Corn Commentary

Dr. Borlaug to Join Statuary Hall

borlaug-statueNational Agriculture Day celebrations in Washington DC this year just happen to fall on March 25, the centennial anniversary date of the Father of the Green Revolution. As a fitting tribute, the State of Iowa will install a bronze statue of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug in the U.S. Capitol on that very day.

Each state is allowed to have two statues of notable citizens in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol Building. The statue of Borlaug will replace the statue of U.S. Senator James Harlan installed in 1910, which will be relocated to Mount Pleasant, Iowa. The second statue representing Iowa is of Governor Samuel Kirkwood, which was installed in 1913.

World Food Prize president Kenneth Quinn, chairman of the committee appointed by the governor of Iowa to develop the statue, says of all the people immortalized in that hall, Dr. Borlaug will be the only one honored for his work in agriculture. “The only real agricultural figure is going to be standing there amidst all of these presidents and generals,” said Quinn, who added that if you took all of the people in the hall and added all of the Nobel peace prize laureates “and you add up all of the lives that they all saved, they still won’t have done as much as Norman Borlaug did by himself.”

As the Father of the Green Revolution, Dr. Borlaug is credited with developing agricultural innovations that saved an estimated billion people around the world from hunger and starvation. Quinn likes to think that Dr. Borlaug’s presence in the nation’s Capitol will perform another great act for humanity by helping to bring politicians in Washington together. “During the most heated periods of recent politics, when Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on anything in our state legislature, the Republican-led House and the Democrat-led Senate in one day passed the resolution saying Norman Borlaug should be in Statuary Hall,” said Quinn. “He’s the one guy who can get them all in the picture.” WFP President Kenneth Quinn talks about Borlaug statue

More information about the statue is available at www.iowaborlaugstatue.org, and there will also be a webcast of the statue unveiling ceremony, which will take place on March 25 at 11 a.m. Eastern Time, at www.speaker.gov/live.

Long Winter Takes a Hard Toll

red-barn-on-very-cold-winter-morning-dan-jurakFrom the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic, the long, cold winter has taken a toll on the spirits of people from all walks of life. From commuters sick of slugging away in traffic during snowy commutes to parents worn down by a barrage of weather-related school cancelations, winter’s death grip on much of the country seems to be firmly clenched as spring rapidly approaches.

For farmers, another concern looms on the horizon. While, like everyone else, they feel the physical and mental toll of the long, dark winter, many also see what may be a frantic late spring as deeper-than-normal frost level and below-normal temperatures will likely delay planting from the western Midwest to the Northern Plains. Soggy fields drenched in melting snow could spread the planting problems to the eastern Midwest too, according to DTN Senior Meteorologist Bryce Anderson.

What will happen when winter finally gives way may be pure speculation but predictions of frenzied planting seem a likely prospect. The work may be hard, with planters running late into the night, but know that America’s corn farmers are up to the task. Using modern technology, such as planters that can cover ground quickly and seeds that can reach maturity despite delays, American agriculture stands ready to roll as soon as winter’s icy claws loosen their hold.

For now, we all wait for a much-anticipated spring together. When it comes, Americans can enjoy the warm rays and relax knowing farmers will be hard at work preparing a crop to get them restocked with food, feed and fuel for the year to come.

National Corn Growers Association members can get a head start planning for planting by using the FMC Weather Advisor Benefit. Offering the latest scientific information regarding outlooks for temperature and precipitation, this valuable service shines a ray of light on how weather conditions will impact farms across the country over the weeks and months to come. So, get insider insight today that will help plan for tomorrow by clicking here.

Water is Life and Drought Equals Higher Food Prices

drought 

Food prices are on the rise again and you probably already noticed. Thankfully, the mainstream media thus far is covering it in a balanced way and pointing out the primary drivers behind the increase. Those include things like drought in key growing regions, and an anticipated cut in planted acres in the Ukraine due to political unrest.

