Corn’s Big Change: Why Mutants are Good

In General by Guest Blogger

By Tom Mueller

EXTRA, EXTRA, read all about it! Plant scientists identify the gene mutation that turned grass into corn!

Not exactly the headline heard or seen on any news outlet this week. So, what’s the big deal?

Teosinte. Image via UW-Madison, from cited story in Washington Post.

Washington Post journalist Robert Gebelhoff captured the significance in a recent Speaking of Science column. In the article, University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher and study author John Doebley compared the impact of teosinte’s mutation from grass to corn to that of humans evolving from four-legged creatures to upright bipeds.

This research documented how a simple nucleotide change can alter protein function. Until now, there was disagreement among scientists on whether a single change in the DNA could make such a difference. Armed with DNA diversity data (i.e. a measure of genetic variation), researchers identified the location within the corn genome where the covered kernels of teosinte became the naked kernels of the corn plant. When teosinte’s tough protective kernel husk vanished, the diversity of the plant was unleased and this mother-load of calorie dense food took form.

Genetic mutation is a natural and frequent occurrence. Most mutations are neutral and innocuous. However, when a significant mutation takes place, we experience a game changer.

Corn’s mutative evolution has been big, but just how big was it? In Tamar Haspel’s Washington Post article In defense of corn, one expert noted that corn has adapted to almost every climate that humans have, and that it is three times as productive as 95 percent of the world’s flowing plants. That mutant really packed a punch.

By all accounts, corn has a few more benefits up its genetic sleeve. As it turns out, the gene identified in the University of Wisconsin-Madison study also affects the shape of corn kernels. The size and shape of corn seed does have an impact on emergence and early growth when environmental stresses such as early planting, cool soil temperatures and soil crusting are present.

So, embrace the mutants.

About the author: Tom Mueller, chairman of NCGA’s Research and Business Development Action Team, farms in Illinois.

Paltrow’s Pretentious Propaganda Heads to the Hill

In Biotechnology, Food, Food Prices, Policy, Politics by Cathryn

 

Gwyneth Paltrow has faced her fair share of criticism for her food theories. From failing the Food Stamp Challenge 2015 to promoting incredibly pricey diets on Goop, she has clearly shown, time and again, that her point of view does not take into account the financial realities faced by average American families. Her status as Hollywood royalty creates an insular bubble which not only allows her to ignore the plight of the people who shell out hard earned money to see her movies but it also allows her to continue promoting her Patrician food politics on a national stage.

Today, she will join her equally aristocratic ancestor Blythe Danner to petition our legislators in Washington to stand on her side, one consciously uncoupled from reality, in opposing the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. This legislation, which would create a national, science-based standard for the labeling of foods created with the use of biotechnology, plays an important role in keeping food affordable for American families.

Unlike Paltrow, look at the reality facing all of us today. Should the 50-state patchwork of labeling legislation which would most probably come to fruition without Congressional action go into effect, starting with Vermont next July, the average American family would see their grocery bill go up by $500 per year. They would gain a sticker, one based on marketing misinformation in many cases, without improving the quality of food or information they receive for their grocery dollars one iota.

Paltrow poses as a lifestyle guru, laboring under the delusion every one of us should aspire to her holier-than-thou views of food. It is hypocrisy. She eschews science, promotes profit-driven propaganda and advocates for a position which harms the very people who pay for her ludicrous lifestyle.

Don’t fall for it.

Our representatives in Washington should represent us. While most of us do not have the time to fly to DC or a staff to splash our views across the headlines, we do have a voice. There are more of us than her. In a democracy where every one of us is entitled to an equal vote, we can stand up for ourselves, creating a system where science and economics actually matter.

Contact your elected officials today. Let them know the real impact failing to support this key legislation would have on the people who actually matter, their constituents. It is easy to do. Start by clicking here.

A Recipe for Relationships

In Food, State Groups by Cathryn

This week, CommonGround Maryland volunteers took to the airwaves in our nation’s capital to discuss upcoming events where people who have questions about food can have real conversations with the women who grow and raise it. Sharing an incredible recipe for roasted sweet corn and blue crab gazpacho, Paula Linthicum and Jennifer Cross reached out to the audience of ABC News Channel 8 to help residents of Washington DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia understand that they can enjoy food without the fear.

To view the clip, click here.

This Friday, Common Ground will host a crab feast at NCGA President Chip Bowling’s farm in Newburg, Maryland to begin that same conversation with DC media and Congressional staff. Working together, the volunteers who make up this grassroots movement are gaining momentum in their effort to get Washington buzzing about the real story behind American farming – one they live every day.

Check back next week to find out more or go to Common Ground to learn more!

 

Huffington Post Goes Green in Support of Ethanol over Oil

In Biofuels, Ethanol, Media by Cathryn

Big Oil concocted the blend wall myth to protect its own profits, at least according to an article run today in the Huffington Post. Carefully delineating the events which led to the EPA’s reduction in required volume obligations announced in May, author Paul Alexander questions,” will the myth of a blend wall destroy the RFS, on which a good portion of the renewable fuel business is built, or will hard facts prevail?”

