Corn Commentary

Farmer’s View of Sustainability

walmartWalmart held a big event last week where the CEOs of major global companies made new commitments toward more sustainable products.

Among the food and agribusiness company CEOs taking part were Monsanto, Cargill, Dairy Farmers Incorporated, General Mills and Kellogg, many whom talked about how they will be working with farmers on sustainability goals.

Monsanto chairman and CEO Hugh Grant announced two commitments to help address challenges in the areas of water and nutrient efficiency. First, the company will work to increase water-use efficiency in irrigation across its own global seed production operations by 25 percent by 2020. Grant also pledged that the company “will continue to innovate and advance smarter seeds and precision management tools that enable farmers to use nutrients more efficiently and curb greenhouse gas emissions on one million acres in the United States by 2020.”

corzine2In making the announcement, Grant asked Illinois farmer and former National Corn Growers Association president Leon Corzine to join him and talk about what these commitments mean for the agriculture community. “As we have these discussions, farmers need to be represented so everyone has a better understanding of what farmers are actually doing on the farm,” said Leon, noting he was able to attend the event because they had just finished corn planting so his son Craig said it was okay for him to go.

“One of the things Craig and I talk about that I learned from my dad and granddad is a personal initiative to leave the farm better than we found it,” Leon said. “That’s really what sustainability is all about.”

Leon talked about the “awesome” technology farmers have today that helps farmers be more efficient and “increase productivity while lowering our environmental footprint.” He just made a great case for farmers as stewards of the land that the non-ag media on the call really need to hear.

Listen to Leon’s comments were: Illinois Farmer Leon Corzine on Sustainability

Energy Independence No Greased Pig Fantasy

There is an old saying…”make hay while the sun is shining.” Dating back to at least 1546 this traditional farmer logic translates into grab opportunity while you can. This has never been truer regarding the nation’s energy situation. A new report by the Energy Information Administration makes that abundantly clear. EIA says the greased pig fantasy of energy independence in the US is real.

We’ve reduced our dependence on foreign oil from 60 percent to 45 percent in the last few years. This is real, quantifiable progress brought on by smaller, high mileage vehicles, less driving due to a sagging economy, 15 billion gallons of ethanol capacity and domestic oil production on steroids.

Net oil imports to the U.S. could fall to zero by 2037 because of robust production in areas including North Dakota’s Bakken field and Texas’s Eagle Ford formation, according to this Department of Energy projection released this week.

Most days I am just numb about government studies and gasoline prices. I pull up to the pump, try to ignore the price and move on about my day. But there are other days too when I am angry about being held hostage by oil companies, and especially about their cavalier approach to crushing any real competition.

And that is exactly that they are trying to do with ethanol today.  So, here is a novel thought. Let’s take this time of energy abundance to think big and invest in a more sustainable energy future rather than waiting until the wolf is at the door. Because, rest assured petroleum remains finite and the next generation will wonder why we squandered this brief respite from oil piracy.

Oil imports have fallen to about 5 million barrels a day from a peak of almost 13 million barrels in 2006, thanks in part to advances in techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in shale rock. Despite this, we continue to spend $1 billion a day protecting our assets in foreign oil. And there is no getting around that gasoline is bad for our health and the environment.

make-hayNow would be a great time to call your Congressman and Senator and ask them to show some vision regarding biofuels and our energy future. The rapid growth in ethanol production has shown us the promise of a bio-based fuel future. It’s time to make hay!

 

 

 

Seed Treatment Stewardship

Seed treatments could arguably be called one of the greatest advancements in agricultural production since the plow. That’s why proper stewardship of this important technology for farmers is so critical.

nafb13-asta-andyAmerican Seed Trade Association (ASTA) CEO Andy LaVinge says seed industry and agricultural organizations have partnered to develop a new guide for farmers under the industry banner of Seed Treatment Matters. “We got together with CropLife America, and the major grower groups – National Corn Growers, American Soybean, National Cotton Council and American Farm Bureau Federation – to talk about the adoption of new technologies we’ve seen on seed,” he said. “We want to make sure that technology is properly stewarded.”

“Seed treatment does matter,” LaVigne added. “As farmers look at their seed treatment and seed plantings, we want to make sure that it matters, what they plant and how they steward it.”

The guide developed by the groups is available at seed-treatment-guide.com and it will also be offered and discussed at 2014 grower meetings.

Listen to my interview with Andy here: Interview with Andy LaVigne, ASTA

In World of Polluters Oil Has No Rivals

oil & $100 billThey call it black gold and Texas Tea but I prefer to call it environmental anathema; that rare combination of disgrace and abomination.  Better that than using the words that I would like to use that got my mouth washed out with soap as a child.