But as surely as the birds outside your window are a precursor to Spring, before this is over someone will find a way to blame high corn prices and ethanol fuel by default. Prodded on by Big Oil, who is losing market share to ethanol, and abetted by folks who prosper when corn is cheap, they will once again try to make 2 + 2 = 9.

According to today’s Wall Street Journal federal forecasters estimate retail food prices will rise as much as 3.5% this year, the biggest annual increase in three years. This should provide a real kick in the pants for American consumers who are still dealing with the lingering effects of sluggish economy.

But rest assured the corn industry is doing its part to provide the corn the nation needs. In fact we grew so much corn in 2013 that corn prices have been hovering at levels that barely cover the cost of production for many farmers. Some analysts in the Wall Street Journal article hint that the lingering effects of a drought that hit major corn growing regions in 2012 might be another factor in inflated food prices.

Don’t buy into this for a second. Despite the 2012 drought farmers grew the eight largest corn crop in history, providing a testament to modern farming technology in use on family farms.  And as we all know there is nothing tentative about food manufacturers when it comes to raising food prices. Even a hint of any issues in the supply chain and they react by jacking prices like Usain Bolt leaving the starting block. I wish they were as efficient at lowering prices when normalcy returns to the market place.

Scratch the surface a little harder and you will find the real reason many products we often take for granted are seeing major price bumps.  Beef prices are up and it is directly linked to years of drought in the Texas and the south western US. Cattle need lots of water and when it’s not available ranchers reduce heard size. Initially this results in a big supply of beef hitting the market at great prices. However, that window has closed and now the public will pay more until kinder weather and a rebuilding of the nation’s beef herd which takes time.

Ditto on dairy prices where growing demand from Asia is putting upward pressure on prices. Add a brutal drought in California which supplies much of the dairy products we love and you get the picture. Cows eat lots of grass and hay, both of which are in short supply on the west coast. And I don’t even want to mention how much of the fresh produce you consumer comes from the big CA. There are similar tales behind other rising food items but I think you get the idea.

And remember being skeptical of what you hear is a virtue.

The Future’s so Bright…

classic14-martin-shadesMartin’s got to wear shades.

That was National Corn Growers Association president Martin Barbre looking like a rock star at the final Corn Congress session of Commodity Classic. Not by choice, he actually broke his regular glasses the night before and had to wear his prescription shades to read.

But, Martin really does think the future is bright for corn farmers and agriculture in general, especially now that we finally have a finished farm bill and NCGA has reached a new membership record of 40,287 as of the end of February.

Two initiatives Martin is especially excited about right now are the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF) and the Soil Health Partnership.

“There’s no doubt that GMOs have become a hot button issue in recent years,” he said of the CFSAF, which advocates a federal solution that would establish standards for the safety and labeling of food and beverage products made with genetically modified ingredients. “We’re just getting the coalition together and getting a game plan together and when we do we’ll start moving forward.”

The Soil Health Partnership has the support of Monsanto and the Walton Family Foundation and relies on a science advisory council made up of government and university experts as well as environmental groups. “These are just examples of the coalitions we’ve been able to work on.”

Martin is even optimistic about the number one policy issue facing NCGA this year – protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “We’re proud of the grassroots action we saw on the part of our nation’s corn farmers” to get thousands of comments in to the EPA on the proposal and thousands of calls to the White House. “We don’t know when the decision will come down or what it will be but we know we’ve done our part and we’ll continue to keep pressure on the administration.”

Martin talked about these issues and others in the following audio segments:

Interview with Martin Barbre, NCGA president
NCGA president on the Classic stage
NCGA Press Conference with Martin Barbre


2014 Commodity Classic Photos

CARB Serves Up Murky Alphabet Soup

soupThe iLUC analysis by CARB for the LCFS was based, in part, on EWG recommendations and included GTAP, AEZ-EF, and GREET models, input from EPA and USDA, consideration of RFS2, and also looked at contribution of DDGS and significance of YPE.

