A subject that is very misunderstood when it comes to growing corn is fertilizer. Here’s another installment of our Corn Commentary video series that was produced at the recent National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention. In it NCGA CEO Rick Tolman helps you better understand what’s going on in corn production as it relates to fertilizer. For example, Rick says that people hear that corn uses more fertilizer than any other crop. He says that’s because corn is planted on more acres than any other crop. That’s why the totality of fertilizer usage is higher. However, if you look at fertilizer use on a per unit basis corn is really middle of the road compared to other crops.
Rick also points to a white paper on corn production sustainability that you can download from their website. Here’s an excerpt relating to this topic:
The latest advances in agriculture technology enable farmers to apply fertilizers with pinpoint accuracy, minimizing their impact to soil, water and air. For example, the use of enhanced efficiency fertilizers, such as slow- and controlled-release fertilizers and stabilized nitrogen fertilizers, are helping to protect the environment by reducing nutrient losses and improving nutrient efficiency while improving crop yields.
One of the clearest measures of sustainable agriculture production is increasing efficiency, with the ability to swell output while decreasing inputs. According to USDA, growers use less nitrogen to produce over 50 percent more corn than in 1980. Furthermore, over the past 15 years, farmers experienced a 17 percent increase in nitrogen efficiency as measured by bushels of corn produced per pound of nitrogen applied which in turn means less nutrients lost to runoff.
At the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention NCGA’s Rick Tolman took time to dispell some myths about the use of water by the corn industry. He’s got some great facts and figures to explain why the numbers being bantered about as doomsday speak are really meaningless when put in perspective with the information those same people don’t say or want you to know.
* More than 85% of all corn produced in the United States is non-irrigated. So, that 4,000 gallons per bushel is mostly rainfall. That rain is going to fall on the land whether it has corn on it or asphalt or marijuana. According to the USGS (U.S. National Geological Survey), if that same land was instead in wheat, it would take 11,000 gallons per bushel. If it were in alfalfa, it would take 15,000 gallons for a similar amount. If it is a paved parking lot, the same amount of rain still falls. So, one perhaps important point left out by the good bug doctor and the headline writers is that most of the water corn needs is not being sucked from the ground or from rivers, but it actually falls from the sky.
* And, looking even deeper, according to the same USGS, an acre of corn actually gives off 4,000 gallons a day in “evapotranspiration,” the combined result of transpiration and evaporation. Over the course of a growing season that would equate to turning that acre of corn into a lake approximately 11 inches deep. Corn is a very remarkable plant. It gives back much of that water it takes up. That water goes up into atmosphere to start the precipitation cycle all over again. In aggregate, the corn crop actually returns more water to the atmosphere than is withdrawn from ground or surface for irrigation.
* Some other USGS statistics that might be of interest and add perspective:
It takes 1,500 gallons of water to produce a barrel of beer
It takes 1,851 gallons of water to refine a barrel of crude oil
It takes 62,600 gallons of water to process a ton of cane sugar to make processed sugar
It takes 62,600 gallons to make a ton of steel
It takes 2,075 gallons of water to make four tires
If you did not see the documentary about corn on the History Channel’s Modern Marvels Monday night, go buy yourself a copy online. It’s well worth the 25 bucks. Buy a bunch for your corn grower friends for Christmas. It will make them proud.
It was almost too good. It did touch on a couple of negatives very briefly – like how high fructose corn syrup is making us all fat – but the overall positive tone was incredibly refreshing. Corn growers should watch this and just beam with pride at what a truly amazing modern marvel they are producing.
Pioneer should be pretty pleased with the show. Chairman Dean Oestreich and other company representatives did a great job of explaining different varieties of corn, how they select for traits, the benefits of Bt corn and more. Great stuff.
Not sure if you can watch it online at the History Channel site, but – seriously – this is a great Christmas present for anyone in the corn industry.
At last week’s National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention, NCGA President Ron Litterer did a number of interviews including one with me about the farm bill.
In the picture Ron’s being interviewed by one of the many farm broadcasters that came by the NCGA booth.
I asked Ron where things stand from a corn grower perspective. It was really dark in the room so I apologize for the quality of the video but it works. I’m also posting the audio of the interview separately for you.
