Corn Commentary

Getting the Word Out from Classic

2013 Commodity ClassicBy all accounts, the 2013 Commodity Classic was a record setter. The semi-final numbers are amazing at 6,180 attendees, 3,024 of which were growers and 1,024 first time attendees.

“There are more new people interested in coming to Commodity Classic,” said Ken Colombini, Communications Director for the National Corn Growers Association.

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But not every farmer can make it to the Classic, which is where the agricultural media comes in to get the word out to everyone back on the farm. That makes the more than 150 reporters who attend the event very important. “We try to have a full service media center here,” Ken said. That includes high speed internet access, audio and video feeds into the news room, and access to commodity group representatives. “Make sure that they are matched up with farmers when they want to do an interview.”

The media room also includes food and beverages for the media and it is all thanks this year to DuPont Crop Protection, who was the sponsor of the Commodity Classic media room. Speaking as a member of the media, we sincerely appreciate the work that goes in to providing a well-equipped and staffed news room. It makes our jobs covering a huge event like this so much easier!

Listen to an interview with Ken from Classic here: Interview with Ken Colombini

2013 Commodity Classic Photo Album

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.

Closing an Important Chapter in Farm Broadcasting

This week, National Corn Growers Association Past President Bart Schott and KFYR/KBMR Farm Radio Director Al Gustin sat down for their final interview together. Momentous for many reasons, this conversation marked not only one of the final of Gustin’s esteemed career but also served as a bookend for an on-air relationship that began decades prior.

See, Schott’s first television interview was also with Gustin. While both acknowledge that video footage no longer exists, Schott warmly shares memories of that day, talking about how the two young men worked together through what was a new experience for both. Now, as Gustin prepares to retire, both gentlemen handle the interview like old pros and like old friends.

Certainly, Gustin grew to become an impactful, important voice in farm radio over those decades. Broadcasting from Egypt, Jordan, China and Japan, Gustin traveled the world to bring the big stories that would impact U.S. farmers back home. At the same time, he developed meaningful relationships with so many in the ag community that his reports reflected a clear glimpse into the triumphs, struggles and inner workings of the industry and the men and women who constitute it.

While he has received awards too numerous to mention, Gustin has received a higher honor too. He has earned, through his personal character and professional excellence, the deep respect and sincere admiration of U.S. farmers like Schott.

To listen to the most recent interview, please click here.

Kentucky Shoppers Taking CommonGround Farmers Home

CommonGround Kentucky will be reaching out to start a conversation between the moms who grow food and the moms who buy it all next year through a series of articles in Today’s Family magazine. A free publication offered throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana, the magazine looks at the topics facing families today.

With so much confusion surrounding food and farming, Today’s Family readers, like families across the country, are looking for real resources to help them address their concerns. CommonGround Kentucky volunteers highlighted in the series want to share their knowledge and experiences with their neighbors off of the farm so that no one has to fear their food.

Take a moment to check out the article on CommonGround Kentucky volunteer Amanda Gajdzik featured in the current issue. A farmer who, along with her husband, grows apples, peaches, corn and soybeans in addition to raising beef cattle, Gajdzik speaks from personal experiences when addressing issues such as why food prices sometimes rise and how she cares for her cattle.

American Ethanol and NASCAR Make a Splash in USA Today

In an era of compartmentalized media, USA Today holds a unique position. A truly national newspaper with circulation only surpassed by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today reaches Americans across the country every day with bright graphics and its bold layout.

This Friday, American Ethanol and NASCAR celebrated hitting the three million mile mark in a very public way running a full-page announcement on the back cover of the popular daily’s Sports section. Drawing readers in with a visually arresting image showing the American Ethanol flag flying high over the pulse pounding racetrack action, the spread also provided exciting information about what switching to a 15 percent ethanol fuel blend has done for the sport and could do for American drivers off track too.

For two years, every vehicle in every NASCAR race has raced toward victory with E15 in the tank. Through the American Ethanol and NASCAR partnership, the nation’s top drivers, whether they race in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Trucks series, have trusted their tanks to this sustainable, renewable biofuel blend.

What have they found?

Running on a 15 percent ethanol blend has not only reduced their emissions by 20 percent, it has actually increased their horsepower. Ethanol provides the performance NASCAR drivers demand and fuels the pulse quickening action that keeps fans on the edge of their seats.

American Ethanol and NASCAR want to share the great news and celebrate this achievement with NASCAR fans and environmentalists alike. Whether reading USA Today in a hotel lobby or at the end of a driveway, sports fans across the country are joining in the celebration of America’s homegrown sport’s successes running on its homegrown fuel.

New NCGA President Meets the Press

Pam Johnson of Floyd, Iowa has been president of the National Corn Growers Association for just over a month now and Thursday she had her first real opportunity in that position to “meet the press” at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB).

Pam is the first woman president of NCGA but she takes exception to the idea that she is a “token” in a man’s world. “I’m a sixth generation farmer and I come from a long line of strong men AND women,” she said. “Just like anybody else, male or female, I had to work very hard, learn a lot, work together and compromise and come up through the chain.”

Pam says there is lots more opportunity for farm women to get involved in leadership positions than ever before. “I’ve got a lot of respect for women in agriculture, young and old,” said Pam, noting the great enthusiasm she witnessed at the Executive Women in Agriculture conference last year in Chicago.

Pam’s goals as president for NCGA are very simple. “To bring all that I am and all that I’ve learned to this position and be the best president that I can be for NCGA. That means that I will continue to advocate for the policies that we worked very hard to develop and advocate for our priorities as we move forward into this new year,” Pam said.

