Corn Commentary

Agriculture Celebration Planned for RNC

AgNiteAgriculture will be in the spotlight for thousands attending the Republican National Convention next week.

The Minnesota Agri-Growth Council is hosting AgNite, a celebration of America’s food and agriculture industry, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008, during the second night of the RNC in the Twin Cities. The evening event will showcase the food, agriculture and energy industries in a unique and exciting club atmosphere in the historic Minneapolis Depot’s impressive 60,000-square-foot venue. Guests will also experience some of the best networking, food, drink and entertainment in town.

MN CornAgNite is a non-partisan invitation-only event that will include over 3,000 guests, delegates, policymakers, news media and industry leaders. The event is being made possible by dozens of sponsors from Minnesota and across the country, including the Minnesota Corn Growers.

AgNite is basically taking the place of “The Great American Farm Breakfast,” which is normally held at the RNC but for some reason was canceled this time.

Technology that’s really cutting-edge

Boosting yield — the amount of corn grown per acre — is crucial not just for increasing corn production to meet all needs, but to do it in a sustainable way that uses natural resources more efficiently. And developing new seed technology is one of the most effective ways of boosting yield.

But this can be a slow and daunting process. And that’s why new technology from DuPont may be important. DuPont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred International division is using laser technology to help speed up research. The competitive landscape of seed technology has gone far to help feed and fuel the world and should be welcomed by all who are concerned about energy security and world hunger.

Corn Stover for Feed and Energy

If USDA’s corn crop forecast holds true this year, farmers will produce not only 12.3 billion bushels of corn, but also 290 million tons of corn stover.

What if all those leftover stalks, leaves and cobs could be used to feed livestock, generate steam and electricity, and make cellulosic ethanol – in addition to enriching the soil and preventing erosion?

That is the goal of a new collaboration between Monsanto, John Deere and Archer Daniels Midland that was announced this week. The companies are planning to work together to identify environmentally and economically sustainable methods for the harvest, storage and transport of corn stover as well as ensure that sufficient stover is left on the soil to reduce erosion and maintain or improve soil quality for the next season’s crop. And they think they can do it with a combination of improved varieties that yield bigger and better plants in addition to more corn – new machinery that can get it off the ground – and new technologies to process and commercialize the product.

It’s kind of interesting that this announcement was made in a release late Tuesday while all of these companies had representatives at the Farm Progress Show in Iowa with thousands of farmers and all the nation’s major farm media in attendance – but no formal announcement was made at the show. They appear to be targeting a general media audience with this – which is great and it did get some good coverage. However, it seems like it also deserved to be publicized at the biggest farm show in the Midwest among people who actually know what corn stover is. Just a thought.

Corn Growers at Farm Progress Show

Mark Dehner, Marketing Manager Refined and Renewable Fuels for Bob Dickey, First Vice President of the National Corn Growers AssociationCorn growers by the car and truck load are attending the Farm Progress Show in Boone, IA. Helping me do some work here is Laura McNamara, a freelance farm media specialist. She got to sit down with an NCGA leader this morning.

There’s a lot the National Corn Growers Association is looking forward to in the next few months. I caught up with Bob Dickey, First Vice President of the association, at the 2008 Farm Progress Show in Boone, IA today. He says corn growers are counting on good weather, a good harvest and a good relationship with the new Secretary of Agriculture who’ll be named after this year’s Presidential election. In the meantime, Bob says representatives from the 33,000 member organization are on site here at the Farm Progress Show to get out their grassroots message:

“Our mission is to create and increase opportunities for corn growers,” Bob said.

A lot of those opportunities have come from ethanol in recent years. Bob says ethanol technology is continually progressing. Cellulosic technology is proving to be the newest frontier in the industry and Bob says, the National Corn Growers Association is behind cellulosic development 100 percent.

“We get behind the cellulosic industry because that will help enhance the overall industry,” Bob said. “And so we’re very supportive of what’s going on in the cellulosic side of the ethanol industry, whether it be switchgrass, sweet sorghum, alfalfa, wood chips, corn stalks, corn cobs, whatever. We’re excited.”

I interviewed Bob about what he feels are the important issues for corn growers. You can listen to my interview with Bob here:

In Italy, Pasta Up When Wheat’s Down

We have often discussed the great chasm between the cost of farm commodities and food at the retail level. And we have talked about the many other costs that go into food. A recent story out of Italy helps drive this home:

(ANSA) – Rome, August 20 – This year’s extraordinary rise in pasta prices has been even higher than previously thought, the Italian Treasury said Wednesday. But the price of wheat, which is used to make pasta, has dropped almost as sharply, a top farming association said.

While the price of pasta has jumped 30 percent in the first half of 2008, the price of durum wheat has fallen some 25 percent.

The story also notes:

Coldiretti, said the rise in price from farm to consumer was a whopping 369%. There was ”no alibi” for not dropping the prices of pasta and other staples like bread and milk, which also showed huge increases, it said.

Coldiretti blamed ”distortions and too many steps from the farm to the table” for the massive discrepancies. Milk was 241% dearer [more expensive} in shops than it was at the farm, while bread was an astonishing 1,325% dearer.

Here’s Your Sign

You probably are familiar with comedian Bill Engvall’s signature bit “Here’s your sign” that pokes fun at people who ask dumb questions to which the answers should be obvious.

The next time someone asks, “Why should we support domestic production of ethanol?” – here’s their sign, courtesy of the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council. They have several others as part of an advertising campaign that started earlier this month encouraging supporters to “sign up for ethanol.”

