Corn Commentary

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?

Radio Report Shares Story of Full Impact, Importance of Farm Bill

Sometimes, it seems as if the reality of farming in the United States gets lost in the media shuffle. With so much attention turned towards serious situations abroad or sensationalized scandals at home, thoughtful journalism on the issues affecting American agriculture often do not make the front page unless a major weather event, such as a drought, raises concerns over availability or food prices.

Yesterday, National Public Radio’s Here and Now provided an in-depth look at why the farm bill matters to rural America. Focusing on the positive impact of crop insurance, this piece provides a look at why an issue some might dismiss as only important to farmers actually matters for the multitude of businesses that depend upon farmer dollars.

Farmers might not agree with every word uttered by every party interviewed for the story. Certainly, there are as many opinions about the course of this legislation as there are producers touched by it. For everyone involved in agriculture, such well-reasoned, rational radio does provide a benefit in introducing a nuanced narrative to listeners who might not be otherwise familiar with the issue.

As Congress returns from recess, American agriculture must tell its story. It is critical for the men and women who farm to explain the importance of crop insurance to them personally. Likewise, we need to relate the importance to the vast web of equipment dealers, bankers, seed providers and others who benefit from a healthy farming economy. We need to put forth the time and effort and spur Congress to action because we do need a farm bill now.

So take a listen. The story is yours to tell.

In a Deluge of Details, Seek Out the Substance of the Story

Menus at many of the hottest restaurants in cities from Portland to Princeton read like a carefully crafted tome of local one-upmanship. The Smith family loving raised the joyful cow who willingly ended its sunny, grass-fed existence to bring you the finest six-ounce filet that money can buy. The Swiss chard accompanying it actually comes from the Jones family down the lane and three houses to the left. Chefs and aspiring novelists have teamed up to tell the entire backstory of your meal. With so much focus on the farmers behind one’s brunch, diners continue to coo overly-emotive praise at the resourcefulness of the establishment capable of finding family farmers to provide their posh plates.

The underlying assumption is that the ingredients listed with the pinpoint precision honestly required only by a logistics manager are unique because they come from a family farm. As everyone seems to know, there are hardly any of those left.

The Washington Post boldly lifted the starched tablecloth off of the hidden truth this week explaining that, in all reality, 96.4 percent of America’s farms are family farms. The article that exposed the farming industry for what it really is, one made up of family-owned and operated businesses, explained how America’s family farmers have grown the amount of land they cultivate or increased the number of chickens in their flock through hard work and modern technology. Recognizing the ability of family farmers to adapt a rapidly-changing world, the Post provided a peak behind the farm gate many haven’t seen for generations.

For many, the term family farm comes wrapped in a gauzy haze of sepia-toned associations. Family farms may be larger than the nostalgia-fueled diners notions may dictate suit their idyllic fantasy farm, but words have specific meanings even if one chooses surround them in clouds of self- created implications and associations.

Take a moment to find out what real family farmers are like today by clicking here. Family farms may have grown, but the farmers themselves still strive to feed every American as if they were part of their own family. Enjoy this bounty knowing that, even if it doesn’t come accompanied by a novella of names, it probably does come from a family farm.

Rural America: Today’s Canary in the Coal Mine

ETHANOL-1-hpMediumEthanol has not just fueled a movement toward domestically-produced, greener, renewable fuels in America, it has fueled a resurgence in the small communities that provide the backbone of our national character.

Rural America, simultaneously idealized in culture and forgotten in national debate, surged back to life during the biofuels boom. Children who only a generation earlier would have been forced to leave their homes in search of opportunities after college came back to their families. Equipment dealers, small bankers, coffee shop owners and so many others benefitted from the locally-owned plants that fueled our nation’s cars and trucks. Ethanol not only helped clean our air, it helped rebuild small towns and strengthen rural communities.

This quiet story, forgotten by a media that glamorizes a more fast-paced, high profile lifestyle, has been largely ignored. Victims of their remote geography and of the very values which set them apart, the farmers, small business owners and many others who struggled to build an energy secure, environmentally sustainable tomorrow for our country once again fade conveniently into sepia-toned memories of a bygone era.

Yet, someone has taken notice. Following in the noble footsteps of journalists like Dorothea Lang who detailed the ravages of the Great Depression, the New York Times gave a voice to one rural Missouri community. Here, the suffering from the anti-ethanol sentiment purposefully ignited to maintain the energy monopolies of the past is tangible. These men and women feel the immediate pain of a system that eschews the science and sense of Americans growing fuel for their cars and their economy.

Before spewing spurious statements and invoking the en vogue rhetoric, take a moment to consider the palpable consequences already taking hold by clicking here.

The men and women who became entrepreneurs, risking everything to build our biofuels industry, questioned the status quo. They did not accept the polished propaganda carefully designed to denigrate their dreams. In that spirit, one of optimism and rugged individualism, take a moment to consider the facts.

Obviously, someone has something to gain from this biofuels backlash. A great deal of time and effort has been put into convincing the American people to follow suit. Refuse to be a part of the crowd that would hand our nation’s energy security and environmental health to the silver tongued, covert coalition on a silver platter.

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.

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.

classic13-media
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



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