Corn Commentary

How Drought Hit Trend Yields

Most of us know where the drought hit the hardest last year, but it’s always more interesting to see it in living color.

The University of Illinois’ FarmDoc Daily did just that by comparing state corn yields last year with trend yields, showing how much yields were reduced in the most drought-stricken areas. You can click on the map below to see a larger version.

corn-yields

The map highlights how the lowest yields were in Kentucky (47 percent of trend) and Missouri (53 percent) and Indiana and Illinois came in at about 62 percent of trend. Much of the rest of Corn Belt saw yields around 75 percent of the trend line. Minnesota and North Dakota had yields close to trend, while most states in the Southeast had above trend yields. Georgia was 24% above trend and South Carolina was 31%, which would be great if those states were not generally ranked in the bottom half of corn growing states. New York and Maryland grow more corn than Georgia and South Carolina.

University of Illinois ag economist Gary Schnitkey, who did the map, says as bad as it was, the drought could have been worse.

“In some senses, though, the US dodged a bullet with the 2012 drought,” said Schnitkey. “Much lower total supplies would have resulted had the center of the drought occurred in eastern Iowa and northern Illinois. A center here would have impacted all of the corn-belt in a much worse way, potentially causing the western corn-belt to have as low of yields as the eastern corn-belt. As it actually occurred, Iowa and other western corn-belt state were not as badly hit as could have been the case.”

Read his summary here.

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.

Chicken Wing Shortage Claims Are as Bogus as the Calls of a Replacement Referee

Frozen Chicken Wings in Cold StorageNewspapers, online sources and television reports alike have spent days now terrifying a hungry public with reports that party food favorite buffalo chicken wings will be in short supply this Super Bowl. Linking the supposed shortage to a variety of factors, from the drought to government biofuels policy, these reporters need to check their readily available facts.

Chicken wings will be abundant for the Sunday night football festivities in 2013. Actually, chicken wing supplies are currently 68 percent higher than at this time last year. All of the commotion is for naught.

Using data available to the public, and to the reporters who promote this bogus story, the above chart details the amount of chicken wings in cold storage over the past few years. This information, updated monthly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides unbiased, factual data about our nation’s food situation. As it turns out, there will be wings enough for all.

So how does such blatantly false fodder gain national attention?

A group, interested in whipping up public panic and a loud uproar that could work to their own benefit, concocts a pace quickening story that ties directly into a major event. Media outlets, looking for a quick space filler that will attract attention without creating additional work for already strapped staffers, picks up said story. Then, the attention grabbing atrocity takes on a life of its own.

The age old strategy might have worked too. If only it weren’t for those pesky publicly available government reports.

So go ahead and invite a few extra friends over for the big game without fearing a fight will break out over the wings. America’s farmers have you covered.

Crying Fowl on the Chicken Council

Big Food is running in circles to rehash old – and incorrect – claims about renewable fuel.

This time, it’s the National Chicken Council trying to scare football fans about the supply of chicken wings, and it’s déjà vu all over again: the industry repeatedly ignores the true drivers of food costs.

Despite the Chicken Council’s claims, the poultry industry hardly seems to be cutting back on feed and animal production.

Click here for the full post as it originally ran on the Fuels America blog.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Next Year’s Crop)

BabyCornCorn farmers might be wise to take a cue from a certain sector of their counterparts in traditional business sectors and learn the value of expectations management.

In 2012, farmers felt the brunt of their own success as, after years of continually pushing the boundaries of how much they could grow using fewer resources, a massive drought hit the Corn Belt hard. Fields of young corn plants, the beginning of what many anticipated to be a record corn crop, withered in the relentlessly dry heat. Corn production powerhouses, including Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, found their crop would not meet initial projections.

For their inability to (literally) make it rain, these farmers faced massive cries from media outlets’ sensationalized stories. Ever vigilant in their quest for higher ratings, many journalists eschewed responsible research in favor of “commonsense” commentary, crying over and over that consumers would be shocked when they saw their grocery bills come fall.

From their self-claimed moral high ground, media mercenaries lobbed a frenzied attack. Will Americans starve to feed their cars? Should draconian rationing measures be instituted? Were the Mayans right?

With the USDA’s annual crop reports released, a clearer picture of the 2012 crop is forming. Corn farmers, who faced a serious adversary in Mother Nature, managed to grow 10.8 billion bushels of corn. No, the crop did not break all previous records, but it made the top ten lists.

Despite the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, farmers raised the eighth-largest corn crop since the United States started keeping records. Through better seed varieties, developed through biotechnology, improved practices and cutting-edge technology, our nation’s corn farmers fought back against Mother Nature’s assault.

