Corn Commentary

Monday’s Maize Mutant: HM1

Photo courtesy of Dr. Gerald Neuffer

Photo courtesy of Dr. Gerald Neuffer

Cochliobolus carbonum is a fungus that causes northern leaf spot and ear rot disease in corn. The fungus produces a toxin that is highly destructive to corn ears and leaves. The HM1 gene in corn is responsible for resistance or susceptibility to the fungal plant pathogen. Corn lines that are resistant to C. carbonum and its toxin can become susceptible if their HM1 gene is mutated.  This seemingly unfortunate event has allowed maize researchers to clone and characterize the HM1 gene, which led to a better understanding of how fungal toxins work and how plants defend themselves against pathogens. Mutant analysis is one of the most powerful tools researchers have for understanding how genes work and how their expression controls different pathways and how plants respond to the environment.

Why the RFS is Important to Corn Farmers

iowa-corn-reckerDespite the challenges that come every year with farming, Iowa corn grower Mark Recker sees his future and the future of his children in the industry, in part because of what the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has meant for rural communities like his in Fayette County.

“The RFS is the one shining star that has brought opportunities back to this state,” said Recker during a conference call for America’s Renewable Future (ARF) this week. “It’s not just important that I and my farm do well, but my entire community succeeds and that’s what ethanol and the RFS has done for us.”

ARF-LogoThe Iowa Corn Growers Association was one of the founders of America’s Renewable Future, a coalition formed earlier this year committed to educating presidential candidates in both parties about the RFS. “We’re involved because over a third of our corn crop goes directly into the ethanol industry,” said ICGA CEO Craig Floss, who has seen the ethanol industry grow from almost nothing in 1997 to what it is today. “It’s been a tremendous success story to say the least.”

Floss says because the new EPA’s proposed volume requirements for biofuels under the RFS are lower than the statute intended, it would mean less consumer choice at the pump and limit innovation for both first and second generation ethanol plants. “Less gallons being blended, less choice,” said Floss.

Listen to comments from Mark and Craig here: What RFS means to corn growers

Speaking Out for RFS

You might remember the turnout in December 2013 at an EPA hearing after the release of the recalled 2014 volume obligations (RVO) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Over 100 people from across the country testified on behalf of the RFS. That hearing was held near Washington DC. Imagine what the turnout will be like on June 25 for a hearing on the new and improved EPA proposal that will be held in the heart of the Heartland – Kansas City.

mess-rfsThe industry is already planning to be out in force. “I hope the EPA hears loud and clear from farmers and consumers and biofuels producers about what this proposal really does,” said Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen, who spoke passionately at the Fuel Ethanol Workshop last week about all of the ways EPA has worked against biofuels and agriculture. “There’s something desperately wrong with the EPA,” said Dinneen adding that they “seem to have a war on farmers. RFA CEO Bob Dinneen comments at FEW

“We want everybody in the world to show up there,” says Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis of the June 25 hearing. “Everyone ought to weigh in.”

“They got the first one wrong a year and a half ago, they got this one wrong,” said Buis. “We stopped the last one, we’re going to change this one.” Interview with Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis at FEW

American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Executive Vice President Brian Jennings says they plan to show the power of the people in this industry at the hearing. “We’re going to get a bunch of retailers who are selling E15 and E85 to go to that hearing and tell EPA face-to-face that the blend wall isn’t real,” said Jennings. “We’re going to make sure we get some very persuasive messengers to come deliver a very compelling message to that hearing.” Interview with ACE Executive VP Brian Jennings at FEW

Details about the hearing are expected to be published in the Federal Register this week. The proposal will be open for public comment until July 27.

America’s Farmers Thrown Under the Train Instead of Posted on It


American corn farmers do not often see how their lives might be impacted by high profile, First Amendment debates in the media. While we each value our Constitutional rights and deeply cherish liberty, our messages about growing food and stewarding the land generally do not stir up mainstream debate to a degree that lands us on the national stage.

Today, we did.

The Corn Farmers Coalition campaign, a six-year long tradition, normally places ads featuring facts about farmers presented by actual farm families in the DC Metro during the summer to help educate legislators and other Dc thought leaders. Sharing the unique stories of the men and women who grow corn while highlighting their constantly-improving practices and technology helps those in the capital understand what happens across the nation’s countryside and why it matters.

