Corn Commentary

Let’s Talk About Food

For years now, the National Corn Growers Association, along with a broad array of other agricultural groups, has stressed the need for farmers to tell their own stories about food and farming. Time and time again, they have tried to direct attention to the growing public desire to understand what happens to the food on their tables prior to its arrival at their grocery stores. Through programs like CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, they have created pathways for farmers to reach broad audiences and offered training tools that help increase the effectiveness of their efforts.

The everyday business of farming and ranching often saps the time and energy of the men and women who grow our food though. With so many demands already placed upon them, the task of volunteering these precious resources for something so seemingly apparent to those involved in agriculture seems daunting, if not impossible.

Last week, the attendees at BlogHer Food 2013 had the opportunity to meet real life farmers and have honest, open discussions about food. Their incredible interest and insightful questions served as a strong reminder that this need for dialogue is not only real, but it is actually growing.

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross and Morgan Kontz, who farm in Iowa and South Dakota respectively, saw firsthand how great this need for an open dialogue with consumers is. As bloggers, many of whom have thousands of avid followers, stopped at the booth, they warmly received these real-life farmers. Many expressed gratitude for the chance to talk about what happens on modern farms and ranches. Even those who disagreed with some practices came to these conversations with an open, respectful spirit and an honest desire to not only express their own viewpoints but to also truly listen to what these women had to say.

Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.

Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.

Friday night, Ross and Kontz joined USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching winners Chris Chin and Will Gilmer, along with other hog and cattle ranchers, to share a meal with a group of approximately 40 bloggers who took time away from the conference, foregoing a night of fun on Austin’s Sixth Street, to visit an urban farm and learn more about how the foods about which they write are grown and raised. The incredible variety of bloggers who attended was astounding. The interest that they brought was genuine.

The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.

The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.

From Google Glass-wearing hipsters to DC policy wonks, the dinner attendees illustrated how diverse the demand for dialogue about agriculture has become. While these women and men brought a myriad of interests and perspectives, they shared two main commonalities. They wield significant influence on broader consumer opinion through their work, and they want to know more about what happens on America’s farms.

Volunteers like Ross and Kontz have taken on the challenge, giving of themselves to become a part of that conversation. As the demand from consumers for a greater understanding of farming grows, so to must the supply of farmers and ranchers willing to become a part of that conversation.

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?

Today, less than 2 percent of the population is directly involved in agriculture, but 99.999 percent of the population eats. Learn what you can do to help make the math work by visiting the websites for CommonGround or USFRA.

Conversations about food and farming will happen regardless of farmer involvement. Show consumers that you care about their concerns and want to share with them the amazing story of today’s American farmer.

Farm Bill Ball in House Court

deb-stabThe farm bill game is over in the Senate – again – now that senators have passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 by a vote of 66 to 27. Senators stressed that the ball is now in the House court.

“This bill has been bipartisan from start to finish,” said Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). “The House agriculture committee passed a bipartisan farm bill last year but for whatever reason the full House didn’t consider the bill. The good news is this year it looks like it’s going to be different.” Comments by Senator Debbie Stabenow

klobachar“It has been 354 days since the Senate passed its last farm bill,” said Senator Amy Klobachar (D-MN). “What we have here is a bill that saves the taxpayer $24 billion in 10 years over the last farm bill. That’s why it makes no sense to me to play a game of Green Light, Red Light and then at the end of the year we extend the last farm bill that’s even more expensive.” Comments by Senator Amy Klobachar

heitkampSenator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) was pleased to be part of passing a farm bill in her freshman year. “It is a year late but it is a bill that will send a message to the American people that we need to provide a certainty, we need to do things in a timely fashion,” she said. Comments by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

sherrod-brown“The Senate has again passed a deficit-reducing, bipartisan bill that will help our farms, our families, our economy, our environment,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) upon passage of the bill. “We’ve shown the Senate can do its work.” Comments by Senator Sherrod Brown

vicky-smallSo, can the House do its job so a farm bill can be completed by the end of summer? Representative Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, a member of the House agriculture committee, is hopeful. “Certainly that should be the goal,” says Rep. Hartzler. “I know the leadership of the House Ag and I think the Senate Ag Committee as well want to see this done and wrapped up by August, so we’re certainly going to try.” Interview with Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)

ISU Climatologist Looks at 2013

wpx13-taylorIowa State University professor Dr. Elwynn Taylor is one of the nation’s foremost extension climatologists, but even the best sometimes get the weather forecasts wrong.