The piece, a departure from the anti-corn ethanol rhetoric often seen in national media, thoughtfully explores the connections behind the policy shift. From an Obama administration official reported by Reuters to have met with anti-RFS lobbying groups during his White House tenure to carefully detailing Department of Energy statement which affirm the viability of higher ethanol blends, Alexander crafts a solid argument that the blend wall arose from pro-oil propagandists.

Logically, he draws the seemingly obvious conclusion. Backing away from the RFS does equate to running toward a fossil fuel future. For an administration touting its environmental street cred, the move seems illogical at best.

Take a moment to read the article in full by clicking here.

From rallies in the Heartland to a flood of messages sent to the Hill, ethanol’s proponents must make their voice heard. Today, Alexander proved to be a prominent ally in this critical struggle to grow a cleaner, greener future for Americans by pointing out the current path only adds to the green in the pockets of Big Oil.

Love It or Hate It- NPR Has Mixed Emotions on Ethanol

In American Ethanol, Biofuels, Sustainability by Cathryn

NPR needs an all-hands-on-deck meeting. Recently, the reporters covering ethanol seem to be operating under almost opposing sets of assumptions. Sometimes, they hit it out of the park. Defying anti-ethanol propaganda disguised as conventional wisdom, they cut through the crud and achieve the accuracy journalists value above all.

But, sometimes, they fall victim to the trap laid by anti-ethanol activists who have worked for years to ingrain their false facts so deeply that they achieve an aura of un-questionability.

In this story from June 10, NPR reporter Grant Gerlock tackles why U.S. farmers and the EPA disagree vocally on changes made to the Renewable Volume Obligations outlined in the Renewable Fuel Standard. Gerlock speaks with a variety of guests, from the Union of Concerned Scientist’s Jeremy Martin to Iowa State University’s Bruce Babcock, an agricultural economist. While this may appear to be a good faith effort to present a well-rounded view of the situation, Gerlock’s unquestioning acceptance of anti-ethanol rhetoric quickly becomes apparent.

Speaking with USDA researcher Rob Mitchell, a proponent of switchgrass as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol, Gerlock makes a mental leap based upon the assumption that some ethanol is good and some is bad. He just assumes that corn-based ethanol could not possibly lower greenhouse gas emissions – even in comparison with oil. While both products do so, it does a grave disservice to suggest that the one more widely available today does not offer this important benefit.

To read the transcript (and see the incredible leap of misinformed faith for yourself), click here.

Yet, in a piece by Michael Tomsic that host Audie Cornish highlighted, NPR accepts NASCAR’s assertion that corn-based ethanol blends have been key to their efforts to make the sport “more green.” Discussing the move to ethanol, Tomsic sites that switching to a 15 percent ethanol blend has “reduced emissions by 20 percent” for NASCAR.

To read the transcript, click here.

Notably, he not only touts the virtue of using E15, he also points out that legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. no longer has concerns about how his car will perform on the fuel after having a chance to use it.

Yes, NPR showed in the first instance that it can fall prey but, in the second, it showed that others within the organization can find the positive, honest story America’s farmers have to tell about ethanol- the story which they have raced feverishly to share.

Want to say kudos highlighting NASCAR Green? Want to set the record straight on corn-based ethanol’s environmental advantage? Either choice, there is a way.

NPR offers listeners the opportunity to submit their comments to the Office of the Ombudsman. Unlike traditional comment sections, the letters submitted are considered carefully. Each week, some are even chosen to be read aloud on the air.

So no matter what you want to say, speak up! They have the story half-right. Your voice can make a difference.

To contact the NPR ombudsman, click here.

Who Said Conventional Production Is Sustainable?

In Biotechnology, Environmental, Food, Sustainability by Cathryn

When you look at the facts, conventional agriculture scores higher than organic on sustainability. What system generates these results? The new Responsibly Grown labeling system developed by Whole Foods.

According to a multitude of media reports, the system will rank produce on a variety of criteria including water use, pesticide use and sustainability. Then, the data will be used to award produce selections with a label of “good,” “better” or “best.”

For one example, from Fox News, click here.

From early reports, conventional farmers have placed much higher than the growers using organic methods.

The system reflects a shift in the industry as a whole. While organics may have grown in popularity, many advocate a more scientific approach to assessing the impact of food production. Whole Foods spent three full years developing the Responsibly Grown program. Instead of simply applying a label to market the produce, they provide information on the true impact of growing practices.

Farmers, whether conventional or organic, strive to care for their land. It has provided a livelihood for their family for many generations in most cases. In about as many, they hope it will continue to do so for many generations to come. Keeping it healthy only makes sense.

Conventional production can be more sustainable than organic. Soon, the proof will be clearly labeled at a Whole Foods near you.

Monday’s Maize Mutant: HM1

In General by Cathryn

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

In Audio, Ethanol by Cindy

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

In Audio, Biofuels, Ethanol, government by Cindy

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

In Activism, Current News, Education, Farming, General, Media, Promotion by Cathryn

CFC

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.