Corn Commentary

Long Winter Takes a Hard Toll

red-barn-on-very-cold-winter-morning-dan-jurakFrom the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic, the long, cold winter has taken a toll on the spirits of people from all walks of life. From commuters sick of slugging away in traffic during snowy commutes to parents worn down by a barrage of weather-related school cancelations, winter’s death grip on much of the country seems to be firmly clenched as spring rapidly approaches.

For farmers, another concern looms on the horizon. While, like everyone else, they feel the physical and mental toll of the long, dark winter, many also see what may be a frantic late spring as deeper-than-normal frost level and below-normal temperatures will likely delay planting from the western Midwest to the Northern Plains. Soggy fields drenched in melting snow could spread the planting problems to the eastern Midwest too, according to DTN Senior Meteorologist Bryce Anderson.

What will happen when winter finally gives way may be pure speculation but predictions of frenzied planting seem a likely prospect. The work may be hard, with planters running late into the night, but know that America’s corn farmers are up to the task. Using modern technology, such as planters that can cover ground quickly and seeds that can reach maturity despite delays, American agriculture stands ready to roll as soon as winter’s icy claws loosen their hold.

For now, we all wait for a much-anticipated spring together. When it comes, Americans can enjoy the warm rays and relax knowing farmers will be hard at work preparing a crop to get them restocked with food, feed and fuel for the year to come.

National Corn Growers Association members can get a head start planning for planting by using the FMC Weather Advisor Benefit. Offering the latest scientific information regarding outlooks for temperature and precipitation, this valuable service shines a ray of light on how weather conditions will impact farms across the country over the weeks and months to come. So, get insider insight today that will help plan for tomorrow by clicking here.

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.

Is Corn Boom Ending?

boomThat’s a question asked recently by University of Illinois ag economists Darrel Good and Scott Irwin.

In a FarmDocDaily article, Good and Irwin noted that the U.S. corn industry experienced a significant “growth spurt” beginning in the 2007-08 marketing year that continued through the 2011-12 marketing year.

That 5-year boom period was characterized by larger consumption, larger production, and higher prices; a combination that demonstrates the strong demand for U.S. corn beginning in 2007-08. The issue moving forward is whether or not demand for U.S. corn has peaked. The answer to the question has important implications for corn prices, farm incomes, land prices, and corn processing and handling industries.

The question of future corn demand requires a look at each of the three major consumption sectors – ethanol, feed, and exports – and that is just what the economists did, coming up with this conclusion:

The recent period of growth in the U.S. corn industry appears to have peaked. The domestic ethanol market has hit the E10 blend wall and will be dependent on consumption of higher blends in order to expand total domestic consumption and to increase corn consumption. The domestic livestock industry is also mature and may require larger exports for production growth. Finally, the corn export market has become a lot more competitive in the past several years as high corn prices have stimulated an increase in world production. If the size of the U.S. corn market has peaked, a period of lower prices and reduced acreage may be required.

The key word in that last sentence is “if” and it can certainly be argued that there is still room for growth in the corn market, maybe not booming, but certainly not busting.

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.

Olympic Gold Medalist Promotes Corn

While the Summer Olympics were going on in London, a gold medalist from the Winter Olympics was talking corn in Omaha at the American Coalition for Ethanol conference, thanks to the Nebraska Corn Board.

Curt Tomasevicz, a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic 4-man bobsled team, grew up in a small Nebraska farming community and now helps promote corn in the Cornhusker State. “That agricultural-based community got me to the Olympics,” Curt said of his hometown of Shelby, Nebraska, which boasts a population of 690. “I learned those lessons from those corn farmers that work hard every day, knowing that there’s good days and bad days, good years and bad years.”

Listen to Curt’s remarks at ACE here: Curt Tomasevicz at ACE

In an interview with Curt, he told me why he is a spokesperson for the Nebraska Corn Board. “To have that kind of support coming from a farm-based community, the logical thing for me to do is try to give something back to them,” he said. “Farmers are not competing for gold medals but at the same time they’re working hard to produce something, like corn. They work just as hard, if not harder, than Olympians.” Curt does personal appearances for the Nebraska Corn Board around the state at agricultural and civic events, as well as schools.