The campaign highlights the role of ethanol in increased energy security, economic development and decreased gas prices.

The goal for the group is to get at least 4,000 state residents to register their support at the web site but the website has been attracting hundreds of ethanol supporters nationwide. Names of people from at least 25 other states are listed on the website ethanol supporter scroll. States from east to west and north to south are represented – including California, New York, Florida, New Hampshire, Washington, Arizona and more.

Check it out and add your name to the list.

Pro Farmer Crop Estimate

The Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour has come up with an estimate for this year’s corn and soybean crops that’s close, but just a bit lower than this month’s USDA forecast.

Based on data collected on the tour last week, Pro Farmer estimates a corn yield of 153.3 bushels per acre for total of 12.15 billion bushels. That compares to USDA’s August forecast of a 155 bushel yield for corn and a 12.3 billion bushel harvest.

For soybeans, Pro Farmer estimates a yield of 39.95 bushels per acre and a harvest of 2.93 billion bushels, compared to USDA’s forecast of 2.97 billion bushels with yields are expected to average 40.5.

Chip Flory, editor and publisher of the Pro Farmer newsletter, said the four-day roller coaster ride tour was the craziest he’s ever seen. “We lost bushels out of Ohio compared to USDA’s August estimate, I think we found those bushels in South Dakota. Then we lost bushels in Nebraska, but we found them in Indiana. Then we lost some bushels out of Illinois but we found them in western Iowa,” Flory said. “It’s just been a give and take tour.”

To allow for weather changes between now and crop maturity, Pro Farmer is putting a range of plus-or-minus one-percent on the corn yield estimate and plus or minus two-percent on the soybean yield estimate.

The annual Pro Farmer tour goes through portions of Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and all of Iowa. This year’s tour included nearly 70 crop scouts ranging from full-time farmers to members of the media and representatives of banks like Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers. The tour was sponsored by John Deere Risk Protection and Pioneer Hi-Bred.

Corn Flakes Go For The Gold

I first saw this on Fox News while working out this afternoon. Apparently 8 Gold Olympics Medals winner Michael Phelps is forgoing the Wheaties box cover for Corn Flakes. Now that’s interesting.

He’s also going to be on the cover of Frosted Corn Flakes and that, according to Fox, has “outraged” some nutritionists. If so, there’s not much on the web about it and probably for good reason. My take is that some nutritionists are trying to capitalize on Phelps’ current fame to hype their own agenda. Give me a break.

Anyway, the folks at Kellogg’s are pretty happy:

He’s already taken his place in history alongside the legends, but now Michael Phelps can add one more milestone to the list. After earning eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympic Games, Michael Phelps has earned a place of honor on the front of specially-marked Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes® and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes® cereal boxes.

The gold medal winning Olympic champion from Baltimore, Maryland will be featured on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereal packages that are expected to hit grocery store shelves across the U.S. in mid-September. The boxes will feature images of Phelps during what were some of the most memorable moments of this summer’s Olympic Games.

“As an Official Sponsor of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team and a proud sponsor of Phelps, it is only fitting that Kellogg Company feature this world-class athlete on its iconic boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereals,” said Marta Cyhan, Vice President, Global Promotions, Kellogg Company. “Michael embodies the values behind our Frosted Flakes Earn Your Stripes™ program. He knows that winning is not just about the glory that comes with gold medals, but about good sportsmanship, working hard and being your best.”

MO Governor Checks Out Food Prices

Missouri State Fair-goers last week got an education about the cost of corn in their everyday food items.

Featuring a “Price Is Right” themed game, the Missouri Corn Growers booth in the Agriculture Building challenged consumers to guess the value of corn in various grocery items including milk, eggs, beef, pork, chicken, soda and corn flakes. According to MCGA Communications Director Becky Grisham, “With inaccurate accusations blaming corn for rising food costs, consumers were surprised to find that most items’ retail prices were largely unconnected to the value of corn needed to produce them.”

“The vast majority of questions and comments regarding corn and ethanol have been positive,” Grisham reported. “Most importantly, attendees are walking away with a better understanding of corn farmers’ ability to produce feed, food and fuel.”

Even Missouri Governor Matt Blunt stopped by the booth to play the game. No word on how well he did.

Kansas Corn Helps Launch Blender Pump Program

Kansas Corn CommissionKansas is now the second state to lead the nation in raising public awareness for higher blends of ethanol as the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC), ICM and the Kansas Corn Commission Monday launched a blender pump incentive program for the Sunflower State.

EPIC“Today is a great day for Kansas as we help the ethanol industry expand higher blends of ethanol through blender pumps while also giving consumers a break at the pump and allowing them to use a product produced right here in Kansas,” said Kansas Corn Commission Chairman, Bob Timmons. “This program will help strengthen our economy by encouraging blender pump infrastructure development, and take us one step closer to weakening our dependence on foreign oil.”

The initiative will help fuel station retailers obtain funding and the equipment needed to sell higher blends of ethanol, which range from E20 to E50 and can only be used in FFVs. One of the main goals is to increase the state’s blender pump infrastructure by installing a minimum of 100 blender pumps over the next year. Currently, three blender pumps are open in the state thanks to a pilot program adopted by the Kansas Department of Agriculture that made Kansas one of the first states in the nation to allow ethanol blender pumps.

Earlier this year, the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council launched a similar program.

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