Corn Commentary

New Ag Editors President Gets Corn

AMS 08 Got CornHolly Martin of High Plains Journal is the new president of the American Agricultural Editors Association and the outgoing president wanted to make sure she “Got Corn” as part of her new position.

Her focus in the coming year will be on next year’s International Federation of Agricultural Journalists meeting that will be held in conjunction with AAEA’s annual meeting. That meeting will offer our ag journalists the opportunity to showcase American agriculture to hundreds of ag media representatives from around the world. It will be held July 29-August 5.

Holly is the editor of High Plains Journal and lives with her family on a farm near Ford, KS. The outgoing AAEA is John Walter with Successful Farming.

Getting to Know Nancy

Cindy and Nancy at AMSWe finally got to meet the new National Corn Growers Association Director of Communications Nancy Bunker Koester at the Agricultural Media Summit this week in Tampa.

AMS gave Nancy the chance to meet and interact with a hundreds of ag media professionals and other industry leaders. She is not unfamiliar with this industry, having worked for Monsanto – which is ironically where her predecessor Mimi Ricketts now works. She has also done some consulting work with NCGA in the past.

She is pictured here with me at the AMS 10th anniversary dinner. Chuck did an interview with her earlier in the day about her background and plans for working with the corn growers on important issues.

“We have a message to get out about food, fuel and feed, that there’s plenty of corn seed to go around for that,” Nancy said. “And we’re working to fervently to be sure people know that.”

Listen to Chuck’s interview here:

Corn Commentary Gets the Gold

Congrats are in order for NCGA and Corn Commentary.

ASAE gold circleThe American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and the Center for Association Leadership has awarded the National Corn Growers Association with a 2008 Gold Circle Award in the category of “Blogs – Association Annual Budget Greater than $2 Million” for Corn Commentary.

ASAEJohn H. Graham IV, CAE, president and CEO of ASAE, said “These organizations show how successful communication vehicles help associations accomplish their strategic goals and mission. I applaud the skilled communication professionals who have mastered their tools and communications strategies to create these exemplary pieces.”

Incidentally, Corn Commentary is just about to celebrate its first anniversary. The site was launched August 2, 2007 and this post is number 416.

Alliance Formed to Fight for Food and Fuel

Some of the most respected names in agriculture are teaming up to make the case that the world can produce both food and fuel and do so abundantly and sustainably.

Alliance For Abundant Food and EnergyThe Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy includes Archer Daniels Midland, DuPont, John Deere, Monsanto, as well as the Renewable Fuels Association, who are all committed to “improving diets and reducing dependence on fossil fuels through agricultural productivity worldwide.”

Recently, critics have tried to frame the debate as an “either/or” decision, making people feel they must choose between food and energy security. The Alliance believes this is a false choice that ignores both the capabilities of agriculture and our nation’s history of using innovation to solve our problems. The Alliance realizes both are possible – and can be accomplished using less land and fewer resources than generally understood.

They point out the important innovations that these companies have already made to improve agricultural productivity, such as “seeds that yield more per acre, tractors that use GPS technology to avoid re-seeding rows, and processing techniques that allow us to make even more from a simple grain of corn. At the same time, these companies have sought to share their advances with farmers through donations and training programs in the U.S. and worldwide.”

The alliance plans to actively promote this message through advertising, lobbying and public relations efforts.

The Huge Shame and High Cost of Wasted Food

I must admit a guilty pleasure … reading Parade magazine when it comes out in my Sunday newspaper. It does a great job of packaging the most generally interesting trivia around. The magazine’s Intelligence Report section (second item) has been a little off lately in its treatment of biofuels, but this past weekend there was a whopper of a factoid:

Food prices are rising, but your grocery bill might be lower if you weren’t paying for an estimated $20 billion worth of food that supermarkets throw away each year. Stores in the U.S. waste twice as much food annually as those in Europe, and a recent U.N. report found that total American food waste—including what we pitch from our refrigerators—is worth $48 billion each year.

Among the culprits cited is the high cost of transporation from farm to store, an average of 1,500 miles. This is a topic we’d love to see more on, and one can only hope that a system can be devised to get spare food into hungry hands.

At least someone seems to be interested. The Parade item mentions a writer doing a book and blog on wasted food.

Food Price Study Finds Oil Drives Food Prices

Farm Foundation Food Price StudyOne of the findings in a Farm Foundation study being released today is that oil is ultimately behind the increase in corn prices.

As Purdue agricultural economist Wally Tyner explains it, “Higher oil price means higher gasoline price, higher gasoline price means more demand for ethanol because ethanol is a substitute for gasoline, and the higher ethanol demand means more demand for corn and more demand for corn means higher corn prices.” The result has been that the price of crude oil and the price of corn are now linked, Tyner says, which is a revolution for global agriculture.

“What’s Driving Food Prices?” was written by Tyner and two other Purdue University economists. Another interesting finding in the report is that China and India have less of an impact on food prices than many believe. “While many studies focus attention on China and India, neither country is a major trader of most agricultural commodities. However, China’s rapidly growing oil imports have
had an indirect effect on food prices by impacting world prices for crude oil.”

