Corn Commentary

Cut through the Dizzying Deluge of Confectionery Confusion

5344193519_Chocolate_Covered_CherriesIf you have anything in common with the blog staff at Corn Commentary, you probably have no clue what you might get your significant someone for Valentine’s Day yet. You may have spent endless hours flipping furiously through webpages on your phone with a blank mind and pounding pulse. What could bring a smile to the face of someone who always brings one to yours?

In your list of whirling worries, cross off one cause for concern and consternation. Whether the candies you buy are sweetened with corn, cane or beet, when it comes to digestion they are the same for you to eat.

So pick up chocolate covered cherries, bon bons or strawberries. Your Valentine’s preference is your biggest worry. Scientists have shown there’s no wondering which should be your chosen treat. Metabolisms burn as fast as you can get your heart to beat. It all burns the same in turn whether sugar comes from corn or cane or beet.

Scour the substantive studies on this sugary science here.

Media Reaction to GMO Coalition

There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion.
– Winston Churchill –

cfsafSome of the nation’s largest media outlets were on-line for the conference call Thursday announcing the new “Coalition for Safe Affordable Food” (CFSAF), a group of nearly 30 companies and organizations united to seed a federal solution on the labeling of food products derived from genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). Many of the resulting reports were predictably cynical of the effort.

Several of the headlines read some modification of Bloomberg’s “Food Industry Forms Group to Stop Gene-Modified Labeling Laws”, referring to CFSAF as an “anti-labeling coalition.”

The goal of the group makes perfect sense in seeking national standards for labeling of food that may or may not contain genetically modified crops, instead of the looming potential of a patchwork quilt of laws in different states and municipalities. “A federal solution on GMO labeling will bolster consumer confidence in the safety of American food by reaffirming the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) role as the nation’s foremost authority on the use and labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients,” said National Corn Growers Association president Martin Barbre.

American Soybean Association President Ray Gaesser of Iowa used Missouri, bordered by eight states, as an example of what kind of nightmare various labeling laws could create. “If every one of those states passed their own labeling requirements with different thresholds for GM ingredients, your average soybean farmer would have to establish eight different supply chains, sanitize his equipment between each one, and then trace them religiously,” he said, noting that it could increase prices by 15-30%.

“When you look at the real world impact of these state-by-state regulations, it simply becomes too much for farmers to bear,” Gaesser said.

With a growing number of states and municipalities from Hawaii to Vermont considering some kind of GMO labeling, the coalition is asking Congress to take action, but as of yet no bills have been offered. With the farm bill off the plate now, farmers are optimistic it will happen soon.

Listen to the conference call here: GMO Coalition Announcement


A New Shape for Popcorn

PopCornersA new market for popcorn has taken shape in the snack food aisle – Popcorners.

Our Popcorners family proudly presents our wholesome, delicious new shape of popcorn to your family.

Here at Popcorners we have spent a great deal of time tasting, testing and perfecting what we genuinely believe will be a new generation of popcorn.

Now, take your time and enjoy all our classic and delicious flavors. We are going to be around to honorably carry on the traditional goodness of snacking on popcorn.

Popcorners flavors range from sweet to salty to cheesy – Caramel, Sweet Cinnamon, Twisted Salt, Sea Salt, Wisconsin Cheddar, White Cheddar, Cheesy Jalapeno, Kettle – and traditional Butter. They even have recipes for the new snacks for a new twist on meat loaf, tuna salad, nachos or noodle casserole.

What’s not to like?

Record Distillers Grains Exports in 2013

Patriot Renewable Fuels DDGsU.S. exports of the ethanol co-product distillers grains set a new record last year with China continuing to lead the demand.

According to the latest government statistics, exports of distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) totaled a record 9.7 million metric tons (mmt) last year, up 31% from 2012 and well above the previous record of 9.0 mmt set in 2010. China was responsible for nearly half of the total – 46%, with Mexico and Canada a distant second and third.

Credit for driving the demand for DDGS exports can be given to the U.S. Grains Council and the Renewable Fuels Association, which sponsor the Export Exchange every two years to bring buyers and sellers of coarse grains and ethanol co-products together. The event this year will be held October 20-22 in Seattle.

Meanwhile, U.S. exports of ethanol were down a bit from the previous year, but at 621.5 million that’s still the third-highest annual total on record. Canada was by far the leading export market for the year, receiving 52% of the total. The Philippines ranked second, followed by Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, and Mexico. Meanwhile, U.S. ethanol imports were down 27% from 2012, making the United States a net exporter of 226.3 mg in 2013, roughly a 24% increase over 2012 net exports.

