Corn Commentary

New Farm Marketing Idea

The new Subway ad is not only funny, it offers a great idea for an alternative source of income on the farm, and getting your chores done too!

In the television spot, a young man tells his meal partner at Subway that he’s currently doing “Crop Fit,” a hardcore fitness program “based on 19th Century farming practices” – like pulling a plow and pushing a huge pumpkin.

Why not develop a “Farm Fitness” program? If we can’t get Americans to work on the farm, maybe we can get them to work out on the farm!

Save the Corn Farmers?

Google “save the rainforest” and watch all the organizations that pop up; everything from the World Rainforest Fund to Kids Saving the Rainforest.  I don’t have a problem with that because rainforests are a critical cog in the blue planet’s eco-system.

Rainforests provide incredible biodiversity and through the process of photosynthesis they also provide the duel function of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it to life-sustaining oxygen. Then I realized most the American public has a rudimentary understanding of  the importance of the Amazon on another continent but has little understanding of the contributions our corn crop makes just from the process of simply growing.  It was the accompany image that got me thinking.

grawk-earth-photosynthesis-crop-660x410The image from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center represents satellite measurements of plant fluorescence.  It represents a compilation of data collected over a four year period. During photosynthesis, the chlorophyll in healthy plants absorbs light to be converted into energy, but it also emits a little bit of light that’s not visible to the human eye. Scientists have now figured out how to use that fluorescent glow to measure the productivity of plants in a given region.

What it reflects is a startling revelation even to a corn-o-phile like me. Using existing data from satellites designed for entirely different purposes, such as ozone monitoring, NASA scientists were able to show that during the Northern Hemisphere’s growing season, the Midwestern U.S. has more photosynthetic activity than anywhere else on the planet, including the Amazon rainforest. Nearly all of this can be attributed to agriculture, and much of it to corn.

So, feeding people aside, providing cleaner ethanol fuel aside, corn takes bad things out of the air much like a tree and gives us oxygen to breathe.  So I want to start a new organization called Save the Corn….or maybe that should be corn farmers?  

Support Solid Science, Speak Out for Solid Journalism

This weekend, The Washington Post stood up to the fear-fueled tactics of anti-GMO activists in a brilliant editorial, “Genetically Modified Crops Could Help Improve the Lives of Millions.” The piece, which points out the incredible benefit GMOs offer for both farmers and anyone who depends upon them, denounces the anti-GMO movement for its promotion of mandatory labeling and outright bans.

Noting that consumers wishing for whatever reason to avoid GMOs can do so by simply buying food bearing the “organic” label, the Post brings common sense back into a discussion where it often has been sorely lacking. Furthermore, the piece focuses on the real victims of the anti-GMO movement – the starving and malnourished stating:

“The prospect of helping to feed the starving and improve the lives of people across the planet should not be nipped because of the self-indulgent fretting of first-world activists.”

Discussing both the anti-GMO laws passed in Oregon and other states, and proposed labeling that would “stigmatize products with a label that suggests the potential for harm,” the editors take a straight forward position in defense of this important technology saying:

“Voters and their representatives should worry less about “Frankenfood” and more about the vast global challenges that genetically modified crops can help address.”

Predictably, a small but vocal contingent of science-eschewing activists launched an immediate assault in the comments section. Clearly, the level-headed, clearly constructed piece pointed out both the logical fallacies in their arguments and the real results their proposed policies would inflict.

Take a stand in support of The Washington Post’s editorial staff. Click here to make sure the voices of farmers and those who depend on them are not drowned out. The Post took a stand which many have longed to see in mass media, one that is supported by science and un-intimidated by the fringe. Let them know that their efforts did not fall upon deaf ears.

Put Your FFA Jacket in the Smithsonian?

You know how they refer to outlaw motorcycle gangs like Hell’s Angels as 1 percenters? Well, I jokingly referred to the omnipresent blue corduroy jacket ffa jacket historicalwearing FFA members in high school as 2 percenters. That’s because only about 2 percent of the population had a real shot at becoming a farmer and feeding the world.

There are more than 20 million jobs in this country that are in related agricultural fields but the number of people who will make a career of farming is even lower today. Pretty elite company and many never parted with their old trusty jacket. Now you might have a shot to put yours in the Smithsonian museum.

No, I am not kidding. A new exhibit entitled “American Enterprise” is scheduled to open in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum next summer and agriculture will be well represented in the exhibit including FFA. Specifically, they are looking for a jacket that tells a great personal story and how FFA affected the wearer’s life.

If “Old Blue” was retired years ago the Smithsonian also wants to hear your story anyway about how FFA gave you purpose and direction and landed you on a tractor instead of a motorcycle.

 

White House on Climate Change and Farmers

climate-agAgriculture is a big part of the new White House climate change assessment report out this week.

“Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience,” the report states.

Immediately after the report was released on Tuesday, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency discussed it with members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting meeting in Washington DC.