I also talked with Pam about her crop this year, how farming has changed in six generations on her farm, and the 2013 Commodity Classic.

Listen to my interview with Pam – one of dozens done Thursday with farm broadcasters! Interview with Pam Johnson

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 www.usda.gov, 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.

Two Newspapers, Two Paths to Farming

Sometimes, it is easy to lump people into a broad category. Elitist or plebian. Enviro-hippie or pollution-spewing Hummer nut. Midwestern bumpkin or coastal snob. While these labels make for a quick, easy way to write off people to whom we would prefer not listen, they do not account for our incredible ability as human beings to become deeper, more complex individuals. .

Two starkly different articles published this week on the role of farmers in modern America illustrated the importance of transformatory voices and the shared stories of people who have taken on unexpected roles can add nuance and insight to the national dialogue. A dialogue which, particularly in this election year, has grown shallow, partisan and generally uninformed.

Mark Bittman, a New York Times writer known more for his exquisite palate than economic aptitude, took on the state of U.S. farming from the viewpoint of a frequent diner at Manhattan’s upscale eateries.  Lamenting the inability of the general public to find the boutique produce his beloved celebre-chefs spend days chasing down, he boldly proposes overhauling all of agriculture to more closely resemble his Utopian vision. In Bittman’s America, everyone not only has seasonal access to the products he enjoys, which notably must not include a good steak, but also has the time and skill to lovingly coax them into gourmet dishes. The farmers whom he deems “real” likewise coax the finest heirloom tomatoes and leafy kale from one or two acres of land. He argues that that this will employ more Americans, who he presumes wish to be farmers, and will provide healthier food for all, with food stamp programs to help us all afford his posh produce.

A knee-jerk response would be to trash all intellectuals, painting them wish a broad brush as cluelessly out-of-touch with the vast majority of Americans who refuse to pay thirty bucks for a cup of soup, let alone spend countless hours in attempts to emulate it at home. Although tempting, this adds nothing to the dialogue.

Victor Davis Hanson does. In his Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Hanson writes the prose equivalent of an ode to the farmers who persevere in this year’s drought. Speaking of the character of the people who stand tall while the drought beats down upon them, Hanson champions crop insurance and agricultural productivity. A writer from California’s abundant heartland who grew up on a farm, he knows that of which he speaks.

“The mystery isn’t that we have devastating droughts like this summer’s, but that so few Americans manage to produce so much food against such daunting odds,” he explains, noting this view comes from personal experiences with his family’s raisin farm.

Eloquently weaving in references to ancient Greek philosophy, Hanson provides a look at the farmer that many would rarely see. Having more experience on the farms of California than Kansas, Hanson’s view of the farmer and modern productivity could grow with further study into the importance of ethanol, but why throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?

Hanson says something that, particularly in this hot, volatile climate, ALL farmers need to hear. You are appreciated. Facing a natural disaster of historic proportions, he voices the support that most Americans feel for the men and women who feed them.

Conversely, Bittman also offers a valuable lesson, particularly when contrasted with Hanson. It is vital that American farmers create an open dialogue about what they do. Farmers already have an amazing story. They live it every day. In sharing it, they foster a cooperative, positive environment, something that should be valued in these divisive times.

One thing is for certain. If Manhattan’s elite chefs take charge of this conversation, a seriously skewed version of reality may gain a foothold.  It would be a shame. We should celebrate reality; we should work to show the strong, resilient spirit behind modern ag innovation.

At NCGA, we have been doing this for many years. For those with most interest in learning about the abundance and, yes, diversity, of American agriculture, we offer links to:

It May Sound Corny…

Corny ArtIt may sound corny, but lately it seems that a lot of people talk about the omnipresence of corn. While this fact is inarguable, the negative tone of many articles on the corn-centric nature of our lives seems befuddling.  This week, the Kansas City Star took a more insightful approach to exploring how people interact with the crop in their daily lives.  As it turns out, a world without corn doesn’t seems like such a great place to live.

The author carefully walks through what a day without corn might look like. Unable to brush his teeth, scramble a decent egg and with his clothes falling to rags, he finds that corn actually makes small improvements to an incredible number of the items that make our lives more pleasant, healthy or comfortable.

The properties inherent to corn make it our nation’s most abundant crop for a reason. Lending useful applications to products as varied as pharmaceuticals and fireworks, corn may really be the glue the binds us together in many ways.

Another kernel of wisdom, it helps to make that glue too.

Corn is king not because it rules over us. Corn it king because IT RULES! Take a minute to check out how many great, interesting, useful ways that corn is used.

Farmers across the country work hard year in and year out to make sure there is a supply of corn so that consumers can enjoy everything from cosmetics to cola.  Let’s support the great efforts of our nation’s hardworking family farmers, even if it may sound corny to some ears.

A Tip of the Hat

As many media mercenaries continue misleading attempts to whip an already economically stressed public into a frenzy proclaiming the drought will hit their pocketbooks at the market this fall, the Associated Press offered a more balanced, thoughtful look at the possible impacts today.  Noting the many factors that impact food prices, the article carefully examined how a variety of factors keep food prices in check.

Taking the time to explain the difference between sweet corn and field corn may seem somewhat unnecessary to those who work the land daily, but it helps consumers understand the nuances of our industry.  Educated consumers are empowered consumers.  They have the knowledge and perspective to evaluate sensationalized claims with a critical eye.  An open, honest conversation about our food benefits consumers and farmers alike.

So, kudos AP. The tools farmers use to tell their story, such as CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, continue their work to help open this conversation. It is refreshing to see media taking on an active role in using its clout to educate its readership.  America’s family farmers appreciate the help.



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