Corn Commentary

A Bitter Rant with Bitter Consequences

Daily news stories rail against attempts by the foodie elite to dictate the diets of Main Street Americans. From parents protesting school lunch menus to New Yorkers rallying in defense of the Big Gulp, average citizens stand firmly in support of their right to make decisions and ardently defend their personal freedoms.

Yet, with carefully crafted theories and a plethora of plausible-yet-false facts, New York Times writer Mark Bittman gets away with forcing his theories about the redistribution of wealth, land and scrapping the basic ideals of the right to property and freedom of choice. He wants Americans to buy into his supposed “paradigm shift,” a regressive jump back to a pre-specialization of labor economy, and therefore aide in his effort to dictate diets not just to Americans but also to the rest of the world.

Bittman’s bitter tirade represents not only an agenda-driven, slanted view of modern agriculture heavily reliant upon idealized imagery but also an ongoing intellectual trend toward a world of pseudo-imperialism that would allow cultural dictators to rule over Americans and the international community alike. Displeased with how a dispersion of power and innovation has left their theoretical musings impotent, Bittman and his self-aggrandizing elitist posse cunningly plot to play on fear of the unknown, of all things “big,” of change, to gain support which, once firmly garnered, they would use to create their own utopia of the urban and urbane literati.

Know that this utopia does not take into account the realities of life most Americans face. It does not account for a lack of land, a lack of time or even a climate lacking the conditions needed to actually grow a crop. It does not account for land ownership, the ability of either farmers or consumers to make choices or the economic reality that those who grow food and those who purchase it know intimately.

While he hits on many touching topics, invoking the plight of the poor, the disenfranchised and the unjustly treated, he does these groups no substantial good. In forming his fix for a system he knows little about, he ignores the deeper issues surrounding food waste and productivity. He ignores personal choice and takes the idea of food security for granted in a way which early Americans never possibly could.

So, stand up! If each of us rallies against these covert attacks on the freedoms which make our country and our lives great as hard as we stand up in defense of their more obvious counterparts, we can make a difference. Theory and idealism have a place, but they do not put food on the table when they fail to account for reality and value the rights of individuals.

Tell the foodie elites like Bittman to close the doors on their intellectual imperialist dinner party. Tell them Main Street refuses to accept their invitation.

How One Cattleman Views Corn

corn-couserWe’ve highlighted Bill Couser of Couser Cattle Company several times on this blog but this week was the first time I had the opportunity to meet and spend some quality time with this great guy and his fabulous wife and son during the Truth About Trade and Technology Global Farmer Roundtable.

The Couser operation has been a stop for the TATT Roundtable pretty much since it started in 2006 and while you would think the visit would focus on cattle, it’s really more about corn and getting more out of every kernel. “It’s no different than a barrel of crude. We don’t just get gasoline from a barrel of crude. We take it apart and get many different things,” he said. “When we look at corn, we can feed it, we can take it to ethanol plants, we can sell it domestically, we can sell it abroad.”

As one of the founders of Lincolnway Ethanol plant in Nevada, Bill is really excited about the cellulosic project with DuPont using corn residue. “We’ve got the residue there and if we manage it correctly, we have a new cash crop,” he said. Interview with Bill Couser

Bill put together a little powerpoint presentation that shows the multiplier effect of a single acre of corn going to an ethanol plant. When he figured that final amount corn was $7 a bushel and it added up to over $12,000 per acre. But even at $3, it’s still nearly $8,000. Watch the video to see how he determines that.

2013 TATT Global Farmer Roundtable photos

Meaningful Act Tells a Bigger Story

I didn’t know Kyle Hendrix but I wish I had. Nor do I know Jake Moore, the young man who recently set up a moving tribute to his fellow farmer who passed away too young from cancer. Moore recently arranged a fitting recognition for his best friend, Hendrix (31) that lined up dozens of tractors and combines along the route to the cemetery.

