Corn Commentary

Corn Bran Takes the Cake

cakeYou can have your cake with more fiber and less fat and eat it too – with corn bran.

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service reports that white layer cakes can be made healthier by replacing some of the flour with finely ground corn bran without significantly undermining many of the qualities of this favorite treat.

Experiments done by USDA food technologist Mukti Singh determined that purified, finely ground corn bran can be used as a substitute for up to 20 percent of the flour called for in the American Association of Cereal Chemists’ “gold standard” test recipe for white cake.

The experiments found that using 20 percent corn bran fiber had no significant impact on qualities such as color or springiness and volunteer taste-tasters who sampled cake made with that amount of the fiber rated it as “acceptable” – which is good.

One slice of an 8-inch, 6-slice, two-layer white cake made with 20 percent corn bran fiber would provide about 5 grams of fiber, compared to about 1 gram from a conventional white layer cake. The USDA researcher say the corn bran recipe can be added to cakes that are prepared at commercial bakeries or to the boxed mixes sold for home bakers.

Cheerios Changes Just the Label

General Mills made headlines last week with the announcement that that they will begin marketing original Cheerios “not made with genetically modified ingredients.”

cheeriosIn a post about the change, General Mills VP of global communications Tom Forsythe noted that it really is not a big change. “Original Cheerios has always been made with whole grain oats, and there are no GMO oats. We do use a small amount of corn starch in cooking, and just one gram of sugar per serving for taste. And now that corn starch comes only from non-GM corn, and our sugar is only non-GM pure cane sugar.”

But it’s even less of a change than that, according to Margaret Smith, Cornell University professor of plant breeding and genetics, who says Cheerios are just the same as ever.

“Corn starch and sugar are highly refined products, so they contain no DNA, which is what is introduced into a genetically engineered organism, and no protein – which is what the new DNA would produce in a genetically engineered organism,” she explains. “Because of that, corn starch and sugar from a genetically engineered corn variety are nutritionally and chemically identical to corn starch or sugar from a non-genetically engineered variety.”

Forsythe notes that General Mills’ support of GMOs remains the same, which is well-articulated in an on-line company position statement that links to a separate website on Facts about GMOS.

The reason General Mills made the “change” and announced it as they did is really simple – money. “We did it because we think consumers may embrace it,” said Forsythe. Chances are the “new” Cheerios will actually be more expensive, as another company spokesman quoted in the Wall Street Journal said it “required significant investment” to make the changes to the original cereal and that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” to make other varieties without GMOs.

Time will tell if the cereal will be more expensive and if GMO-fearful consumers will pay the price. The bigger question is what message this will send to the general public if all they hear is that one of the nation’s largest food companies is going GMO-free.

New Years Resolution: Protect the RFS

mocornAs you are making your list of 2014 New Year’s Resolutions, one of them should be to do your part to help protect the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Unless your voice is heard, the Environmental Protection Agency will approve its proposal made on November 15 to cap corn-based ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply this year at 13 billion gallons, cutting 1.4 billion gallons from what it was supposed to be under the law.

The comment period on the proposal is open until January 28. If you believe the RFS is working as intended, if it has helped you personally and/or your rural community, if you think it is good for America that we have more renewable fuels, not less – let the EPA know.

The National Corn Growers Association has information on how to submit comments and drafts of possible comments that you can personalize – your story is what matters. You can also write your own letter, if you prefer, and send it to:

Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode: 2822T
Air and Radiation Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0479
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460

Watch this great video by the Missouri Corn Growers that tells “the greatest story never told” – Quiet Revolution: The Ethanol Story.

Share Your Stories with the Smithsonian

si-archivesA new exhibit is being developed for the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History that presents the history of agriculture in our nation from a business perspective. Part of the development process is a website that is collecting and archiving stories and photos about the progress of American agriculture through the years.

Curator Peter Liebhold says they created the Agriculture Innovation Heritage Archive to preserve, document and make available the story of American agriculture. “It’s a real easy-to-use site where you can browse what other people have said or you can contribute your own stories,” he said. “What we want people to do is tell us their experiences – maybe a story about walking the beans or a story about the rise of GPS – anything they think is important.” He also encourages farmers and ranchers to submit photos to accompany their stories.

One of the stories
I found on the site was “Obery Farms: A family farm in Central Illinois, 1874-Present” which relates the family farm history of Paul and Catherine Obery who immigrated to the United States from France in 1874 and purchased 127 acres of land for $45 an acre. Two sixth generation Obery sons still maintain the centennial farm.

It will be interesting to see the finished physical exhibition, which is scheduled to open in 2015, but this “virtual” version is a great resource for everyone to learn about the great American Enterprise of agriculture.

