Corn Commentary

In a Deluge of Details, Seek Out the Substance of the Story

Menus at many of the hottest restaurants in cities from Portland to Princeton read like a carefully crafted tome of local one-upmanship. The Smith family loving raised the joyful cow who willingly ended its sunny, grass-fed existence to bring you the finest six-ounce filet that money can buy. The Swiss chard accompanying it actually comes from the Jones family down the lane and three houses to the left. Chefs and aspiring novelists have teamed up to tell the entire backstory of your meal. With so much focus on the farmers behind one’s brunch, diners continue to coo overly-emotive praise at the resourcefulness of the establishment capable of finding family farmers to provide their posh plates.

The underlying assumption is that the ingredients listed with the pinpoint precision honestly required only by a logistics manager are unique because they come from a family farm. As everyone seems to know, there are hardly any of those left.

The Washington Post boldly lifted the starched tablecloth off of the hidden truth this week explaining that, in all reality, 96.4 percent of America’s farms are family farms. The article that exposed the farming industry for what it really is, one made up of family-owned and operated businesses, explained how America’s family farmers have grown the amount of land they cultivate or increased the number of chickens in their flock through hard work and modern technology. Recognizing the ability of family farmers to adapt a rapidly-changing world, the Post provided a peak behind the farm gate many haven’t seen for generations.

For many, the term family farm comes wrapped in a gauzy haze of sepia-toned associations. Family farms may be larger than the nostalgia-fueled diners notions may dictate suit their idyllic fantasy farm, but words have specific meanings even if one chooses surround them in clouds of self- created implications and associations.

Take a moment to find out what real family farmers are like today by clicking here. Family farms may have grown, but the farmers themselves still strive to feed every American as if they were part of their own family. Enjoy this bounty knowing that, even if it doesn’t come accompanied by a novella of names, it probably does come from a family farm.

Know It All

Everyone may be entitled to an opinion, but the trend toward steadfastly believing completely unsubstantiated claims about food has hit a new high. According to a New York Times poll discussed in an article last Saturday, 93 percent of Americans felt food containing genetically modified or engineered ingredients should be identified with a label, but most went on to affirm their belief in false facts about GMOs disseminated through agenda-driven propaganda.

Applying the thirst for knowledge a bit more liberally might benefit many Americans.

With sizeable portions of those responding to the survey expressing worry over the safety of GMOs, claiming the foods might cause cancer, allergies or were toxic, the desire among these persons for more information about the science behind their food seems lacking. Scientific studies conducted by credible researchers following established protocols continually show that there is no added risk associated with foods containing GMOs. Yet, in spite of a formidable and ever-growing body of evidence, they cling to their irrational fears.

The battle may continue over whether or not labeling should reflect if a product includes foods grown through the use of biotechnology but, as the war of words winds up, let’s not forget that simply knowing if a product contains a GMO food or not does not mean much on its own. The real key is knowing about the scientific study and regulatory procedures that ensure we have a safe, affordable variety of foods from which Americans can choose.

To learn more, click here.

Panera Chicken Claims Make as Much Sense as Hens Clucking

graceschickens5The marketers over at Panera are certainly a clever bunch. Only a few years after Chipotle upped its anti-antibiotic claims, the chain bakery decided to cluck a little louder about its use of antibiotic free chicken. The concept lack both originality and substance.

This marketing tactic relies on the public to fill in a false blank. In boasting about the use of antibiotic free chicken, the retailer leads the customer to believe that any competitor not squawking about their chicken must be pushing a product laden with unnecessary antibiotics. Yet, this would be completely illegal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture closely regulates how antibiotics can be used in all livestock and poultry production. Federal meat inspectors, the ones so publicly saved from the sequester, ensure that meat headed to market complies with regulations that ensure no antibiotics enter the meat supply.

To learn more about these regulations, click here.

Whether you get your chicken sandwich from Panera or the peddler out front of your office, you can feel safe knowing that you aren’t getting a bonus dose of azithromycin with your lunch.

Marketing can be tricky, but educated eaters can remain one step ahead of their game. Talk to a farmer and find out about how your food was grown by clicking here.

Giving Up Giving Up Meat

NP-51-C~Cafeteria-Lunch-Tray-PostersThe cafeterias that feed our nation’s federal legislators and their staffs are giving up giving up meat on Mondays.

Surprisingly, this actually causes strife in some circles. As detailed in a recent article in Politico, the Congressional Vegetarian Staff Association (yes, this is a real thing) holds the big beef lobby to blame for this sacrilege at the altar of the PC. Some cry foul, claiming the tradition-come-lately promotes what they deem to be a healthier diet. Seemingly, Congressional staffers share the same intense interest in lunch menus as employees across the country.