Ok, Thanksgiving is almost upon us so I want to purge a little bile so I will enjoy the day a little more. What better target than Big Oil?

You know, those heavily subsidized global scale polluters who control…I mean contribute to every politician to make sure they have their bases covered. Well after an announcement today, I guess we will see how well their “investment” pays off.

It seems gas and oil are almost singlehandedly responsible for the bulk of all the man-made global warming emissions since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Chevron, Exxon and BP are among the companies most responsible for climate change since dawn of industrial age, according to a new analysis.

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

I have always been a big fan of irony but this week takes the cake.  It seemed bizarre that earlier this week EPA announced their proposal to significantly weaken the Renewable Fuel Standard, reducing the volume of renewable fuels like ethanol for 2014; thus making us even more dependent on oil.

Odd that an agency with “Environment” in their name would turn away from a program that has cut emissions of greenhouse gas by 110 million metric tons, making it one of the most successful programs in the EPA arsenal. This is the equivalent of taking more than 20 million vehicles off the road.

Now it will get even more interesting to see how this same administration that purports to be on a crusade to fight greenhouse gases will deal with Big Oil now that the emperor has no clothes.

 

 

 

Before You Criticize, Take a Look at Your Own Backyard

In recent conversations about the environment, some fingers have been pointed toward corn farmers. The finger pointers wrongly allege that growing corn emits massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

If you want to see an enviro-villain responsible for a far greater percentage of our nation’s COemissions, just look out your front door.

Residential lawns actually emit more CO2 than corn fields according to a study recently published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal. As more exurbs push city boundaries further and residential developments move land out of agricultural production, the effect can even intensify according to David Bowne, an assistant professor of biology at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania who led the study.

Everyone needs a place to call home. Everyone needs nutritious, healthy foods. Instead of pointing a finger at a farmer because, as such a small subset of the population, very few outside of agriculture personally know about and have experienced our nation’s incredible farming and ranching tradition.

Farmers work hard to act as good stewards of the land, air and water upon which they depend for their livelihood. The original environmentalists, farmers want to work with their counterparts from all parts of the country to ensure that their children will be able to continue farming the land that their grandparents once did.

All fruitful efforts start when we extend an open hand instead of wagging a finger. So take a moment to look at the facts. We have all contributed to the problem. Now, we all must be part of the solution.

Corn-based Biopolymers to Replace Petroleum-based Plastics

Finding new uses for corn… and ways to treat our environment a little bit better… were the hot topics at this summer’s Corn Utilization Technology Conference.

Jay-lin Jane, Ph.D., Iowa State University, chaired the discussion on how biopolymers made from corn can be a sustainable, renewable, alternative to petroleum-based plastics. “The most common use for this type of material is disposable types of materials, because it’s biodegradable and environmentally friendly,” she explained. Examples include plant pots that can remain in the ground and give nutrients to the newly transplanted flowers and vegetables and even fairway-friendly golf tees. “When the golf tee is broken and left in the field, it may become nutrients for the grass.”

Listen to my interview with Jay-lin Jane here: Interview with Jay-lin Jane

2012 CUTC Photo Album

This Earth Day, Bang a Bongo for Ag

This Earth Day, a lot of people will gather in parks and at events across the country to both celebrate our amazing planet and look for ways to protect it.

In St. Louis, just a few miles down the main east-west corridor from the National Corn Growers Association’s headquarters, concerned citizens and eco-enthusiasts alike will converge upon Forest Park, weather permitting, in droves to discuss a wide array of enviro-issues. In previous years, conversations tended to hold up food-related movements, such as those toward organics or locavore lifestyles, as models of how the eco-conscious should live.

This year, instead of dismissing these celebrations as agenda-driven vehicles for anti-ag activities, farmers and those who support them need to join the conversation. Attending events, participating in open forums and telling the story of modern American farming, growers can bring an informed, balanced voice in support of their industry to the conversation.

In many ways, be it through the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance or CommonGround, farmers have already learned about the importance of telling their story. Many have even practiced doing so. Earth Day marks a distinct opportunity to take a moment out of the field and actively cultivate public understanding and dialogue.

A new website featuring award-winning videos produced by the South Dakota Corn Growers Association and Utilization Council, www.trueenvironmentalists.com, reveals why farmers should value Earth Day in striking clarity. Using the example of their home state, the videos focus on how taking care of the land, air and water while increasing productivity provides hope. Hope that farmers will be able to help sustain a rapidly growing, hungry world. Watching the population counter tick up rapidly, thinking about the need to produce more food in the next 40 years than was produced in the last 10,000 years combined, it becomes obvious that we need to share the message of hope.