Farm Foundation 75th logo“We commissioned this report to provide a comprehensive, objective assessment of the forces driving food prices,” said Farm Foundation president Wallace Conklin. “It is the intent of Farm Foundation that the information will help all stakeholders meet the challenge to address one of the most critical public policy issues facing the world today.”

Read the full report here.

Reality Price Check

A coalition of commodity groups in Texas has put together a clever and informative website to clean up the misinformation about higher food prices.

TexasPriceCheck.com provides a number of facts, reports, research and statements from a wide variety of reputable sources indicating that rising energy costs have affected the cost of everything from farm production to food processing to getting food to the grocery store. Yeah, okay – anybody can do that. But they do it in a pretty unique and interactive way.

Texas Price CheckThe site features an animated grocery conveyor belt, which allows visitors to click on food items to learn the farmer’s share of the retail price for bread, corn flakes, peanut butter and other food staples. Another animation depicts an innocent grocery cart that meets a tragic end in the “reality aisle.” A number of Texas icons such as Cadillac Ranch and a Texas license plate are featured, as well in a context related to food prices.

Even better, the Web site is being promoted in a variety of ways across Texas. Billboards feature a grocery cart being threatened by an oil pump jack and provide the Web address for consumers to learn more. Newspaper ads in major markets are planned, as well as a radio campaign later this fall.

The consumer education initiative is being funded by the Texas Peanut Producers Board, Texas Corn Producers Board, and the Texas Wheat Producers Board. Check it out!

EPA Delays Decision on RFS

Stephen JohnsonEnvironmental Protection Agency administrator Stephen Johnson issued a statement today saying that the agency will delay its decision on the RFS waiver until early August.

“Given the amount of work that remains to sufficiently answer the Texas request for a waiver from the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), it is now clear that a final decision on the request will not be completed by July 24,” Johnson said.

EPA received over 15,000 public comments on the issue and Johnson says it is important for the agency to take sufficient time to review and understand these comments in order to make an informed decision.

“The process remains fair and open and no agreements have been made with any party in regard to the substance and timing of the decision on the waiver request,” Johnson says.

Candidates Address Agriculture Issues

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain spoke to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Council of Presidents meeting in Washington DC last week by teleconference, both pledging their continued support for American agriculture. However, they shared different ideas on how they would accomplish that.

McCain ObamaSen. McCain (R-Ariz.), first to speak, pledged to support trade agreements that will open markets to U.S. agriculture. “I believe the American agricultural worker is the most efficient and productive in the world and one of my jobs is to open every market in the world to your products,” McCain said.

Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) followed McCain and emphasized his support of the recently passed farm bill. “I would have liked to have seen some additional reforms in the bill, but on balance the bill did a lot more good than bad because it dramatically increased the funding to fight hunger, it increased funding for conservation, and it provided farmers with stability in an increasingly volatile market,” Obama said.

The candidates differed pretty radically on their views of the estate tax, with McCain saying the first $10 million of an estate should be exempt from the estate tax with anything above the $10 million level taxed at a 15- percent rate. “It’s outrageous that you can’t pass onto your children and grandchildren the hard-won fruits of your labor,” McCain said.

Obama said he would keep the estate tax exemption at the 2009 rate, $3.5 million for single filers and $7 million for married couples, but pledged to not raise it above that level. “The truth is a complete repeal of the estate tax would cost the government $1 trillion over the first 10 years at a time when our country has some huge priorities,” Obama said.

Both McCain and Obama emphasized the need for immigration reform to meet the current labor crisis facing agriculture and the importance of agriculture in meeting America’s energy needs.

OECD Report Spins Stats

Statistics can be made to prove anything – even the truth.

OECDWhile the report out of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) this week found that biofuel production “has a limited impact on reducing greenhouse gases and improving energy security, and has a significant impact on world crop prices” the statistics in the report actually tell a different story.

For example, OECD credits ethanol produced from corn starch with a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if using natural gas, a 50% reduction in GHG if the facility is powered by biomass, and 80% for sugarcane ethanol. That’s better than ZERO for fossil fuels – certainly not “limited.”

In addition, according to a review of the report by the Renewable Fuels Association:

The modeling included in the report suggests that a 28% drop in world oil prices would cause a 12% reduction in world coarse grain prices ($0.75 per bushel in the case of corn today), underscoring the fact that skyrocketing oil prices are the largest driver behind increasing grain prices. By contrast, removing biofuel mandates like the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) would reduce coarse grain prices by just 1% ($0.06 per bushel of corn). Even abandoning all biofuels policies would only yield an average coarse grain price reduction of 7% ($0.45 per bushel).

The OECD report itself says the “impact of current biofuel policies on world crop prices, largely through increased demand for cereals and vegetable oils, is significant but should not be overestimated.” Guess that depends on your definition of “significant.” Sounds like oil prices have a much more significant impact which is consistently being not only UNDERestimated but virtually ignored.

Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are much more pliable.



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