Corn Commentary

What Does the “Right to Know” Really Mean?

California Proposition 37, which if it passes in November will require labeling of some foods sold in that state that have genetically engineered ingredients,  is billed as protecting consumers’ “right to know” what’s in their food.

But where is this nebulous “right” spelled out? It is certainly not a legal right, although the government does require food labeling that pertains to the health or safety of foods sold.  Likewise, food makers have the option to label their food to meet certain marketing needs, such as Kosher. Here is one philosopher’s opinion of the difference between “moral right” and “legal right.” There is a big difference between the two, especially when it comes to governmental involvement.

The fact is, I don’t blame people who want to know what’s in the food they buy.  And there are a lot of sources of information people can turn to, to find out about GMOs. Here’s one, for example.  If you are shopping for food, and don’t want “GMOs,” and the food maker or seller does not give you the information, go somewhere else or get something else.

Frankly, if enough consumers demand GMO-free food ingredients, the marketplace will deliver, as it has for other ingredients that have been debated over time, regardless of the scientific merit or non-merit of the debate. We don’t need to force the government and politicians to take over.

No Farm Bill Now

Congress left town last week without even considering a new farm bill in the House, leaving the current bill to expire at the end of this month. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said they would deal with a farm bill after the election because he did not believe there were 218 votes to pass either an extension or new legislation.

“It just didn’t have to be,” said a frustrated Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Friday. “They would have had 218 votes if they had worked it. It’s really unfortunate.”

While current bill expires on September 30 that does not mean an immediate return to the crop support programs of the 1949 law because most farm programs can continue to operate through the end of the year. However, Vilsack says some programs will expire at the end of this month. “The Export Assistance programs, the CRP sign up, the MILC dairy program, some of the conservation programs, and there’s no disaster assistance,” said Vilsack who believes this is a set back to a thriving rural economy. “Rural America has great momentum that’s been built with record exports, record conservation acres, record expansion in biofuels and biobased products,” he said. “We want to add to that momentum and what we’re doing now is creating this uncertainty which creates a real problem for momentum to continue.”

Vilsack fears that Congress will not pass a new farm bill during the lame duck session, meaning the measure would have to wait until the new Congress, which means the already passed Senate bill would be dead and they would have to start all over.

Listen to comments from Vilsack here: Vilsack comments on no farm bill

Illinois Family Farmers and Kenny Wallace

Last weekend was an Illinois Family Farmer weekend at the Chicagoland speedway for the NASCAR races.

Family Farmers car driver Kenny Wallace stopped by to visit with corn growers attending Saturday’s Dollar General 300 Nationwide Series race, including Illinois Corn Marketing Board chairman Kent Kleinschmidt and his wife Sara. “He’s a real friendly guy and easy to get along with,” Kent said.

This is the second year that Illinois corn has sponsored Kenny’s #99 car in the NASCAR series which Kent says has worked very well for them. “It’s a different type of promotion than corn farmers usually do,” he said. “When NASCAR went to E15 fuel, that was ahead of when the general public could buy it so we thought that was a good tie in.”

Listen to an interview with Kent here: Interview with Kent Kleinschmidt

Getting involved with NASCAR ended up getting the corn growers a great spokesman for both ethanol and agriculture in Kenny Wallace who really loves working with family farmers and getting to meet them at the races. “They’re excited to see what this is all about,” Kenny said. “They’re awesome.”

The Illinois corn growers were at the last Chicagoland NASCAR race in July and Kenny was excited to see some new farmer faces there this time. “I reminded the farmers to be proud,” he said. “Just remember that it’s your fuel out there that I’m burning.”

Listen to an interview with Kenny here: Interview with Kenny Wallace

Watch Kenny talking to Illinois Family Farmers here:

2012 NASCAR Dollar General 300 Race Photos

More Opposition to California Proposition

A growing number of organizations are coming out against a ballot initiative in California that would require labeling of many products containing genetically-engineered (GE) food.

While those in favor of Proposition 37 include trial lawyers, those urging Californians to vote No on Prop 37 include nearly 60 agricultural organizations. San Joaquin valley diversified farmer Greg Palla says the initiative would effectively ban the sale of tens of thousands of common grocery products only in California, unless they are relabeled or made with more costly ingredients. “We feel that it’s a very deceptive initiative,” he said, noting that it has a “whole host of exemptions that fly in the face of common sense.”

An example of exemptions that make no sense – cow’s milk is exempt but soy milk requires a label. Dairy products, eggs, meat and poultry are all exempt. Fruit juice requires a label, but alcohol made with some of the same GE ingredients is exempt. Food sold in a grocery store requires a label, but the same food sold in a restaurant is exempt.

