Corn Commentary

Propane Gas Pains

grain-bin-propaneIn recent years, the U.S. propane industry has been growing by leaps and bounds, producing so much that they were even had a good export market going.

But a perfect storm arose this winter that has caused pain at the propane tank, with shortages and prices skyrocketing to $5 a gallon before settling back down a bit. “It pretty much began in the fall with the grain harvest that was wet and having to dry down the crops,” said Scott Long, manager of propane marketing and business development for GROWMARK, who added that the wet harvest meant nearly 5 times the amount of propane was used to dry the crop than normal.

Follow that up with one of the coldest winters on record nearly everywhere in the country and propane supplies that had been abundant enough for export were quickly downsized, putting a squeeze on livestock and poultry producers. “Particularly in the broiler and turkey sector, the majority of houses are heated by propane,” said U.S. Poultry and Egg Association president John Starkey. “The bitter cold weather we’ve had throughout the poultry belt has caused shortages … so that means it’s very difficult for some folks to find propane gas right now.” Interview with John Starkey, U.S. Poultry and Egg

There have been calls for investigations into the high prices and some states have taken emergency actions to get more propane moving to areas that need it most. The good news, according to Long, is that things should be getting better soon. “I’m hoping that we hit our peak,” he said last week. “Hopefully within the next couple of weeks we’ll see quite a bit of relief.” Interview with Scott Long, GROWMARK

“Hopefully” — Just as the groundhog saw his shadow and the cold weather hits just keep coming.

How One Cattleman Views Corn

corn-couserWe’ve highlighted Bill Couser of Couser Cattle Company several times on this blog but this week was the first time I had the opportunity to meet and spend some quality time with this great guy and his fabulous wife and son during the Truth About Trade and Technology Global Farmer Roundtable.

The Couser operation has been a stop for the TATT Roundtable pretty much since it started in 2006 and while you would think the visit would focus on cattle, it’s really more about corn and getting more out of every kernel. “It’s no different than a barrel of crude. We don’t just get gasoline from a barrel of crude. We take it apart and get many different things,” he said. “When we look at corn, we can feed it, we can take it to ethanol plants, we can sell it domestically, we can sell it abroad.”

As one of the founders of Lincolnway Ethanol plant in Nevada, Bill is really excited about the cellulosic project with DuPont using corn residue. “We’ve got the residue there and if we manage it correctly, we have a new cash crop,” he said. Interview with Bill Couser

Bill put together a little powerpoint presentation that shows the multiplier effect of a single acre of corn going to an ethanol plant. When he figured that final amount corn was $7 a bushel and it added up to over $12,000 per acre. But even at $3, it’s still nearly $8,000. Watch the video to see how he determines that.

2013 TATT Global Farmer Roundtable photos

Japan Ready to Beef Up Again

neb-corn-japanA group of Nebraska corn farmers and cattlemen are convinced after a recent trade mission that Japan will soon return to its traditional spot as the number one export customer for U.S. beef.

The Nebraska Corn Board funded the participation of five Nebraska producers on the Japan mission, which centered on Tokyo and the Sendai region. They are pictured here next to an ad for U.S. beef in Tokyo Station, one of the city’s busiest metro stops. Left to right, the team consisted of Tim Scheer of St. Paul (Nebraska Corn Board), Dale Spencer of Brewster (Nebraska Cattlemen), Doug Parde of Sterling (Nebraska Cattlemen), Kyle Cantrell of Anselmo (Nebraska Corn Growers Association) and Mark Jagels of Davenport (Nebraska Corn Board and chair-elect of the U.S. Meat Export Federation).

Earlier this year, Japan finally agreed to ease up on import restrictions on U.S. beef implemented after an isolated case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in 2003. “During that time, Australia and New Zealand have been very aggressive in promoting their product into Japan with considerable success,” Jagels said. “We need to reintroduce Japanese consumers to the robust flavor of American corn-fed beef—and teach them ways to prepare and enjoy convenient and delicious dishes featuring U.S. beef.”

Already, sales of U.S. beef into Japan are on track to exceed $1 billion in value this year, up from virtually zero in 2006.

Read more from the Nebraska Corn Board and be sure to check out the mission blog for more insights and photos.

Giving Up Giving Up Meat

NP-51-C~Cafeteria-Lunch-Tray-PostersThe cafeterias that feed our nation’s federal legislators and their staffs are giving up giving up meat on Mondays.

