Corn Commentary

Indian Corn Adds Color to the Fall

indian-cornColorful corn can be seen decorating doors and table tops during the fall season, but how much do you really know about the corn that is known variously as Indian, flint, ornamental, or even calico?

According to Wikipedia
, flint corn has less soft starch than dent corn and does not have the dents in the kernels. Flint corn is one of three types of corn cultivated by Native Americans – from whence the Indian corn moniker comes. Cultivation of flint corn was typical to tribes in New England and across the northern tier, including by tribes such as the Pawnee on the Great Plains. But, archeologists have found evidence of such corn cultivation by the Pawnee and others before 1000 BC. Cultivation of corn occurred hundreds of years earlier among the Mississippian culture people, whose civilization arose based on population density and trade because of surplus corn crops.There is also evidence that flint corn was grown in China, India and South America for centuries.

While we use the colorful ears for decoration, our ancestors actually ate it and it is still eaten in countries like Argentina and other areas of South America, Latin America and southern Europe. Heavy in starch, it can be compared to hominy, which is used to make grits. Indian corn can be ground to make flour, or the whole kernel can be reserved for popcorn. It can also be used as livestock feed.

Indian corn for decoration these days is the result of several hybrid varieties developed within the last 50 years. Calico-patterned or speckled varieties of Indian corn result from cross-pollination of single-shaded plants. In addition to the multicolored ears, there are solid ears in shades of white, ruby, blue and black. Many varieties have names as colorful as the corn – like Autumn Explosion, Robust Ruby Red, Big Chief and Glass Gem. There are even miniature varieties with cute names like Indian Fingers, Cutie Pops, Little Boy Blue and Miniature Blue, Cutie Pink, Little Miss Muffet, Little Bo Peep and Miniature Pink.

Support the Farmer Veteran Coalition

Farmer Veteran CoalitionToday is Veterans Day and one of the sad facts about the men and women who serve our nation is that they often return from active duty with few job opportunities.

That’s where the Farmer Veteran Coalition is making a difference. The coalition is helping to mobilize veterans in the fight to feed America by cultivating a new generation of agriculturalists through the collaboration of the farming and military communities.

Homegrown by Heroes“We’ve got veterans returning to small communities all over this country, and based on my experience in the military and interactions with people in the military, I believe that these people possess the skills and the traits that can contribute in a very positive way,” says Coalition board member Charlie Kruse. Those skills include teamwork, dedication and pride in what you do along with willingness to adapt to different situations.

Kruse, who is a Missouri farmer and former president of the Missouri Farm Bureau who also served 26 years in the Army National Guard, is excited about the work the Coalition is doing, including helping veterans through the Homegrown By Heroes label. “I think it’s a tremendous activity that in some small way let’s all of us in this country pay back to those people in uniform who answered the call and served us proudly,” he added.

Find out more about the coalition at farmvetco.org.

A Corn-y Conversation

Kenney VideoIowa CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney brought the story of corn to internet viewers everywhere recently during an interview with Iowa Girl Eats blogger Kristin Porter. The video, made possible by the Iowa Food and Family Project, explains both the different types of corn people see in the field driving by as well as what their uses.

Find out more about the incredible story of corn with Julie by clicking here.

Like it? Check out other videos from the series, including one with Julie’s husband, Mark, or one with Iowa Corn Growers Association staffer Janet Wilwerding.

It’s Candy Corn Time!

candy-cornAt the same time of year when combines are running in the corn fields, billions of kernels of candy corn are being popped in mouths around the country.

That’s right, I said billions. According to the National Confectioners Association, 35 million pounds of candy corn are sold around Halloween, which is approximately 9 billion individual kernels of corn. That’s kind of scary!

Candy corn has been around for more than 100 years. George Renninger, an employee of the Wunderlee Candy Company, invented the popular confection in the 1880s and Wunderlee became the first to produce the candy. The Goelitz Candy Company (now Jelly Belly Candy Company) started producing the confection in 1900 and still produces candy corn today.

The main ingredient in candy corn actually is corn – corn syrup, that is. And the NCA points out that it was first made when most of America was still farming country. They don’t know if it was the fact that so many Americans had farm experience at that time, if urban dwellers found it charming or if it was some combination that made it so popular, but people went nuts over it.

And today, October 30 is National Candy Corn Day, so enjoy some of the sweet, tri-colored treats to celebrate – but save some for the trick-or-treaters!

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.



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