Today, those ads have not gone up on schedule.

Media outlets have spotlighted recent events that transpired between Pamela Gellar’s American Freedom Defense Initiative and the DC Metro over the ability of one group to purchase ad space from the latter. DC Metro, eventually, chose to resolve the issue by banning new issue-oriented advertising in the transit system for the remainder of the year. (Read more here)

America’s corn farmers know that, while CFC brings new information to DC every year, the campaign’s concept does not waiver or qualify as “new.” While the messages may change slightly, the intent remains the same.

They also know that the ads provide information without urging for any particular issue-oriented action. Showing images of real Americans in their fields with their families helps farmers share a little perspective on American agriculture with a town often farm removed from its rural roots. Featuring US Department of Agriculture data and facts, supported by reputable research, educates Washingtonians on the ever-evolving, ever-improving achievements on America’s farms.

Yet, DC Metro has stalled progress on the campaign’s scheduled June 1 launch due to a conflict in which we played no role. In the headline-grabbing dispute between AFDI and DC Metro, America’s corn farmers pay the price for highly politicized positions. Every year, real farmers invest real dollars to send the farm to Washington. Without a reasonable resolution of this conflict, America’s farmers will be thrown under the train rather than on it.

Mutant Monday: Lazy1

This photo comes courtesy of Steve Dellaporta.

This photo comes courtesy of Steve Dellaporta.

Gravitropism is a plant’s response to gravity. It is what makes the roots grow down into the soil, and the shoot grows in the opposite direction. There are several pathways in this response including amyloplasts, whole cell response and hormones. Lazy1 interferes with the plant’s hormone response to gravity. The result is a plant that slouches like a teenager, it bends back toward the ground as it grows but does not break.

To learn more, click here.

People, Plants Both Suffering from Cold, Wet Feet

sad cornFeeling a little bit damp and cool? Is there a chill running through your bones? Young corn plants trying to grow in many parts of the Corn Belt feel the same way right now.

Delving more deeply into why the first crop condition report issued by USDA shows only 74 percent of the crop in good or excellent condition, one finds corn plants and the people who live near them share a distaste for some of this spring’s cooler, wetter conditions.

Farmers worked tirelessly across the country to plant their crops in the small windows available. From sinking one’s planter deep into the mud to watching as precious seeds wash away, planting in the rain just doesn’t work. Planting into soil too cool to foster germination doesn’t do the trick either. So, men and women across the Great Plains put in long hours to get the crop in the ground as the clock started ticking down.

But, like every year, they now wonder if it will be enough.

In farmer speak, what they need now are days that supply “heat units.” Translation – they need days where the sun and winds provide the light and climate that fosters their seedlings as they mature. They need those lovely late spring afternoons, along with proper nutrients, as much as their counterparts in the city.

Now, going directly into a scorching hot, dry summer wouldn’t make many people happy. If the rains do not come and the temperatures soar, corn plants will not thrive either. People and corn alike need a delicate balance to truly thrive.

Whether the steady rains have trapped you in the house with kids freshly out of school and itching to play or trapped in the shed watching young corn plants desperate for a little sun too, the same rains dampen our outlook. Let’s hope for a little sunshine together.

Bird’s Eye Corn Planting Beauty

Drone pro Robert Frye captured the beauty of corn planting from a bird’s eye view earlier this month in high def video edited with dramatic music. Robert shot video of Iowa farmers Jim, Matt and Jay Frye planting with a DJI Inspire-1 4K camera. He chose what he called a “metaphorical” music selection entitled “In the Beginning” by Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer. The result is stunning. Be sure to check it out on his YouTube page in all its glory and LIKE it!

IFF Takes Chicago Moms to the Lab to Investigate GMOs

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining a group of Chicago-area moms for a tour of a major biotechnology provider’s research center. These women, who came as a part of the Illinois Farm Families program, had voiced concerns about GMOs and wanted the chance to see first-hand what biotech really means for their families. After an incredible afternoon of learning and discussions with women who work in biotech, women with families and lives much like their own, these influential thought leaders found that there is less to fear about food than they previously suspected.

