Ethanol Education & Promotion at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

In Audio, Education, Ethanol, State Groups by Chuck

It’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally time and bikers are getting a continuing education about ethanol as a fuel option. With the theme, “Ethanol, Fueled with Pride” educational materials and promotional t-shirts are being distributed during the event at the Buffalo Chip Campground which is the hub of the activities and concerts that make up the event schedule. The event is sponsored by the Renewable Fuels Association.

Providing a helping hand at the event is Jere White, Executive Director, Kansas Corn Growers Association. I sat down with him to get his thoughts on this promotion and what it means to corn growers. Jere says the audience is a little different than might have been considered in the past but when it comes to the E15 issue it was found that some of the push back came from boaters and bikers. The Sturgis event is the largest gathering of bikers in the country and he believes that after several years of promotion and education a difference is being made. Jere rode his own motorcycle to the event which he has converted to run on E85 and it is performing well. I also asked Jere to give us an update on the status of the corn crop in Kansas which, like other parts of the corn belt, has some widely different conditions at this point in the season.

Jere White Interview

You can find a lot of photos from the 2011 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally here: 2011 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Photo Album

Wonderful World of High Yielding Corn

In Audio, Farming by Cindy

Seven has always been considered the magical, perfect number so it’s no surprise that there are seven factors that in the right measure make up the perfect combination for consistent high yielding corn crops.

7 wonders corn worldA new website looks at “The Seven Wonders of the Corn Yield World,” based on the research of University of Illinois plant physiologist Dr. Fred Below.

Dr. Below has been on a quest to help all farmers achieve the Holy Grail of corn – consistent 300 bushel per acre yields – ever since he saw it happen more than 25 years ago. He has categorized the results of his research into seven management practices or “wonders” that can result in high yielding corn. His study helps growers answer the question of what the latest products and practices contribute to yield.

“Roughly speaking, the higher up on the Wonder list the more control that factor exerts over the Wonders that follow,” Below explains. “When combined, all of these factors contribute to big-yield gains.” In order of importance, they are:

1. Weather
2. Nitrogen/fertility
3. Hybrid selection
4. Previous crop
5. Plant population
6. Tillage
7. Growth regulators

Farmers may not be able to control that first wonder, but if they can get the other six right, Fred believes that when Mother Nature cooperates, the results will be wonderful!

I interviewed Fred about the 7 wonders earlier this year. Listen to that interview here: Fred Below Interview

Real Research Busts Anti- Corn Sugar Activists for Their Fear Mongering Hype

In HFCS, Research by Cathryn

With all of the products labeled “No HFCS” cluttering store shelves, it seems obvious that consumers are demanding food manufacturers banish what was once an industry staple.  Like many assumptions though, this isn’t the case.  According to a study released earlier this month by Mintel Research Consultancy, most consumers look to avoid total added sugars and not high fructose corn syrup in particular.  So, why are marketers pushing no HFCS as a selling point?

Simply, by stating that a product does not contain an ingredient, marketers can reinforce the baseless stigma that HFCS is somehow “worse” than other sweeteners.  Notably, it is a stigma these ad wizards created themselves to differentiate products that are otherwise identical to competitors.  It’s Marketing 101. If two products are identical, create the difference.

Here, the bitter bashers imply HFCS is somehow intrinsically worse by creating doubt.  If it were just the same as other sweeteners, why would someone advertise their product as HFCS free?

 Just like the Sweet Surprise commercials ask, what is really different about HFCS?  Whether the answer comes from Martha Stewart, Marion Nestle or scientists themselves, it is the same – nothing.  HFCS has the same glucose to fructose composition and is digested the same way also.

Maybe it is time that slick marketers take note.  Consumers already know that corn sugar is just like any other sweetener. It is safe, delicious and totally fine to enjoy in moderation.  The real people pushing grocery carts are more savvy and well-informed than the average ad man believes.  Stop the hype.  Not only is it untrue, it doesn’t work.

Feeding the Hungry with Corn and Soy

In Food, USDA by Cindy

corn soy productA newly developed food aid product made from corn and soybeans can help provide needed nutrition for hungry children.