Listen to my interview with Curt here: Curt Tomasevicz interview

Kim Clark, director of biofuels development for the Nebraska Corn Board, was also at the ACE conference and she not only introduced Curt at the luncheon where he spoke, but she also gave an update on what they are doing to help get more blender pumps out in the state. “The corn board feels blender pumps are really important, especially for the state of Nebraska, since we are the number two producer of ethanol,” she said, noting that they set aside $750,000 this year to help promote installation of pumps. There are nearly 20 in the state now and about 30 new pumps are expected to be installed within the next year.

One of their challenges is getting into the larger cities of Nebraska, like Omaha, where there are currently no blender pumps available. “With the new grant program of $40,000 per location, that has gotten a lot more retailers interested,” she said.

Listen to my interview with Kim here: NE Corn Board's Kim Clark

Hot? Irritable? Cranky? Imagine Watching Your Paycheck Burn Up Too

Can you imagine the feeling of waking up in the morning and realizing that it would be 13 months before you got another paycheck? The drought has farm families across the Midwest pondering just that as relentlessly hot, dry conditions turn the nation’s heartland from a breadbasket into an oven.

In a recent story from Voice of America, DuBois, Ill. farmer Alan Bowers Jr. explained what many family farmers in the central and southern Corn Belt feel as they watch the crop that they invested time, sweat and money in this spring wilt.  Blowing away, the corn becomes part of the dust that normally yields the most abundant crop in the world.

Using a simple, yet eloquent analogy, DuBois compared his corn and soybean crop to a paycheck.  Drawing on this common idea, he places in stark perspective how dire the situation facing many farm families may seem.

This candid look at farming stands in contrast to the multitude of mainstream news stories promoting the fallacious idea that farmers do not care about the crop. The emotional toll of seeing hard work wither due to circumstances well beyond human control aside, crop insurance ensures that family farmers like DuBois can make ends meet until the next season.  It ensures that natural disasters do not cause our nation’s agricultural sector to disintegrate.

Crop insurance places exists because Americans value their abundant, affordable, safe supply of food and the farm families who produce it.  Americans understand the integral role these hard working individualists play in the fabric of our national character and in our economy. Maintaining their ability to farm next year when confronted with such enormous, unstoppable obstacles makes sense.  Understanding their frustration in watching the crop slip away does too.

As drought conditions persist, remember that the people who grow food, the people who raise it and those who eat it all must endure these trying conditions together. Looking toward one another with understanding and compassion can ease the stress placed on one another, even if it cannot ease the stress placed on the crops.

Global Warming: Could Media-Generated Hot Air Be a Cause?

As temperatures across the Midwest soar into the triple digits with little chance for rain or relief in sight, talking heads have started to blabber on again about how the drought will hit consumer’s wallets.  Adding further pain to the heat-induced misery, these armchair economists stoke the fires of already burning financial concerns.

Yelling “fire” in a crowded theater may grab attention and cause alarm, but it is illegal to do so for a reason.  Causing panic for the sake of causing panic does not have a public benefit.

A more cynical commentator might note that it does help drive rating and generate revenue. But instead of focusing on the fray, take a look at the facts.

According to a newly released study from National Public Radio’s Planet Money series, Americans today spend less on groceries than they did 30 years ago, nearly a full five percentage points less.  Prices have declined across the board with some staple items, such as butter and chicken legs, down by 35 percent.  Even a steak costs 30 percent less.

Will a drought impact America’s corn crop this year? Almost certainly.  Does this spell dire circumstances that will leave the grocery consuming public taking out loans to feed their family with healthy, safe food? Almost certainly not.

In today’s America, what is truly in jeopardy is a sense of perspective.  Banners flash before already stressed eyes on the evening news making dire declarations.  Weary from battling real issues all day, these prophets of pain become an echoing chorus of doom drumming away basic sanity.  Frantic feelings froth to a frenzy as the spiral of sustained stress with the prognosticators acting like an emotional succubus that feeds on America’s anxieties.

Stay calm.  It may be hot outside, but cooler heads can prevail.  Calmly, remember that America has the safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply in its history.  The percentage of income needed to eat well has dropped to one of, if not the, lowest level in the developed world.  Through innovation and hard work, farmers prove, time after time, that they can and will feed America, no matter what challenges they face.

Optimism for the Corn Crop

The first U.S. Department of Agriculture outlook for this year’s corn crop is calling for record yields and record production.

