When the Numbers Do Lie

In Distillers Grains, Ethanol, Food vs Fuel, Livestock by Cathryn

In a world of splashy magazine covers and sexed-up headlines, it can be easy to obscure the facts with so-called data. Correlating figures to create data may sounds simple, but in choosing how to present the aggregated collection and conclusions of research, the data suppliers become the gatekeepers to the truth. To effectively assess the validity of the information, it is imperative to know exactly how they paint the picture that colors our perceptions.

In the case of U.S. Department of Agriculture figures on corn usage, government categories are obscuring reality and, in doing so, fueling food-versus-fuel panic based in incomplete information and, sometimes, intentionally obtuse interpretations. Now, the National Corn Growers Association wants to help the public understand what agricultural experts already know- corn used in ethanol production actually creates both feed and fuel.

In a recent interview, NCGA Vice President of Production and Utilization Paul Bertels got at the heart of the issue, and it is all about how USDA compiles the numbers. Noting that ethanol production has increased, he points out that, “basically one-third of what is being processed is coming right back into the livestock ration.”

Notably, this third is not reflected in corn usage data released by the agency. Instead, the total sum is attributed to ethanol with no accounting for the addition of high quality feed products that enter the livestock sector post-production.

“People get a little hysterical about the food vs. fuel,” said NCGA CEO Rick Tolman. “They believe that we are taking corn away from livestock producers.” That’s not the case, however. “The big difference is the pie is growing. Those pieces that have been going for feed and food are still there—they are not any smaller—it’s just that the pie got bigger.”

As in so many cases, the truth calms fears based in a lack of knowledge. Instead of perpetuating the pandemonium, realize that sensationalized stories sell magazines without regard for their impact upon the country. Buying into the mass hysteria only harms both farmers and the industry providing a domestic, renewable, sustainable fuel for the United States. Take a look at the broader picture instead of being blinded by skewed stats.

VEETC is Dead. Get Over It.

In General by Ken

At the end of the year, the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit is set to expire. Renewing it will take more than a miracle – it will take someone who actually wants to renew it. And, frankly, no one does at this point.

That does not stop ethanol opponents from continuing to call for its demise, as if they’ve missed something altogether or stopped reading the news. Three recent examples:

On August 24, the Green Scissors Project, a “left-right coalition” with apparently no voice of moderation, identified ways the federal government could shave $380 billion from the federal budget over five years. Smartly, they identify numerous subsidies for Big Oil that others, mysteriously, want to ignore. But their $380 billion in proposed cuts includes a major error that accounts for more that 10 percent of their cuts — $38.8 billion that they argue VEETC would otherwise cost between 2012 and 2016.

On September 7, Americans for Tax Reform called on Congress to let VEETC expire. ATR is known for pushing its pledge among politicians seeking office, whereby they promise not to raise taxes. When it comes to tax credits like VEETC, ATR has a clear policy stated on its Website: “Signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge commits signers to oppose changes in tax deductions or credits that increase the net tax burden on Americans.” Could one not rationally argue that allowing VEETC to expire, thereby increasing the net tax burden on Americans, violates that proviso?

And this week, a group of 100 various organizations have called on Congress to, snore, allow VEETC to expire. It’s really an eclectic list, with names like Oil Change International, the Association for Dressings & Sauces and the Safe Lawns Foundation scattered amongst the usual incoherent group of ethanol foes. Someone had to compile this list, and it’s a lot of energy wasted on something that is no longer an issue. MoveOn.org, one of the signers, really needs to … well … move on.

On the other hand, the ethanol industry is moving on – and moving forward in great and smart ways. As Matt Hartwig of the Renewable Fuels Association puts it, “Seeing the tax incentive go away has been the singular mission for these groups. While they are focused on the industry and policies of the past, America’s ethanol producers are looking toward the future. They are putting forward ideas and making investments in technologies that improve yields, increase efficiencies, harness new feedstocks, protect the environment, expand the market for renewable fuels and most importantly, create good paying jobs for hundreds of thousands of Americans from all walks of life.”

We could not agree more.


