Corn Commentary

Modifying the Corn Genome For Cellulosic Ethanol Production

Mariam SticklenOne of the many presenters at the recent CUTC was Mariam Sticklen, Michigan State University. Her topic was, “Modifying of the Corn Genome for Cellulosic Ethanol.” She had a full room since this is such a timely topic.

She says that corn ethanol is a transition but that it’s a good, mature technology which can still be improved. So she’s been working on ways to improve cellulosic production. Her team (she says she just gives the talks) is working to modify the corn genome so it can produce all the enzymes necessary for converting the cellulose into fermentable sugar so it can be converted to ethanol. In my interview with her you can hear more about this research project.

She understands that companies need to find ways to produce cellulosic ethanol in a commercially viable way and says that for that to happen it’s going to require gene modification to lower the costs. She says that this can be done now and how quickly we’ll see it on the market is dependent on when companies invest the resources to make it happen.

You can listen to my interview with Mariam here:

CUTC Photo Album

Grab the Tissue Box

When the representatives from the National Corn Growers Association met with officials from the Grocery Manufacturers Association recently to talk about their anti-ethanol campaign, they not only refused to back down, they warned that the attack was just beginning and would intensify.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa says GMA is starting a new ad campaign that is expected to be a “tearjerker.”

Chuck Grassley“Kids starving to death, doing an injustice to the environment – it’s going to be an all-out effort because they have to protect their bottomline,” Grassley says. “They have to have an excuse for increasing the price of their food. Forget all these altruistic things. It’s another Adolph Hitler lie, the bigger the lie, the more people are to believe it. And it’s easy to lie when people are ignorant about ethanol.”

Grassley says he understands that former Congressman Cal Dooley, who is CEO of GMA, would like to meet with him. He hopes that meeting will take place because he has plenty to say to him.

The Media Perspective on CUTC

Andy Vance and Christina KoboldtWhile I was attending the CUTC I turned the tables on one of the media representatives covering the conference. Pictured on the left is Andy Vance, Buckeye Ag Radio Network along with NCGA’s Christina Koboldt.

I asked Andy why he attended. He says that what’s happening with corn is extremely important right now to his audience and that he couldn’t imagine not being there. Since the CUTC focuses a lot on new uses for corn he wondered if some of the new uses would generate as much public reaction as using corn for ethanol has.

Andy says that there were several Ohio growers present and even leading some of the sessions. He thinks that growers should participate since these new technological uses of corn are very important to their future.

You can listen to my interview with Andy here:

CUTC Photo Album

CNBC Investing in the Truth about Ethanol


CNBC has an excellent video dispelling some of the myths about corn and ethanol.

Anti-Ethanol Poll Clearly Shows Bias

The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C., “think tank,” has released the results of a poll it commissioned surveying public attitudes about the renewable fuels standard. The press release headline states “Farm-Belt Voters Favor Eliminating or Scaling Back Corn Ethanol Mandate, New Poll Finds.”

So, haw many “Farm-Belt Voters” were surveyed for this poll? 500? 1,000?

How about … 40. Of the 802 voters surveyed, only 5 percent were what the pollsters considered farm belters.

But what is truly ridiculous here is the transparency of the bias. Question Three of the poll gives a brief version of boths sides of the issue. But notice how the bias is toward one side:

“Supporters of this corn ethanol mandate say that the law promotes America’s energy security, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and provides financial benefits for farmers and agricultural businesses.”

“Opponents of this corn ethanol mandate say that ethanol production is increasing food prices, produces more net greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline, and contributes to world hunger by converting food to fuel, while doing little to promote energy security. It has been estimated converting the entire U.S. corn crop to ethanol would reduce gasoline consumption by only a few percentage points.”

And then Question Four adds information about the disputed land use research:

“Two new studies, one from Princeton University and the other from the University of Minnesota in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy, found that ethanol contributes more greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline to the atmosphere, while expanded ethanol production encourages habitat destruction.

“Now knowing this, do you believe the ethanol mandate should be…”

No attempt whatsover is made to offer an opposing viewpoint.

Well, it is a political season, and the pollsters are based in Washington, so maybe this survey is just one example of what we have to look forward to in the months ahead. But it’s a shame they stoop to this and cannot rely solely on arguing the facts.

More Popcorn Poppycock

Coincidentally coming at the kickoff of the big summer movie season, the theater industry has decided to raise prices for BOTH popcorn and tickets and blame it on ethanol.

Iowa PopcornIf you remember last year, the Iowa Corn Promotion Board popped the myth that ethanol caused higher popcorn prices by dramatically demonstrating just how much popcorn you can get for five bucks. Pictured is ICPB intern Paul Brees with 38.5 pounds of popcorn – the equivalent of about $1280 at the movie theater.