Take the time to share the incredible hope that farmers have for our growing world. Activists who would falsely accuse farmers of destroying the earth while promoting practices that would starve a constantly increasing segment of the population have already spun their yarn standing under the Earth Day banner for years. Let’s take part in a day that celebrates the earth, air and soil central to the very core of every farmer.

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.

Thinking the Local Food Movement Would Be Good for the Economy? Think Again.

Local food is sexy.  Like any trend, interesting, powerful people seem to love it. From Michelle Obama to a slew of celebrity chefs, everyone seems to be talking about the exact farmer from which they purchased their lettuce.  The hottest restaurants include menu descriptions that read like a list of the most prominent family from every bordering local community.  On the surface, local foods appear to be the epicurean’s equivalent of retro chic.

Scratch beneath the surface, though, and the local food movement isn’t always what it seems.  A complete cultural shift to a paradigm in which local foods reign supreme would yield some ugly results for the economy and for our health.

Simply, local food proponents do not account for basic economic realities in their public policy platform.  From the economic advantages of specialization and trade to the realities of scale of economy, the shift toward a government-favored status for local foods, already well underway, would both make food more expensive and increase pollution.

On top of that, the foods which would become the most expensive in a local food world would be those needed for a healthy, balanced diet.  Obesity already plagues the United States.  If locavores get their way, the poor would be condemned to a sentence of junk food options for the crime of being unable to afford their nutrient-rich, lower-calorie counterparts.

So speak up.   Trends and fads come and go.  Fashions and crazes like leisure suits and pet rocks pass naturally through the cycle of cool.  Don’t let this trend, and all of its harmful repercussions, be written into our laws and regulations.  Tell the government to keep our options open instead of basing public policy in popularity.

What Does It Really Take to Feed Your Family?

America has a love affair with farmers.  From iconic imagery, like American Gothic, to reality television shows that help a handsome young farmer in his quest for a wife, we have inherited a respect for their independence and dedication.  Even with 98.5 percent of the population completely removed from agriculture, images of the American farmer permeate our culture and construct our heritage.

The coupling of this healthy respect with a desire to return to what many view as a simpler, more thoughtful lifestyle has heavily influenced many foodies to recreate small portions of their lives.  From city dwellers keeping chickens in backyards to urbanites building community gardens, a growing number of Americans want to explore farming in a real, tactile manner.

As these trends receive increasing attention, it becomes increasingly important that these noble, well-intentioned desires also become more informed.  Fresh laid eggs on subdivision breakfast tables and shopping bags of fresh basil aside, the business of farming is serious work.

So, what would it really take to feed the average family of four intent upon growing and raising every scrap of food to hit the table? It would take about two acres.

This idea seems somewhat hard to imagine.  Luckily, a group called One Block Off the Grid developed this infographic to show exactly what this family would have to raise and the amount of land these crops and livestock would require.

Notably, said family would have to adopt some dietary changes that the majority if Americans might not consider acceptable.  Beef and traditional milk would not be an option.  Instead, they would need to adhere to a diet that allows only limited portions of pork and poultry with dairy products created using goat’s milk.  For many months of the year depending upon the climate, even on this hypothetical farm based in a nearly ideal climate, vegetables would only come from the supply they spent many hours carefully canning and stocking on pantry shelves.  Fruit would actually have to be viewed as a treat and not what mom substituted for real dessert.  Incredible hard work and significant land ownership aside, this family would hardly be living the locally produced dream that is so easy to envision in the fine dining restaurants that tout the movement’s virtues.

Examining this scenario can turn up many ideas and feelings as unique as their creators.  What it should turn up almost universally though is a healthy respect for American agriculture.

Our society enjoys an abundance and variety of food heretofore unimaginable.  We have access to nutritious, affordable food that the vast majority of the world envies.  Despite rising rates of obesity, the prevalence of calorie-laden options and a general propensity toward the often deliciously decadent, the vast majority of Americans have the luxury of pondering their food issues with a full stomach.

Maybe, we should thank our farmers.  They do work tirelessly cultivating the vast tracts of land needed to feed a growing population.  They keep abreast of the newest technology and practices to constantly improve their operations.  While most of us sleep peacefully, farmers are already awake and in their fields making sure that we have something on our breakfast plates.

Tending a plot of tomatoes is an excellent way to explore our heritage while cultivating something to proudly serve guests.  At the same time, it is imperative that we continue to embrace our respect for the farmers who make life as we know it possible.



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