Miracles Do Exist, but Should You Rely on Them?

In Farming by Cathryn

Combing through the daily ag-related headlines, considered by some an occupational hazard for communicators, often leaves a distinct impression that very, very few positive things happen today.  From government melt-downs to weather-related catastrophes, the negatives pile up so quickly it becomes tempting to joke that the end-of-days must be upon us.  What was once a cause for concern has become commonplace.

This harvest though, a group of heroic firefighters in Elkhart, Iowa proved that miracles happen even now.  After three hours of dedicated, thoughtful efforts by rescuers and constant medical monitoring, Steve Kaufman beat the odds and was rescued from a grain bin at his local co-op in good health.  The crew had to use judgment and training, not advanced safety equipment, to orchestrate the truly miraculous rescue.  The story, at least for those familiar with the grain bin accidents that cast a pall over harvest every year, shone with hope and heroism.

News stories reporting entrapments generally do not end this well.  The speed and power of these incidents left 51 victims maimed or dead in 2010 alone and, if the trend continues, this number will rise again in 2011.  Unlike Kaufman, many entrapment victims may not get help until it is too late.

This harvest help curtail these tragic incidences.  Personally, take a moment to review safety guidelines prior to working in the fields.  Then, share this information with your friends. The National Corn Growers Association even offers an online video featuring not only safety tips but also true stories reinforcing the real cost of ignoring proper procedures during harvest.

The opportunity to help turn a horrifying situation into a miraculous story does not present itself every day.  Yet, by helping friends and neighbors understand the danger of grain bin entrapment and how to avoid it, each of us who cares about farmers can play a small part in averting potential tragedy altogether.  So, let’s make our own news by working together for a safer harvest and reversing the disturbing trend toward increased incidence of grain bin entrapments.

Will the Oldest Corn Club in the Country Please Stand Up?

In Corny News, General by Cathryn

Now approaching its 60th anniversary, the Talbot County Maryland Corn Club came to Corn Commentary with a question: “Are we the oldest corn club in the country?”

Founded in 1951, the club was founded to facilitate a county-wide yield contest and host an awards banquet for the winners. At one point, the club even served as a model for fine similar programs in Maryland alone, but the majority of these organizations have disappeared with state and national organizations hosting most yield contests. The members of the Talbot County Corn Club continue their proud tradition citing the knowledge and ideas shared as reason enough to make the effort.

To help them celebrate, let’s find an answer to their question. If you have knowledge of any corn club that has run continuously since 1955 or before, please submit the name of the club and a contact by October 30, 2011 to Corn Commentary via email, by clicking here. While the Talbot Corn Club certainly has something to celebrate already, finding the oldest corn club in the country helps us all to recognize the proud agricultural traditions that are an important part of our industry’s heritage.

Blame Game

In Activism, General, Production, USDA by Cathryn

As U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates for the 2012 corn crop continue to drop, a lot of people want to throw around blame. Whether it be for higher prices or smaller supplies, corn users and detractors alike want heads to roll over their inability to source corn at prices that, quite frankly, have held relatively steady for decades.

Today is not the time for blame. Today is the time to reflect upon the incredible achievements that have allowed U.S. farmers to pull through disastrous weather reasonably in-tact, producing what may be a near-record crop.

Farmers, by the very nature of their business, must depend upon the weather. This year, Mother Nature proved uncooperative at best. In spring, she flooded the banks of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and delayed planting with a seemingly unending deluge. Then, showing her mercurial nature, she baked Texas, and much of the Corn Belt to a lesser extent, with an unrelenting heat. Finally, as if to show that no one would escape her wrath, Hurricane Irene leveled much of the crop almost ready for harvest along the East Coast. If this were an actual mother, the family would certainly be in counseling by now.

Despite harsh conditions, farmers maintained their composure using the vast array of tools and techniques developed through advanced research to mitigate the string on blows pummeled upon their fields. Day after day, they walked the rows contemplating a next move, a way to make the most of the quickly deteriorating situation.