Exports of both DDGS and ethanol from the United States are expected to continue to increase to meet demand, which could make up the difference if the EPA follows through on its proposal to lower the RFS.

Would Someone Please Tax Me Like Big Oil?

oily bird picIt’s tax time again. You know that short window during the year when it’s ok to complain about being taxed. Given the number of people who remain unemployed it really is kind of bad form to complain the rest of the year.

So as you belly up to do your part to keep the skids of government greased here is a whopper of a tax tale to help you really get the bile out and make your complaining count. I am guessing that it will come as no shock to you that each year the average American pays more than 20 percent of their income in federal taxes. This does not include state and local taxes.

So this begs the question; shouldn’t an industry that makes $175,000 per minute pay at least that much? This is a real number reflecting the profits of the five largest oil companies. Together they earn more in one minute than 95 percent of Americans earn in a year.

However, Reuters news service estimates that Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil pays effective federal tax rates of 19 percent, 18 percent, and 13 percent, respectively. Reuters noted that this is “a far cry from the 35 percent top corporate tax rate.” Likewise the tax bracket for the most successful Americans is 35%.

The petrol industry has prospered over the past decade, thanks to high oil and gasoline prices. The five largest companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell — earned more than $1 trillion during this time. In the first nine months of 2013, these five companies realized a combined $71 billion in profits. Certainly, these companies can prosper without $2.4 billion in annual special tax breaks.

The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that three tax preferences provide $24 billion per decade in annual benefits to these five companies. The “limitation on Section 199 deduction,” designed to encourage domestic manufacturing to remain on shore, costs the Treasury $14.4 billion per decade for these five companies. The foreign tax credit deduction saves the big three domestic oil companies $7.5 billion per decade. The “intangible drilling costs” deduction saved the five companies another $2 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

It also seems the oil and gas industry has been the largest beneficiary of federal financial support in the entire energy sector benefitting from nearly 60 percent of all federal energy support since 1950.   Shouldn’t the lion’s share of these dollars be spent on new, alternative, renewable sources to make us less dependent on something as finite and as devastating to the environment as oil?

Big Oil will argue that these breaks are critical to job creation, but recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows oil industry employment is off 10 percent. This is not nearly as bleak as it sounds given that nearly half of the direct jobs touted by big oil are service station positions.

Simply put, it’s time to end special tax breaks for BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell.

Overdue Farm Bill Passed

baby-farm-billAfter a what seemed to be a never-ending labor process, Congress has finally delivered a new farm bill – well past its 2012 due date.

National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre, like most farmers, was happy to see the long process come to an end. “While it’s not perfect, we’re pleased to see the bill contains many provisions we’ve been working hard for over the years,” he said.

There are definitely some changes included in the legislation. “This is not your father’s Farm Bill. It’s a new direction for American agriculture policy,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Among the most notable changes for farmers is the option to participate in either the revenue-based Agriculture Risk Coverage program or a Price Loss Coverage program with fixed reference prices. Stabenow notes the legislation also includes “one of the largest investments in land and water conservation we’ve made in many years” consolidating 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs.

As a nod to Stabenow’s tireless work on the legislation for the past two years, President Obama is expected to sign the bill in Michigan on Friday.

Propane Gas Pains

grain-bin-propaneIn recent years, the U.S. propane industry has been growing by leaps and bounds, producing so much that they were even had a good export market going.

But a perfect storm arose this winter that has caused pain at the propane tank, with shortages and prices skyrocketing to $5 a gallon before settling back down a bit. “It pretty much began in the fall with the grain harvest that was wet and having to dry down the crops,” said Scott Long, manager of propane marketing and business development for GROWMARK, who added that the wet harvest meant nearly 5 times the amount of propane was used to dry the crop than normal.

Follow that up with one of the coldest winters on record nearly everywhere in the country and propane supplies that had been abundant enough for export were quickly downsized, putting a squeeze on livestock and poultry producers. “Particularly in the broiler and turkey sector, the majority of houses are heated by propane,” said U.S. Poultry and Egg Association president John Starkey. “The bitter cold weather we’ve had throughout the poultry belt has caused shortages … so that means it’s very difficult for some folks to find propane gas right now.” Interview with John Starkey, U.S. Poultry and Egg

There have been calls for investigations into the high prices and some states have taken emergency actions to get more propane moving to areas that need it most. The good news, according to Long, is that things should be getting better soon. “I’m hoping that we hit our peak,” he said last week. “Hopefully within the next couple of weeks we’ll see quite a bit of relief.” Interview with Scott Long, GROWMARK

“Hopefully” — Just as the groundhog saw his shadow and the cold weather hits just keep coming.