Listen to Ron Litterer Interview here: [audio:http://corncommentary.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/nafb-07-ron.mp3]
Ron says he feels good that the Senate ag committee has put forward a revenue based proposal but that it would have been nice to see crop insurance integration included. Ron mentions the cloture vote that failed last week so it looks like it’s time for some more debate after the holiday.
The program will focus on why corn is the largest agricultural crop in the world and has fed the masses from ancient times to this day. Modern Marvels states that corn is not only a vegetable and a cereal grain; it is a commodity as well. The show will visit Lakeside Foods in Reedsburg, Wisconsin and see how tons of corn are harvested and canned within hours. Then the program will feature VeraSun Energy in Charles City, Iowa, to discover how corn is converted into fuel. Modern Marvels will take a look to our past so that it can be understood that without corn we probably would not be here.
The program airs Monday evening at 8:00 pm Eastern/7:00 pm CST.
There was a lot of corn commentating going on Thursday in Kansas City at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting annual Trade Talk event.
Some of the major topics of discussion were the 2007 Farm Bill, WRDA and – of course – ethanol. The National Corn Growers Association had grower leaders of the organization on hand to do dozens of interviews with farm broadcasters all over the country.
Corn Board chairman Ken McCauley of White Cloud, KS, president Ron Litterer of Greene, IA and first vice president Bob Dickey of Laurel, NE stayed busy doing interviews from 7 am until 1:30 pm. The corn growers also helped to sponsor Wednesday evening’s welcoming reception for the broadcasters.
Corn – whether it be feed, ethanol or products for growing – was probably mentioned at nearly every one of the 100 booths at this year’s NAFB Trade Talk. From the ethanol organizations, such as RFA and EPIC, to the National Cattlemen and Pork Producers, to companies such as John Deere and Pioneer – everybody is talking about corn!
The year is 1979. The United States is in an oil crisis created by the Iranian Revolution that has disrupted Middle East oil exports. President Jimmy Carter famously wears a sweater during a speech in which he asks Americans to turn down their thermostats and conserve energy.
Drivers wait in long lines at gas stations. The price of oil goes from about $15 a barrel to almost $40 a barrel in just a year, adding to inflation woes.
The panic over oil leads to greater interest in gasohol, an alcohol fuel that can be made from fermenting corn and other agricultural feedstocks. Farm organizations promote the idea that, like adding chicory to coffee, gasohol can stretch the nation’s fuel supply. Congress picks up on it and debates national goals and tax incentives for expanded gasohol production.
Then, some of the nation’s newspapers go on a campaign against federal subsidies for gasohol. An April 26, 1980, Washington Post editorial argues that further federal help for gasohol producers “will inevitably raise food prices” and calls the subsidies “wanton public policy.” Of course, the editorial doesn’t mention subsidization of the petroleum industry through billions of defense dollars spent to protect oil wells and pipelines in volatile parts of the world.
As the energy debate continues in Washington, the Iranian hostage crisis drags on, a national election nears, oil production picks up, lines at the pump shorten, a new season of Dallas begins and everyone moves on. Gasohol isn’t the hot topic anymore.
Ethanol trade association leaders from the United States, Canada, Europe and Brazil got together last week at the F.O. LICHT´S World Ethanol 2007 conference in Amsterdam and united against a common enemy – the United Nations … at least the recent interim report issued by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler and some choice comments like calling biofuels production a “crime against humanity” and a “recipe for disaster.”
In a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the heads of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), the European Bioethanol Fuel Association (EBIO), the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA), and the Brazilian Sugar Cane Industry Association (UNICA), detailed some specific concerns the world ethanol industry has about the assumptions and conclusions made by Mr. Ziegler. Specifically, the groups pointed to the economic and environmental benefits ethanol provides that Mr. Ziegler has marginalized or ignored completely. Moreover, the letter also details some of the more immediate factors limiting the availability of food in some regions of the world.
The report ignores the fact that food prices have increased far less than petroleum prices. Over the last three years, when biofuels gained momentum, agricultural prices have gone up by 7% while oil prices jumped by more than 70%. In fact, the sharp increase in oil prices is largely responsible for the increase in food prices.