Starting early on a Saturday morning, the group of about two dozen boarded a flight to St. Louis. These moms, busy women with hectic schedules themselves, showed not only the importance they placed upon learning about GMOs but also the value they place upon the Illinois Farm Families program as a whole. They embraced the idea of exploring agriculture and actively seeking knowledge upon which to base their judgments on a topic we all value- feeding our families the best that we can.

Sponsored by Illinois Farm Families with additional support provided by the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, IFF invited all the women who participated in traditional IFF farm tours since the program began in 2012.  Nearly half of them signed up for the GMO tour that was designed specifically for IFF alums.

After leaving, the participants filled out surveys to help IFF evaluate how the tour impacted their views. The results were clear; the day was a success for farmers and consumers alike.

Delving into the data, the numbers backed IFF’s approach. The moms reported a 26 percent reduction in their overall concerns about GMOs. What did they gain? According to the women themselves, they left with a much better understanding of the human safety of GMO seeds and crops after the tour.

The knowledge they gained furthers IFFs goal of dispelling the many myths, perpetuated by the media, which lead to food fears. With so many removed from the farm, the concerns of these women are understandable. They only want to feel good about the decisions they make for their families.

More so than knowledge, the women began building trust. Sitting face-to-face with scientists who share their values and having open, honest conversations establishes a relationship. These experiences and connections bring us together and establish a mutual understanding both stronger and more satisfying than pop culture propaganda could ever be.

Don’t take my word for it. Be like these moms and find out for yourself. Over the next few months, the women will blogging and share their experiences on their personal social media channels. Check back with the IFF website,, and explore their worlds like they explore ours. 

Corn Planting Zooms Ahead

plant-2015A week ago corn planting was running behind schedule but thanks to the very latest precision technology corn farmers are now 17% ahead of the five year average with 55% of the crop in the ground, according to the latest crop progress report.

“We saw more than one-third of the nation’s corn acres planted in a single week,” said USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.

“The incredible progress that we saw over the past week is a testament to the old fashioned, hardworking nature of farmers as well as the incredible advantages offered by modern farming technology,” said National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling.

The phenomenal progress included an increase of 38% in Nebraska and Illinois, 41% more in Missouri, 45% in Minnesota and an additional 54% of the acreage in Iowa. “Conditions were nearly ideal in much of the state last week and as a result farmers were able to make tremendous progress,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey.

Emergence, however, is running a bit behind schedule at this point. As of May 3, only nine percent of total corn acres had emerged, which is three points behind the five-year average but three ahead of corn emergence in 2014 at this time.

The New Recipe for Growing Sales While Growing Waistlines

Today, Panera Bread Co. announced they would join the anti-everything parade of restaurants phasing out ingredients en masse in what they believe to be an attempt to gain a marketing advantage over competitors. While this sort of food snobbery may be trendy, it does little good for actual consumers and pushes the food conversation even further into the realm of unrealistic, self-righteous ridiculousness.

First off, Panera presumably hopes that consumers will assume that the exclusion of ingredients on their “no-no” list leads to a healthier product. With items like the steak and white cheddar panini, this couldn’t be further from the truth. At 1050 calories and a whopping 46 grams of fat, this purportedly natural option will naturally lead to an ever-increasing waistline for the average American.

Simply, just because an ingredient is hard to pronounce does not mean it is bad. Just because it sounds “natural” does not mean it is the healthy option. It is easy to fall into the natural trap, but easy is not always best. Healthy eating requires actually reading about the nutritional value of food, not casually complying with the latest fad.

Also of note, what about their beverage options? The press releases thus far have stressed what they will cut from their foods, but it is hard to imagine that they will hold their beverages to the same standards. If the company truly holds that these ingredients should not be served in their establishments, they cannot then hypocritically offer the soda options that most people enjoy to wash down the sometimes dry sandwiches.

By 2016, Panera will have half-heartedly bought into the hypocrisy of marketing their food as healthy without actually changing the nutritional value of their menu. The information of actual importance, such as the calorie, fat or sodium count, doesn’t have to change by their logic – only consumer perceptions. Emotionally, it might feel good for some. In terms of actual impact, it could be a dietary disaster.

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