Missouri Corn Growers president Mike Geske was popping mad enough about the movie theaters’ claims that he wrote a letter to the Kansas City Star last week.

Dear Editor: It is ridiculous to blame the rising cost of a movie ticket on ethanol (5/23, A-1, “Corn costs adding pop to prices at the movies; Kansas City-based AMC will increase ticket and popcorn prices at its area locations”). In 2007, the farm price for popcorn was 13 cents per pound. Prior to popping, the average $5 tub contains 0.15 pounds, or about 2 cents’ worth of popcorn. Even if the price of popcorn would have doubled in the last year, there would be only about 4 cents’ worth of popcorn in the $5 tub at the theater. Additionally, the paper pulp used to produce popcorn tubs has jumped 40 percent in the past 36 months. This increase makes the popcorn less expensive than the tub it comes in. Lastly, popcorn and field corn, used primarily for livestock feed and ethanol, are not the same. It is irresponsible to paint ethanol as the scapegoat at the expense of farmers.

Time to get out the popcorn poppers and hold a few more media events to illustrate just how ludicrous it is to blame ethanol for increasing the cost of something they make such a huge profit on already.

Walking on Corn

carpetblog.jpgHere at NCGA’s global headquarters, our front lobby has a display that features some of the many things produced from corn, mostly from polymer. Now, when visitors stand there enjoying the display, they are doing so on carpet made from … corn. The carpeting in our building in the far western suburbs of St. Louis was just replaced by a product made by Mohawk with corn-based DuPont Sorona polymer.

The development of this textile polymer was a joint venture between DuPont and Tate & Lyle. Sorona polymers are resistant to stains, UV rays and the effects of chlorine. They also have excellent “stretch and recovery” and are exceptionally gentle to the touch, making them ideal for a range of purposes, such as swimwear, clothing, car seating … and carpeting. The polymer is also produced from renewable resources and replaces petrochemicals, using less energy and producing fewer emissions than synthetic production methods.

Our new carpeting was underwritten by a generous grant from Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a DuPont Company. Thanks, Pioneer!

King Corn Commentary

“King Corn” wants Corn Commentary to promote it.

No King CornWe got a comment on the blog from the distributors of this “documentary” that blames corn for America’s obesity problem telling us that it is now available on iTunes and wanting us to direct people to it. They call it a “very entertaining documentary with real educational value” that “speaks to disturbing health trends in America.” And they were hoping we might be able to help them “get the word out” on this site and “spread the filmmakers’ message.”

Fat chance.

Here is the filmmakers’ message – that we are going to have a shorter life span than our parents and that corn is to blame, that corn has no nutritive value, that corn is a poison for cattle, that corn is responsible for making Americans obese and the cause of diabetes, and that it is foul to the human palate, in short – that it is “crap.”

Okay, so here is our review of “King Corn.” It should have a shorter life span than a fruit fly, it has no intellectual value, it is poison for the public, it is responsible for filling American minds with mush and is the cause of misguided thinking, it is foul and unfair to the American farmer – in short – it is “crap.”

Don’t waste your money. Buy something more uplifting on iTunes – like “Schindler’s List.”

Pork Producers Point No Fingers

With feed costs representing 70 percent of the price of raising hogs, there is no doubt that pork producers are feeling the pinch of high grain prices. But, producers are recognizing the fact that it is more than just ethanol production driving up the prices.

World Pork Expo 2008 Bryan Black“This is not specifically an ethanol problem,” said National Pork Producers Council president Bryan Black. “The world demand for grain, the total energy price crisis and shortages of grain across the world have led to this situation and we are not pointing the finger at any one particular one.”

The NPPC has created a brand new task force to look at new feed alternatives to help them deal with the rising cost of corn and soybean meal, which have been the primary source of feed for hogs. In addition, USDA’s move to free up some Conservation Reserve Program acreage to haying and grazing should help by increasing the amount of feed available to the livestock industry.

Midwestern Governors Support RFS

The Midwestern Governors Association is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to uphold the Renewable Fuels Standard passed by Congress in December.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, the group said that granting a waiver would be contrary to the agency’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. The letter adds that blame placed on ethanol for higher food prices is misguided.

Midwestern Governors AssociationHigher food prices are the result of many factors, including rising transportation and production costs due to record oil prices, increased demand for grains and meat from developing countries, increased speculator investment and influence in all commodities markets, and extended global drought. As a result, all food commodity prices are high, not just the price of corn. In short, granting any waiver to the RFS will not reduce current food commodity prices.

The Midwestern Governors Association includes the governors of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin working together on issues of significance to the Midwest.

Read the letter here.

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