Dr. Gonsalves.)

 

Am I saying that since I see GM papayas as a good thing, that all GMOs are a good thing?  I’m not going to use one positive situation to blanket the entire topic of GMOs.  I am just saying that there are other industries that could benefit from genetic modification.  The citrus industry comes to mind as it has been hit by citrus greening (the scientific name is Huanglongbing, or HLB).  In this particular case, biotechnology could save our citrus.  Here are two articles that further explore the citrus greening issue: Article 1 and Article 2.

 

To me, genetic modification and biotechnology are tools.  Having multiple tools to pick from enables us to determine which tool fits the best for the situation at hand.  People will choose tools based not only on the situation, but also on their personal preference.  You and I may be faced with the same situation, yet we may choose different tools to achieve similar outcomes.  And that’s ok – it is ok to have different opinions, different beliefs, different comfort levels.

 

I understand people have questions and concerns.  It’s so easy for us to look to sources of information with which we are familiar, or which share our perspective.  In today’s society, with the constant barrage of information and the vast amount of information available, it is so hard to sort out what’s fact from opinion; what’s twisted from what’s true.  What one person finds credible may not be a credible source for someone else.  I encourage you to seek out sources of information that provide facts rather than perpetuating myths, to have respectful conversations with people who work with biotechnology, and to think critically about what you find.  I encourage you to continue asking questions until you are satisfied with the answers, and to know not just what you believe but why you believe it.

 

 

Corn Bran Takes the Cake

cakeYou can have your cake with more fiber and less fat and eat it too – with corn bran.

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service reports that white layer cakes can be made healthier by replacing some of the flour with finely ground corn bran without significantly undermining many of the qualities of this favorite treat.

Experiments done by USDA food technologist Mukti Singh determined that purified, finely ground corn bran can be used as a substitute for up to 20 percent of the flour called for in the American Association of Cereal Chemists’ “gold standard” test recipe for white cake.

The experiments found that using 20 percent corn bran fiber had no significant impact on qualities such as color or springiness and volunteer taste-tasters who sampled cake made with that amount of the fiber rated it as “acceptable” – which is good.

One slice of an 8-inch, 6-slice, two-layer white cake made with 20 percent corn bran fiber would provide about 5 grams of fiber, compared to about 1 gram from a conventional white layer cake. The USDA researcher say the corn bran recipe can be added to cakes that are prepared at commercial bakeries or to the boxed mixes sold for home bakers.

How to Write Like an Angry GMO Expert

judeDr. Jude Capper is a livestock sustainability consultant, professor of animal sciences, and a “bovidiva” according to her blog of the same name.

Last week she did a great post entitled “Activism 101 – How to Write Like An Angry Internet “Expert” on GMOs.” An asterisk after the word “expert” points to a footnote:

*Note that being an “expert” does not involve education, higher degrees or being employed within the industry in question. Nowadays you can only be an expert if you are entirely impartial, third-party, and preferably know nothing whatsoever about the system in question. On that basis, I’m off to write a book about Zen Dentistry.

She offers nine points on how to write like an angry GMO expert, the final one being – “If all else fails, invoke the name of the evil that must be named….ahem, Monsanto. If you say it three times into a mirror, an ancient agricultural god will appear and wreak vengeance upon the earth. Honestly, I saw it on Oprah.”

Jude is hilarious, satirical, and often outrageous and if so much of this blog post were not sadly true it would be a lot funnier.

Read it and weep or LOL – or both.

Chick-Fil-A Makes a Bitter Blunder

Chick-Fil-A announced that, like so many others before it, the company will make the myth-based marketing maneuver to remove high fructose corn syrup from its sauce. Instead of standing for sound science and maintaining the current quality of its astoundingly popular products, these big chickens have bowed to the bogus peer pressure cited by brands when hitching their image to the anti-HFCS hype.

As Corn Commentary has pointedly examined so many times before, all sweeteners, whether they come from cane, corn or beet, are equally safe when consumed in moderation. No reputable research proves HFCS poses additional problems. No well-informed person would believe the haters’ hype after thoughtfully dissecting the data.

Yet Chick-Fil-A portends the play to be a result of consumer concerns. Whether their marketing mavens foolishly fell for the sugar industries’ self-interested simulation of actual angst or they generated the faux fears to mask the fatty truth, Chick-Fil-A is slipping on the Spanx and donning the holier-than-thou anti-HFCS halo to make itself more attractive.

Let’s show them that consumers won’t fall for their mock makeover. Tweet @ChickfilA today letting to let them know that American diners won’t be duped. Just because Chick-Fil-A doesn’t sweeten their sauce with HFCS their profits won’t grow fatter. #BitterBlunder.

World Food Prize Overload

wfp-flagI’m still suffering from World Food Prize sensory and information overload. If you have never been to this event, you really should go. It is amazing to see and hear farmers, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and researchers from so many nations gathered together for the central cause of feeding people.

World Food Prize Foundation president Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn says the event has grown so much from the first one-day symposium held in 1987. “We had more people registered this year for the symposium,” he said. “After we got beyond 1200 I almost stopped counting because I wasn’t sure where we were going to put folks!” In addition, there were 350 students and teachers at the event and over 700 attended the Iowa Hunger Summit earlier in the week, a new record.

Quinn marvels at what the World Food Prize has become. “We’ve been able to get to where people now say it’s the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture, and some people say it’s the premier conference in the world on global agriculture and one of the most unique programs to inspire young people,” he said, adding that the Prize was sponsored by General Foods in the very beginning and taken over by Iowa businessman and philanthropist, John Ruan. Interview with WFP President Kenneth Quinn

The 2013 event brought speakers such as Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and philanthropist/farmer Howard G. Buffett who joined in announcing new initiatives to address conservation, hunger and poverty issues in Africa.

wfp-13-buffett-blairFor one, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation has formed a partnership with John Deere and DuPont Pioneer to promote conservation agriculture adoption and support smallholders and sustainable farming in Africa. The effort will be piloted in Ghana and include a conservation-based, mechanized product suite developed by John Deere; a system of cover crops and improved inputs from DuPont Pioneer; and support for adoption and training on conservation-based practices by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

Additionally, Blair announced a collaboration between his Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the World Food Prize Foundation to launch the 40 Chances Fellows program – inspired by Buffett’s book, “40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World” – to encourage innovation in developing market‐based approaches that address food insecurity.

40 Chances Panel discussion
Blair and Buffett Press Conference

They tell me there were a handful of activists outside protesting the World Food Prize honoring of biotechnology, but I never saw them. What I did see inside was lots of positive energy focused on new ways and ideas to feed people. Not “the world” or a “growing planet” – it’s about feeding PEOPLE in the best, most efficient, most productive and most sustainable ways possible.

2013 World Food Prize photos



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