Corn Commentary

In the Drone Debate, Watch What You Wish For

Grist published another gripping piece today on the important role drones can play in the “fight against Big Ag.” The post, based on a blaring inaccuracy at its core, posited that “If you were privy to everything that went on inside a factory farm, you might never want to eat again.” Then, it proposed drones were the answer to getting behind those “closed doors.”

Putting aside the note that gates would create a more accurate analogy, let’s look at the base issues.

Gates paint a more accurate picture not only because they are what actually encompass most farms. They are also more similar in that you can see through them.

Farmers and ranchers across the country ARE opening their farms to show how they grow and raise our food. A wide array of groups, including programs like CommonGround, organize farm tours where bloggers, dietitians and just regular families can visit a wide array of farm and ranches to see ag in action. Simply pushing these efforts aside seems cynical or intentionally obtuse.

Next, the basic reasoning that agenda-driven cynics have a right to enter private property to see exactly what is “going on” makes little sense. In implying that anyone denying them immediate, complete access to the place where they not only work but also live, the author sets up a standard to which I doubt she would hold herself.

Simply, Samantha, do you ever write from home? As you work at home and I am skeptical of what may be “going on” there, may I come on over? Take a look around? I think people want to know if your work area creates mental confusion that comes through in your writing. Personally, I like to look through people’s medicine cabinets to get a clearer picture.

Better yet! Why not just have drones hover outside of your windows looking in at all times? That is what you propose for farmers and ranchers. Constant surveillance.

Farmers and ranchers do want to have a dialogue with the public about how food is grown and raised. They don’t want to invite people ideologically opposed to modern agriculture into the very place that they live. It isn’t because they have something to hide; it is because they know that their open, honest efforts are often met with closed minds and a blatant refusal to consider the validity of their statements.

Unless anti-ag activists feel perfectly comfortable being under constant drone surveillance themselves, it is radically hypocritical to promote doing so to someone else. And, for those who take this side of the argument, there is another question. How long until someone turns the drones on you?

The More You Know

The More You KnowRemember the PSA’s that used to run with a tagline of “The More You Know?” They provided a helpful little piece of info on a broad array of subject? Today, Real Clear Science writer Ross Pomeroy offered up a succinct PSA of his own correcting misconceptions about organic and conventional agriculture with scientific information.

So what is the 15-second sound bite? Produce, whether conventional or organic, is equally safe and nutritious.

His story, “The Biggest Myth about Organic Farming,” examines the scientific realities behind many common consumer misconceptions. From exploring whether one method is healthier to explaining organics are grown using pesticides too, Pomeroy pummels the marketing hype which fosters fear and gives way to guilt among well-intentioned shoppers.

To read the full article, click here.

The truth is simple. Consumers have many choices. American farmers work to grow healthy, nutritious foods, and American shoppers have the right to decide what they prefer to purchase. What consumers need to know though is the facts that empower them to make the best decisions for their families.

The more you know about American farming, the more you know what an incredible, innovative industry it is, and the more you know about the wide variety of production options which all provide equally nutritious, healthy food for people in a way that is equally good for the environment.

So, take a moment to share his story. The more we all know, the better off we will be.

In Battle Against Misinformation, Barbre Leads by Example

NCGA President Martin Barbre put pen to paper this week to correct an anti-ethanol article run by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Taking decisive action to address the misinformation published, Barbre not only shed light on an important subject for readers but also led by example.

To read “Opinion Piece on Ethanol Gets Three Things Wrong,” click here.

So often, farmers see, hear or read fallacies about their industry perpetuated in the media. It is easy to fall victim to inertia. It is easy to get worked up among one’s peers. It takes greater effort and even a bit of hutzpah to speak out publicly, answering back critics in a respectful, well-considered manner. Yet, it is only in using your voices, your energy and your knowledge that you can become an advocate and shape the world around you.

Newspapers accept letters to the editor and opinion pieces every day. Likewise, calling the local television or radio newsroom producer can yield results too. So, take the initiative. Write a letter, offer to speak as an expert on a news program and provide a farmer’s point of view. The first step away from that resting position is the hardest; realize it gets easier from there.

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.