Surprisingly, this actually causes strife in some circles. As detailed in a recent article in Politico, the Congressional Vegetarian Staff Association (yes, this is a real thing) holds the big beef lobby to blame for this sacrilege at the altar of the PC. Some cry foul, claiming the tradition-come-lately promotes what they deem to be a healthier diet. Seemingly, Congressional staffers share the same intense interest in lunch menus as employees across the country.

Some claim the practice should have been shut down as it is promoted by the Humane Society of the United States and similar radical groups. While this argument certainly holds water with anyone who hopes to have a pet or a burger someday, there is a much simpler reason that Meatless Mondays make no sense. They take away choice.

The country faces an obesity epidemic, and everyone has a solution. But, in the end, the workplace cafeteria should not become an agenda-driven diner that dictates diets. The lunch line may not offer your personal favorite option daily, but it should not force a particular, politically-motivated nutritional regime down your throat either.

Consumers, and even Congressional staffers, deserve options. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers provide a wide variety of nutritious food options. People should be able to dictate what they put into their own bodies.

So kudos to the kitchens of Congress for recognizing that lunches should be chosen, not dictated, every day of the week.

Immigration Policy Impacts Food Affordability

Thanks to highly mechanized planting and harvesting, plus the advantage of a crop that can be stored for long periods of time, corn growers are largely able to function without the use of a migrant work force. But, even those row crop farmers who don’t directly employ migrant laborers have a reason to care about comprehensive immigration reform.

The dairy industry is very dependent on a stable work force – year round, not just seasonal – and Dairy Farmers of America Board Chairman Randy Mooney made some pretty compelling points during a USDA forum on comprehensive immigration reform held Friday in Kansas City.

dfa-kc“We know from experience that too few domestic workers want these jobs and the issue is bigger than dairy,” said Mooney. Highly perishable specialty crop producers obviously need these workers, but Mooney says corn, bean and wheat farmers do as well, to meet the needs of the farms that buy their products. “For example, the U.S. dairy herd consumes more than 133 billion pounds of feed in the form of corn, corn silage, soybean meal and alfalfa each year,” he noted.

“Because of America’s farmers, we enjoy abundant, safe and affordable food in this country,” Mooney said. “In order to ensure that continues, we need Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Mooney added. See Mooney’s remarks at the event in the YouTube video below.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was the keynote speaker at the Kansas City event. “We are blessed by the most productive, most innovative and most hard-working farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “American agriculture is the greatest in the world, but we risk that if we don’t have certainty in our farm policy and we don’t have comprehensive immigration reform.”

The comprehensive immigration bill being considered by the Senate – with a final vote expected possibly this week – includes provisions for agriculture including a new “Blue Card” program for current experienced farm workers and a new agricultural visa program to meet future labor needs. The provisions in the bill were the result of an agreement reached between farm worker groups and agricultural organizations.

ISU Climatologist Looks at 2013

wpx13-taylorIowa State University professor Dr. Elwynn Taylor is one of the nation’s foremost extension climatologists, but even the best sometimes get the weather forecasts wrong.

When asked this time last year what the drought possibilities were for Iowa he said “less than 50%.” Take those odds to the racetrack and you would have been a big winner last year if you had bet on the drought.

At the World Pork Expo last week, Dr. Taylor provided his insights for 2013. “My outlook I put out most recently for the national corn yield is 147 bushels to the acre,” he began. “147 is considerably better than 123 for last year’s corn yield for the U.S. and considerably below the trend line which is 160.”

He noted the radical weather extremes Iowa has already seen this year, going from snow in early May to 101 degrees on May 14 to flood on May 24, breaking all kinds of records set in 1947. “Seems like I’m mentioning 1947 quite a bit,” said Taylor. “This is the year that we’re in right now with the volatility of weather that we had seen in ’47.”

“We’ve got a hurricane season just started expected to be on the harsh side, drought likely to persist in the western part of the Corn Belt, temperature high and low both being significant and more extreme than usual, and climate likely increasingly erratic during the next 25 years,” Taylor summarized. “Manage your risk, that’s the way we live through the volatile weather.”

Listen to Dr. Taylor’s full presentation here: ISU Climatologist Dr. Elwynn Taylor

May Snow Showers Bring Spring Crops for Farmers

IMG_0467Recently, CommonGround Colorado volunteer Danell Kalcevic, who farms and raises cattle outside of Denver, penned an op-ed on why consumers may see higher beef prices this grilling season. While some may say farmers and ranchers must be profiting from this rise, Kalcevic explains how last year’s drought is still impacting ranchers.