Some claim the practice should have been shut down as it is promoted by the Humane Society of the United States and similar radical groups. While this argument certainly holds water with anyone who hopes to have a pet or a burger someday, there is a much simpler reason that Meatless Mondays make no sense. They take away choice.

The country faces an obesity epidemic, and everyone has a solution. But, in the end, the workplace cafeteria should not become an agenda-driven diner that dictates diets. The lunch line may not offer your personal favorite option daily, but it should not force a particular, politically-motivated nutritional regime down your throat either.

Consumers, and even Congressional staffers, deserve options. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers provide a wide variety of nutritious food options. People should be able to dictate what they put into their own bodies.

So kudos to the kitchens of Congress for recognizing that lunches should be chosen, not dictated, every day of the week.

Immigration Policy Impacts Food Affordability

Thanks to highly mechanized planting and harvesting, plus the advantage of a crop that can be stored for long periods of time, corn growers are largely able to function without the use of a migrant work force. But, even those row crop farmers who don’t directly employ migrant laborers have a reason to care about comprehensive immigration reform.

The dairy industry is very dependent on a stable work force – year round, not just seasonal – and Dairy Farmers of America Board Chairman Randy Mooney made some pretty compelling points during a USDA forum on comprehensive immigration reform held Friday in Kansas City.

dfa-kc“We know from experience that too few domestic workers want these jobs and the issue is bigger than dairy,” said Mooney. Highly perishable specialty crop producers obviously need these workers, but Mooney says corn, bean and wheat farmers do as well, to meet the needs of the farms that buy their products. “For example, the U.S. dairy herd consumes more than 133 billion pounds of feed in the form of corn, corn silage, soybean meal and alfalfa each year,” he noted.

“Because of America’s farmers, we enjoy abundant, safe and affordable food in this country,” Mooney said. “In order to ensure that continues, we need Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Mooney added. See Mooney’s remarks at the event in the YouTube video below.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was the keynote speaker at the Kansas City event. “We are blessed by the most productive, most innovative and most hard-working farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “American agriculture is the greatest in the world, but we risk that if we don’t have certainty in our farm policy and we don’t have comprehensive immigration reform.”

The comprehensive immigration bill being considered by the Senate – with a final vote expected possibly this week – includes provisions for agriculture including a new “Blue Card” program for current experienced farm workers and a new agricultural visa program to meet future labor needs. The provisions in the bill were the result of an agreement reached between farm worker groups and agricultural organizations.

Let’s Talk About Food

For years now, the National Corn Growers Association, along with a broad array of other agricultural groups, has stressed the need for farmers to tell their own stories about food and farming. Time and time again, they have tried to direct attention to the growing public desire to understand what happens to the food on their tables prior to its arrival at their grocery stores. Through programs like CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, they have created pathways for farmers to reach broad audiences and offered training tools that help increase the effectiveness of their efforts.

The everyday business of farming and ranching often saps the time and energy of the men and women who grow our food though. With so many demands already placed upon them, the task of volunteering these precious resources for something so seemingly apparent to those involved in agriculture seems daunting, if not impossible.

Last week, the attendees at BlogHer Food 2013 had the opportunity to meet real life farmers and have honest, open discussions about food. Their incredible interest and insightful questions served as a strong reminder that this need for dialogue is not only real, but it is actually growing.

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross and Morgan Kontz, who farm in Iowa and South Dakota respectively, saw firsthand how great this need for an open dialogue with consumers is. As bloggers, many of whom have thousands of avid followers, stopped at the booth, they warmly received these real-life farmers. Many expressed gratitude for the chance to talk about what happens on modern farms and ranches. Even those who disagreed with some practices came to these conversations with an open, respectful spirit and an honest desire to not only express their own viewpoints but to also truly listen to what these women had to say.

Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.

Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.

Friday night, Ross and Kontz joined USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching winners Chris Chin and Will Gilmer, along with other hog and cattle ranchers, to share a meal with a group of approximately 40 bloggers who took time away from the conference, foregoing a night of fun on Austin’s Sixth Street, to visit an urban farm and learn more about how the foods about which they write are grown and raised. The incredible variety of bloggers who attended was astounding. The interest that they brought was genuine.

The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.

The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.

From Google Glass-wearing hipsters to DC policy wonks, the dinner attendees illustrated how diverse the demand for dialogue about agriculture has become. While these women and men brought a myriad of interests and perspectives, they shared two main commonalities. They wield significant influence on broader consumer opinion through their work, and they want to know more about what happens on America’s farms.