They struck major blows at key times. Iowa took the front despite the drought, growing 1.87 billion bushels of corn. Minnesota and Nebraska stepped up production and buttressed the crop, growing 1.37 and 1.29 billion bushels respectively. Even Illinois, who saw their normally chart topping yields shrivel in the sun, made a major contribution to the nation’s overall totals, producing 1.28 billion bushels.

The lesson therein? Corn farmers fell victim to their own success in 2012. While striving to produce even more bounty year after year, their achievements became commonplace. Thus, when these over-achievers faced a natural disaster, their efforts were met with backlash instead of understanding support. When their fields suffer, farmers suffer. Yet, this fact was largely ignored.

The eighth-largest corn crop on record does not generate the sort of excitement that a record-breaking harvest may have. It does show the strength and reliability of U.S. farmers. Even in the face of a drought that would have decimated the crop only decades ago, they succeeded in providing a top ten crop. Expectations placed upon America’s farmers have obfuscated the triumphs of 2012.

Sadly, it is a story that deserves telling. Though neither glamorous nor sensational, U.S. corn farmers can provide a dependable abundance that Americans can count on for food, feed, fuel and fiber. Maybe this does not make a headline, but it does provide for a secure tomorrow. That’s an expectation farmers are proud to meet.

First Crop Reports of New Year at New Time

This Friday, January 11, marks the start of a new release time for some USDA agricultural statistics reports.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and World Agricultural Outlook Board (WAOB) will begin this year issuing several major reports at noon Eastern time, including World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE), Acreage, Crop Production, Grain Stocks, Prospective Plantings, and Small Grains Summary.

nafb12-nass-bass“That’s at the request of data users across the country and the world,” said Bob Bass, Director of National Operations for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). “It’s a global economy now in the trading of commodities and everybody thought that noon would be a better time in order for people to get access to the information, digest it, understand what it says and then be on a level playing field.”

Bass says it is the first time in a while since the release time for these market-sensitive reports was changed. “Everything used to be at 3 pm Eastern, but many years ago just the crop and the crop products were moved to 8:30 am so traders could see the report and trade that day,” he said. “But anymore, trading is non-stop.”

The first reports of the new year to be released at the new time on Friday include the annual crop production report and the grain stocks report.

Find Kentucky Farmers at a Grocery Store Near You

Today, Corn Commentary shares a post from Kentucky Corn Growers Association Director of Communications Jennifer Elwell. On her new blog Kentucky Food and Farm Files, Elwell discusses a variety of interesting topics, including her work with the CommonGround Kentucky program.

What happens when you place a passionate, smiling farmer in the middle of a grocery store? It opens a door for conversations about food and farming. Many Kentucky farmers are now volunteering their time to talk with food buyers about what the heck is going on at their farms and within their food industry.

Programs such as CommonGround, Operation Main Street, AgChat (#agchat or #foodchat) and many others are providing volunteer farmers for speaking engagements and events, and the feedback has been very positive.

This past weekend, volunteers (including myself) set up at the newest Kroger location in Georgetown, Ky. to talk with shoppers and provide recipes and farm information. We had questions about different types of egg production, a conversation about how a diabetic needs to manage their diet, my nine-year-old daughter encouraged kids to eat lots of fruits and vegetables by trying new dishes, and many just wanted to share their appreciation for what farmers do.

Volunteer Becky Thomas of Elizabethtown talks with a shopper at the Georgetown Kroger.

My daughter and I ready with smiles on our faces. She was so good at sharing the good news about what our Kentucky farmers do and is ready to take on my other blog, Food, Mommy!

I am very thankful that grocery store chains are opening their doors to local farmers to talk with their customers. It puts a face on our food production and puts the notion away that most of our food is produced by “industrial-strength” farms. At least 98% of the farms in Kentucky are still family-owned and operated.

Volunteer Tonya Murphy from Owensboro talks with a customer at a Louisville Kroger this summer about how she cares for the chickens on her farm. Everyone loved seeing her photos.

Volunteer Carly Guinn, a grain and beef cattle farmer who lives in Danville has a long conversation about food myths and shares how she feels they hurt farmers.

Kentucky farmer volunteers Ashley Reding, Carrie Divine and Denise Jones talked with Louisville ValuMarket shoppers in 2011, shortly after the Common Ground program launched nationwide.

Elwell invites both comments and requests from groups looking for speakers on food and farming. Click here to find out more.

CommonGround New York Hits the Airwaves to Share Volunteers’ Stories

CommonGround New York volunteers will be taking to the airwaves tomorrow to share their stories and answer consumer concerns about animal welfare and milk. Through a series of radio spots, listeners in important markets such as Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Watertown get a brief respite from the holiday advertisements while the volunteers’ messages address the issues important to them.

