Corn Commentary

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

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



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