Corn Commentary

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

CommonGround Volunteer Shares GMO Insight

The following blog post was authored by Minnesota family farmer and CommonGround volunteer Kristie Swenson. Swenson participates in CommonGround, which is a joint project of the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates, to help moms off the farm know how the moms on America’s farms grow and raise their food. By sharing her stories, she hopes to help consumers enjoy their food without fear.


kristie swansonThe topic of GMOs is complex, challenging, and emotional, regardless of your stance.  I have yet to have a straightforward conversation where we simply talk about one aspect of the GMOs because it’s so hard to talk about just one aspect when there are so many sides to the issue.  If one starts talking about the science itself, or the methodology used to genetically modify an organism, the conversation often goes on tangents like research, ethics, side effects, chemical use, labeling, corporations and so on.  It is so hard to separate each individual issue because they are connected and they are all valid issues that should be addressed.


Straight away, you should know that I am pro-GMO.  I do not believe that GMOs are the silver bullet or the solution for everything, but I do believe that GMOs have merits that should be considered on a case-by-case basis.  Do I think every single organism needs to be genetically modified?  No, I don’t.  But I do believe that genetically modifying some organisms can provide us with benefits, and I think those modifications should be researched.


Take papayas, for example.  In the 1990s, Hawaii’s papaya crop was devastated by the ringspot virus.  A Hawaiian scientist, Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, developed a virus-resistant variety of papaya through genetic modification and found a way to help the papaya industry.  In Hawaii today, both GMO and non-GMO papayas are produced.  (Read this article for an interview with Dr. Gonsalves.)


Am I saying that since I see GM papayas as a good thing, that all GMOs are a good thing?  I’m not going to use one positive situation to blanket the entire topic of GMOs.  I am just saying that there are other industries that could benefit from genetic modification.  The citrus industry comes to mind as it has been hit by citrus greening (the scientific name is Huanglongbing, or HLB).  In this particular case, biotechnology could save our citrus.  Here are two articles that further explore the citrus greening issue: Article 1 and Article 2.


To me, genetic modification and biotechnology are tools.  Having multiple tools to pick from enables us to determine which tool fits the best for the situation at hand.  People will choose tools based not only on the situation, but also on their personal preference.  You and I may be faced with the same situation, yet we may choose different tools to achieve similar outcomes.  And that’s ok – it is ok to have different opinions, different beliefs, different comfort levels.


I understand people have questions and concerns.  It’s so easy for us to look to sources of information with which we are familiar, or which share our perspective.  In today’s society, with the constant barrage of information and the vast amount of information available, it is so hard to sort out what’s fact from opinion; what’s twisted from what’s true.  What one person finds credible may not be a credible source for someone else.  I encourage you to seek out sources of information that provide facts rather than perpetuating myths, to have respectful conversations with people who work with biotechnology, and to think critically about what you find.  I encourage you to continue asking questions until you are satisfied with the answers, and to know not just what you believe but why you believe it.



Farm Bureau Reaffirms Support for RFS

During the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) annual meeting this week in San Antonio, delegates voted to reaffirm support for the renewable fuels standard and approved a policy “supporting renewable fuels tax incentives for the production of biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol and installation of blender pumps.”

ilfb-guebertNew Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert says maintaining a strong RFS for ethanol and biodiesel production remains the top priority for farmers in his state and the region.

“Midwest farmers have worked so hard and so long to get those standards where they are today,” he said. “It’s just difficult for us to understand why we’re being forced to rollback those standards.” He says he can’t understand how the EPA could propose a policy that most experts agree will hurt biofuel producers and markets, especially in the rural economy, considering how the president has repeated his dedication to green energy, including biofuels, time and time again.

Listen to an interview with Richard here: Interview with Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert

Just a reminder, if you have not yet submitted comments to the EPA regarding the proposal to scale back volume requirements under the RFS, you have until January 28 to do so. Shout it out and make your voices heard!!!

Big Oil Labels Family Farmers Extremists

A true David and Goliath battle is under way between the nation’s family farmers and Big Oil in the form of the American Petroleum Institute (API). And farmers in recent weeks bounced a big rock off the head of the petroleum behemoth. At issue is American ethanol.

For months the oil industry has been involved in a well-funded campaign of both public and covert efforts to undermine the growing role of sustainable biofuel like ethanol. They capped this massive misinformation campaign by leaning on the White House and EPA to propose a change to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) that would reduce ethanol use by 1.4 billion gallons this year.

The bad news is the most recent slap in the face, if successful, has the potential to hammer farmers and slappythe rural economy to the tune of more than 10 billion dollars.

Before this recommendation can be accepted EPA’s proposal must go through a formal public comment period. Thousands of corn farmers across the country have responded with a vengeance submitting comments urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to retract its proposed 10 percent cut in the amount of corn ethanol in the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard.