CommonGround Iowa Volunteer

We recently got to meet Sara Ross, Iowa farmer and part of CommonGround Iowa. Sara and her husband Kevin operate a diversified farm near Minden, IA. She loves the volunteer work through CommonGround and talks about how it is helping her engage with non-farm folks about where their food comes from. She has been featured a couple of times in posts here on Corn Commentary, but here we have an interview in both audio and Google Glass form! Chuck Zimmerman did one of his new Google Glass project interviews with Sara at the National Biodiesel Conference.

Listen to Sara talk about her work with CommonGround and see it by Glass video below. Sara Ross, farmer and CommonGround volunteer

RFS Hearing in the Heartland

Hearing-in-the-Heartland-Crowd-ShotThe turnout was huge in Des Moines Thursday for a “Hearing in the Heartland” to support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The event was hosted by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and included comments from dozens of lawmakers, government officials, farmers, biofuel producers, and other interested parties from seven states – as well as a crowd of hundreds.

“I urge President Obama, Administrator McCarthy and the EPA to listen to the people of Iowa and the Midwest, and continue to support a robust and strong Renewable Fuel Standard — as they have in the past,” said Branstad. Governor Brandstad comments

Among the speakers at the event were Congressmen Tom Latham and Steve King, both Republicans from Iowa who signed a letter this week from U.S. House representatives asking the EPA to revise its proposal for 2014 biofuel volume obligations under the RFS. “It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the economy, it’s 45,000 jobs,” said King. “The RFS is market access, market access, market access – that’s all it is.” Rep. King comments

Rep. Latham urged those present at the hearing to comment on the proposal if they have not done so already. “It’s up to those of you who are most dramatically and directly impacted by this fundamental shift in policy against biofuel to tell your stories and make your views heard,” said Latham. Rep. Latham comments

The comment period on the EPA proposal to lower volume requirements for biofuels under the renewable fuel standard is just days away now and it appears evident that they are being deluged with comments opposing the plan. Nebraska Corn Board executive director Don Hutchens reports that they received over 5,000 letters expressing opposition to the proposal. “This is the greatest grassroots response in the history of the corn checkoff program since its implementation in 1978,” said Hutchens. Earlier this month, the state group had sent farmers letters to the EPA that they could sign and return. These letters will be forwarded to EPA before the comment period deadline of January 28.

Imagine that! Over 5,000 letters from farmers in just ONE STATE! If you have not done so yet, please send in your comments today.

RFS: Hearing in the Heartland photo album

Is Ag Entering the Drone Zone?

In case you haven’t heard, lots of folks are droning on about the great potential for the use of drones in agriculture.

The politically correct term is actually Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV, but drone still seems to be the preferred word, despite any negative connotations it may have.

ag-droneWhen it comes to the potential for agriculture, Kansas State University precision agriculture specialist Dr. Kevin Price thinks the growth in the next few years “is gonna blow your socks off.”

“About 80% of the money that will be spent on the unmanned aircraft systems will be spent in the area of agriculture. There are ten times more applications in agriculture then there is in any of the other application areas,” said Dr. Price. “They’re predicting it’s going to be close to a 100 billion dollar industry by the year 2025.”

He said agriculture applications for drones in development include data collection on crop health and yields, nitrogen and chemical applications, spot treating of insects and disease, and much more. Data collection of field images by cameras mounted on drones within an inch of accuracy.

Dr. Price says the cost of a UAV, depending on the type, can range from under $1000 to as much as $12,000, but the returns could make it worth the price tag. “We believe that if we can save a farmer even one percent, the technology will pay for itself very quickly,” he said, adding it could be as much as three percent in terms of saving on fertilizer costs and catching diseases earlier.

While there is great good potential for drone use in agriculture, there are also concerns about abuse or misuse, such as the government or activists using them to gather data on farming operations. That’s why the American Farm Bureau adopted new policy on drones at the recent annual meeting, supporting the use for commercial agricultural but opposing government use of drones for regulatory enforcement, litigation or natural resource inventory surveys. AFBF delegates also advocate consent requirements for drone users flying over private land.

“There’s no question this technology is moving forward and moving fast,” said Dr. Price. “FAA is scrambling to set some regulations so this doesn’t become like the wild west with people doing lots of crazy things with it.”

Listen to Dr. Price answer questions from agricultural reporters at the AFBF meeting: Kevin Price Press Conference

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