Corn Commentary

Thankful for Affordable Turkey Dinner

It will cost about the same to gobble up your Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner this year as it did last year, according to the annual survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

“Our meal for 10 people that includes a 16-pound turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, relish tray, pumpkin pie… the whole nine yards… this year we think is going to cost us $49.48. And that’s only about 28 cents more than we were last year,” explained AFBF economist Bob Young during an interview at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention. That translates to less than a 1-percent price increase… not too bad when you consider how some commodity prices spiked due to the drought. In fact, Young pointed out that about the only thing that went up in the Thanksgiving basket was the price of the turkey, increasing just 4 cents a pound. “Given what feed costs did this year, that’s a pretty amazing thing,” he said.

Some prices are lower than a year ago. “A lot of the dairy products, the butter, the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie, went down,” said Young. “A lot of the bread products, surprisingly enough, went down – the cubed stuffing mix for example, the rolls went down.” And the price of a vegetable tray was exactly the same.

Farm Bureau has been reporting the price for an average Thanksgiving meal since 1986, when it cost $28.74. “You know, if you went back and bought a car in 1986, somehow I don’t think it would be quite the same kind of deal that we’re talking about for this dinner,” Young said.

In fact, comparing the increase in price between a new car and Thanksgiving dinner – yikes! The average price for a new car in 1986 was $9255 – this year it was $30,274 – an increase of a whopping 227%! The percentage increase for your turkey dinner this year compared to 1986 is just 42%. A great reason to be thankful for our food and our farmers this Thanksgiving!

Listen to my interview with Bob Young on the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving meal: Bob Young, AFBF economist

Kentucky Shoppers Taking CommonGround Farmers Home

CommonGround Kentucky will be reaching out to start a conversation between the moms who grow food and the moms who buy it all next year through a series of articles in Today’s Family magazine. A free publication offered throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana, the magazine looks at the topics facing families today.

With so much confusion surrounding food and farming, Today’s Family readers, like families across the country, are looking for real resources to help them address their concerns. CommonGround Kentucky volunteers highlighted in the series want to share their knowledge and experiences with their neighbors off of the farm so that no one has to fear their food.

Take a moment to check out the article on CommonGround Kentucky volunteer Amanda Gajdzik featured in the current issue. A farmer who, along with her husband, grows apples, peaches, corn and soybeans in addition to raising beef cattle, Gajdzik speaks from personal experiences when addressing issues such as why food prices sometimes rise and how she cares for her cattle.

Food Dialoguing in the Big Apple

The USFRA Food Dialogues hit the Big Apple last week with three sessions of panelists on a variety of pretty hot topics related to food and agriculture: Media, Marketing and Healthy Choices; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Antibiotics in Your Food; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Biotechnology (GMOs) in Your Food.

Among the panelists on the GMO session was Greg Jaffe, director of biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “There’s a lot of misinformation about this technology, about these products and that was clear from questions from the audience,” said Jaffe. “This kind of discussion is a good first step.”

Jaffe said this is a topic that brings out a lot of emotion. “I wish that wasn’t the case,” he said. “But I think for now it is going to continue to remain controversial.”

You can listen to an interview with Jaffe here: Interview with Greg Jaffe

The moderator for the New York Food Dialogues was Ali Velshi, CNN chief business correspondent, which he says includes the food industry.

Ali thought the event today was remarkable. “This is an area of which I have cursory understanding of,” he said. “I understand commodities and I understand economic impacts of droughts and storms, but I don’t have this degree of detail and granularity that we got today.”

He said it was great to get that and hear from the farmers who are really connected to the food and he was intrigued to hear all the differences of opinion on the controversial topics covered in the sessions. “People have very strong beliefs when it comes to food and that’s understandable,” he said.

You can listen to an interview with Velshi here: Interview with Ali Velshi

2012 USFRA Annual Mtg. & Food Dialogues Photo Album

Support for California GMO-labeling Proposition Plummets

As the election draws closer, more and more California voters oppose Proposition 37, commonly referred to as the GMO-labeling law. A sharp decline in support, 19 percent in two weeks, shows that Californians understand the regulation increases opportunities for frivolous lawsuits and redefines simple terms like “natural” in a confusing way without actually providing useful information that benefits consumers.

In a bi-monthly opinion poll released last week, 48 percent of the likely voters contacted indicated support for California’s Proposition 37, a 19 percent drop from only two weeks prior. Notably, this was the single largest shift in opinion on the 11 ballot initiatives covered in the report, which was released by the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and the California Business Roundtable.

Why the change?

First, 33 daily newspapers have come out in opposition of the ballot initiative. Due to the nature of print journalism, these news sources have been able to detail the reasons to oppose the measure and dig deeper into the implications of the regulation. Armed with the facts, Californians have gained an appreciation for what the measure would actually do and grasped that the real world effect would not be what proponents promise.