While Farmers Excel, Journalism Falls Another Rung Down the Ladder

The Washington Examiner needs to examine their facts before publishing pure poppycock. In an article which ran on December 20, the paper claimed that National Corn Growers Association National Corn Yield Contest record holder David Hula grew his record-breaking bounty using organic production practices. Contest records clearly show this is completely untrue.

Hula, a perennial winner, deserves both recognition and admiration for his abilities. NCGA enthusiastically congratulates him on his accomplishment. The contest aims to encourage innovation and improvement, a goal Hula undoubtedly achieved.  The fact that he did not grow his corn organically in no way, shape or form diminishes his success.

The false story published in the Examiner does detract from the overall success of modern famers though. Within days, anti-GMO activists have latched on to this pseudo-story to aid in their agenda-driven arguments. A record yield such as Hula’s would support arguments for the production possibilities using organic methods. But the record was not set using organic methods. So, the support they so desire does not exist.

NCGA keeps detailed records from each entry submitted to the NCYC. The information these forward-facing farmers provide sheds light on possible advancements and supplies the documentation needed to ensure the integrity of the contest. .  The Biovante™ soil treatment Hula used may qualify as an organic treatment, but none of his other practices would qualify as organic.  Like the vast majority of corn growers, he planted corn hybrids that contain biotechnology, used synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. Organic production practices would not allow the use of any one of these tools.

The Examiner should take a closer look at how it fact checks its stories prior to publication. By not getting the story right, they turned a success story from America’s farms into a tool for activists who advocate against them.

Six Years of RFS2

bushsignsenergySix years ago today, President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), which greatly expanded Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to become the RFS2. The goals of the new standard were to reduce our dependence on oil, confront global climate change, and expand production of renewable fuels for the security of future generations.

To celebrate that anniversary, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has released a detailed analysis of where we are today compared to six years ago in the areas of renewable fuels production, economic activity, agricultural impacts, environmental issues, fuel prices, import dependence, and food prices.

mess-rfs“The RFS has indeed lived up to its promise in building out a renewable fuels industry, in reducing dependence on imported petroleum, in stimulating the agricultural economy,” says RFA Vice President of Research and Analysis Geoff Cooper, who compiled the analysis from a variety of resources. “At the same time the RFS has simply not had the impacts on the environment and food markets that detractors of the program have claimed.”

For example, Cooper says the size of the Gulf hypoxia zone is 27% smaller than it was in 2007. “In fact, last year the hypoxic zone was the smallest it has been in 12 years,” he said. Amazon deforestation is down 60% since 2007 and transportation sector CO2 emissions are down more than 10 percent.

When it comes to food prices, Cooper says they have increased about in line with general inflation while some items like milk and eggs are actually cheaper than they were in 2007 – and corn prices are almost the same. “The day President Bush signed this bill into law, corn prices were $4.34 a bushel,” said Cooper. The season average price this year is $4.40 per bushel.

Meanwhile, the price for a barrel of oil is up nearly 50% – up to over $108 compared to $72 in 2007.

So, tell us again why we should mess with the RFS?

Read the analysis and listen to the details here: RFA Celebrates Six Years of RFS

2014 Resolution: Put Environment Back in EPA

oil spillI am rapidly getting in the holiday spirit but before I get to relaxed and magnanimous I have to send one final love letter to my friends in the petroleum industry. So with thoughts of sugar plums dancing in my head here goes:

In doing my regular reading today I came across three separate stories that if looked at individually are disturbing. The first touts fracking as the main driver in a U.S. energy revolution.

“America is in the midst of a game-changing energy revolution. This potential has been unlocked by innovations in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have made America the world’s top energy producer,” John Felmy, the American Petroleum Institute’s chief economist said. said.

No argument there but let’s drop the other shoe or pair of shoes if you will. I keep asking the same questions regarding fracking; at what cost? What are the environmental consequences of this intrusive, earth rending form of energy extraction? How long will the boom last?

More and more experts are saying enjoy our current respite of available energy because it won’t last. And now the US Coast Guard is looking into the possibility of allowing fracking waste to be barged along American rivers. Granted if they have to ship it this is likely the best way (or at least safest and most economical way), but isn’t it enough that international oil has slimed our oceans on a consistent basis for decades. Now they want to put these toxic substances on our rivers and risk our fresh water too?

Thus, the second article and issue; Every year petroleum finds itself wrapped up in a string of environmental misadventures, and many take place in remote locations and out of the glare of public scrutiny diminishing the attention but not the damage done. From pipeline spills in Arkansas to explosions in Qingdao, China petroleum is the gift that keeps on giving.