The wordless act of placing the steel behemoths along the road spoke volumes about their friendship. It also made a meaningful statement about how rural communities still rally around each other in a time of need. The old fashioned barn-raising of years past may be gone but the spirit lingers.

My guess is that much of the same farm machinery shown in Matt Rubel’s spectacular photos will also be seen harvesting Hendrix’s crop in the days ahead.  So Godspeed  Kyle and a big thanks to Moore for reminding us all of the value of friendship and community, and Rubel for capturing the reminder in an indelible way.

Newspaper’s Credibility At Issue

In 36 years of being directly involved in agriculture and the issues that make it so…interesting, frustrating, rewarding, and painful…I have only seen one positive story written about the issues effecting the profession, especially ethanol, in the Chicago Tribune. I remain convinced to this day that it was a mistake that slipped by editors and that the cub reporter responsible is driving a cab in the Loop and speaking in tongues.

I think it is ok to say this Windy City pub never met a farm policy or ethanol issue they didn’t like to bash, facts aside. Apparently farmers are immune to the whims of business considerations like making enough to pay the bills and plant another crop. Why else would the Trib opine that farmers are getting more for their corn after a 25 year economic drought that saw farmers getting $2 to $2.50 a bushel regardless of real world cost or demand? (Let alone make such comments in the wake of prices just dropping 40 percent).

So, following their direction, I guess all of you farmers can get off your combines and retire. Apparently you have spent your entire life, not to mention several generations, involved in the most under appreciated hobby in history. No more production of food, feed, or fiber. No more ethanol fuel because we are just going to continue to depend on prickly and dangerous oil producing nations for their finite black gold.

On a more serious note, I think the Tribune needs to be called on the carpet for the sham they have been selling to the public for years that they have a pro-business/pro-jobs position.

Despite dozens of third party experts bringing them information backed by science that exposes the errors in their thinking the Trib, especially its editorial writers, remain steadfast in their spewing of misinformation and loathing of ethanol despite its emergence as a critical economic engine in much of the U.S. Are these folks not suspicious or troubled at all by the millions of dollars being spent by the petroleum industry in recent years to damage the reputation of ethanol. One of the tenants of good journalism is to follow the money in trying to understand societal issues. Clearly Goliath is trying to squash David and somebody should be asking why.

Here are a few of the factual perversions in their latest diatribe:

  • Farmers are not planting as much corn as possible. In fact we are 20 million acres shy of planting the acres we did in the 1920s.
  • The Trib notes we use 40% of the corn crop to make ethanol. Actually we use the equivalent of only 27% of the crop because only the starch from the corn kernel is used to make ethanol. The protein for livestock feed is concentrated, easier to transport and a high value product.
  • Blaming corn for higher meat prices is also off base. Declining domestic meat consumption and the outrageous cost of transportation of all food products to market – thank you big oil – has something to do with that.
  • Plant diseases and pests are nothing new. Farmers deal with them all the time and do so very well thank you. Goss’s wilt that you reference touches only 10% of the corn crop, and is far from being devastating, unless of course you fall in the 10%.
  • And did you actually criticize crop insurance in one breath while also intimating we should take away a farmer’s ability to choose what to plant? That will make the kids want to return to the farm business.

Stop Frivolous Lawsuits

lawsuitsThis week, the oil industry filed a lawsuit over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Again. Seems like they are always filing a lawsuit over the RFS or E15 or something to do with ethanol.

The American Petroleum Institute sued the EPA in March 2010 right after the final rule for the RFS was finally published. “They have sued EPA over implementation of the RFS before and been told that their case has no merit,” said Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen. “But the oil companies have more money than God and they are spending that on lawyers.”

Dinneen calls the lawsuit frivolous. “I view it as a lawsuit in search of a problem,” he said, noting that “the API was just using the courtroom for a press release.” The oil industry is challenging the RFS volume requirements for 2013, but Dinneen notes that the biofuels industrty is on-track to meet the requirements either by actual production or RINs generation.

