Corn Commentary

Let the Public Convince Themselves of Farmer’s Value

In the maelstrom that is modern society, with a hyperactive media and a beleaguered work force,  I think many of us rarely have the time to do research or critical thinking related to the issues of the day. I place myself firmly in that ilk.

Today a very simple question set the wheels turning. The question came from a farmer who asked how  we can explain complex farm programs and support programs designed to keep family farmers producing food and raw materials to a well fed public.

Several thoughts immediately came to mind. First, farm programs have changed and today policy is moving toward a new paradigm, one that focuses on a safety net approach. At a fundamental level this insurance kicks in to assist growers only when developments beyond their control – such as a wide spread drought – put farm survival at risk.

This well considered and analyzed approach recognizes the intrinsic value of the small slice of our population that feed us and much of the world today. This small group is the receptacle of generations of irreplaceable farming knowledge that have made American agriculture the envy of the world. They have allowed generations of us to take food for granted, and miss a very simple fact…once a farmer calls it quits they don’t return.

Unlike a factory layoff, when a farmer moves on so does the complex storehouse of diversified skills that make farmers a productive juggernaut. There are no recalls when things get better. Likewise there is little incentive for another generation to return to the farm given the entry level investment and associated risk.

So I suggested rather than try to give someone a crash course in agriculture, we speak to the public with the goal of giving this issue a perspective that is undeniably powerful  and defies flippant responses and  misinformation.

So here goes. The next time you speak to a group or an individual ask them to name the industries that are the top contributors to the Gross Domestic product. Then add agriculture to the list if it isn’t already there. Now tell them they can only save one. In my experience, nearly without fail, they will universally select agriculture. This simple exercise puts the incredible necessity of a safe and abundant food supply under the bright light of reason.

Now take the next step in your thinking and consider the important role an agricultural safety net, and the stability it brings, plays in allowing us to spend less of our disposable income on food than any other nation. (About 10% in recent years).  Suddenly, that agricultural safety net, becomes an investment in consumers number one need…sustenance. Not a “farm subsidy.”

If you are wondering, the hottest industries in terms of contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the Department of Commerce:

  • Durable Goods/Manufacturing
  • Finance/Insurance
  • Wholesale Trade – raw and intermediate materials used to produce non-durable goods

Top Industries in terms of job creation:

Interestingly, five of the top ten industries in terms of job creation are social media and internet related. But when the rubber meets the road, social networks feed nobody, video games are not nutritious, and wires and processors have little to do with our immediate survival.

 

TTIP Could be Tipping Point for Biotech in EU

ttipAssuming they get past the National Security Agency spying issue, negotiations on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) may ultimately hinge on agricultural issues – and they are big ones.

“It is important that we get it right,” President Obama said about the proposed trade agreement last month in Ireland. “That means resisting the temptation to downsize our ambitions or avoid tough issues just for the sake of getting a deal.”

Congressman Steve King of Iowa is hopeful that means access to the European market for genetically-modified crops will be addressed head on. “I think we have to just keep pushing the GMOs and push the sound science that we have … then eventually the trade component of this thing will wash over that continent and we’ll get it done,” said King.

US Grains Council CEO Tom Sleight believes the trade negotiations may provide an educational opportunity to bring the science on biotech crops forward. “I think it’s a great time for us to engage in a very positive discussion on the role of biotechnology not only in the European market but also in the United States and meeting the food and energy needs for the world,” he says.

During a recent hearing
, National Corn Growers Association president Pam Johnson expressed some optimism about the possibilities of Europe being more open to biotech crops. “Once in a while you hear something optimistic about maybe the EU should take a different look at biotech. We’re still very hopeful that will happen,” she said.

In other words, TTIP could be the tipping point that finally brings Europe into the 21st century in acceptance of the important role biotechnology can play in feeding a growing global population.

Panera Chicken Claims Make as Much Sense as Hens Clucking

graceschickens5The marketers over at Panera are certainly a clever bunch. Only a few years after Chipotle upped its anti-antibiotic claims, the chain bakery decided to cluck a little louder about its use of antibiotic free chicken. The concept lack both originality and substance.

This marketing tactic relies on the public to fill in a false blank. In boasting about the use of antibiotic free chicken, the retailer leads the customer to believe that any competitor not squawking about their chicken must be pushing a product laden with unnecessary antibiotics. Yet, this would be completely illegal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture closely regulates how antibiotics can be used in all livestock and poultry production. Federal meat inspectors, the ones so publicly saved from the sequester, ensure that meat headed to market complies with regulations that ensure no antibiotics enter the meat supply.

To learn more about these regulations, click here.