Second, Californians are getting the message straight from the farmer’ mouth. Groups opposing the measure, including the National Corn Growers Association, have taken their message to the airwaves through a series of television commercials. With one spot highlighting what the conversation would be if they “Ask a Farmer,” voters have a chance to hear why this “GMO-labeling law” would increase the cost to farm and would hit consumer pocketbooks at the grocery store checkout.

Consumers and voters should be able to base their decisions on the facts. Increasingly, Californians are looking at Proposition 37 and seeing past the propaganda. In staggering numbers, they are deciding to oppose the costly, confusing measure that would help agenda-driven interest groups and hurt both the people who grow food and those who buy it.

Californians want the information necessary to make solid decisions. They want to analyze the facts for themselves. In doing so, they are standing up for themselves and family farmers across the country. They are standing against Proposition 37.

The Skinny on Sugar

The percentage of Americans considered obese has skyrocketed over the past few decades. With 13 states on track to exceed a 60 percent obesity rate among adults by 2030, heated discussions about why our country continues to grow girthier and how to deal with the associated health risks grab headlines even during an election year.

Dietary scapegoats abound with each fad claiming to offer a simple answer to this complex problem. From avoiding carbs to deprivation detoxes, it seems a new magic bullet to slay the gluttonous giant pierces the collective consciousness every few months.

Quietly toiling in the background, scientists studying obesity offer consistent data on the factors making us fat. This week, a study released in The Journal of Obesity again confirmed what many have known all along – high fructose corn syrup is not behind our growing behinds.

Reaffirming that HFCS is nutritionally the same as sugar and, thus, processed by the human body in the same fashion, the report indicates that, while consuming any added sweetener to excess can cause weight gain, the consumption of HFCS does not contribute to obesity to a greater degree than other sugars.

Scientists have weighed in on the issue time and time again. Sugar is sugar whether it comes from corn, cane or beet. So beat the media-hype over the head with a healthy dose of data. Enjoy favorite foods fearlessly, just do it in moderation.

The Company Proposition 37 Keeps

Voters, confronted by an onslaught of political advertising this year, might not have the time or energy to carefully peruse every issue confronting them on the ballot. With a myriad of possible implications and unspecified consequences, each issue presents challenges for even the politically-minded citizen.

In the battle to make a choice that reflects their actual intention, many voters, quite wisely, follow the money trail back to the groups supporting the measure. Basically, the company an issue keeps often tells quite a story about the intricate workings of that particular legislation.

In California, Proposition 37 has made some less-than-reputable friends. Backed by trial lawyers, this ballot initiative would provide fertile soil for nuisance lawsuits that would further clog an overloaded court system. Skilled at the art of persuasion and expert in the drafting of fine print, the lawyers behind Proposition 37 cloaked a piece of regulation pregnant with potential lawsuits in a veil of fiery rhetoric promoting consumer choice.

In reality, the lawyers’ pocketbooks would get fatter if the proposition passes. America’s consumers would pay for the dubious labeling scheme with true costs of this law reflected in every grocery checkout lane, contributing to massive settlements the lawyers anticipate with every food purchase they make.

Take a long, critical look at the facts. Trial lawyers, not generally a group known for their charitable nature, have no vested interest in backing Proposition 37 unless it stands to provide another avenue in which to practice their craft. In the end, consumers stand to pay repeatedly should they give the labeling-law that they have crafted the benefit of the doubt.

So, watch the company Proposition 37 keeps. It may look like the good-hearted girl-next-door, but it runs around with a notoriously disreputable crew.

Hot, Dry and Hungry?

With so many questions surrounding how the drought might affect food prices, CommonGround Nebraska volunteer Diane Becker took to the airwaves at Husker Harvest Days to help consumers understand how food pricing works.

Citing information available at www.usda.gov, she noted that only 14 cents of every dollar spent on groceries actually goes to pay for the commodities that these foods include. Basically, even if the prices on corn and soybeans double, the increase on stores shelves only goes up by pennies.

Offering more insight on food and her unique perspective as a farmer and a mother, Becker talks to the concerns all moms share about how to feed their families a healthy, nutritious diet without breaking the bank.

Catch the clip and see how CommonGround volunteers across the country are stepping up to help start a conversation between the moms who buy food and those who grow it.

Saving the Oasis and Feeding the Hungry

Syngenta recently launched a new website called “Saving the Oasis” featuring three short documentaries that tell the story of how Atrazine helps farmers protect the environment and produce more food, and is one of the safest crop protection tools in the world.

“We wanted to correct some misinformation out there with the public on Atrazine,” said Ann Bryan with Syngenta. “We wanted to talk about how Atrazine protects the soil, protects the environment, creates wildlife habitat, but also how it increases yield with corn and sorghum and sugarcane.”