First, Do No Harm

Whether you first heard it on a television drama about incredibly attractive doctors or in a med school classroom yourself, most Americans know that the Hippocratic Oath commits medical professionals to “first, do no harm.” It is a basic principle that guides their ethics and upon which all patients rely. Given this oath, how then does Dr. Oz justify the harm he causes the American public in his relentless pursuit of his real guiding principle – profit?

Corn Commentary bloggers have previously mused over the misguided, ill-informed and even outright fallacies promoted by Dr. Oz and other merchants of dietary doom. Yet, as a doctor, Dr. Oz swore to uphold a higher principle than greed. He took the Hippocratic Oath.

This weekend, I realized just how much harm an infotainment shock jock can do when masquerading in a white doctor’s coat and scrubs. He can create fear that, in turn, causes well-meaning consumers to make financially harmful decisions.

A friend who I know to be on a budget related how his wife insisted upon bringing home organic products, from produce to processed cookies and sodas, because she saw that it was better on the Dr. Oz Show. Even after considering the wealth of research on the subject, she insisted that Dr. Oz must be right because:

1. He was a doctor.

2. He was such a respected doctor that he was on television.

Attempts to correct the many misconceptions on which this argument is based aside, the caring, concerned mother felt that she had to pay a seriously premium price tag for groceries based solely on the pseudoscience presented on the Dr. Oz Show. The food offered no greater nutritional value. Her choices were no better informed in terms of the actual dietary value of the foods. Instead, she paid money her family would have to scrimp and save to cut from elsewhere in the budget for products which would not make them any healthier.

Maybe Dr. Oz doesn’t see the harm because the paychecks he cashes insulate him from the worries he creates for normal Americans. Maybe he doesn’t care. But for anyone who faces the day with a finite amount of funding and an unwavering determination to do what is best for their family, his willingness to eschew sound science in the pursuit of panic-driven ratings does do harm. It harms the confidence of everyday moms trying to care for their families. It harms the budgets of those who truly believe they must break their budget to meet the Dr.’s deceitful demands. It harms the general understanding of food-related issues amongst the American public.

There is no reason to trust a doctor who does not stand by the oath that establishes the ethical standards of his profession. There is no reason to trust Dr. Oz.

While Farmers Excel, Journalism Falls Another Rung Down the Ladder

The Washington Examiner needs to examine their facts before publishing pure poppycock. In an article which ran on December 20, the paper claimed that National Corn Growers Association National Corn Yield Contest record holder David Hula grew his record-breaking bounty using organic production practices. Contest records clearly show this is completely untrue.

Hula, a perennial winner, deserves both recognition and admiration for his abilities. NCGA enthusiastically congratulates him on his accomplishment. The contest aims to encourage innovation and improvement, a goal Hula undoubtedly achieved.  The fact that he did not grow his corn organically in no way, shape or form diminishes his success.

The false story published in the Examiner does detract from the overall success of modern famers though. Within days, anti-GMO activists have latched on to this pseudo-story to aid in their agenda-driven arguments. A record yield such as Hula’s would support arguments for the production possibilities using organic methods. But the record was not set using organic methods. So, the support they so desire does not exist.

NCGA keeps detailed records from each entry submitted to the NCYC. The information these forward-facing farmers provide sheds light on possible advancements and supplies the documentation needed to ensure the integrity of the contest. .  The Biovante™ soil treatment Hula used may qualify as an organic treatment, but none of his other practices would qualify as organic.  Like the vast majority of corn growers, he planted corn hybrids that contain biotechnology, used synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. Organic production practices would not allow the use of any one of these tools.

The Examiner should take a closer look at how it fact checks its stories prior to publication. By not getting the story right, they turned a success story from America’s farms into a tool for activists who advocate against them.

Corn Commentary for Farm Broadcasters

There was lots of corn commentating going on last week at the 70th annual National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) annual meeting in Kansas City.

nafb13-martinThe National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is a big supporter of the guys and gals who put farm news on radio and television stations and the internet. “It gives us the opportunity to get our message out to the public and to farmers,” said NCGA President Martin Barbre.