The fully cooked food-aid product is called Instant Corn Soy Blend and it was developed by USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists to supplement meals, particularly for young children. The work was led by food technologist Charles Onwulata at the ARS Dairy Processing and Products Research Unit in Wyndmoor, Pa.

corn soy productOnwulata developed the new food product using the same type of machines that are used to make fully cooked puffed snacks and cereals. “Cheese puffs” and “cereal puffs,” for example, have been popular in the United States for more than 50 years. The extrusion technology used to make Instant Corn Soy Blend cooks food completely in a short period of time under high heat and high pressure. The crunchy, fully cooked product exits the extruder through an opening at the end of the machine in less than two minutes. The resulting Instant Corn Soy Blend is then crushed and milled to form the ration.

Instant Corn Soy Blend could also soon be purchased for the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service-administered McGovern–Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which provides U.S. agricultural products for school feeding and other projects in more than 30 countries.

Read more about it from ARS here.

USFRA Communications Kickoff

In Audio, Farming, Food, General, USFRA by Cindy

The food supply in this country is the safest in the world and agriculture needs to do a better job of letting people know that.

The chairman of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman, gave an update on the organization’s communications program at the recent Ag Media Summit.

Stallman says there will be six phases to the campaign and phase one has begun. “Phase one is about getting farmer and rancher alignment,” which he says includes not only support of the effort but also a change in attitude. “We have to change our way of thinking and be willing to engage in a conversation with consumers, not just tell them what we think they need to hear.”

“We haven’t been very good at answering consumer questions. That’s going to stop now,” Stallman says. They plan to address those questions in a variety of ways including social media and “town hall” meetings which will kick off in September.

USFRA now has 49 affiliate organizations.

Listen to Chuck Zimmerman’s interview with Bob from AMS here: Bob Stallman Interview

Pseudo-Journalists, Hot Corn and the Heat Dome Monster

In Current News, Environmental, Farming, General, Legislation, Media, Production by Cathryn

According to many St. Louis meteorologists, the heat dome of 2011 will relent today, finally ushering in still-hot, but not life-threatening temperatures.  In retrospect, the seemingly epic heat wave does offer some degree of humor.  It just isn’t summer in the Midwest until some crack journalist attempts to fry an egg, cook macaroni and cheese, or even pop corn on a sidewalk.

While the epic creativity of the ever-rotating crop of insightful local reporters attempting such crazy feats allows us to giggle at the heat, or at least their tired antics, for many, the heat brought about a level of panic, suffering and problems more likely to make a sane person cry.  From illness to electric bills that trigger a special sort of nausea, the heat wave wreaked havoc on what could otherwise have been a productive, enjoyable summer.

Children trapped indoors and sidelined runners aren’t the only groups stopped dead in their tracks by the blistering bubble.  Corn farmers have watched as the crop they worked late into the night to plant following this spring’s unrelenting monsoon season begins to show signs of heat stress.

While the farmers themselves can escape to the icy, dark confines of the closest movie house, corn plants must find ways to endure the heat and preserve precious moisture.  As corn plants are past the pollination stage at this point in the season, each individual plant makes a variety of small adaptations that best allow it to produce the maximum amount of viable seed possible.

As for each of us who has eschewed a morning jog or skipped an outdoor barbeque to cope with the insipid temperatures, corn plants make sacrifices to survive in these conditions.  These sacrifices, although vital to preserving the corn and to the inherent objective of spreading its own genetic material, negatively impact the crop in a number of ways that can subsequently impinge on each individual farmer’s profitability at harvest.

Just walking through a corn field, the toll heat stress takes on a plant becomes obvious.  The normally green, flat leaves that jet from the stalk have rolled in around the edges to reduce surface area, therefore preserving moisture.  Near the ground, leaves have been fired from the stalk completely and now lie in brown, crumpled piles.  The once lush, green field no longer resembles the perfect stands picturesquely surrounding the baseball diamond in “Field of Dreams.”