“It’s a really good document in terms of focusing on the United States,” she said. “In particular, it looks at the agriculture sector. It talks about the droughts and floods that we’re seeing that have created challenges for our farmers and ranchers and to take a look at some of the ways the president’s climate action plan can work collaboratively with agriculture to try and address those challenges more effectively.”

McCarthy says when she talks with farmers and ranchers about climate change, it’s not a debate. “We’re talking about what we can do together to recognize the challenges and to provide the farmers the adaptive management techniques that will allow them to be successful… and allow them to address these challenges,” she concludes. McCarthy climate change report comments

Read the report’s section on agriculture here.

Don’t be Motley Foolish in Opposing Ethanol

In response to an article about ethanol on the popular Motley Fool website, NCGA’s director of biofuels, Pam Keck, Ph.D., provided this comment. The website has not chosen to publish it, so we are offering it here:

 

I applaud Mr. Funk’s approach to using a real-world example of calculating and comparing the BTU values of gasoline vs. ethanol. There are several, critical elements (no chemistry pun intended) that should also be noted. If the object were to use a real-world example in the classroom, it would be worth including more of the story as it relates to a comparison of ethanol and gasoline. Otherwise, the students will come away from the exercise with the mistaken belief that a BTU calculation provides sufficient data to make an informed decision.

First, the CO2 calculation is misleading. The calculations described only ‘count’ the CO2 emissions from the tailpipe. This is a very small portion of the entire CO2 lifecycle analysis that is done when comparing ethanol from corn and gasoline from petroleum. The EPA, when determining CO2 emissions, considers various models and calculations: production of fertilizers, application of fertilizer to the field, collection and transportation of the corn, and conversion of cornstarch to ethanol. The same system analysis is also done for gasoline production from petroleum. [By the way, corn to ethanol conversion has to account for indirect greenhouse gas impacts (for example, through land use changes), while petroleum production to gasoline doesn’t have to account for indirect impacts.] Even with this large discrepancy, corn starch ethanol is considered to have a 20% reduction in GHG emissions compared to gasoline from petroleum by the EPA. Many published peer-reviewed papers show that the reduction is closer to 50%.

Second, while the kJ/gallon values are in the ballpark range and the assumption that less mileage is obtained from flex-fuel vehicles (FFV), many FFV owners report that after using a tank or two of E85, that their mileage penalty is much less than what the BTU differences would indicate. Some think it might be due to the higher heat of vaporization for ethanol, leading to a cooling effect in the engine. Plus, as has been published in peer-reviewed articles, automobile manufacturers have shown that at higher blends of ethanol, engines can be optimized to not have a penalty loss due to ethanols’ high-octane value and its higher heat of vaporization.

Third, production of ethanol from corn is a renewable process. Gasoline production from petroleum is not renewable; there is a limited supply of petroleum and one day all of the economically extractable petroleum will be gone.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, chemistry students who are capable of determining BTU content of various fuels will be equally capable of understanding that real-world issues are often very complicated. There are real environmental and societal costs associated with continued use of gasoline, including higher CO2 emissions and pollution, and these costs should be considered when choosing between gasoline and ethanol.

Binging on Earth Day Irony

dead dolphinOk, I admit I love irony. So I had to chuckle a little bit as everyone was getting fired up about the arrival of another Earth Day. The irony lies in the fact that this momentous occasion occurs two days after the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

To refresh your memory this was the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, estimated to be up to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest, the Ixtoc I oil spill. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days, until it was capped on 15 July 2010. The US Government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels.

That’s 210 million gallons of oil and we don’t even want to talk about the 2 million gallons of toxic chemicals they call dispersants which were either to:

  • Hide BP’s Faux Pas and remove it from public display
  • or allow nature to recover faster

The irony gets tastier if you are my age because I am old enough, ok more than old enough, to have celebrated the first Earth Day and remember how this whole affirmation of Mother Terra Firma began. It started 44 years ago after a US Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.

Well the Earth Day recognition has lasted but the public consciousness and the leadership of our elected officials lacks a little staying power. Today, the oil industry continues to be one of the largest polluters in the world. And because of their deep pockets and political influence they have been allowed to blithely go about their business with little or no consequences.

The BP spill offers a great case in point. Big oil responded initially and spent money for clean-up efforts and they put on a contrite face while the cameras were on. But take a closer look today at their efforts in court to dodge any more clean-up costs and the fines that were imposed. They say their job is done even as the number of dead dolphin washing up on beaches topped 900 last week. Kemp sea turtle have been nearly ravaged into extinction in Gulf waters.

And to add insult to injury petroleum interests are now spending millions to mislead the public. Big oil is poisoning the system as well as the environment. They are doing everything they can to keep a death grip on the liquid transportation fuel market.

That’s why today—Earth Day — you should take few minutes to educate yourself regarding the sheer audacity of oil. It’s as simple as going to OilRigged.com to shine a spotlight on the oil companies’ dirty tricks and dishonest attacks. Americans deserve to know how oil companies have rigged the system to make us pay more at the pump—sending their profits up while our air and water quality goes down.

The Originators of Earth Day

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from Kevin Hurst, chairman of the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council and corn farmer from Tarkio, Mo.