Palla says Proposition 37 would have a definite impact outside the state of California, since it would apply to retail products made in other locations. “The impact would be swift and clear,” he said, noting that other states might follow California’s example.

Besides state and national agricultural groups, Prop 37 is being opposed by a broad coalition of community and business organizations, as well as groups representing scientists, doctors, and taxpayers. Find out more at

Listen to my interview with Greg Palla here: California farmer Greg Palla on Prop 37

The Skinny on Sugar

The percentage of Americans considered obese has skyrocketed over the past few decades. With 13 states on track to exceed a 60 percent obesity rate among adults by 2030, heated discussions about why our country continues to grow girthier and how to deal with the associated health risks grab headlines even during an election year.

Dietary scapegoats abound with each fad claiming to offer a simple answer to this complex problem. From avoiding carbs to deprivation detoxes, it seems a new magic bullet to slay the gluttonous giant pierces the collective consciousness every few months.

Quietly toiling in the background, scientists studying obesity offer consistent data on the factors making us fat. This week, a study released in The Journal of Obesity again confirmed what many have known all along – high fructose corn syrup is not behind our growing behinds.

Reaffirming that HFCS is nutritionally the same as sugar and, thus, processed by the human body in the same fashion, the report indicates that, while consuming any added sweetener to excess can cause weight gain, the consumption of HFCS does not contribute to obesity to a greater degree than other sugars.

Scientists have weighed in on the issue time and time again. Sugar is sugar whether it comes from corn, cane or beet. So beat the media-hype over the head with a healthy dose of data. Enjoy favorite foods fearlessly, just do it in moderation.

The Company Proposition 37 Keeps

Voters, confronted by an onslaught of political advertising this year, might not have the time or energy to carefully peruse every issue confronting them on the ballot. With a myriad of possible implications and unspecified consequences, each issue presents challenges for even the politically-minded citizen.

In the battle to make a choice that reflects their actual intention, many voters, quite wisely, follow the money trail back to the groups supporting the measure. Basically, the company an issue keeps often tells quite a story about the intricate workings of that particular legislation.

In California, Proposition 37 has made some less-than-reputable friends. Backed by trial lawyers, this ballot initiative would provide fertile soil for nuisance lawsuits that would further clog an overloaded court system. Skilled at the art of persuasion and expert in the drafting of fine print, the lawyers behind Proposition 37 cloaked a piece of regulation pregnant with potential lawsuits in a veil of fiery rhetoric promoting consumer choice.

In reality, the lawyers’ pocketbooks would get fatter if the proposition passes. America’s consumers would pay for the dubious labeling scheme with true costs of this law reflected in every grocery checkout lane, contributing to massive settlements the lawyers anticipate with every food purchase they make.

Take a long, critical look at the facts. Trial lawyers, not generally a group known for their charitable nature, have no vested interest in backing Proposition 37 unless it stands to provide another avenue in which to practice their craft. In the end, consumers stand to pay repeatedly should they give the labeling-law that they have crafted the benefit of the doubt.

So, watch the company Proposition 37 keeps. It may look like the good-hearted girl-next-door, but it runs around with a notoriously disreputable crew.

Harvesting Corn Nonstop

This guest post comes courtesy of Brian Scott, a farmer featured in NCGA’s Field Notes series and the author of The Farmers Life blog. Scott also agvocates on Twitter as @thefarmerslife.

In this post, Scott offers his personal insight into why the impressive field machinery visible from the road makes modern agriculture possible.

Harvesting Corn Nonstop

Being efficient is important during harvest for many reasons. When conditions are right you want to get crops harvested in a timely manner while those conditions are still in effect. Maximizing productivity can also cut fuel costs and puts less hours on machinery which preserves value when it’s time to sell or trade equipment.

Our combine and grain cart taking a rest at the end of the day.

One way we keep the combine combining is through the use of a grain cart. The cart allows the combine operator to unload grain while harvesting so he doesn’t have to stop to fill a truck. Combines have separate hour meters for the engine and threshing components. You’d be surprised to see how much time a combine spends not harvesting. You have idle time, road travel, moving in and out of tool sheds, and so on.

All this time adds up. If memory serves, the last combine we traded had close to 1000 engine hours and 650 separator hours. So a machine whose sole purpose is to harvest grain spent 35% of its life not harvesting. That’s why we often use a grain cart especially in corn. Corn yield per acre is much higher than soybean’s, which fills the combine frequently. Not so frequently this year, but still much more so than our soybeans. Corn generally yields 3-4 times more grain per acre than beans.