The May 10 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report projects U.S. feed grain supplies for 2012/13 at a record 416.3 million tons, up 16 percent from 2011/12 at a record 416.3 million tons, with corn production called at a record 14.8 billion bushels, up 2.4 billion from 2011/12.

A projected 5.1-million acre increase in harvested area and higher expected yields, compared with 2011/12, sharply boost production prospects. The 2012/13 corn yield is projected at a record 166.0 bushels per acre, 2.0 bushels above the 1990-2010 trend reflecting the rapid pace of planting and emergence. Despite the lowest expected carry-in in 16 years, corn supplies for 2012/13 are projected at a record 15.7 billion bushels, up 2.2 billion from 2011/12. Total U.S. corn use for 2012/13 is projected up 9 percent from 2011/12 on higher feed and residual disappearance, increased use for sweeteners and starch, and larger exports.

Under the corn usage category, USDA is increasing feed and residual use by 900 million bushels based on a sharp rebound in residual disappearance with the record crop and an increase in feeding with lower corn prices and higher expected pork and poultry production and exports are projected to be 200 million bushels higher than last year on abundant domestic supplies, lower prices, and higher expected China demand. Projected corn use for ethanol is unchanged at five billion bushels on the year as weak gasoline consumption limits domestic blending opportunities.

Of course, the downside to bigger supplies is lower prices. USDA is projecting at this point that the season-average farm price this year will be somewhere around $4.20 to $5.00 per bushel, down sharply from the 2011/12 record projected at $5.95 to $6.25 per bushel but still much better than it used to be.

Small Numbers Indicate a Big Change for Corn Farmers

Planting Progress as of April 2, 2012While the numbers released in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Crop Progress report might not have appeared stunning at first glance, closer examination shows that farmers across the Corn Belt are planting earlier than normal.  The report, which indicated that planting was three-percent complete nationally, showed corn planting progress prior to the first or second Sunday in April for the first time in 32 years.

What will this mean?  Possibly nothing, but, then again, it could indicate a variety of outcomes for the 2012 crop.

Higher-than-normal soil temperatures and favorable soil moisture across the Midwest, which weather forecasts suggest will persist, could provide an early window for rapid progress and germination.

For two years now, farmers in many areas have seen lower-than-expected yields due to weather difficulties.  While early, the possibility that 2012 will usher in more favorable conditions and a more bountiful crop is certainly welcome.

Coupling the optimistic outlook early planting demonstrates with estimates that more acres will be planted to corn than since 1937, it becomes possible to envision an abundant harvest this fall.

As any veteran agriculturalist understands, fall remains far in the distance and many troubles could still impede progress.  Just for a moment though, many feel a warm sun beating on their backs as, like every year, they toil in their fields in the hopes that this year will prove better than the last.

Want Cutting-Edge Technology in Your Workplace? Farmers Do Too

Imagine how differently a day at the office might have been in 1961.  A secretarial pool takes the place of word processing software.  Googling a subject might take hours and physical labor sifting through back editions of the paper or encyclopedias and still yield limited results.  Email communications require a phone call, paper memo or even a written letter sent through courier or mail without the Internet.  Once out of the office, communication ceases unless a coworker dials a landline nearby.

While most people have capriciously wished for an end to modern technology following a particularly annoying late-night text from an employer, only the smallest minority actually advocates a return to the workplace technology of 50 years ago.

So, why do so many people outside of agriculture think that a return to equally antiquated technology would actually improve farming?

Recently, a column in Stock and Land magazine examined the impact of a large-scale return to the farming methods of our forefathers, a romantic notion with dismal consequences. Instead of growing a crop large enough to share with the world, U.S. farmers would produce only enough food to feed half of the country’s current population.  Maintaining levels of dairy, meat and milk production would require two-thirds more land.  Increased environmental degradation and social unrest further complicate this already hungry scenario.

Simply, removing technology and scientific advances from modern life seriously damages productivity and effectiveness whether done in corporate or agrarian America.  Notably, the negative impact on farming creates a food shortage thus depriving an incredible number of those in towns and cities of the sustenance needed to survive.

Instead of buying into the soft-focus vision of farming that replaces knowledge and understanding with a vague sense of nostalgia, get the facts.  Question the farmers and ranchers who produce food about how and why they use the technology and practices that they do.  Look at the bounty of healthy options U.S. agriculture offers.  Become part of national discussion about food that seeks a better tomorrow instead of a rose-tinted version of the past.



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