NCGA sponsors the welcoming reception for the NAFB and then organization leaders do tons of interviews with the broadcasters during the annual Trade Talk, which is where I interviewed Martin about a number of topics, including but not limited to, the farm bill and WRRDA. Interview with NCGA president Martin Barbre

nafb13-ncgaNCGA First Vice President Chip Bowling of Maryland was also on hand to chat with the broadcasters. He also talked about the farm bill, like everyone else, and about environmental regulations in his area around the Chesapeake Bay that are threatening agricultural producers.

It was especially interesting to farm broadcasters from the Midwest to get a different perspective on corn farming from a producer on the East coast. “In the Mid-Atlantic, we started planting corn right around the first of April, we had a good start and the corn crop just took off from the get-go and grew,” said Chip, noting it was a lot different this year in the Corn Belt. “Obviously with 14 billion bushels coming off, somebody grew a lot of good corn.”

Leah Guffey interviews Chip here: Interview with NCGA first VP Chip Bowling

2013 NAFB Convention Photo Album

Newspaper’s Credibility At Issue

In 36 years of being directly involved in agriculture and the issues that make it so…interesting, frustrating, rewarding, and painful…I have only seen one positive story written about the issues effecting the profession, especially ethanol, in the Chicago Tribune. I remain convinced to this day that it was a mistake that slipped by editors and that the cub reporter responsible is driving a cab in the Loop and speaking in tongues.

I think it is ok to say this Windy City pub never met a farm policy or ethanol issue they didn’t like to bash, facts aside. Apparently farmers are immune to the whims of business considerations like making enough to pay the bills and plant another crop. Why else would the Trib opine that farmers are getting more for their corn after a 25 year economic drought that saw farmers getting $2 to $2.50 a bushel regardless of real world cost or demand? (Let alone make such comments in the wake of prices just dropping 40 percent).

So, following their direction, I guess all of you farmers can get off your combines and retire. Apparently you have spent your entire life, not to mention several generations, involved in the most under appreciated hobby in history. No more production of food, feed, or fiber. No more ethanol fuel because we are just going to continue to depend on prickly and dangerous oil producing nations for their finite black gold.

On a more serious note, I think the Tribune needs to be called on the carpet for the sham they have been selling to the public for years that they have a pro-business/pro-jobs position.

Despite dozens of third party experts bringing them information backed by science that exposes the errors in their thinking the Trib, especially its editorial writers, remain steadfast in their spewing of misinformation and loathing of ethanol despite its emergence as a critical economic engine in much of the U.S. Are these folks not suspicious or troubled at all by the millions of dollars being spent by the petroleum industry in recent years to damage the reputation of ethanol. One of the tenants of good journalism is to follow the money in trying to understand societal issues. Clearly Goliath is trying to squash David and somebody should be asking why.

Here are a few of the factual perversions in their latest diatribe:

  • Farmers are not planting as much corn as possible. In fact we are 20 million acres shy of planting the acres we did in the 1920s.
  • The Trib notes we use 40% of the corn crop to make ethanol. Actually we use the equivalent of only 27% of the crop because only the starch from the corn kernel is used to make ethanol. The protein for livestock feed is concentrated, easier to transport and a high value product.
  • Blaming corn for higher meat prices is also off base. Declining domestic meat consumption and the outrageous cost of transportation of all food products to market – thank you big oil – has something to do with that.
  • Plant diseases and pests are nothing new. Farmers deal with them all the time and do so very well thank you. Goss’s wilt that you reference touches only 10% of the corn crop, and is far from being devastating, unless of course you fall in the 10%.
  • And did you actually criticize crop insurance in one breath while also intimating we should take away a farmer’s ability to choose what to plant? That will make the kids want to return to the farm business.

Farmer Assurance Provision Protects Farmers, Not Monsanto

Painting a seriously skewed portrait of the Farmer Assurance Provision, Elizabeth Kucinich played on anti-Monsanto, anti-capitalist sentiment in an attempt to whip up public fervor against a sensible law designed to protect America’s farm families. The resulting piece, which ran on the Huffington Post, uses a truly ridiculous combination of ominous implications and arguments based to mislead the masses and, in doing so, further the lack of understanding that makes so many people many fearful of their food.