Syngenta was encouraging farmers at the 2012 Farm Progress Show last week to go on-line to SavingTheOasis.com and watch the videos themselves and urge non-farm friends to do so as well – with an incentive. “When you click on the movie, we will be donating $5 to the Iowa Food Bank Association, which feeds people who are hungry in the 99 counties of Iowa,” Ann said.

Listen to my interview with Ann here: Syngenta's Ann Bryan

The donations will continue throughout the month of September, which is Hunger Action Month. So, don’t just sit there – take some action!

Go to SavingTheOasis.com, watch a three minute video and feed some hungry folks in Iowa.

Consumers Have a Right to Know

In the California GMO Labeling debate, it seems everyone involved can agree upon one basic premise – consumers have a right to know. The debate occurs around exactly what that right entails.

Arguing to redefine terms such as “natural”, even to the exclusion of foods such as olive oil, proponents of the bill seem to believe consumers have a right to know exactly what their agenda-driven groups says that they do.

On the other hand, farmers believe that consumers have a right to know too. In a recent blog post, farmer Mike Haley carefully explained a side of the story that labeling loonies would prefer to push to the backburner.  Walking readers through the specific actions that this law would require of him, Haley shows the hidden costs of supporting the propositions hidden agenda.

Take a minute to see the true costs of this measure.  If it passes, everyone will pay.

Consumers have a right to know what they eat. They also have a right to know the consequences of their vote.

Two Newspapers, Two Paths to Farming

Sometimes, it is easy to lump people into a broad category. Elitist or plebian. Enviro-hippie or pollution-spewing Hummer nut. Midwestern bumpkin or coastal snob. While these labels make for a quick, easy way to write off people to whom we would prefer not listen, they do not account for our incredible ability as human beings to become deeper, more complex individuals. .

Two starkly different articles published this week on the role of farmers in modern America illustrated the importance of transformatory voices and the shared stories of people who have taken on unexpected roles can add nuance and insight to the national dialogue. A dialogue which, particularly in this election year, has grown shallow, partisan and generally uninformed.

Mark Bittman, a New York Times writer known more for his exquisite palate than economic aptitude, took on the state of U.S. farming from the viewpoint of a frequent diner at Manhattan’s upscale eateries.  Lamenting the inability of the general public to find the boutique produce his beloved celebre-chefs spend days chasing down, he boldly proposes overhauling all of agriculture to more closely resemble his Utopian vision. In Bittman’s America, everyone not only has seasonal access to the products he enjoys, which notably must not include a good steak, but also has the time and skill to lovingly coax them into gourmet dishes. The farmers whom he deems “real” likewise coax the finest heirloom tomatoes and leafy kale from one or two acres of land. He argues that that this will employ more Americans, who he presumes wish to be farmers, and will provide healthier food for all, with food stamp programs to help us all afford his posh produce.

A knee-jerk response would be to trash all intellectuals, painting them wish a broad brush as cluelessly out-of-touch with the vast majority of Americans who refuse to pay thirty bucks for a cup of soup, let alone spend countless hours in attempts to emulate it at home. Although tempting, this adds nothing to the dialogue.

Victor Davis Hanson does. In his Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Hanson writes the prose equivalent of an ode to the farmers who persevere in this year’s drought. Speaking of the character of the people who stand tall while the drought beats down upon them, Hanson champions crop insurance and agricultural productivity. A writer from California’s abundant heartland who grew up on a farm, he knows that of which he speaks.

“The mystery isn’t that we have devastating droughts like this summer’s, but that so few Americans manage to produce so much food against such daunting odds,” he explains, noting this view comes from personal experiences with his family’s raisin farm.

Eloquently weaving in references to ancient Greek philosophy, Hanson provides a look at the farmer that many would rarely see. Having more experience on the farms of California than Kansas, Hanson’s view of the farmer and modern productivity could grow with further study into the importance of ethanol, but why throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?

Hanson says something that, particularly in this hot, volatile climate, ALL farmers need to hear. You are appreciated. Facing a natural disaster of historic proportions, he voices the support that most Americans feel for the men and women who feed them.

Conversely, Bittman also offers a valuable lesson, particularly when contrasted with Hanson. It is vital that American farmers create an open dialogue about what they do. Farmers already have an amazing story. They live it every day. In sharing it, they foster a cooperative, positive environment, something that should be valued in these divisive times.

One thing is for certain. If Manhattan’s elite chefs take charge of this conversation, a seriously skewed version of reality may gain a foothold.  It would be a shame. We should celebrate reality; we should work to show the strong, resilient spirit behind modern ag innovation.

At NCGA, we have been doing this for many years. For those with most interest in learning about the abundance and, yes, diversity, of American agriculture, we offer links to:



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