“It’s impossible to talk to every single consumer who has a question or concern about their food,” said CommonGround New York volunteer Nancy Robbins, a dairy farmer who also runs an agri-tourism operation. “This radio campaign gives us, the farmers, an opportunity to talk to thousands of people at one time about where their food comes from and the methods that are used to produce it. With our first round of radio spots, we focused on suburban areas to reach people who live a bit further from the farm and country life.”

The messages will run for two weeks during this first series. To get a sneak preview of what New Yorkers will be hearing soon, click here.

Food Dialogue at a Farmers Market

In New York recently for meetings of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and its Food Dialogues town hall, I was able to visit the popular Union Square Greenmarket with two farmers who are finalists for the USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching competition. Daphne Holterman is a dairy farmer from Wisconsin, and Tim Nilsen is a turkey farmer from California.

As someone who was raised in, and has always lived in, the suburbs, I am intrigued both by life in the country and life in the city. The farmers market tour was a good way to see how fresh food makes it to an urban core like Lower Manhattan. In fact, the Union Square location, which in peak season has 140 regional farmers, fishermen, and bakers, is one of 54 markets in the New York City area operated by Grow NYC, with more than 230 family farms and fishermen participating. These farms represent more than 30,000 acres of farmland protected from development.

Working with Daphne and Tim was a great experience, in part because I am so used to corn farmers that it is often refreshing to learn new things from other sectors in agriculture, something I appreciate about my activity with USFRA. From Daphne, I learned that 87 percent of milk produced in Wisconsin becomes cheese; and Tim had to explain how he does not raise Thanksgiving turkeys. His are much larger (50 pounds!) and are used for deli meat and ground turkey products.

USFRA has been a great attempt to unite agriculture, and while it’s brought together commodity growers fairly easily, it remains sincere in its attempt to bring even more groups together. Feeding the country, and the world, will require an atmosphere where all farmers and ranchers can work together – commodity and specialty, large and small, conventional and organic. Just as our growers are dedicated to dialogue, transparency and continuous improvement, so too should all farmers be dedicated to working collaboratively and learning from each other.

In fact, we saw a lot of that in our New York meetings, and at the greenmarket on a cold November morning not long after a hurricane wreaked havoc, Daphne and Tim had some great conversations with some East Coast farmers who, as different as their farms may be from those in Wisconsin and California, are just as concerned as they are about farming sustainably and providing healthy food choices for all. The time has certainly come for a real food dialogue, and I’m proud to be part of USFRA’s efforts.

It’s almost Thanksgiving. So let’s talk turkey.

Today’s post originally ran on the Fuels America blog. Fuels America, of which the National Corn Growers Association is a founding member, is a coalition of organizations committed to protecting America’s Renewable Fuel Standard and promoting the benefits of all types of renewable fuel already growing in America. Fuels America is founded on a simple core principle: Renewable fuel is good for the U.S. economy, for our nation’s energy security and for the environment.

Some special interests are claiming that renewable fuel is raising the cost of your Thanksgiving turkey. The fact is that turkey prices are lower this year than they were in October of last year. Renewable fuel does not dictate the price of a turkey and it does not dictate the price of your food.

Despite a decrease in the price of a turkey, food prices on the whole have gone up. But that is a result of rising oil prices, which have skyrocketed since 2005.

The oil sector, threatened by increasing fuel diversity, is trying to mislead consumers to turn back the clock on our progress in creating alternatives to oil.

Let’s take a closer look. Corn makes up 3 cents of every dollar spent on food at the grocery store. The rest comes from things like transportation, marketing, labor and packaging. Those Super Bowl commercials advertising for your favorite snack aren’t cheap. And paying for the petroleum to transport food inputs isn’t cheap either. Costs like those—costs that have nothing to do with the crops that go into your food—make up $.84 of each food dollar you spend at the market. As oil prices fluctuate, food prices follow because petroleum is a large input into food prices. Corn is not.

The EPA set out to discover the true impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) on corn prices. And they found that the RFS has not had a significant impact on corn prices. In a study that included 500 scenarios, in nearly every case, EPA concluded that waiving the RFS for a year had no impact on corn prices.

Self-interested players are twisting the facts try to kill an industry that is creating American jobs, increasing our energy security and delivering alternatives to oil. Thanks to the EPA analyses, and a cornucopia of other data showing the reality that the RFS is working, we no longer need to eat the false choice between food and fuel.

For more information on Fuels America, click here.



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