What we should celebrate today is the fact that farmers, backed by research and technology, can still produce an abundant crop even in difficult conditions. Only 10 years ago, the national average yield was 138 bushels per acre and the crop totaled 9.5 billion bushels. Now, even in a year many farmers describe as having the worst weather they have seen, the United States is set to produce 12.5 billion bushels of corn with a national average yield of 148 bushels per acre. Today, farmers do what those only a few decades ago could not have imagined under circumstances without recent parallel.

It only gets better though. As new traits come through the pipeline, Texans will have access to corn varieties that can better resist drought. Corn Belters will select the seeds they need to withstand more or less rain as they see fit. Scientists are hard at work to make sure that every farmer’s hard work is matched by the thought and development in each seed they plant.

Sweet Corn Canada

In Audio, International, Sweet Corn by Chuck

Getting $7/dozen for sweet corn in Canada is a pretty sweet deal for Channing Strom, owner along with his wife Amy, of Strom’s Farm. Especially if you sell an average of 10-12 thousand dozen/year. This is a picture of Channing, who is outstanding in his field, during a visit to the farm by members of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ). On this farm the Strom’s grow sweet corn and pumpkins for people to come out and purchase. They promise that the sweet corn you buy is never more than two hours from the stalk! They also have a six acre corn maze using field corn and have a variety of other family fun features that bring out thousands of people to spend several hours of outdoor enjoyment. It is agri-tourism done right. You can see part of the IFAJ group taking the corn maze challenge in the photo below.

The Stroms are part of Taste Real, a branding initiative for locally grown food in the Guelph Wellington area.

When you see the taste real logo, you know that you are experiencing food grown close to home! When you see the logo at farmers markets, farm gate stalls, on-farm stores, at your favourite retail outlets, restaurants and places to stay you will know it is home to real local food. The brand exists to support local businesses and farms and represents a group of people who are ….Passionate about the way local food is grown, prepared, presented and enjoyed, and how real it tastes!

You can listen to my interview with Channing here: Channing Strom Interview

After touring the farm the Strom’s served a dinner that included fresh picked and boiled sweet corn. It is definitely some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Having more than one ear was desert for me!

If a Picture is Worth 1,000 Words, Let’s Send 1,000 Pictures to Start a Conversation

In Activism, Conservation, Food, General, Internet, New Media, Social Media by Cathryn

From Main Street to MTV, everyone is talking about food. Unfortunately, this conversation does not often include the people who grow it. CommonGround Conversations creates a space for America’s farm families, and the people who support them, to share the story.  Here, we have a meeting ground that will let you discover the values and hard work that underlie our nation’s abundant, safe harvest. Help us share our story!  By submitting photos of yourself, family and friends waving at the camera, join your voice with like-minded people to open a national dialogue saying, “Hi! I support farmers.  Let’s talk about how we grow our food.”

Now’s your chance to join in on the CommonGround movement and let your voice be heard.

Right now, the movement is growing.  Help us find the CommonGround between the people who grow food and those who buy it.  Start today on CommonGround’s Facebook fan page. Here’s how to join the conversation:

  1. “Like” the CommonGround fan page.
  2. Take a photo of yourself, your friends or your family waving as if to say, “When you want to talk about food, talk to a farmer.”
  3. Click here to submit your story and photo.

Learn More About CommonGround

USFRA Sets Date for Food Dialogues

In Audio, USFRA by Cindy

Are you ready to talk about food? The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance is. On Sept. 22 they’re holding The Food Dialogues. During the event you’re encouraged to follow the Twitter hashtag: #FoodD and participate!

During the Farm Progress Show last week, USFRA held a press conference to announce the upcoming event. In the photo is General Manager, Hugh Whaley (left) and USFRA Secretary Bart Schott, current president of the National Corn Growers Association and a farmer from North Dakota. You can listen to or download a portion of the press conference remarks and Q&A here: USFRA Press Conference
Americans have a lot of questions about how our food is raised, the impact on our health and the health of the planet. Today it seems there are more questions than answers. Join us, journalist moderator Claire Shipman and Chef John Besh right here on September 22 for The Food Dialogues – the launch of a new effort to bring together different viewpoints on farming and ranching and the future of food to solve our most challenging problems. This Town Hall-style discussion will take place in Washington, D.C., California, New York and the Midwest, and virtually – to connect Americans interested in a dialogue about their food.