Sure they get fined, but amounts that amount to pocket change for Big Oil. On the rare occasion they really get their hand slapped, such as the with the Deep Water Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, they put on a good show for the media and as time passes they fight in court to get those penalties reduced.

The third leg of this nauseating oil epic is the ongoing efforts by the Obama Administration (hey, it’s your Environmental Protection Agency so you better own it) proposal to hamstring the only economically viable and environmentally responsible alternative to oil….ethanol.

For 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a 1.4 billion gallon reduction in how much corn ethanol will be required under the Renewable Fuel Standard, the federal law that helps get domestic, renewable, cleaner-burning corn ethanol blended in the nation’s fuel supply.

“It is unfortunate that the Obama administration has caved in to Big Oil rather than stand up for rural America and the environment,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey at a Protect the RFS rally on November 22, 2013. “The renewable fuels standard needs to be protected as it has helped hold down prices at the pump, created thousands of jobs in rural Iowa, and benefited the environment. The President should be focused on jobs and the economy rather than looking for ways to hurt rural America.” Read more here.

It’s still not too late to do something about this. So if you support renewable ethanol and want to put the environment back in EPA send a note. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

AAA Scores an FFF on Ethanol

The American Automobile Association claims to be a longtime supporter of ethanol, but its recent policy statement leaves one wondering to what degree this is really the case.

The fact is, E15 is the most tested gasoline blend ever. To assert, like AAA, that consumers are ignorant of the new fuel blend does a disservice to consumers, and shows that AAA and its allies have not done their job to properly educate consumers that E15 is an acceptable and safe blend for most of the cars on the street today. We need to trust consumers to be smart, especially when labels and choices are clear. You simply don’t see a lot of people trying to pump diesel into cars.

When it comes to the safety of E15, in addition to our information page that lists research demonstrating this, this document from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory includes a lot of very good information. Interestingly, the key piece of research cited by E15’s opponents has been shown by the U.S. Department of Energy to be clearly flawed.

Also, AAA errs when it talks about how many vehicles qualify for using E15 fuel. The EPA reports that it can safely be used in all light-duty vehicles from model year 2001 and newer. These vehicles represent up to three-quarters of the vehicles on the road today.

When it comes to the Renewable Fuel Standard, corn growers and the ethanol industry have done our part. In fact, we’ve done more than our fair share. Now, it’s time for automakers and the oil industry to get on board and give consumers what they want – the ability to choose a domestic, renewable fuel when they fill up at the pump. AAA should stand up for what’s in its members best interest – real fuel choice that’s good for the economy, energy security and the environment.


Seed Treatment Stewardship

Seed treatments could arguably be called one of the greatest advancements in agricultural production since the plow. That’s why proper stewardship of this important technology for farmers is so critical.

nafb13-asta-andyAmerican Seed Trade Association (ASTA) CEO Andy LaVinge says seed industry and agricultural organizations have partnered to develop a new guide for farmers under the industry banner of Seed Treatment Matters. “We got together with CropLife America, and the major grower groups – National Corn Growers, American Soybean, National Cotton Council and American Farm Bureau Federation – to talk about the adoption of new technologies we’ve seen on seed,” he said. “We want to make sure that technology is properly stewarded.”

“Seed treatment does matter,” LaVigne added. “As farmers look at their seed treatment and seed plantings, we want to make sure that it matters, what they plant and how they steward it.”

The guide developed by the groups is available at and it will also be offered and discussed at 2014 grower meetings.

Listen to my interview with Andy here: Interview with Andy LaVigne, ASTA

Big Win for Big Oil?

Washington-insider newspaper, The Hill, published its top ten list of lobbying victories in 2013 today and, in doing so, dealt a death blow to arguments that the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to lower the volume of ethanol required under the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2014 is based in a sound argument. Giving the number five slot to the American Petroleum Institute, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing, and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, the paper chalked up the decision as a big win for big oil’s powerful lobby.

“The oil and gas industry, with a little help from food producers, won a victory over the ethanol mandate in 2013.

“Breaking with precedent, the Environmental Protection Agency for the first time declined to increase the amount of ethanol and other biofuels that must be mixed into gasoline.

“The EPA is now proposing to lower the mandate, beginning what ethanol opponents hope will be a steady retreat away from the fuel requirements in the years ahead.”

The EPA, a government agency presumably tasked with basing decisions in sound science with consideration given to economic implications, should be better than this. Depriving American consumers of renewable, sustainable biofuels in the service of Big Oil does not make environmental or economic sense. This politically-motivated policy does not meet the high standard the American people should set for such a powerful agency.

Let the EPA know that its proposed rule will be scrutinized outside of the Beltway, where the tax revenue that supports DC salaries is actually generated. Learn more about NCGA’s Don’t Gut the RFS campaign by clicking here.

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