The Originators of Earth Day

Around the world people are celebrating Earth Day. It’s a great tradition, one that is needed for the health of our planet and future generations. It is a reminder to protect the resources we are given. It is something I’m reminded of on a daily basis.

As a child, I spent most of my time with my father and grandfather who were both farmers. I knew what I wanted to do. Today I’m proud to say we’ve been farming the same land for four generations. In order to sustain the soil, we treat it like a bank account. You have to replenish your checking account, just like you have to manage the resources in the soil. Carelessly spending all the nutrients and top soil makes for a steep decline in productivity and profitability.

Much like any other business, technology has made us more efficient and precise. Rather than treat every field the same, soil testing, soil mapping and GPS allow farmers to provide each plot of soil with precisely what it needs to be healthy and fertile. Thanks to innovative practices, we’re producing 87 percent more corn using 4 percent fewer nutrients. We’ve also reduced soil erosion by 67 percent compared to when my father farmed 30 years ago.

My ancestors would be amazed by today’s technology. Between 1980 and 2009, America’s farmers doubled corn production utilizing only 3 percent more land. We’ve reduced the amount of acres required to grow one bushel of corn by 30 percent, meaning we can produce a lot more with less.

Those familiar with farming also know the importance of conservation. Thousands of farmers continue to enroll acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) or Wetland Reserve Program to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce loss of wildlife habitat. In 2012 the Wetlands Reserve Program hit a record high 2.65 million acres and is expected to grow. CRP rates are also trending above 90 percent of the federally capped level.

Each and every one of these practices is helping farmers like me conserve resources and maintain the integrity of our land. In recent years we’ve gone a step further. With the ability to produce larger crops on our land, farmers can now provide not only food and feed, but also a cleaner, greener fuel straight from America’s fields.

Last year alone, 13.3 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 38 million metric tons. That’s equivalent to removing eight million cars from the road. Eight million-no fracking, tar sands or derricks required. The best part? It doesn’t cause an ecological and economic disaster if spilled.

As we celebrate this Earth Day, I salute those who have gone before us to provide the advancements and innovations that allow today’s farmers to be better stewards of the land. We farm not only to make a living, but to further protect our land and legacy for generations to come.

Kevin Hurst is a corn farmer from Tarkio, Mo., and the chairman of the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council.

Kevin Hurst is a corn farmer from Tarkio, Mo., and the chairman of the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council.

Click here for larger image.

Click here for larger image.

Happy Tax Day!

Seriously, who says that? Nobody, that’s who. Still, it’s one of those two sure things in life – but the other one only happens to us once while taxes happen every year!

apr15Taxes were appropriately part of the agenda last week during hearings and press conferences on Capitol Hill.

During a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on tax issues, American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman testified that long-standing tax provisions should be made permanent, including Section 179 small business expensing which allows farmers and ranchers to expense certain purchases of assets. “Farm Bureau supports maintaining that with a cap of $500,000 per year. In other words, you could buy up to $500,000 worth of assets and be able to expense that amount in the first year, which would certainly help you bear the brunt of getting those assets to use in your business,” said Stallman.

That 500-thousand dollar break expired at the end of last year, along with many other provisions, but House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan has said he is open to making some of them permanent. “We’re the only country in the world that has big pieces of its tax policy that expires, we now call those extenders,” said Camp. “We literally let them expire for a year, then we retroactively put them in place and then they go forward a year.”

During an Americans for Tax Reform press conference after that hearing, Camp indicated he thought the expensing provision should be among those to be made permanent. “Some items are very good, whether it’s the expensing issue or research and development tax credit,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to work on those and have markups in committee to see which of these policies we can make permanent.”

More “extenders” include tax credits for biodiesel, advanced biofuels and wind energy, which are now part of Senate legislation recently passed out of the finance committee.

Who Wants to Deal with Anti-GMO Thugs?

Why are anti-GMO activists so thuggish in social media? We saw this with Cheerios, when they all focused their unrighteous indignation on that relatively harmless breakfast cereal’s Facebook page. And when General Mills slightly altered the ingredients (and nutrition content) of the cereal, they did not relent but continued their vitriol. Now it’s time for Rep. Mike Pompeo to feel their wrath, as it was leaked out in DC media that he might file a bill striving to make sense of GMO labeling.

Is it wrong to call them thugs? I don’t think so. Under Rep. Pompeo’s innocuous Facebook post seeking summer interns, posted March 27, one finds well over 200 comments about GMOs, breaking a cardinal social rule about commenting on posts – keeping them germane to the subject. Among those comments one can find numerous examples of immature name calling (traitor! corrupt pig!), obscenities, ungrammatical use of exclamation points (one comment had six!!!!!!), SHOUTING VIA CAPITALIZATION, and of course stretching the truth – both a little and a lot.

Don’t these social media meanies realize it harms their cause a little to look like raving lunatics? As much as we may want to try to have a real thoughtful conversation, the tone and volume of their rants sadly make it hard to even want to have that sort of dialogue.



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