The Farmer Assurance Provision, in its essence, protects American family farmers who, due to often-frivolous lawsuits based in procedural arguments and directed at major corporations, could face serious economic harm. This provision reassure farmers that they can plant and harvest crops developed through biotechnology already approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under a temporary stewardship agreement in the event of litigation against the agencies decision.

In simple terms, the FAP removes a potentially significant financial risk facing farmers. Without this important piece of legislation, the regulatory process for biotechnology would leave the family farmers who purchase seeds approved by their government vulnerable to costly losses should an activist group choose to legally challenge the government’s decision. Without this provision, these men and women, acting in good faith, become collateral damage in an ideological battle between those who embrace and those who eschew science.

The need for such protection has been made evident over the past several years as opponents of agricultural biotechnology have repeatedly filed lawsuits against the USDA on procedural grounds. In filing these suits, the anti-activists aim to disrupt the regulatory process and, in a broader fashion, undermine the science-based regulation of biotech ag products. These lawsuits strain USDA resources and delay the approval of new, innovative products America’s farmers need to grow abundant, affordable food and remain internationally competitive.

Kucinich goes so far as to advocate for these types of attacks. Implying that chemical herbicides and genetically engineered crops should be met with public rage, notably without giving any reason why these extensively tested, proven technological advances are anything less than revolutionary, she rages blindly against a world in which innovation generates a profit.

Furthermore, this farmer-bashing fiasco of a post then begins makes a massive leap into the realm of food labeling to continue its tirade against the companies who provide farmers with new technologies. She points out companies such as Monsanto and DuPont have spent money to fight GMO labeling campaigns. She fails to evaluate the actual propositions in any way. In the case of California, she conveniently forgets to mention the proposed legislation was actually backed by trial lawyers looking to find their next cash cow. Presumably, she feels comfortable with predatory lawsuits that generate no value for the community but not with companies investing in ag research and supplying the innovations needed to feed a growing world turning a profit.

While she may not understand sound science and live in constant denial of the overwhelming evidence that biotechnology is not only safe but is beneficial, she masterfully demonstrates her knowledge of how to engineer panic and fear. Her post expertly manufactures the perception of public outrage and uses it as grounds on which to attack a provision intended to protect America’s farm families from her assault on science. The scorched-earth mentality of this assault demonstrates her deep desire to maintain a weapon that inflicts massive collateral damages on honest, hardworking farm families. Rather than demonstrating a deep insight into the FAP, GMO labeling initiatives, sound science or capitalism, she exposes both her ignorance and rage-fueled fervor to burn down anything which she doesn’t understand.

Don’t fall for the self-serving hype disguised as righteous indignation. Take the step she doesn’t and get the facts. The rhetoric may be rousing, but her assault on the Farmer Assurance Provision is actually on America’s farm families.

American Character Fuels Future of Our Farms

Farming looks quite different in America than it does in Europe. While many offhandedly write off the modernizations that allow American farmers to produce such an abundant, affordable food supply by characterizing U.S. farmers as passive pawns of agribusiness, The Economist magazine dug deeper in recent article and found American farming to be a product more of a forward-looking, achievement-driven national character. A character carefully cultivated in young farmers very much by design.

To see the full article, click here.

This close examination finds that the history of the New World necessitated farmers find ways to feed a fast growing, wide spread population. The attitudes embraced by immigrants, forward-thinking and innovative individualists, led American farmers to more easily embrace changing technology and science. The New World looked forward. The Old World embraced the past.

Today, as the article notes, organizations aimed at developing a scientifically minded, industrious generation of new farmers, such as 4-H, mold young agriculturalists to embrace science. Through programs such as these, America continues to push forward in farming, as it does in many other areas.

As Americans, we must continue to focus on the core values that fueled the incredible growth of our nation. As a society, we embrace technology rapidly, craving the newest medical and communications advances. By applying the same fervor to agriculture, we can use the tools developed in our research labs and in our nation’s fields. Together, we must embrace the technologies that move agriculture forward to meet tomorrow’s demands.

America’s young farmers see a vibrant vision of what farming can be. Why encumber them with a social and political environment that would prefer looking toward the past?



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