When asked this time last year what the drought possibilities were for Iowa he said “less than 50%.” Take those odds to the racetrack and you would have been a big winner last year if you had bet on the drought.

At the World Pork Expo last week, Dr. Taylor provided his insights for 2013. “My outlook I put out most recently for the national corn yield is 147 bushels to the acre,” he began. “147 is considerably better than 123 for last year’s corn yield for the U.S. and considerably below the trend line which is 160.”

He noted the radical weather extremes Iowa has already seen this year, going from snow in early May to 101 degrees on May 14 to flood on May 24, breaking all kinds of records set in 1947. “Seems like I’m mentioning 1947 quite a bit,” said Taylor. “This is the year that we’re in right now with the volatility of weather that we had seen in ’47.”

“We’ve got a hurricane season just started expected to be on the harsh side, drought likely to persist in the western part of the Corn Belt, temperature high and low both being significant and more extreme than usual, and climate likely increasingly erratic during the next 25 years,” Taylor summarized. “Manage your risk, that’s the way we live through the volatile weather.”

Listen to Dr. Taylor’s full presentation here: ISU Climatologist Dr. Elwynn Taylor

For the latest GMO news, check Snopes

Recent attacks on biotechnology (or “GMOs,” for those who don’t like big words) have reached a fevered pitch. And like anyone with a fever, one can expect a bout of hallucination, or seeing things that aren’t quite there. Did Russian President Vladimir Putin threaten war over GMOs? Do GMO cucumbers cause (pardon the expression) genital baldness? Is Kraft Macaroni and Cheese made from GMO wheat? And what about those Indian farmer suicides?

None of these urban legends appear to be true.

Putin?

Cucumbers?

Mac and cheese?

Farmer suicides?

A blogger recently posted a list of “Nine Things You Should Not Post on Facebook.” I recommend this for anyone who wants to be more active in social media, especially No. 1.

And when it comes to GMOs, here are a few resources for more information. I know there are a lot more, but I am sort of partial to USFRA and CommonGround:

http://www.fooddialogues.com/foodsource/topics/biotech-seeds

http://findourcommonground.com/food-facts/gmo-foods/

 

 

Iowa E15 Takes Unwanted Summer Vacation

When customers arrived at Linn Coop Oil Company in Marion, Iowa the morning of June 1 to fill up their 2001 and newer model vehicles with 15% ethanol they were surprised to find the pumps bagged as “out of order.”

e15-bagged“I had three consumers come in and ask me why the pumps were bagged and I said it’s because we can’t sell it,” said manager Jim Becthold. “It’s really hard on the consumer to understand the rules and regulations as they come down to us.”

What is really “out of order” is regulations that make it impossible for retailers like Linn Coop in Iowa to get the proper blendstock for E15 that is necessary during the summer months. “We’ll be able to sell it again on September 15, but through the summer months with the high gas prices, we can’t offer that fuel,” he said. “Really can’t see why we can’t do that. We can sell E10, E85, E30, but we can’t sell E15.” Bechtold faced the same situation last summer as he was preparing to offer E15.

Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA) sees the issue as part of a “war on renewables being funded by Big Oil.”

“Consumers who want a higher grade ethanol blend (E15) are being denied that choice,” said Braley, who is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). He notes that is exactly why Congress passed the RFS in the first place, “to make sure that we were providing a cleaner burning fuel that would help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and provide consumers greater choices at a lower cost.”

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association held a press conference at Bechtold’s station Monday morning to draw attention to the situation. “We’re not asking for something that doesn’t exist,” said executive director Monte Shaw. “The gasoline blendstock we need to make E15 in the summer is available, it flows through the very pipeline system that services Iowa, but they will not let us take it out of the pipeline here.”

