Corn Commentary

Who Wants to Deal with Anti-GMO Thugs?

Why are anti-GMO activists so thuggish in social media? We saw this with Cheerios, when they all focused their unrighteous indignation on that relatively harmless breakfast cereal’s Facebook page. And when General Mills slightly altered the ingredients (and nutrition content) of the cereal, they did not relent but continued their vitriol. Now it’s time for Rep. Mike Pompeo to feel their wrath, as it was leaked out in DC media that he might file a bill striving to make sense of GMO labeling.

Is it wrong to call them thugs? I don’t think so. Under Rep. Pompeo’s innocuous Facebook post seeking summer interns, posted March 27, one finds well over 200 comments about GMOs, breaking a cardinal social rule about commenting on posts – keeping them germane to the subject. Among those comments one can find numerous examples of immature name calling (traitor! corrupt pig!), obscenities, ungrammatical use of exclamation points (one comment had six!!!!!!), SHOUTING VIA CAPITALIZATION, and of course stretching the truth – both a little and a lot.

Don’t these social media meanies realize it harms their cause a little to look like raving lunatics? As much as we may want to try to have a real thoughtful conversation, the tone and volume of their rants sadly make it hard to even want to have that sort of dialogue.

Corn Farmers March for Biofuels in the Beltway

ace14-dc-alversonThere were over 25 battalions of ethanol troops on Capitol Hill last week as part of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) sixth annual Biofuels Beltway March

ACE president Ron Alverson, a South Dakota farmer and board member for Dakota Ethanol, says the teams had appointments with the offices of more than 130 senators and representatives, and he thought they were well received, even in enemy territory. “We went into what we thought were going to be some pretty hard places – representatives from Alabama, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island,” he said. “They were very cordial and they listened well … we were really pleased.”

Their main weapon against ethanol foes was good information to defend against some of the more popular arguments against ethanol, such as food versus fuel and engine issues with higher blends. “We’ve got some really good arguments and good data…all we can do is go out and tell our story,” said Alverson.Interview with Ron Alverson, ACE president

ace14-dc-corn-teamOver 80 people turned out for the ACE event this year, the most ever, and the diverse group included ethanol producers, retailers, bankers, truckers, cattle ranchers, students – and a whole bunch of corn farmers. The team here consisted of (LtoR) Missouri farmer Gary Porter, Missouri Corn Growers public policy director Shane Kinne, and Minnesota farmers on the board of Chippewa Valley Ethanol Dale Tolifson and Dave Thompson.

I caught up with them as they were heading out of the Capitol after making their rounds and asked them each to give a brief impression of their visits. Interview with Biofuels March team


2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Farmland Coming to a Theater Near You

FarmlandThe latest screening of the feature length film documentary Farmland was a star-studded event this week in Washington D.C. While the movie has been previewed at several events this year, including the Commodity Classic, this one not only helped celebrate National Agriculture Day, it also marked the official announcement of its upcoming theatrical release.

On the red carpet here at the Ronald Reagan Amphitheater are Randy Krotz, CEO of the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), one of the film’s major supporters; director James Moll, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman, chairman of the USFRA.

farmlandThe movie provides an up close and personal look into the lives of six very different types of young farmers who talk about the challenges of becoming farm owners/managers. The story is told completely by the farmers and the imagery of them at work with no narration. “I don’t use a narrator,” said director Moll. “I’m delving into a world that I know nothing about … they can tell the story better than I can.”

Farmland has a deal with D&E Entertainment for the film to first be distributed to 60 major market theaters beginning May 1. “I hope that people watch it, relate to it, come away from it wanting to learn more about farming and ranching, and feeling like they actually had an opportunity to meet and get to know some of them,” said Moll.

Between now and May 1, Farmland will be competing in several film festivals during the month of April. After the theatrical release, Moll says they plan on the film being released on DVD and through the usual channels for home viewing. Interview with James Moll

classic14-usfra-farmlandThe farmer stars of the film are Leighton Cooley of Georgia, Brad Bellah from Texas, David Loberg of Nebraska, Sutton Morgan of California, Margaret Schlass from Pennsylvania, and Ryan Veldhuizen of Minnesota. A couple were at the premier last night and four of the six were at Commodity Classic where they participated in a press conference with USFRA.

The four pictured here, from left to right (around Randy from USFRA again in the middle) are Loberg, Veldhuizen, Cooley and Bellah. Listen to them talk about themselves and their experiences in making the movie here: Farmland Movie Press Conference

Ag Day Celebrates America’s Family Farmers

ag_dayIt can seem like everyone has a “day.” From margaritas to ravioli, calendars could become a dizzying disaster trying to keep on top of what is being “celebrated” every day of the year. Today is different though. Today, America celebrates the American icons that provide abundant food, feed and fuel. Today, we celebrate farmers.

Officially, Ag Day was created to recognize and celebrate the abundance produced by agriculture. Every year, agricultural associations, universities, companies, government agencies and many others across the country join in a wide variety of activities designed to bring the story of farmers and ranchers to the forefront. In 2014, the achievements of America’s family farmers certainly warrant a celebration.

America’s corn farmers recovered from a massive drought in 2012 to produce a record corn crop in 2013. Growing more than 13.9 billion bushels of corn, they showed the resilience and resolve indicative of our national character.

To learn more about the 2013 corn crop, click here.

In Washington, the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, of which NCGA is a founding member, is taking a leadership role in bringing these and other accomplishments to light. This afternoon, USFRA held a panel discussion focusing on the next generation of American farmers and ranchers. Discussing what it means to be a farmer or rancher taking over responsibility for their family business in today’s environment, the participants brought the challenges and opportunities facing the future of ag to light.

On Wednesday evening, USFRA brings this discussion to life by hosting a preview of the new feature-length documentary, Farmland. The film, directed by Oscar and Emmy winner James Moll, takes an intimate look at the lives of six farmers and ranchers in their 20s. These young farmers have all taken responsibility for running their farming operations. Following the film, an intimate Q&A session will allow attendees to dig more deeply into their unique and fascinating situations.

To view a trailer of Farmland, click here.

Ag Day celebrates agriculture and, in doing so, it celebrates the American traditions of individualism and excellence that made our nation what it is today. So, maybe take a moment to hug a farmer as many may suggest. Just ask them first, they will still be hard at work and may need to wash up first.

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.

 



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