Watching a webcast of a California Air Resources Board (CARB) workshop this past week detailing preliminary staff results on Indirect Land Use Change (iLUC) models and analysis for the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) was sometimes like reading teen text messages. OMG, like, I was LOL and SMH at these PPL wondering WTH?

carb-14-2The 84 slide presentation of details on how CARB arrived at the values they are now proposing for corn ethanol, sugarcane ethanol, soy biodiesel, canola biodiesel and sorghum ethanol was interspersed with dozens of questions from stakeholders and scientists present or listening in on the webcast. An overriding theme of the entire four hours was “uncertainty” – which pretty well sums up the whole concept of indirect land use change. Nearly a quarter of the presentation was devoted to “Evaluation of Uncertainty” and “Why Results Vary Between Studies.” Many times points were made that there is no scientific consensus on certain values, or that some variables may not be taken into account.

I thought it was interesting and had to wonder why they decided to represent indirect Land Use Change with a little i for indirect. Maybe it’s supposed to be like iPhone or iPad. But there was even uncertainty on how to pronounce it as a word by those at the workshop – i-Luck, i-Look or i-Luke.

CARB is asking for feedback on the preliminary presentation by the end of March and plans to schedule one or two additional workshops in the coming months before completing an Independent Academic Review and presenting final report to the board in the fall. “Thank you for attending the LCFS opening ceremonies,” said CARB Transportation Fuels Branch Chief Michael Waugh at the conclusion of the workshop.

It would be funny if what CARB ultimately decides about iLUC would not have such an important impact on the use of corn ethanol in the state that uses the most motor fuel nationwide. I’m no scientist, but in IMHO, it’s just NAGI.

I Grow GMO: Not Ashamed or Embarrassed

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from blogger, CommonGround volunteer, farmer and dietitian Jennie Schmidt. Schmidt testified March 11 in opposition to a state bill which would require labeling of certain products containing GMOs. As similar battles rev up across the country, she offers not only her perspective as a farmer but also as a registered dietitian who earned an advanced degree in science.

I Grow GMO: Not Ashamed or Embarrassed

Yesterday, I testified before the Maryland State Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. I was speaking against SB778 ”Genetically Engineered Foods – Labeling Requirements”

My interview with WBOC on GMO labeling.

My interview with WBOC on GMO labeling.

Introduced by Senator Karen Montgomery, of Montgomery County, the bill synopsis states:
“Requiring specified raw foods and packaged foods that are entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering to display a specified label beginning on July 1, 2015; requiring a manufacturer to include a specified label on specified foods; requiring a supplier to include a specified label on a container used for packaging, holding, or transporting specified foods; requiring a retailer to place a specified label on a shelf or bin containing specified foods; etc.”

She introduced the hearing legislation by asking why people acted “ashamed or embarrassed” about GMO. She claimed she was a supporter of biotechnology and wasn’t afraid of it but that consumers have the right to know.

But many of the groups who claim that consumers have the “right to know” are actually working toward a ban of the technology.

Organic consumers Association: “Once GMOs foods are labeled, informed consumers will move to protect themselves and their families by not buying them. Once enough consumers shun GMO-tainted and labeled foods, stores will stop selling them and food manufacturers will stop putting GMO food ingredients in their products.”

Center for Food Safety:  ”Labeling #GMO food is not enough. We must keep new GE crops out of food supply to begin with take action @TrueFoodNow”

March Against Monsanto: “Many presume the March Against Monsanto is a protest about GMO. While food plays a very big role in the global protest, there are many insidious tentacles to the biotech giant. MAM seeks to destroy the root.”

Truth-Out: “GMO labeling laws are the cornerstone of the anti-GMO movement. But consumers are also expanding the fight by demanding outright bans on the growing of GMO crops.”

In fact, two consumers who testified at the same hearing in favor of labeling voiced the very same thing, that labeling didn’t go far enough, that biotechnology needed to be banned.