Note that they are suing the federal government, which means it costs taxpayer dollars to deal with it. Frivolous lawsuits are non-essential and should be shutdown.

Farming is Big in Any Language

basf-farming“Farming, the Biggest Job on Earth” is the tag line of a European campaign for agriculture by BASF Corporation which is hitting the United States now on Facebook. It’s also very true.

I had the pleasure this past week of being able to attend BASF’s global press conference with nearly 100 other agricultural journalists from ten countries, right after being in Argentina with over 150 from 30 countries. Coming up is the World Food Prize and Global Farmers Roundtable, which brings together representatives from all parts of the agriculture industry. The languages are different, the politics are often at odds, but the goal of feeding people sustainably is the same in every country.

Farming is such a big job that it requires lots of help – from new hybrids and crop protection products to precision technology and bigger equipment for planting and harvesting. Researchers, engineers, extension agents, and even the ag media are all part of this big job called farming.

Farming is the oldest profession, a noble endeavor and hard work. Any way you look at it, it’s a big job and arguably the biggest job on Earth.

API Poll Shows Their Efforts to Confuse Consumers Are Working

The American Petroleum Institute took to Capitol Hill this week touting the results of a poll showing their most recent barrage of misinformation has indeed created confusion. Unable to provide substance in their verbal assault on the Renewable Fuel Standard, the pro-oil propaganda peddlers rely upon consumer-sentiment stats. In essence, this information demonstrates one thing – tossing copious amounts of cash into advertising that makes baseless claims can work.

In the poll, as reported by OPIS, API found that:

  • 66 percent of those surveyed agreed that federal government regulations could drive up the cost of gasoline for consumers (19 percent disagreed)
  • 50 percent of those surveyed agreed that blending corn-based ethanol into gasoline could increase costs to consumers (28 percent disagreed)
  • 77 percent of those surveyed are concerned about putting E15 into their vehicle (18 percent are not concerned)
  • 69 percent of those surveyed agreed that using even more corn for ethanol production could increase consumer prices for groceries (24 percent disagreed)

Tellingly, the group did not provide concrete evidence that these claims are rooted in reality. Instead, they argued that simply because a belief exists, it must be valid.

The series of advertisements the group currently runs promoting these exact claims must not have anything to do with it, right?

A look at the facts shows the anti-ethanol assertions to be untrue.

  • Ethanol reduces the cost of gas consumers pay at the pump by nearly a dollar. Available at a lower cost than gasoline, it provides fuel blenders a way to save money so retailers can charge less at the pump.
  • E15 is one of the most tested fuel blends in history. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved E15 for 2001 and newer cars and trucks.
  • U.S. farmers grow more than enough corn for all uses. Each year, a supply of corn is held over to be used the following year – providing more than a half billion bushels for this year from the 2012 corn supply. U.S. ethanol production uses just three percent of the global grain supply.
  • In reducing emissions, ethanol outperforms gasoline. Global ethanol production and use is estimated to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 110 million metric tons, according to energy experts – the equivalent of taking more than 20 million vehicles off the road.

 

If legislators and regulators fall victim to this ruse, they will be acting not in the best interest of American but instead proving that Big Oil can buy a monopoly over our fuel tanks and pocketbooks. If consumers fall prey to the advertisements aimed at ensuring oil secures its stranglehold, they act as accomplices.

Money may buy airtime and influence, but it cannot purchase the truth. Ethanol offers an alternative that benefits Americans economically, environmentally and provides a real choice. Get the facts and tell a friend.

Oil Industry Bigger Block to E15 Than Cost

A recent report from the Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI) has found the cost for retailers to offer 15% ethanol blends is less than detractors have been claiming.