Mr. Secretary General, we urge the United Nations to review the Interim Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food with a focus on sound science, credible studies, and a comprehensive view of the biofuels sector
rather than unsupported assumptions and selected anecdotes. We stand ready to participate in this revision process. Specifically, each signatory to this letter plans to submit additional comments and recommendations to the Special Rapporteur to address specific inaccuracies and concerns regarding its policy recommendations.
Last week, leaders of the four organization issued a joint statement on the necessity of developing a robust and vibrant renewable biofuels industry around the globe, which concluded:
“Through cooperation and technology, we can responsibly and sustainably increase the production and use of renewable fuels and encourage others to take the essential first steps toward a more secure and stable energy and environmentally-sensible future.”
The four ethanol group leaders are Gordon Quaiattini, President of CRFA; Robert Vierhout, Secretary General of eBIO; Bob Dinneen, President of RFA; and Marcos Jank, President of UNICA.
Congress voted to override the presidential veto of the Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, because it authorizes funding for water projects from coast to coast, but the centerpiece of repairing locks and dams on the Mississippi River was the main concern for corn growers.
“When it comes to this issue, nothing has been easy,” said NCGA President Ron Litterer. “After almost two decades of work by corn growers, millions of dollars spent on studies, seven years of waiting on the legislative process, a presidential veto and then a veto override by the U.S. Congress, we finally have achieved authorization to modernize seven locks on the Upper Mississippi River System. Once again, our grower members demonstrated their influence and commitment to the Water Resources Development Act by contacting their members of Congress and urging them to overturn the president’s veto.”
Litterer celebrated the victory this week with NCGA First Vice President Bob Dickey and Senator Kit Bond of Missouri who is credited with his perseverance in getting the legislation finally passed.
Missouri Corn Growers Association CEO Gary Marshall says, “No one deserves more credit for this bill becoming law than Senator Kit Bond. We owe him our sincere thanks for his vision and determination to see the locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers upgraded.”
“These upgrades will spur economic growth for mid-America and will certainly go a long way towards improving access to world markets,” said Missouri Corn Growers President Mike Geske. “Our competitiveness in global trade has become much greater today due to the WRDA bill finally becoming law. We will now work with our Congressional delegation to see that funding is also approved.”
“Iowa’s corn growers should really celebrate this achievement,” said Warren Kemper, a grower from Louisa County and long-time advocate for improving the river’s infrastructure. “The ICGA has been lobbying for lock and dam improvements for more than a decade. WRDA is important to farmers who depend on the inland waterways, but it is also important to the whole economy of the upper Midwest.”
“It’s taken nearly two decades of work by corn growers and a consortium of other trade groups nationwide, as well as millions of dollars in studies, to finally authorize work to repair and modernize seven locks on the Upper Mississippi River System,” said Wisconsin Corn Growers Association President Tom Novak. “While we’re glad legislation finally passed, we still have a great deal of work to do to ensure the work it authorizes is properly funded.”
Even though President Bush vetoed WRDA citing the cost as the reason, the bill actually only authorizes the projects and opens the way to appropriate the funds needed to replace the locks. Once the money is appropriated it will still take more than 15 years to replace the 70-year-old locks that are falling apart.
The Senate is expected to follow the lead of the House Thursday and override the presidential veto of the Water Resources Development Act, better known as WRDA. The House vote on Tuesday was 361-54 with 18 members absent, well over the two-thirds needed for the override.
Late Wednesday, the Senate was debating the measure with most speaking in favor of the override. President Bush vetoed the $23 billion bill, which includes a variety of water-related projects around the nation, including the modernization of seven locks along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River.
“This is great! We have worked so hard and so long to get improvements on the Upper Mississippi River System authorized,” said Ron Litterer, president of the National Corn Growers Association.
Litterer says the project to upgrade the lock system will improve delivery of crops to the global marketplace. More than half of all grain exports are shipped by way of inland waterways, accounting for $8.5 billion in exports.
The bill will also provide funding for environmental restoration, flood control, port modernization, irrigation and hurricane protection.
If the Senate does vote in favor of the veto override, as expected, it will be the first time that has happened during the Bush presidency. The Senate originally passed WRDA by an 81-12 margin.