Corn Commentary

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.

As the National Mood Darkens, Agriculture Must Provide a Strong, Unwavering Light

This election day, a substantial majority of Americans believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Only five days ago, Rasmussen Reports found that only 39 percent of voters believe the country is actually on the right track. The negativity that has descended over the country hangs like a nearly palpable dark cloud, shading perceptions and obscuring the view of the horizon.

For farmers, a plethora of problems loom large on that horizon, threatening the industry which they have labored for decades to build. The shadowy figures resemble monsters. The drought menaces productivity gains or, at the very least, the perception thereof. Hard-fought battles to grow markets for their crops no longer seem like memories. The fog of fear creates doubt.

No longer able to clearly envision the brighter tomorrow that once inspired passionate pride in  agriculture, a strong biofuels industry, an abundant supply of healthy foods and a resurgent rural economy,  short-sighted attacks from launched under the cover of night lunge from reactionary corners.

Keenly aware of the cyclic moods of Mother Nature, farmers understand that a year of drought does negate centuries of innovation. Now, more than ever, this vibrant viewpoint needs to shine through the morass, leading Americans forth on the long-charted path toward that crystalline vision.

Instead of engaging the willfully obtuse in a never-ending debacle of a debate, farmers need to appraise arguments against their triumvirate of triumphs, ethanol, biotechnology and production advancements, with an eagle’s eye. Even though it may seem illogical, certain sectors have tied a blindfold around their own eyes and plugged their own ears rendering themselves unable to contemplate evidence that might contradict their anti-agriculture agendas.

Then, after writing off the screeches of the intentionally obtuse harpies, farmers can focus with pinpoint precision on the rock solid record of success. Repeatedly, American agriculture has set the bar far beyond what many believed it could reach. Repeatedly, it has vaulted well over that bar, soaring to greater heights time and time again.

Farmers set out to build an ethanol industry that would provide a new market for their crops, spur rural economic development, increase domestic energy production and decrease air pollution. Today, they have already achieved every one of those goals. In five short years, a booming industry has improved the fortunes of farmers and their communities at an exponential rate.

When critics attack these achievements, often detracting from ethanol’s success to draw attention from the lack of their own, American agriculture must defend its record with pride instead of apologizing for a single year of mild production setbacks. The rains will come. The corn will grow. It is crucial to the continued success of agriculture and of rural America farmers that the demand built through an incredible investment in ethanol remains strong.

Instead of falling prey to the demons of doubt, American agriculture should shine like the beacon, illuminating the increased employment, improved food and energy security and economic advancement that farmers have built through innovation and hard work. Farmers chartered the right course years ago. Now, they must lead others who got lost in the fog back to the path toward a brilliant tomorrow.

Praying for Nine Inches

With harvest nearing 90 percent completion, many news stories address the impact of the drought in the past tense. The drought hit farmers. The drought impacted yields. The drought of 2012 did this or that.

According to climatologists and meteorologists who know what is needed to grow, farmers across the Midwest should be praying for nine inches.

Why is that the magic number?

According to Iowa State Climatologist Harry Hillaker and DTN Senior Meteorologist Bryce Anderson, the areas of the Corn Belt still categorized in some form of drought required nine inches of rain before the new year to ensure sufficient soil moisture for spring planting in 2013.

While these experts note that the likelihood of this happening is statistically slim, some areas of Illinois have gotten more than two inches of rain in the past 24 hours. With a few days of showers in the five-day forecast, some hold out hope for clouds on the horizon.

Many farmers have already begun purchasing next spring’s inputs and, for some, the risk of continued drought seems significant enough to factor into planting decisions. Yet, even for those with a less optimistic outlook, new varieties of drought resistant corn developed through biotechnology offer hope unimaginable only one generation ago.

“I know when I had my first drought in 1977 that we actually had three bushels to the acre,” said Nevada, Iowa farmer Bill Couser in a recent interview with the Kansas City Star. “If I would have had the hybrids today back then, we would have never had that kind of a drought, because with the hybrids today it’s just amazing what they’re pulling through.”

Whether more rains come or farmers consider corn designed to tolerate a drought, U.S. corn farmers are preparing to put 2012 in the past, resiliently looking ahead toward the 2013 planting season. Hope remains that Mother Nature may yet give them what they need, but America’s farmers will be ready to meet the challenge with the help of technology should the drought persist.