Listen to press conference here: Iowa RFA E15 press conference

Earlier this year, Iowa’s E15 retailers sent a letter to the oil refiners asking them to provide the proper summertime gasoline blendstock for E15. The letter noted that such fuels are already transported by the pipeline servicing Iowa. Yet, as of the June 1st summertime deadline, no oil refiner allowed Iowa retailers access to the necessary fuel. That refusal forced Linn Coop Oil Company and Iowa’s other E15 retailers to stop selling E15 as a registered fuel to 2001 and newer vehicles.

So, until and unless Braley and others can get the rule changed, E15 remains on summer break in Iowa and consumers will have to pay more at the pump when they go on their summer vacations.

More Moms Bring Home the Bacon, But Do They Know Where It Came From?

pigThis week, the Pew Research Center released its analysis of Census and polling data showing that four in 10 American households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner for her family. Coupled with the notion that consumer food questions are on the rise, the importance of communicating the real story of American agriculture to America’s moms becomes evident.

Progressive Farmer Editor-in-Chief Gregg Hillyer took note of this point, sharing his insight into the issue in the “We’d Like to Mention” section magazine’s June/July edition. The story, which looks at the effectiveness of opening a conversation about food and farming between moms on and off the farm, took particular note of CommonGround, a program founded to do just that by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates.

In the article, Hillyer sites from interviews with CommonGround volunteers about why this program serves a growing need in our society.

“As our population continues to shift from rural to urban communities, people become more disconnected from their food,” pointed out CommounGround Kentucky volunteer Carrie Divine. “We’re here… to provide moms with useful information so they can worry less and feel more confident in their food choices.”

Concluding that “afterall, moms always know best,” Hillyer shares the incredible story of these volunteer farm moms on a mission with the agricultural community. For helping illuminate the efforts underway to start an honest, open dialogue about farming with the general public, he is to be commended.

Information about CommonGround, including ways to join the conversation, is always available. To learn more, click here.

One Sweet Century

100th Anniversary LogoAs we noted in a previous post, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) and what a sweet century is has been!

“We’re very proud of having been around that long to serve the interests of our industry,” said CRA Director of Communications David Knowles during the recent NAFB Washington Watch event. “The corn refining industry actually goes back about 170 years,” he noted.

According to the CRA website, corn refining began in the United States around the time of the civil war with the development of the process for corn starch hydrolysis. Prior to this time, the main sources for starch had been wheat and potatoes. In 1844, the Wm. Colgate & Company wheat starch plant in Jersey City, N.J., became the first dedicated corn starch plant in the world. By 1857, the corn starch industry reached significant proportions in the U.S. Starch was the only product of the corn refining industry. Its largest customer was the laundry business. Today, corn is used for not only starches, but a whole host of other products such as sweeteners, fuel alcohol, oil, and bioproducts. “We’re really proud of the technological innovations that have taken place over the years to improve people’s lives,” David says.

The attacks on high fructose corn syrup (HCFS) in recent years presented the industry with a public relations challenge that they have met with an educational campaign started about five years ago to provide people with information about high fructose corn syrup. “Mainly that it’s nutritionally the same as sugar, is not uniquely responsible for any types of diseases and that sugars and all calories should be consumed in moderation,” said David, noting that their market research has shown the campaign, which includes the SweetSurprise.com website, has made an impact.

David says the industry is as strong as ever and looking forward to another sweet century ahead.

Listen to the interview with David here: David Knowles, Corn Refiners Association

It’s Always Something – Again

Once again, Roseanne Roseannadanna comes to mind this week as farmers manage to almost catch up to normal in planting, but many in Iowa are looking at having to re-plant due to flooded fields.

iowa-floodingIowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey posted this photo on his Facebook page yesterday of an Iowa corn field. “Lots of corn in Iowa is swimming after the weekend rains,” he wrote. “This week’s forecast suggests replanting won’t be happening for a while.”