Heat damage affects more than the cosmetic in corn.  As the nights stay hot and days reach record highs, the plant must further shut down to preserve the seeds encasing its valuable genetic material. The small kernels from the top of the ear abort to save the more desirable brethren at the base.  Even the kernels for which much of the plant was sacrificed may not reach their maximum potential.

At harvest, these ears of corn will still be useful.  The crop will still provide food, feed or fuel depending upon its destination.  Yet, the farmer will again suffer as low test weights and diminished yields chip away at the profitability of the year’s corn crop.  With high fertilizer prices and increasingly expensive land, farmers may find the heat burning them in the pocketbook long after a chilly fall breeze begins to blow in the evenings.

Farmers know from a very young age, most often by observing as their parents and grandparents worked that same land, that every year, every day their livelihood is at the mercy of the weather.  Long after the average person’s electric bill is paid, farmers feel the impact of a long, hot summer.

So, next time a peppy freshman reporter cracks an egg onto a white hot sidewalk remember that the heat dome of 2011 will continue to loom large in the memories of many long after the holidays.  America’s family farmers toil on despite the risk because they realize the importance of producing enough corn to supply the world’s growing demand.

Say thank you by becoming more informed.  Take a moment to read a simple, short brief on how farm programs, such as those coming before Congress next year, help protect farmers from the heat and ensure a vibrant future for this key industry.  If the television station can invest in the same tired heat story year-after-year, the country should invest in the men and women who provide the food that actually ends up on a plate.

Giving Time Now Builds the Foundation for a Brighter Tomorrow

In Activism, Education by Cathryn

During the whirlwind that is a week working in agriculture, building in time to help cultivate tomorrow’s ag journalists, agronomists, economists and agri-business leaders often is prioritized directly below milling through old files to see what forgotten facts might lie within.  For the vast majority of those in the field, it is unimaginable that college students might not fully understand the opportunities in the field and the rewarding nature of the work.

As an industry, we must make an active decision to cultivate the next generation as carefully as farmers do their crops.

Even in this unimpressive-at-best job market, there is a fight for young talent.  By relying on the natural interest of a small group, ag misses out on the opportunity to recruit potential powerhouses. Simply sharing can turn the next Norman Borlaug’s attention in this direction.

Last week, the NCGA staff took a moment to do just that.  Two college-age interns visited home office in St. Louis to try and understand the role that associations play in U.S. agriculture and the opportunities that these unique organizations present.  Speaking with economists, biologists and communicators, the students discovered that an entire world of possibilities awaits them after graduation and made friends eager to help them succeed.

Following the visit, presenters realized something unexpected – they had gained as much from the students as they had given.  Full of optimism and questions, the interns provoked thought by asking questions in a fresh manner and reinvigorated spirits with the interest and respect they provided so naturally.

While not everyone has a fresh crop of college students to mentor every summer, everyone involved in agriculture can become a recruiter.  Look around at the young people in local schools, churches and clubs.  Invite them onto the farm for a tour.  Ask if they would like to tour a state association or other agri-business in the area.  Actively seek out the people who will lead us into the future.

Other industries are out there looking to build strong staffers and ensure a strong, vibrant workforce.  It is time to beat them to the punch and show that ag is not only a strong part of our nation’s past, but also, a bright part of its future.

Mowing Down an Ethanol Myth

In Ethanol, General by Ken

Our old trusty lawn mower died a slow, agonizing death this summer, much to our son’s happiness. I think he wanted a ride-on mower for our humble third of an acre, complete with stereo and GPS auto-steer. But such was not the case as I headed to Sears Hardware a few weekends ago to replace one Craftsman workhorse with another. I didn’t even spring for a self-propelled model.

Seen at a local Sears Hardware store.Things have changed, however. Now there is a sign greeting shoppers at my local store warning them about ethanol. And the salesman at the mowers and the clerk at checkout both verbally warned me that the mower warranty does not covering “ethanol damage,” but they have a very nice RPA, or repair protection agreement, I could buy to cover fuel-related issues.