The Food Dialogues will be held in four locations:

The Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Chelsea Studios in New York City
UC-Davis Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science in California
Fair Oaks Farm in Fair Oaks, Indiana

Ethanol Powered NASCAR in Spotlight at FPS 2011

In American Ethanol, Ethanol, Events, Farming by Cindy

There were quite a few race cars mixed in with the tractors and combines this year at the 2011 Farm Progress Show.

farm progress show 2011NASCAR team owner and former racer Richard Childress, pictured here with National Corn Growers Association vice president Garry Niemeyer of Illinois and Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, was at FPS to talk about the partnership between the racing series and American Ethanol.

The agriculture connection is what made Richard want to be a part of the American Ethanol NASCAR partnership when the series started using a 15% ethanol blend this year, since he is a farmer himself. “I’m a huge supporter of everything we do in America, from our farmers to our military,” he said. “This country has to quit depending on so much foreign energy and resources. We gotta do better.”

He says that NASCAR has had no problems making the transition to 15% ethanol fuel and next year they will go to fuel injection. “The fuel injection and the American Ethanol is really going to work out great,” Richard says.

Listen to my interview with Richard here. Richard Childress and American Ethanol

farm progress show 2011Meanwhile, over at the Illinois Corn Growers exhibit, the Illinois Family Farmers NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Kenny Wallace was signing autographs and doing interviews. Kenny was blown away by the Farm Progress Show. “This is like our Daytona 500! I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said in an interview with Chuck Zimmerman.

Kenny is proud to be the Family Farmer American Ethanol spokesperson. “Farmers make me feel good,” he said. “Hundreds of farmers notice me, stop me or they come by booth 250 and they say thank you so much for putting up for us and that really humbles me,” he added.

The next big race for Kenny will be Chicagoland on September 17.

Listen to Chuck’s interview with Kenny here. NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace

2011 Farm Progress Show Photo Album

Farm Bill Talk at Farm Progress

In Audio, Farm Bill, Farming, Policy, Politics by Cindy

farm progress show  2011Farm policy was in focus this week at the 2011 Farm Progress Show with the 2012 farm bill discussions right around the corner.

Two congressmen from the state of Illinois visited the big show in Decatur. Freshman Congressman House Agriculture Committee member Bobby Schilling (R-IL) participated in a press conference with the National Corn Growers Association on Tuesday. “I think as most people are aware, it’s been quite a storm in Washington, D.C., the last seven months,” Schilling said. “Coming out of the business sector right into Congress, it’s been quite frustrating for me to see what’s happening in our nation’s capitol.”

As far as the farm bill is concerned, Schilling says the “super committee” on reducing the deficit may make decisions that will impact farm programs so the agriculture committee needs to make recommendations on how spending could be cut. “Because if we don’t they will just go after dollar amounts without looking at where appropriate cuts could be made,” he said.

Listen to some of Congressman Schilling’s comments during the press conference here. Cong. Bobby Schilling

farm progress show  2011Congressman Tim Johnson (R-IL), who also serves on the House Agriculture Committee, visited Farm Progress Show on Wednesday to meet with farmers like Illinois Corn Growers President Jim Reed (R) pictured here with him. Johnson says he is optimistic that they can come up with a farm bill that’s “workable and still meets the confines of what we have to deal with in terms of limited dollars.”

He wants to make sure there continues to be a safety net for farmers. “And we need to make sure the House Agriculture Committee and people who know American agriculture are the people framing policy,” Johnson said.

Johnson also shares the concerns that farmers in the state have about government regulations making it more difficult to farm. “USDA, USDOT and most particularly EPA tying our left hand is a real burden,” he said. “This administration more than any other administration in history has done more to damage the ability of farmers to make a living.”

Listen to Meghan Grebner of Brownfield Ag News and me interview Cong. Johnson here. Cong. Tim Johnson

2011 Farm Progress Show Photo Album