Iowa farmers planted another 14% of their corn crop last week, bringing the total so far to 85% complete, which is still about 14% below normal for this time of year. Nationwide, however, the total is now at 86%, which is down just 4% from the five year average. Emergence is also starting to catch up, with 54% out of the ground compared to just 19% last week, but down from the 67% average.

Meanwhile, soybean planting is plugging along, still about 37% behind normal. Another 20% was planted last week nationwide, 24% in Iowa – but this photo also from Secretary Northey’s Facebook page shows that some of that planting was in vain.

northy-soybeans“Soybeans planted, but drowned out before they emerged,” writes Northey. That field is located near Rembrandt, towards the northwest corner of the state. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad yesterday declared a disaster emergency in 13 counties in central and northwestern Iowa due to flooding.

This time last year the corn was growing like crazy – nearly 90% emerged – before the water shut off and the drought came. Like Roseanne used to say, “It just goes to show you, it’s always something. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

MAIZEALL Unites Corn Farmers of the Americas

The name might sound like a new corn-based laundry detergent, but it’s actually a new alliance between corn growers of North and South America created to address key global issues concerning food security, biotechnology, stewardship, trade and producer image.

maizeallMAIZALL is the International Maize Alliance, signed last week by representatives of the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), Argentina organization MAIZAR, and ABRAMILHO (Brazilian Association of Corn Producers). “The main idea is to coordinate communications and speak with a more united voice as producers to the rest of the world,” said US Grains Council president and CEO Tom Sleight. “It adds the farmer’s voice to the already on-going government-to-government, industry-to-industry negotiations.”

Sleight says members of Congress are showing an interest in making global regulatory issues a priority in discussions with international trading partners, which could lead to greater inclusion of market access barriers related to agricultural biotechnology in future bilateral and multilateral trade discussions. “With all these new trade agreements coming down the road – the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Trans-Atlantic Trade Investment Partnership – key issues coming in these negotiations are market access, sanitary and phytosanitary agreements and agricultural biotechnology.”

While the primary focus of this new alliance is on the need for better consumer understanding of production agriculture and the benefits of biotechnology, MAIZALL will also conduct outreach to governments and stakeholders on the need for trade-enabling biotechnology policies and regulatory procedures.

Read more here.

Technology Makes Progress Possible

It’s truly amazing to see how quickly farmers can make progress in the field given just a little window of opportunity.

kinze-plantingThat’s what happened last week around the Midwest as the weather got warm and dry enough for growers to plant over 40% of the corn crop in seven days. According to the latest crop progress report, 71% of projected corn acres had been planted as of last Sunday. Illinois farmers jumped from just 17% planted the week ending May 12 to 74% on May 19, just 3% less than the five year average, while progress in Iowa increased by 56 points to 71%. “Farmers have the technology and the drive to accomplish more in a week than we could have in three only a few decades ago,” said Iowa farmer Pam Johnson, president of the National Corn Growers Association. “Last week, we knew that we needed a week of drier, warmer weather and, throughout much of the Corn Belt, we got just that.”

While farmers get the credit for working night and day when the window opens, it’s the new technology that really makes the fast pace possible, something noted in a Financial Times article today. “The blistering pace of planting shows how new technology, from global positioning systems and huge 48-row planters to self-driving tractors, has transformed farming from a small family business to an industry requiring huge capital investments. The largest corn planters could cost nearly $350,000 per unit.”

True that the new technology is costly, but it’s important to note that it is still small family businesses making those huge capital investments. As Pam Johnson added in her statement about the progress made last week “our nation’s family farmers will get the crop planted and work just as tirelessly through harvest to make sure that we provide the food, feed and fuel America needs.”

Emergence however is still lagging well behind normal with just 19% emerged nationwide, compared to the 46% average, but as NCGA chairman Garry Niemeyer said in the previous post, with more favorable weather, corn will probably “come flying out of the ground” now.

The photo in this post comes from the Kinze Manufacturing Facebook page taken last week in Ladora, Iowa by Alan and Barry Mohr.



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