The volume of supportive comments coming from farmers as well as equipment dealers, bankers, school administrators and consumers who favor a fuel choice has been incredible so thanks to everyone who has taken the time to register your opinion.

The response has been so terrific that it tweaked API and in response they have launched yet another effort to remove any competition from the fuel marketplace. It takes the form of an annoying and deceptive “robo-call.”

On the pre-recorded action request API refers to those supporting ethanol as both a “special interest group” and as “extremists.” Since most those making the calls are farmers, I guess that means you. They also use the same old hackneyed and debunked arguments saying ethanol leads to higher food prices and damages car engines.

If being called an extremist makes you a little angry fight back. If having one of the world’s most prosperous industries try to increase their profits at your expense….fight back.

Corn growers: Click here to send a public comment to the EPA.

Non-farmers: Click here to customize and send a public comment to the EPA.

I wish it was a real person calling rather than some digital dweeb called Tom, because I would tell him to quit bugging hard working Americans and get back to cleaning up the their latest oil spill.

Faith, Family, Farming and Ducks

Even if you have never seen the show (like me) you probably know about Duck Dynasty by now, thanks to the controversy over comments made before Christmas by the program’s patriarch that sent the media into a tizzy.

afbf-robertsonThe oldest brother and newest member of the show’s cast – Alan Robertson, aka the “Beardless Brother” – appeared this week at the American Farm Bureau annual meeting in San Antonio, with a beard.

The Duck Dynasty motto is “Faith, Family, Ducks” but Robertson told the thousands of farmers and ranchers at the meeting they could borrow that for their own use. “Faith, family, farming – that’s a good one for you guys,” he said.

Robertson believes the reason Duck Dynasty is so popular is that American viewers have a real desire for shows that demonstrate the old-fashioned values they still hold dear. “Something ordinary to us and probably to you [farmers] like working hard all day and coming home to have dinner around a table at night has become extraordinary to people in the 21st century,” said Robertson, who just joined the cast for the fourth season on A&E.

Political correctness aside, Alan really connected with the farmers and ranchers who share so much of the “Duck Dynasty” values about faith and family. Listen to an excerpt from Alan’s comments here: Duck Dynasty brother at AFBF

Seeds of Trouble in Paradise

Most people are unaware that much of our nation’s seed corn supply hails from the Aloha State. In fact, seed corn is now the biggest segment of Hawaii’s agriculture sector, valued at $243 million, according to the most recent statistics.

hawaii-paperThe seed crop industry started about 50 years ago in Hawaii, but since 2000 the industry has grown by an astronomical 548%, with all of the major seed players having a stake in about ten farms totaling some 25,000 acres on four of the Hawaiian islands. These farms use both conventional as well as biotech plant breeding methods to grow seed crops, mostly corn, and all of it is exported to both North and South America for further development and distribution.

Needless to say, the industry is very valuable to Hawaii in terms of employment and economic benefit – as well as to farmers working to feed a growing world population – but in the past year movements have cropped up to place restrictions on seed companies in terms of pesticide use and genetically modified crops. After a heated and prolonged battle last year that included a veto by the mayor who then received death threats, Kauai County passed such an ordinance in November. Now three major seed companies impacted by the law have filed suit against the county.

Under the ordinance, scheduled to take effect in August, open-air testing of experimental pesticides would be prohibited and a moratorium would be placed on the development of new genetically modified crops. In the lawsuit, the companies note that their activities are already regulated by state and federal governmental agencies and that the local law would place “burdensome and baseless restrictions on farming operations.”

While cloaked with the purpose of protecting the “health and natural environment” of Kauai and its people, this is clearly the work of anti-GMO activists, such as The Center for Food Safety which has been heavily involved in the local action. Just another weapon being used in the war against progress to feed a growing world population.

Ethanol Gives an Extra Boost Even as Temperatures Drop

With temperatures well below normal across much of the country, stories focused on how to best handle the problems that accompany an arctic blast dominate newspapers, radio and television alike. One from South Dakota, where they contend with this type of winter wonderland on a regular basis, points out how ethanol blends in automotive fuel actually helps keep drivers up and going.

While Keloland Television notes that it is still important to start cars regularly, it points out that ethanol actually keeps non-diesel vehicles in commission during cold snaps.

“Most everything has an ethanol blend to it, which acts as a heat, if you will, to keep the moisture dispersed. So, not a super-huge issue.”

Whether you must brave the windy roads or can stay hunkered down by a warm fire, know that ethanol in your tank makes it more likely your car will start when the snow finally stops. Proper maintenance makes all the difference, but ethanol gives motorists an added bonus beyond its benefit to their environment and their pocketbooks.

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.

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