Corn Commentary

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:

GMO Labeling Proponents Tell Consumers They Know Everything, Trust They Know Nothing

Hypocrisy has a strange way of coming to light during campaign season. For candidates and for ballot initiatives alike, the incongruent motivations of the groups promoting a particular vote often tanks what, at first glance, seemed to be a positive, simple campaign.  A ruling last week clarifying the ballot language to be used on California Proposition 37, the GMO-labeling law, brought the hypocritical intentions of the measures proponents to the forefront.

Simply, Prop. 37 backers claim consumers have a right to know if the food they purchase contains any ingredients which have been genetically modified. Playing off public fears of the unknown, they appeal to mass hysteria instead of the reasoned, scientific judgment of relevant authorities, including the World Health Organization and American Medical Association, that genetically engineered crops pose no health risk.

On the surface, the claims of those supporting the labeling-measure appear to be about consumer rights. From early on in the campaign, it became apparent this measure was different, as it would base a mandatory food label on something for an unscientific reason. Now, it appears these agenda-driven niche market proponents have masked another troubling provision with their consumer rights costume.

The labeling mandated in this proposition actually does not only target genetically modified ingredients, it also targets any processed food, even those without GE ingredients. In addition to the new labels, these supposed champions of the people would ban any processed food, regardless of what is actually in it, from claims of being “natural.”

Could this actually add to consumer confusion and hurt farmers? Yes, it most certainly could.

In a recent Farm Press interview, one California olive oil producer explained that, even though genetically modified olives do not even exist, his oils would no longer be able to be labeled as “natural” simply because the olives were processed into oil.

Does this seem a bit over the top to anyone? Or is anyone even paying attention?

If there is not a greater public outrage forming over situations like these, the later seems more probable. Which is troubling because, on its very surface, proponents of the labeling measure have cloaked it in the nearly sacred robes of a consumer’s right to information. Underneath those shiny garments lies something far less glorious, a regulation that would mandate the use of labels that would confuse and mislead shoppers.

If no one is paying attention now, how can they possibly be expected to understand what exactly they see should this pass? Seemingly, Yes on 37 campaigners hope that they pay just as little attention then.

Freaked Out about Food?

While reading convoluted media accounts of the droughts impact on any number of issues and hearing forceful statements about farming that have little, if any, basis in reality, one very simple piece of advice comes to mind. The smartest thing that someone can do is to admit what they don’t actually know.

Third-hand accounts and rampant rumors spread through poorly edited media accounts or completely unedited social media rants often form the basis for many people’s perceptions of food and farming.  The overwhelming majority of the U.S. population finds itself unable to personally interact with an industry that, although vital to life, it has been removed from for generations.

Treading metaphorical water in an attempt to keep up with daily challenges, well-intentioned, intelligent men and women may forget the source of their viewpoint yet ardently support the behaviors stemming from it.

Farmers have come out and opened their gates wide in an effort to share a slice of their lives and a glimpse into how the food on our nation’s table actually came to be. Be it through a campaign such as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, the Corn Farmers Coalition or CommonGround, farmers have mobilized in an unprecedented manner to start a national conversation about the food that they grow and the profession they love.

Where does the conversation start? It starts by finding a common understanding between the people who grow food and those who buy it on what each group honestly does not know about the other.

To help lay groundwork for this dialogue, CommonGround spoke with moms across the country about feeding their families. The results show that even active, concerned parents may still have questions.

These questions can create a lot of guilt. From the nutritional value of organic foods to who actually grows food at all, real decisions are being made out of guilt that, upon closer examination, has no basis in the reality of modern agriculture. The choices can cost real dollars and cause real stress.

The solution is real conversation.

Take a moment to see if myths and misinformation cause unnecessary stress for your family or someone you know. Then, take a deep breath and relax.

Farm moms worry about what they feed their families too. They know how stressful trying to provide the best for your children can be. They want to do the same thing.

Then, take another moment to check out how these farmers want to help families across the country eat fearlessly. Literally walking consumers through what they do, the volunteers of CommonGround share what they do on their farms and explain why they do it.

An open, honest conversation about food is underway. The smartest thing that everyone can do is admit that both sides can learn so much from one another. Together, we can all become smarter about food and grow a healthier tomorrow.

Hot? Irritable? Cranky? Imagine Watching Your Paycheck Burn Up Too

Can you imagine the feeling of waking up in the morning and realizing that it would be 13 months before you got another paycheck? The drought has farm families across the Midwest pondering just that as relentlessly hot, dry conditions turn the nation’s heartland from a breadbasket into an oven.

In a recent story from Voice of America, DuBois, Ill. farmer Alan Bowers Jr. explained what many family farmers in the central and southern Corn Belt feel as they watch the crop that they invested time, sweat and money in this spring wilt.  Blowing away, the corn becomes part of the dust that normally yields the most abundant crop in the world.

Using a simple, yet eloquent analogy, DuBois compared his corn and soybean crop to a paycheck.  Drawing on this common idea, he places in stark perspective how dire the situation facing many farm families may seem.

This candid look at farming stands in contrast to the multitude of mainstream news stories promoting the fallacious idea that farmers do not care about the crop. The emotional toll of seeing hard work wither due to circumstances well beyond human control aside, crop insurance ensures that family farmers like DuBois can make ends meet until the next season.  It ensures that natural disasters do not cause our nation’s agricultural sector to disintegrate.

Crop insurance places exists because Americans value their abundant, affordable, safe supply of food and the farm families who produce it.  Americans understand the integral role these hard working individualists play in the fabric of our national character and in our economy. Maintaining their ability to farm next year when confronted with such enormous, unstoppable obstacles makes sense.  Understanding their frustration in watching the crop slip away does too.

As drought conditions persist, remember that the people who grow food, the people who raise it and those who eat it all must endure these trying conditions together. Looking toward one another with understanding and compassion can ease the stress placed on one another, even if it cannot ease the stress placed on the crops.

Self-Appointed Pseudo-Scholars Use Common Misperception, Not Common Sense

Lately, articles have flooded the internet claiming that the drought will cause food prices to skyrocket.  Combining the idea that a wide variety of grocery items contain corn and the fact that the hot, dry weather has damaged the U.S. corn crop, they loudly announce their “expert” analysis.  Obviously, food prices will go up soon.

Unfortunately, these “Einsteins” based their supposed economic analysis in incomplete, misconstrued facts.  Those actually familiar with how food prices rise and fall have come to a very different conclusion.

The truth is simple, but it requires an understanding of agriculture and our nation’s food system, something few of these “experts” actually have.

Corn, and many other commodity crops, constitutes a small percentage of the price consumers pay at their local market.  This means that even when the price of corn rises at the elevator or on the trading floor only a small fraction of the small increase in a small amount trickles into the foods American’s feed their families.

From the cost of slick marketing campaigns to the price of fuel, costs which may not be readily apparent to the alarmist authors actually drive food prices in this country.

America’s family farmers, the families who will truly feel the effects of the drought, will still provide the affordable, abundant food choices upon which the nation depends.  The only cause for alarm here comes from the megaphone provided to megamouths who fan false flames in a highly combustible situation.



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