Whether you get your chicken sandwich from Panera or the peddler out front of your office, you can feel safe knowing that you aren’t getting a bonus dose of azithromycin with your lunch.

Marketing can be tricky, but educated eaters can remain one step ahead of their game. Talk to a farmer and find out about how your food was grown by clicking here.

Cultivating Our National Character

blastThe Fourth of July celebrates the birth of our nation. Through fireworks displays, historical reenactments and parades, we take time to give thanks to our founding fathers for the fortitude and foresight they showed in authoring our constitution and constructing the groundwork for a new type of nation.

As we reflect upon these historical events, upon what truly makes us unique as a nation, it makes sense to look at who the founding fathers truly were. In large part, they were farmers.

Of the 55 delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention, 14 were farmers. George Washington, the father of the nation, served as a military leader during the war for independence but, when he went home, he was a farmer.

Our nation has a strong basis in agriculture. Certainly, farming has changed over the years and evolved to meet the needs of a growing, developing society but the character of the farmer, fiercely independent, tirelessly optimistic and doggedly dedicated to hard work, remains an integral part of who we are today.

Thomas Jefferson himself often noted the importance of agriculture to the character of the young nation, famously saying:

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands. “

This Independence Day, while spending time with family and community, take just a moment to think about the men and women who continue the proud tradition of our forefathers. Think about our farmers. Steadfast in their mission, they provide an abundance that sustains our people and fuels our country.

Is Corn Boom Ending?

boomThat’s a question asked recently by University of Illinois ag economists Darrel Good and Scott Irwin.

In a FarmDocDaily article, Good and Irwin noted that the U.S. corn industry experienced a significant “growth spurt” beginning in the 2007-08 marketing year that continued through the 2011-12 marketing year.

That 5-year boom period was characterized by larger consumption, larger production, and higher prices; a combination that demonstrates the strong demand for U.S. corn beginning in 2007-08. The issue moving forward is whether or not demand for U.S. corn has peaked. The answer to the question has important implications for corn prices, farm incomes, land prices, and corn processing and handling industries.

The question of future corn demand requires a look at each of the three major consumption sectors – ethanol, feed, and exports – and that is just what the economists did, coming up with this conclusion:

The recent period of growth in the U.S. corn industry appears to have peaked. The domestic ethanol market has hit the E10 blend wall and will be dependent on consumption of higher blends in order to expand total domestic consumption and to increase corn consumption. The domestic livestock industry is also mature and may require larger exports for production growth. Finally, the corn export market has become a lot more competitive in the past several years as high corn prices have stimulated an increase in world production. If the size of the U.S. corn market has peaked, a period of lower prices and reduced acreage may be required.

The key word in that last sentence is “if” and it can certainly be argued that there is still room for growth in the corn market, maybe not booming, but certainly not busting.

Hearing Provides Government Perspectives on RFS

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing last week on government perspectives of the Renewable Fuels Standard. The hearing featured testimony from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

rfs-hearing-eiaAdam Sieminksi with the EIA, made several points during his testimony regarding the RFS. “The RFS program is not projected to come close to achievement of the legislated target that calls for 36 billion gallons of renewable motor fuels use by 2022,” he noted first, adding that “Substantially increased use of biofuels can only occur if they can be used in forms other than the low percentage blends of ethanol and biodiesel that account for nearly all of their current use.”

Read Sieminski’s testimony – listen to opening statement here: Adam Sieminksi, EIA

rfs-hearing-epaChristopher Grundler, Director of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, noted that the agency has expanded the number of approved fuel pathways to help meet the RFS “including the recent finalization of a rule that includes certain renewable fuels from camelina, ethanol from energy cane, and renewable gasoline from various feedstocks” adding that they have also “proposed a rule that will expand the opportunity for use of additional new advanced biofuels, including cellulosic fuels from landfill biogas and advanced biobutanol from corn.”

Read Grundler’s testimony – listen to opening statement here: Christopher Grundler, EPA

rfs-hearing-usdaUSDA Chief Economist Dr. Joe Glauber focused his testimony on the impact of the RFS on agriculture. “Driven by a combination of favorable market forces and government biofuel policies, including the RFS, the increase has spurred corn production and corn use for ethanol and has been one of the factors in the recent grain price boom and overall improvements in farm balance sheets including record farm incomes over the past few years,” said Glauber. Noting that while livestock, dairy and poultry producers have “faced more uneven, and in some cases, declining returns” since 2005, Glauber said the ethanol co-product DDGS has increased as a livestock feed and USDA anticipates pressures on corn prices to continue to mitigate as more alternative feedstocks are used for biofuel production.