But there’s something wrong with this. According to my owner’s manual, “Gasoline with up to 10% ethanol (gasohol) or up to 15% MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) is acceptable.” E10 is the fuel most widely available in these parts for gas engines.

The warranty that came with my new lawn mower does not cover “preventive maintenance, or repairs necessary due to improper fuel mixture, contaminated or stale fuel.” If gas engines like my new Briggs and Stratton are “impacted by ethanol in gas,” as the sign says, the owner’s manual does not agree with the sales staff. E10, the type of gas I’ve been putting into my tank for years with no problem, is not an “improper fuel mixture.”

Of course, Sears has created a product to sell, its RPA, and created a crisis to help sell it – the fear of the impact of ethanol on my lawn mower engine. Frankly, even if I have an ethanol mixture that accidentally rated a little higher than E10, the overall impact on the engine would be negligible given how much fuel is used each week and how small the fuel tank is.

But there is also the simple fact that a gasoline-powered tool should naturally be built to safely and properly use the form of gasoline currently available in the marketplace, and the owner’s manual implies this clearly. Sears only recently changed its warranty, according to the salesperson, even though there was no change in the ethanol content of the fuel. In fact, E10 has been the exclusive fuel in this area for almost a decade.

I have always liked Craftsman products, and for them to imply there will be a problem seems to indicate that Sears does not as have much faith as I do in the products they sell.

Precision Farming Could Provide USDA Data

In Audio, Farming, USDA by Cindy

infoag conference michael scusePrecision farming data could help improve the accuracy of USDA statistics, while at the same time simplifying the reporting process for farmers.

At the recent InfoAg 2011 Conference in Illinois, USDA Acting Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse said that the Acreage Crop Reporting Streamlining Initiative Project (ACRSIP) may well be the “most important thing that USDA has ever done.”

According to Scuse, the concept would simplify and provide new reporting options for producers. “Rather than a farmer or rancher going to the local FSA office to do their crop reports as they do now and have to give a second report to their agent, they can actually do the report from home,” Scuse said. “Our ultimate goal is for those that have precision ag equipment in their planters and combines to actually use the information that’s collected from that equipment to be downloaded directly to their Farm Service Agency and to the crop insurance agent, to simplify the process even further.”

Scuse says they plan a pilot test of the program this fall and hope to have it implemented by 2013. “This is how we’re going to provide a better service for farmers and ranchers,” he said. “It will ultimately save the taxpayers a great deal of money with this initiative.”

Listen to my interview with Scuse from InfoAg here: Interview with Michael Scuse, USDA

Farmer in Congress Wants to Wait on Farm Bill

In Audio, Farm Bill, government by Cindy

* Update 1/18/12: Regarding the title and content of this post, we have to admit the author of this post made a mistake. We know there are other members of Congress actively involved in agriculture, and we are glad that Politifact helped set the record straight on a blog post written six months ago.

rep. stephen fincherFarmers have at least one friend in Congress these days in Representative Stephen Fincher (R-TN), who *in an address to the 2011 Southern Peanut Growers Conference said he was the “working farmer currently serving in the House.”*

“We’re 7th generation cotton farmers from the Frog Jump community in West Tennessee and still actively farm,” Rep. Fincher told me in an interview. “It’s an honor to serve in Washington and represent rural ag communities.”

Fincher is one of the freshman class in Congress that is shaking up the status quo in the Capitol and he is very concerned about cuts in agriculture funding being considered on the federal level. “Farmers understand that we’ve all got to tighten our belts a little bit, but we can’t kid ourselves and think that we can balance the budget on the back of one percent of the budget, which is what ag gets.”

Because of the current hot political climate in Washington, Fincher would like to see the current Farm Bill extended until after the 2012 election when cooler heads might prevail. “Where we could sit down and have a reasonable discussion about our next 5-6 years in the ag world,” he said. “I’m afraid from some of the comments made by some of our colleagues in Washington that they want to slash and burn the Farm Bill on the ag side!”

Listen to my interview with Rep. Fincher here: Congressman Stephen Fincher