The Consumers Union, Food and Water Watch, and Union of Concerned Scientists had their legal team of suits presenting. I’m not going to restate their position because if you google Michael Hansen or Doug Gurian-Sherman, you will find pages of testimony nearly word for word identical to what they told the senate hearing yesterday, including continuing to claim the validity of the retracted Seralini study.

In response to Senator Montgomery’s comment: I am an unashamed and unembarrassed supporter of biotechnology. On my Maryland farm it has resulted in higher yields and lower pesticide applications, year after year, wet season, dry season, normal season. Even when Hurricane Irene knocked our corn flat, biotech held its ears better than non-GMO corn by 26 bushels per acre, which in a very crappy year, makes a world of difference to our family farm’s ability to stay afloat.

Our corn yield comparison data

Our corn yield comparison data

Our soybean yield comparison data

Our soybean yield comparison data

Biotech outperform our specialty seeds: non-GMO & Identity Preserved. Yes, we grow and segregate a variety of different types of grains and seeds, all of which are tested and verified as pure to the variety they are supposed to be. This year, we will have 900 acres of grains and seeds under some protocol for identity preservation. The seed must be genetically consistent and true to its traits, uniform in shape, size and color, and free from weed seed and contamination. They are tested and verified to meet those standards. So co-existence of conventional, biotech, and organic/Identity Preserved/nonGMO grains and seeds is possible. We do it every day on our family farm and have for many years now. Biotech threatens none of our niche or specialty markets. These farming systems are not and should not be considered mutually exclusive.

When you combine higher yields consistently, with less man hours on a tractor, burning less diesel fuel, and saving pesticide sprays, you have a far more sustainable family farm on the environment: less greenhouse gases, less fuel consumption, less pesticide use = protecting and preserving more resources.

But to the larger picture, biotechnology has brought us Humulin, Epogen, Herceptin and many, many other excellent lifesaving medical therapies.

Biotechnology means we don’t harvest insulin from hogs or cattle pancreas anymore.

Biotechnology means we don’t harvest the enzyme chymosin from young calves to extract rennet from their stomachs which is then used to coagulate milk in the cheese making process.

To me, this is progress. To me, these are reasons to oppose mandatory labeling of “GMO”. It is both safe and efficacious in medicine and in food.

Science and research concurs. Published last year, An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research reviewed 1783 studies, 312 of which were GE food & feed consumption studies finding “no scientific evidence of toxic or allergenic effects”. The researchers concluded that “that genetic engineering and GE crops should be considered important options in the efforts toward sustainable agricultural production.”

1783 studies… 312 of them on consumption of GE food and feed. That’s a safety track record.

Nicolia, et al, 2013. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology

Nicolia, et al, 2013. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology

The technology is valuable in both medicine and food. The technology has many benefits to mankind. No one but the activists are saying biotech was supposed to be a “silver bullet”. Farmers know it’s one of many tools in the tool box to improve sustainability and produce more food on less land.  Efforts to undermine the technology through mandatory GMO labeling that falsely implies there are safety concerns where none exist is misleading and a disservice to consumers.

I oppose Maryland SB778.

Interested? Read more posts authored by Schmidt on her blog, The Foodie Farmer, or follow her on Twitter @FarmGirlJen.

 

Smithsonian Wants Iconic Corn Ads

classic14-tolmanNational Corn Growers Association (NCGA) CEO Rick Tolman had bushels of great corn farmer news to share at the recent Commodity Classic about what the organization has done in the past year and what is happening now. We have since learned that this was the last Commodity Classic for Rick, as he has announced that he will be retiring at the end of September to enjoy more family time. He will surely be missed after 14 years of service to NCGA, but his retirement is well-deserved.

One exciting bit of news Rick announced at the NCGA banquet was that the Smithsonian Institution wants to put the Corn Farmers Coalition DC metro campaign ads in a new exhibit. “Those ads have been very iconic,” he said. “The Smithsonian Institution is doing a new exhibition called “American Enterprise” and they contacted us and said they really liked them because they’re about education, not about selling.”

cfc-20The ads have been featured in the Corn Farmers Coalition annual campaign which takes over every ad space in a single DC metro station for two weeks, a campaign that has been running for five years now.