May Snow Showers Bring Spring Crops for Farmers

As we gear up for grilling season, many shoppers may notice higher beef prices at the grocery store. Beef prices are triggered by supply and demand, and this year, the supply is low. “How low?” you ask. The last time cattle numbers in the U.S. were this low was it was 1952.

Moisture—or the lack thereof—is the culprit for supply issues in the beef industry. I know it might seem like it’s been snowing and raining nearly every day the last couple of weeks, but the lack of moisture in our region over the past ten years has caused strain on the feed supply, and ultimately our cattle supply. For cattle farmers like me, the price of beef depends on the commodity prices for wheat, corn and soybeans—all of the big commodities used in feeding cattle.

A low supply and high demand normally means the person selling the goods in demand will make a large profit. This theory does not hold true in agriculture. In reality, it costs more to produce our low supply of cattle, and we are by no means getting rich off of the profits. Farmers actually see less than 12 cents for every dollar spent on food in America. The rest of the money goes to processing, transportation and marketing.

Call us crazy, but my family considers the recent snowy weather a blessing. Sure blizzard conditions make getting in the field or feeding cattle difficult, but with this type of moisture farmers will be able to plant a much greater supply of crops like corn or soybeans. And we are hopeful that being able to plant more spring crops will help bring those cattle numbers back up and your beef prices down!


Danell Kalcevic, farmer, Bennett, Colo.

What’s in My Beef?!?!

Today, Corn Commentary offers a guest post from blogger Lana Hoffschneider, a CommonGround Nebraska volunteer. Hoffschneider, along with 85 volunteers in 15 states, is participating in a movement that looks to open a conversation between the women who grow food and those why purchase it.

CommonGround was formed by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates to provide our nation’s female farmers with opportunities to connect with their urban and suburban counterparts on an issue important to all of them – the food they feed their families.

lana-kidsAnyone else feel overwhelmed by the quantity of information out there about food and food safety? I’ve recently been on a quest to increase my knowledge about food safety, and feel like now I can’t eat anything!! I swear there’s a study out there to prove anything. So how do we sort out the information… the studies, the food labels, the facebook posts, the news stories, what our friends tell us, etc?!?! I can’t promise I have the answer to that… but I’ll give you my take on it! Read on…

Since we have a feedyard, I’m going to direct my comments to beef, and hopefully answer some of your questions about what you’re eating. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a scientist, and I’m not a meat processor, but I can tell you what happens at our feedyard.

One common concern about beef is hormones. Yes, we give our cattle implants (they go under the skin on the outside of the ear). The main active ingredient is estrogen. The implants are given to increase feed efficiency and rate of gain. From the information I have read, yes – some of the hormone passes into the meat, but no – it’s not at high levels. in fact, check this out:

  • 4 oz. beef from steer given hormones: 1.6 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. beef from untreated steer: 1.2 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. beef from non-pregnant heifer: 1.5 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. raw cabbage: 2700 ng estrogen
  • 4 oz. raw peas: 454 ng estrogen
  • Average level in a woman of childbearing age: 480,000 nanograms/day of estrogen
  • Average level in a pre-pubertal girl: 54,000 nanograms/day of estrogen

So – I’m not worried about that. Period.

Next, how about shots… vaccinations, antibiotics, etc?

Our veterinarian giving vaccinations to a steer.

Our veterinarian giving vaccinations to a steer.

First of all, I think you might like to know that all shots go in the neck region of the animal.  This prevents any needle damage in the meat.

Second, you need to know that there are specific “withdrawal times” that antibiotics have – which means an animal cannot be harvested until after a specified number of days of receiving the antibiotic.   And yes – our cattle receive antibiotics (administered by a veterinarian).  It’s the right thing to do – we take care of our animals when they’re sick! Here’s a great blog post about this… Antibiotics in beef farming.

So I’m not worried about that. Period.

The last thing I want to hit on is regarding the talk about meat causing heart disease, cancer, and whatever else.  I understand that doctors give special instructions on diet for particular situations – listen to them.   If that’s not you – then here’s what I think.   MODERATION – everything in moderation.

We eat beef from cattle from our feedyard.  I feed it to my family.  We have 2 daughters – yes, I think about hormones and early puberty and the thought freaks me out on a lot of levels.  But I don’t change the meat we eat or the milk we drink because of it – I don’t think that’s what causes early puberty.