Volunteers like Ross and Kontz have taken on the challenge, giving of themselves to become a part of that conversation. As the demand from consumers for a greater understanding of farming grows, so to must the supply of farmers and ranchers willing to become a part of that conversation.

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?

Today, less than 2 percent of the population is directly involved in agriculture, but 99.999 percent of the population eats. Learn what you can do to help make the math work by visiting the websites for CommonGround or USFRA.

Conversations about food and farming will happen regardless of farmer involvement. Show consumers that you care about their concerns and want to share with them the amazing story of today’s American farmer.

More Moms Bring Home the Bacon, But Do They Know Where It Came From?

pigThis week, the Pew Research Center released its analysis of Census and polling data showing that four in 10 American households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner for her family. Coupled with the notion that consumer food questions are on the rise, the importance of communicating the real story of American agriculture to America’s moms becomes evident.

Progressive Farmer Editor-in-Chief Gregg Hillyer took note of this point, sharing his insight into the issue in the “We’d Like to Mention” section magazine’s June/July edition. The story, which looks at the effectiveness of opening a conversation about food and farming between moms on and off the farm, took particular note of CommonGround, a program founded to do just that by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates.

In the article, Hillyer sites from interviews with CommonGround volunteers about why this program serves a growing need in our society.

“As our population continues to shift from rural to urban communities, people become more disconnected from their food,” pointed out CommounGround Kentucky volunteer Carrie Divine. “We’re here… to provide moms with useful information so they can worry less and feel more confident in their food choices.”

Concluding that “afterall, moms always know best,” Hillyer shares the incredible story of these volunteer farm moms on a mission with the agricultural community. For helping illuminate the efforts underway to start an honest, open dialogue about farming with the general public, he is to be commended.

Information about CommonGround, including ways to join the conversation, is always available. To learn more, click here.

Truth in Labeling

biotech-labelBills were introduced last week in the U.S. House and Senate that would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to “clearly label genetically engineered (GE) foods so that consumers can make informed choices about what they eat.”

The legislation would require clear labels for genetically engineered whole foods and processed foods, directing the FDA to write new labeling standards that are consistent with U.S. labeling standards and international standards.

To simplify, perhaps this wording would help: “This product may contain ingredients derived from safe modern biotechnology.” Just a suggestion.

Without You, There Would Be No Us

Today, Corn Commentary joins with the Corn Refiners Association in celebrating their 100th anniversary. In doing so, CRA offers this guest post to America’s corn farmers. A post authored the National Corn Growers Association will be featured on their blog also. Click here to view NCGA’s thoughts offered in celebration of this momentous event.

Without You, There Would Be No Us

100th Anniversary LogoAs the Corn Refiners Association celebrates its 100th anniversary we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the legacy of a prosperous partnership between corn wet millers and corn growers, a partnership that we very much enjoy and couldn’t survive without.  Although the CRA is celebrating 100 years, this partnership actually exceeds that and goes back more than 150 years when corn starch was first manufactured in Jersey City, N.J., by Thomas Kingsford, who most consider to be the founder of the corn refining industry.

Thanks to productivity of corn growers with technological advances in machinery, farming techniques and breeding, and the innovative visionaries in the corn wet milling industry and their commitment to research and development of new products and technologies, the beneficial effect of this partnership is something we wish we could embed in the mind of every American.  The corn that producers grow and that corn wet millers refine is used in millions of households in the form of ingredients, plastics, oils, toothpaste, batteries, carpet and numerous other quality products that provide convenience and choice and are so very embedded in our current way of life.

cornpckgThe success of our partnership shows itself in the economic impact corn has had, as thousands upon thousands have been employed as a producer or a refiner, with our shared commitment to enriching not only the lives of those who have been employed, but also in helping to build stronger communities.

For a glimpse of our accomplishments, we can look back to 1906, when approximately 2.9 billion bushels of corn were produced in the U.S. and of that, corn refiners used 36.4 million bushels.  Now, in 2012 nearly 11 billion bushels of corn were produced in the United States, and the USDA estimates that more than 1.8 billion bushels of corn will be used for corn wet milling over the next year.

Who could have imagined we would be able to achieve productivity gains of this magnitude?  Maybe pioneer Thomas Kingsford knew it all along; from his tiny mill producing only corn starch to a thriving and growing partnership between corn growers and corn wet millers, we have vastly extended the uses of refined corn products. Looking back 150 years, it seems to be an understatement to note that our partnership and the benefits that have come with it have been priceless for all of us.

