Corn Commentary

Print All You Want, We’ll Make More

print-emailThis might not be the most politically correct message for Earth Day week, but it’s true.

I’m sure you’ve seen email signatures saying something to the effect of “Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail!” Today I got one with a very different message:

Notice: It’s OK to print this e-mail.

Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees and corn starch. Growing and harvesting trees and corn provides jobs for millions of Americans. Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Thanks to improved forest and agricultural management, we have more trees and corn in America today than we had 100 years ago.

To give credit where credit is due, the signature came from an employee of GROWMARK, Inc. I plan to add it to my email signatures in the future.

Iowa Governor Brings Benefits of Biofuels to Beltway

corn-ethanol-pump_100172125_sIowa Governor Terry Branstad publicly made the case for the Renewable Fuel Standard and for introducing higher ethanol blends into the market in an eloquently penned opinion piece that ran in the Washington-centric publication Politico. Citing examples of how biofuels have benefited his state and looking toward the future of the industry, Branstad issued this appeal to logic at a time when important biofuels policies face an increasing number of attacks.

In the piece, Branstad not only points to the successes seen in Iowa economically from ethanol production, but he also directly speaks to often-repeated concerns over the impact that higher ethanol blends have on auto engines.

“Cars run well on higher blends of renewable fuel,” he explained. “Iowa’s state trooper fleet runs on E85. Ethanol is higher octane and thus a more powerful fuel. That extra octane provides an advantage to our law enforcement ranks and the high-performing vehicles they rely on daily.”

Branstad’s appeal for a steady hand in guiding the way into an American future that sees the full benefits of biofuels calls upon readers to think through the issues at hand and realize the importance of both the RFS and higher ethanol blends.

“We must not forget that most successful industries and innovations do not mature overnight. Cellphones were around since the 1970s but not widely adopted until the 2000s. And automobiles did not replace horse-drawn carriages in just a few years,” he concluded. “The RFS has been a key driver in this industry’s progress. We should not, and cannot, turn back that progress now.”

To read the piece in its entirety, click here.

God Really Did Make a Farmer

farmer-handsThe original Ram Trucks Super Bowl commercial featuring Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” is up to over 14 million views on YouTube, not counting all the re-posts of the video, and has led to parodies too numerous to count.

There’s God made a factory farmer, liberal, banker, photographer, skateboarder, printer, DJ, realtor, gamer, machinist, chemist, publicist, YouTuber, teacher, Democrat, cat – you name it.

But, really – God really did make a farmer. Just check the Book of Genesis. “God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen. 2:15)

Of course, we all know the rest of the story. When Adam and Eve misbehaved, God made farming more difficult and even more of a sacred calling – “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.”

And the first parents passed their vocation on to their children. “Eve … gave birth to Cain…Later she gave birth to his brother Abel…Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.” We won’t go into the rest of that story (since one of them also became the first murderer) but suffice it to say – God really did make a farmer first. Not a chemist or a DJ or even a liberal – but maybe a cat.

Yard Work Just Got More Green

 

It’s sporty, it’s fuel injected, it’s green and it’s powered by ethanol. If you are thinking NASCAR™ race cars that’s a good guess but you would be wrong. Because in this case the equipment in question is literally green…as in covered in the well know green and yellow paint of John Deere tractors, combines and lawn equipment.

And unlike the 200 mile-per-hour race cars that trade mileage for speed, the new John Deere  ZTrack mower is also efficient.

John Deere recently released their new, ZTrak Z925M, zero-turn, Flex Fuel Commercial Mowers, capable of running on ethanol blends up to E85 (85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline). When you stop to think about it, it makes perfect sense. Ethanol blends are powering nearly every vehicle on the road today with blends of ethanol from 10% to 85%, so it was only a matter of time before we mowed with high octane E85 too.

John Deere tractors and combines have been frequenting the nation’s corn fields for generations as a stalwart contributor to planting and harvesting operations so the ZTrack Flex-Fuel seems…well, logical.

E10 (10% ethanol) has been utilized successfully in small gas engines, boats and mowers for decades  so we applaud John Deere’s decision to go green, utilize a homegrown fuel and support rural America by bringing an E85 capable to the market .  Be sure to try out the new ZTrak Flex Fuel mower next time you visit your dealer and tell the Corn Growers sent you.

(E10 has been approved for use by all small gas engine manufacturers as well as marine engine manufacturers. Let your mouse dJohn Deere Flex Fuelo the walking if you want to know more.)

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.



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