Read Glauber’s testimony – listen to opening statement here: Joe Glauber, USDA

More Corn Acres than Expected

northey-cornDespite the challenging planting conditions this spring USDA is saying that farmers have planted even more corn than last year and the most acres in 77 years, according to Friday’s Acreage report.

Corn planted area for all purposes in 2013 is estimated at 97.4 million acres, up slightly from last year. This represents the highest planted acreage in the United States since 1936 when an estimated 102 million acres were planted. Growers expect to harvest 89.1 million acres for grain, up 2 percent from last year.

Not only that, soybean acreage is a new record. Soybean planted area for 2013 is estimated at a record high 77.7 million acres, up 1 percent from last year. Area for harvest, at 76.9 million acres, is up 1 percent from 2012 and will be a record high, if realized. Record high planted acreage is estimated in New York, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.

Corn acreage is up in 23 states, but most of them are not major corn producing areas. In fact, acreage is down in the big corn states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri but small increases are noted in states like Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio.

The question is whether USDA will resurvey farmers now, based on the spring planting issues. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has already announced it will collect updated information next month for acres planted to soybean in fourteen states, but no word on corn.

Credit for the photo once again goes to Iowa Secretary of Ag Bill Northey who has a great set of 2013 crop photos on Facebook.

Importance of Biotechnology to the World

As an Iowa farmer, National Corn Growers Association President Pam Johnson knows how important biotechnology is for American farmers and this week she was on the road trying to get the message out that it is vital to the world as a whole.

“The continued use of biotechnology in agriculture is a key component to food security,” Johnson said during the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture in New York on Tuesday. “However, we need to greatly improve the public’s acceptance of biotechnology. Agriculture needs to lead the conversation on this important topic and provide education on the advancements of the industry. Consumers should be able to make decisions based on science and facts, not fearmongering.”

pam-ttipJohnson followed up that appearance by provided policy recommendations for the U.S. Trade Representative during a House Committee on Small Business hearing in Washington on Wednesday.

“For NCGA members, the biggest challenge is the approval of corn and corn products that are derived through biotechnology,” she said. “Unjustified regulations are costing family farmers millions in lost sales to the EU and could result in even great losses of U.S. exports if they are adopted by other countries.” She pointed out that 88% of the corn grown in the United States is derived from biotechnology, as it is in Brazil and Argentina.

The main point Johnson said the corn growers want to get across to USTR in these trade negotiations is that any agreement must be comprehensive and address any sanitary-phytosanitary barriers to agricultural trade up front. That means, she says, “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”

Listen to or download Pam’s testimony and answers to questions from lawmakers: NCGA president Pam Johnson Testimony

Energy Independence Secures National Independence

flag fireworksAcross the United States this weekend, men and women will be picking up hot dogs and fireworks. They will be getting the grill ready and calling friends to finalize plans for the Fourth of July. While preparing for the Independence Day holiday, take a moment to think about what really enables our nation to remain free.

Our continued freedom has many aspects. One important one, one that each American can impact, is ensuring our nation’s energy security. Again, many factors contribute to energy security, but decreasing our reliance on foreign oil certainly plays a key role.

Getting ready for Independence Day, take just one moment to think about ethanol. Foreign oil made up 60 percent of U.S. liquid fuel in 2005, before the Renewable Fuel Standard went into place. By 2011, it fell to 41 percent.  That major decrease in imported oil represented a major increase in energy independence.

All of this happened as the U.S. increased its use of ethanol, a domestic, renewable biofuel. In growing our energy independence, corn farmers and the ethanol industry also grew our nation’s rural economies. In doing so, they strengthened our country as a whole.

As you set off fireworks this July fourth – which are also made using corn by the way – take a moment to celebrate the many ways in which we keep our nation independent. Support the nation’s farmers and ethanol producers who play a role in doing so.

Corn Crop on the Upswing

It was right about this time last year that the intense hot and dry weather started taking its toll on crops that had started off great. Just the opposite is true this year.

ia-cornCorn is catching up in emergence and the condition is on the upswing according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey, who says 96% of the corn crop is now emerged, just a few points behind both the average and last year. “It’s looking pretty good and we’ve reached the crossover point from last year,” he said. “Last year at this time, corn condition was tanking.” Right now, 65% of the corn nationwide is in good to excellent condition, compared to 56% last year.

Rippey says there are a few trouble spots where it’s still a little too wet and emergence is behind. “Minnesota, 90% emerged; North Dakota, 87%; Wisconsin, 84% emerged on June 23,” he said, adding that soybean planting has caught up to within a few points of last year.

The photo here comes from the Facebook page of the most tech-savvy state ag director in the country. That would be our friend, farmer and former president of the National Corn Growers Association, Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. He posted pics from the WHO Tractor Ride from Le Mars to Lawton yesterday.



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