A Real Political Party

Rural America, in large part, votes. With a keen awareness of how government policies and regulations directly impact their operations, farmers head to the polls. While most farmers actively support candidates who value agriculture, understand the impact of over-regulation and who see the importance of supporting rural America, the political influence of rural America has waned in the past few decades.

Issues such as the farm bill, renewable fuels policy, estate taxes and proposed regulations could, if mishandled, sock U.S. farmers in the collective gut. In America’s heartland, the men and women who grow food and fuel for the nation look toward the election with a drought on their minds and a steely resolve in their eyes.

What does this picture lack?

This weekend, reports from New Orleans detailed a festive atmosphere on Bourbon Street. Unlike Mardi Gras revelers intent upon imbibing, the 10,000 plus Venezuelans celebrating in the streets had traveled to Louisiana not to party but to vote.

Registered voters, these men and women brought their families made the journey from Florida because, after Chavez had closed their embassy in Miami, New Orleans offered the closest polling station. News outlets across the United States took notice. The scene was, in its rarity, newsworthy.

Take a moment and imagine what an incredible effort these men and women exerted in order to exercise their vote. The trip entailed travel expenses, preparation and time away from work for many. Yet, grandparents proudly displayed flags and caps for photos with children and grandchildren, proudly smiling and sharing in an important moment for their community.

Now, imagine the political influence rural America could assert yet again. The number of men and women who farm has dwindled with improved technology allowing for increased productivity. The numbers alone will not restore political prominence.

What rural America needs is enthusiasm. Yes, many people meet a candidate or even host a tea. But the country, rural, urban and suburban, has lost its patriotic excitement for exercising this fundamental right. If farmers, ranchers and their allies bring energy and unabashed excitement for voting back into American politics, they will make our candidates and our country stand up and take notice of rural issues.

Fund Established for Kansas Corn Exec Jere White

A farmer, friend and colleague of the agriculture industry is in critical condition at a Springfield, Missouri hospital and a fund has now been set up to help his family with related expenses.

Kansas Corn and Sorghum Growers executive director Jere White was involved in a motorcycle accident on September 28 in northwest Arkansas. Jere is an avid motorcyclist and is pictured here at the 2011 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally with his son Robert, who is Director of Market Development for the Renewable Fuels Association.

Jere was wearing a helmet in the crash but still suffered a head injury and his family has been with him constantly in Springfield since the accident. They have set up a Facebook page for Jere where updates can be found and get well wishes and comments of encouragement can be posted. The link is

Jere’s colleagues with the Kansas grains groups are helping out with expenses for the family by setting up a fund for donations.

Donations to the fund can be sent to:
Jere White Fund
c/o Bank of Greeley
PO Box 80
Greeley, KS 66033

Cards for Jere and his family will be collected at the association office and may be mailed to:
Jere White
PO Box 446
Garnett, KS 66032

Jere is a wonderful, witty and fun-loving person who is a joy to know. We are all praying for his complete recovery and the strength of his family for support.

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, 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.

Make Congress Hear Our Rally Cries! Pass a Farm Bill Now!

Have you ever wondered why the House has failed to bring a farm bill to the floor? Today, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson gave a simple, direct answer during the Farm Bill Now rally held on Capitol Hill this week.

Noting that the House still has time to pass this key legislation he stated, “we just need the pressure on.”

Peterson explained that, unlike in previous years, members of the House have not seen the groundswell of support for a farm bill that drives action. Describing the rally as a “good starting point,” he called upon farmers to call their representatives in the House and vigorously urge immediate action.

Peterson concluded by declaring that spurring the House to action would require around 100 to 200 calls from people in every district with an interest in agriculture. Given that the sector provides 1 out of every 12 American jobs, support for a farm bill should be strong. Now, it must be active.

In his speech, the House member issued an ominous warning about farmer inaction saying, “if you don’t do that, we’re not going to get a farm bill.”

With only a few precious days remaining before Congress heads home and the 2008 Farm Bill expires, farmers, ranchers, those who work in agriculture and anyone interested in our nation’s food security must act now. The National Corn Growers Association and the Farm Bill Now! coalition offer online tools to make taking the crucial step of contacting your House representation simple and fast.

To use the valuable tools offered by NCGA, click here. To sign the Farm Bill Now! online petition and contact your House member through social media, click here.

Our entire system of representative government depends upon an active electorate who makes sure that the men and women they send to Washington act on their behalf. We elect them. We pay their salaries. Now, we must make sure that they represent us by passing the farm bill legislation that our nation needs in 2012.

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.

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