6harvestSo what does the future hold? I would argue that there is no limit to what we can accomplish together.  American corn farmers will continue to be the most productive in the world, growing 20 percent more corn per acre than any other nation.  They will continue to focus on stewardship of the land and advancements in biotechnology, which has revolutionized agriculture, increasing yields and creating a sustainable crop for generations to come.

On the corn wet milling side, sweeteners and starch will still be fundamental to our industry, but the products that hold promise for creating a carbohydrate-based economy will continue to grow. The opportunity to replace petroleum-based products with corn-based ones has the potential to be very large. Advancements continue in the area of corn-based plastics, fibers, acetates and other products that continue to chip away at our dependency on non-renewable feedstocks. With that said, there is no doubt that innovation and productivity will continue to drive all the gains we produce and undoubtedly there will be more game changers to come, as was the case with the introduction of HFCS in the 70s and ethanol in the 80s.

I think this note from the previous Corn Refiners Association President, Chuck Conner, says it best: “There is something remarkable about an industry that has found thousands of applications for a plant we take for granted. For more than 150 years, corn refiners have been developing and perfecting products made from corn – transforming it into starches, sweeteners, fuel alcohol, oil and chemical feedstocks with a growing range of end uses. Relying on science and imagination, corn refiners have built an impressive line of products all stemming from the demand for starch.”

We thank the NCGA for inviting us to speak to this partnership on their blog.

CommonGround Volunteers Show How Farming in the Snow Is No Cake Walk

Most consumers associate the cold, wintery weather that swept the country this week with staying indoors and keeping warm. Envisioning farming as a sunny day, warm weather gig, they often forget that farmers work to care for their land and livestock 365 days a year.

As snow and ice reign down on the roads, keeping kids home from school and adults stuck in traffic, many farmers are also vigilantly protecting their farms and their animals from the dangerous conditions.

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest blog post and a letter to the editor penned by CommonGround volunteers about how they care for cattle when the temperatures drop. Consumers worried about animal welfare can take heart. These farm women are taking action out of concern for their cattle, just like farmers across the country.

First, Sara Ross, a CommonGround Iowa volunteer, walks blog readers through what her and her husband do to prepare for a winter storm.

Preparing the Cattle for the Big Snowstorm

Sara and her husband, Kevin, prepare their cattle for an oncoming snow.

Sara and her husband, Kevin, prepare their cattle for an oncoming snow.

Everyone’s been talking about it all week…the big snow storm.  First it was suppose to start Wednesday night then it got pushed back to Thursday morning then Thursday around noon.  I’ve heard anywhere from 6-18 inches of snow forecasted.  Normally it would be all fun and games to be snowed in, but since we have cattle, we had to get them prepared for the storm.

Kevin wanted to move the cows from across the road, where they were out on cornstalks, to our side of the road where they would have more protection and be easier to feed and water.  We are a few weeks away from calving, but you never know when a big snow storm hits what will happen!

So, first thing this morning Kevin and I headed outside to get the cows moved to our side of the road.

To read the full post, click here.

CommonGround Nebraska volunteer Joan Ruskamp, who is well familiar with many of the questions consumers have about farming in the winter. She penned the editorial piece below To help answer questions she had seen in local papers.

Baby, it’s cold outside…but there’s still plenty to do on the farm

About this time every year, I begin to get surprised looks from people when I talk about all the activities happening on my family’s farm near Dodge, Neb. Together with my husband, we feed cattle and raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa. While the crops may not require a great deal of attention in the winter months, animal care on our farm is a top priority 365 days a year.

One of my many responsibilities includes walking through the cattle every morning, no matter the weather conditions, to make sure each animal is healthy. If an animal is sick and needs to be treated with antibiotics, we always adhere to label use under the supervision of our veterinarian.  We also adhere to strict withdrawal times, or a set number of days that must pass between the last antibiotic treatment and the animal entering the food supply. And even though cattle have hair coats designed to handle living outdoors, in the cold winter months, we take extra care to make sure they are as comfortable as possible.

We provide extra bedding and windbreaks to help block the extreme cold. And in addition to shoveling our driveway during a snowstorm, we must remove or pile snow in the pens so that the cattle have dry places to lie down. We also must make sure that even during a snowstorm; the cattle are fed at their normal times with continuous access to water.

So, even though the winter weather might make you want to stay bundled up inside, know that farmers are braving the elements to make sure the animals are well cared for – because healthy animals equal healthy food for our families.

Sincerely,

Joan Ruskamp, farmer, Dodge, Neb.



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