If you’re like me, and feel frustrated about information about our food… just keep in mind that there are so many health benefits in a variety of foods.   If you want to get radical about something, get radical about the amount of sugar you eat and the amount of processed/fried foods you eat.  Then eat a variety of foods, in moderation.

I think of it like weight loss.  There’s no magic “meal pill” that will be a perfect meal for your body just like there’s no perfect “diet pill”.  It’s not rocket science.  To lose weight, eat less and exercise (in most cases).  Same with making food choices – eat in moderation, and eat a variety.  No sense in getting overwhelmed and freaked out!

Now go eat some meat!

These steaks may not be what I would consider moderation, but you can always share:)

These steaks may not be what I would consider moderation, but you can always share:)

This post originally ran on the CommonGround Nebraska blog.

To learn more about the CommonGround movement, click here.

Can we Find Common Cause with HSUS?

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack raised more than a few eyebrows this week at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting when he suggested that animal agriculture should “sit down and make common cause” with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and that those who are “engaged in constructive engagement … shouldn’t be faulted for doing so.”

Now I know that there are not too many fans of the Humane Society in this room. But egg producers thought it was in their best interest to avoid fifty different referendums, fifty different sets of rules. So they sat down with folks and they reached common ground. After all, isn’t that what we’re asking our Congress to do? Isn’t that what we’re asking our political leaders to do? To sit down and make common cause? I think the egg producers have the right idea.

no-hsusThere is no doubt that most livestock producers in the United States consider HSUS to be a threat to their operations – their business, their livelihoods, their very lifestyle. But it is an issue that crop farmers, particularly corn growers, need to be concerned about as well since it impacts your largest customer base. As the livestock industry goes, so goes the corn industry.

The question of whether agriculture should sit down with groups like HSUS to find “common cause” is a poll question this week on and while the answers had at first been running well against such dialogue, the poll has now been “hijacked” by HSUS who got out supporters to vote in favor. Overnight, the poll received nearly 400 responses in the affirmative – and some of the comments of those supporters show exactly why all of agriculture should be very afraid of their agenda.

“Let animals be animals, not commodities.”
“Stop the torture and Killing of the animals.”
“People should just stop eating animals period – there’s no such thing as humane murder.”

The ultimate agenda is obvious – the end to animal agriculture. Once the livestock industry begins to make concessions to animal rights activists that drastically change production methods it becomes a very slippery slope very quickly. It will only be a short matter of time before allowing chickens more room in cages becomes allowing all animals the right to life. Treating animals humanely is not the same as treating them like they are humans – but many activists see no difference.

With that, the question may actually be, can there even be “common cause” to find?

Farm Groups Disappointed in Farm Bill Extension

fps12-ncga-pamPretty much every farm organization has expressed disappointment over the nine-month farm bill extension included in the New Year’s Day fiscal cliff package, with the hope that Congress will do better in 2013.

“We don’t support an extension of the 2008 farm bill, we worked very hard to see reform,” said National Corn Growers Association president Pam Johnson, noting that the farm bill passed by the Senate in 2012 would have helped to reduce federal spending. “It would have saved $23 billion,” she said. “That’s what makes it so disappointing for us.”

Listen to my interview with Pam here: Interview with Pam Johnson

While it was the prospect of the so-called “dairy cliff” that led lawmakers to even think about a farm bill, it’s ironic that the National Milk Producers Federation is among the most unhappy with the outcome. National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) President and CEO Jerry Kozak called the extension a “devastating blow to the nation’s dairy farmers” that amounts to “shoving farmers over the dairy cliff without providing any safety net below.” He says that the dairy industry will continue to push the 113th Congress to pass a five year farm bill that includes the Dairy Security Act, which eliminates the dairy product price support program, direct payments, and export subsidies, and establishes a voluntary risk management tool for farmers which would cost taxpayers less.

Other groups including the American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, and American Soybean Association had similar “disappointed but optimistic” statements. Even Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he was “disappointed Congress has been unable to pass a multi-year reauthorization of the Food, Farm and Jobs bill to give rural America the long-term certainty they need and deserve” and that he will continue to work with Congress to pass a new bill.

At the same time, ag groups are pleased with some other parts of the fiscal cliff package, like the estate tax provisions and extension of alternative energy tax incentives. The estate tax was permanently set through the legislation at a rate of 40 percent on estates valued at $5 million, or $10 million per couple – better than the 55% on $1 million or more that was scheduled to become law.

The theme set by all is to continue working with the new Congress and hope that the nine month extension doesn’t mean it will be delayed and down to the wire – or past it – again at the end of 2013.

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