The Smithsonian will include the ads in a new permanent exhibit scheduled to open next year in the Museum of American History. “It will last for 20 years and we anticipate about 90 million people seeing it,” Rick said.

In this interview on the final day of Classic, Rick also talks about the great corn grower response last year to commenting on the EPA proposal to gut the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and how NCGA plans to keep that momentum going. Interview with Rick Tolman, NCGA CEO

Classic Records Smashed

classic14-openWith more than 7,300 total attendees, the 2014 Commodity Classic convention and trade show, which took place last week in San Antonio, Texas, shattered previous records for the landmark event.

“We knew it was the biggest event ever, but the numbers really surprised us as we saw them rolling in over the course of the event,” said Commodity Classic Co-Chair Rob Elliott.

And the numbers are impressive:
Total attendance – 7,325 – up 18% from 2013
Number of growers – 3,874 – up 16.5%
First time attendees – 1,261
Trade show companies – 301

I talked to Rob just before the Classic actually got underway and he was already optimistic that it would be a record breaker. Interview with Rob Elliott, Classic Co-Chair


2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Missouri to Make States with E15 Availability a Baker’s Dozen within Months

This summer, Missouri drivers could be saving money as E15 provides a new option at gas pumps across the state. This action, which would ease the pain of rising gas prices and bring money back to rural America, now awaits publication by the Missouri Department of Agriculture of the proposed rule which would provide Missouri drivers with this environmentally, economically sensible option. If the Department of Ag acts quickly, E15 could become a reality for drivers by May 30.

In a recent article by the Kansas City Star, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who championed the rule spoke in support of allowing Missouri drivers choices that have been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for cars built in model year 2001 or later.

“Expanding the use of renewable fuels like E15 is a proven strategy for boosting our nation’s energy independence and bringing more dollars back to farming communities across Missouri,” Nixon said.

In addition to Nixon’s support, the Missouri Corn Growers Association has worked tirelessly to expand ethanol use in the state. MCGA’s educational efforts and ongoing support of E15 may provide a fuel option several cents a gallon cheaper than current fuel blends, resulting in an economic boon for drivers and for the many communities across the state dependent upon agriculture.

Following in the footsteps of a dozen other states, Missouri will join the movement toward increased biofuel availability. Drivers will have a choice. Pump E15 and thus pump money back into America. They can race into a future on biofuels that will help keep our air clean and our energy supply safe. Or, if they want, they can pump money back into big oil’s bloated bank accounts. Either way, at least they will have a choice.

Parable of the Popcorn

popcorn-smallIn honor of the start of Lent, we present “The Parable of the Popcorn” as read by National Corn Growers Association CEO Rick Tolman at the Commodity Classic corn banquet last week. This is a clever take on the biblical Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:1-23) and most on-line sources say the author is unknown.

It’s about choice and accountability. To pop or not to pop, that is the question.

Behold at the time of harvest, the ears of corn did bring forth kernels which were dried and prepared for the Popper’s hand. And then it was that the Popper did take the kernels, all that did appear alike unto Him, and applied the oil and the heat.

And it came to pass that when the heat was on, some did explode with promise and did magnify themselves an hundred fold. And some did burst forth with whiteness which did both gladden the eye and satisfy the taste of the Popper. And likewise some did pop, but not too much. Behold, there were some that did lie there, and even through the Popper’s heat was alike unto all, some did just bask in the oil and keep everything that they had unto themselves.

And so it came to pass that those which had given of themselves did bring forth much joy and delight to many munchers. But those which kept of the warmth and did not bring forth were only cast into the pail and thought of with hardness and disgust.

And thus we see that in the beginning all appear alike, but when the heat is on, some come forth and give all, while others fail their purpose as chaff, so as to be discarded and forgotten.



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