“Some of E15’s opponents have said over and over that it costs $200,000 to $300,000 to install E15,” says Robert White with the Renewable Fuels Association. “There are stations in existence today that didn’t cost that much to build!”

White says the PEI report done at the request of USDA found the actual cost can be as little as $50 for a just labels on a pump to a maximum of about $15,000. “The report shows that many stations can offer E15 for about $1200 for the entire station,” he said. “If they need dispenser work, you can get buy with an average of $4200…The cost of offering E15 is very inexpensive.

zarcoA bigger hurdle for retailers to offering E15 is the petroleum companies that supply them. Scott Zaremba, a Kansas retailer who was the first to offer E15 in the nation last year, says he was a Phillips 66 marketer until recently when the petroleum company instituted policies that prevented him from marketing the blend.

“They changed the rules mid-stream for what they would allow me to do once E15 came out,” said Zaremba. As a result, he re-branded his eight “energy retail” locations from Zarco 66 to Zarco USA and created a fuel brand of American Fuels. “With that we can offer today E15 to consumers with 2001 and newer cars, trucks and SUVS,” he said.

Scott is hoping that other fuel retailers will join the energy revolution and stand up to the oil companies so consumers can have a real choice at the pump.

Bridging the Gap between Farm Gates and America’s Plates

Looking at the myriad of activities NCGA and so many other organizations conduct to help share the story of farming with consumers, one might wonder about the impact on public opinion. Today, a blog post by Rajean Blomquist provided clear, concise evidence that open, real conversations between the women who grow food and those who purchase it make a difference.

Blomquist attended a dinner organized by CommonGround Colorado last month. While there, she had a chance to meet the farm women who volunteer their time and share their stories to help consumers understand how their food is grown and raised.

Speaking of that night, Blomquist recounts the impression of America’s farmers she has following her conversations.

“These farm women spoke passionately about their jobs, their families, the history of their farms – most are third and fourth generation farmers. To me, that speaks volumes of their dedication to bring us the freshest, safest food.  They spoke of feeding their families what they and their fellow farming friends grow, the best proof I need to know they won’t sell it if they don’t eat it.  Their clear skin, bright eyes, nice teeth, and hair told me they appear to be healthy from the inside out. There are an enormous amount of regulations in the farm industry. No doubt, farmers work harder than most people before many of us raise our heads off our pillows in the mornings.”

To read the full post, click here.

This may only seem like one person, but Blomquist shares her story too. Through her blog, the volunteers reach women not only across Colorado but also around the world.

The world grows more connected by the day as bloggers and social media users reach a global community on the web. The conversations about food and farming in this space have a ripple effect. One person’s impression can touch many more people in further flung places than anyone could have imagined only a few decades ago.

Someone is telling your story – the story of farming in America. Working together, we can make sure that more thoughtful, concerned voices, voices like Blomquist, hear it first from a farmer.

Corn Harvest in Florida

fl-cornFlorida ranks first in the nation for sweet corn production, but we also grow a little bit of field corn in the Sunshine State as well.

Not that the Corn Belt has to worry about losing its title to Florida. Only about 30,000 acres of field corn were harvested in Florida in 2011 with a yield of 100 bushels per acre. Most of that acreage can be found along the I-10 corridor across the top of the state, from Pensacola to Jacksonville.

As I was Googling around for 2013 corn harvest information, I came across this article and video by Mace Bauer, who is an agronomy extension agent in Columbia County, located right at the intersection of I-10 and I-75. He says their “acreage was up about 30% in this area due to spring prices favoring corn on irrigated land.”

Mace shot his “tractor drivers view” of the north Florida corn harvest at 83 Farms, LLC in Lake City. He says the corn was being loaded directly on to rail cars to be taken into North Georgia and the Carolinas to meet the needs of the livestock industries in that area. “Following the Midwest Drought of 2012, many end users are scrambling to meet grain needs before the large harvest in the Midwest begins,” Mace says, adding that area farmers were happy to deliver.



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