In a normal year I can’t get the combine to the far end of a field and back before it’s full. Without a grain cart that means stopping somewhere in the middle to pull out of the corn and drive over to a truck waiting to be filled. Then I either have to drive back to where I stopped or start a new pass. That’s generally what I do if we don’t have someone around to operate the cart. I’ll harvest as much as I can to fill the combine and cut as many full passes as I can. Then when I get to where I might be waiting for an empty truck to return I go back and get the short rows I couldn’t finish earlier.

Last night I fired up the camera on my tablet I have mounted on the window of the combine cab so you can see the combine unloading on the move.

You can see how this process keeps the combine doing what it does best instead of spending half the time driving loaded or empty across the field to get unloaded without harvesting anything. John Deere Machine Sync is a great new technology allowing a combine operator to take control of the tractor pulling the grain cart when it gets close enough. The tractor will link up with the combine and stay a certain distance away. After that the combine operator has the ability to shuttle the cart back and forth in order to fill the cart to capacity. If you’ve ever driven a or filled a grain cart you know with two humans at the controls of two machines you can’t quite get the cart full every time. Another part of this technology benefits a grain cart operator chasing more than one combine. The grain cart can now monitor which combine needs unloaded first and chase that machine down before it gets full. Pretty cool!


Mike Rowe Gives Alcohol History Lessons

Ethanol and farming have roles to play a new series on the Discovery Channel hosted by Mike “Dirty Jobs” Rowe.

The three-part series is called “How Booze Built America” and it premiers this Wednesday evening September 19th at 10pm ET/PT, repeating at the same day and time for the following two weeks. The series examines the critical role alcohol has played in our nation’s history, according to a Discovery Channel press release:

Did you know that the Puritans landed the Mayflower early on Plymouth Rock… because they ran out of beer? Or that Johnny Appleseed was actually creating farms to sell hard apple cider? Mike Rowe does, and he’ll walk you through all of this and more. He’s proven that Dirty Jobs can be fun. He’s ready to do the same for history.

In HOW BOOZE BUILT AMERICA, Mike Rowe will crisscross the country, stiff drink in hand and beer goggles firmly strapped on, to take an in depth and slightly unusual look at the story of our nation. Between reenactments of actual historical events, and current day interviews with historians and experts, Rowe will make the case that alcohol is clearly one of the key ingredients that formed our culture and our country.

In one of the series’ promos on the Discovery Channel, Rowe takes a look at “Energetic Ethanol” in his usual funny way. Watch it below:

Farm Bill – What Now?

The rallying cry of “Farm Bill Now!” rang out around Union Square by the Capitol Reflecting Pool on September 12 as hundreds of farmers, ranchers and everyday folks who appreciate the abundance of affordable food we enjoy in this country gathered to try and convince particularly members of the U.S. House of Representatives that they need to pass a new five-year farm bill before the end of this month.

However, it appears House leadership is not getting the message. There are now only three days left in session this month for the House to bring the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act passed by the House Agriculture Committee on July 12 to a vote before the current bill expires on September 30.

Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) formally filed a “discharge petition” last week in an effort to bring the bill to a vote. If at least 218 members sign the petition, the legislation must be brought to the floor. “After 65 days of dithering and distraction, Speaker Boehner has finally allowed the bill to be released from Committee,” Braley said in a statement urging colleagues to sign the petition. “We’ll see who really supports the Farm Bill Now.” As of Monday, they had about 50 signatures.

Meanwhile, an attempt to whip a three month extension of the current bill in the House Agriculture Committee was met with adamant opposition by ranking Democrat Collin Peterson who said the Senate would also oppose an extension. Some lawmakers, including Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), had a meeting with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) on Friday to discuss the legislation but so far all that Cantor has said publicly is that they are still looking for “a way forward” on a five-year bill.

The House is off until Wednesday in observance of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah – hopefully it will mean new life for the farm bill at that point. Everyone who wants to see a new farm bill passed by the House before the end of the week is urged to call their Representative today and tell them how important it is to all Americans. At the very least, sign the Farm Bill Now! online petition and contact your House member through social media. They want your vote – you want a Farm Bill NOW!

American Ethanol Finishes Third in Chicago

Rookie Austin Dillon driving the Number 3 Chevrolet emblazoned with American Ethanol finished third in the NASCAR Nationwide series Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland on Saturday.

Before the race, Dillon came around to the Illinois Family Farmers exhibit in Champions Park outside the track and climbed up on the bed of a flex fuel Chevy Avalanche pick up to make some remarks about the race and then sign some autographs.

“It’s great when we come to these Midwestern tracks where all this corn’s been brewed mostly,” he said during a quick interview. “I’m really excited about our chances to win today. It’s really cool if we can get American ethanol’s name out there and just let everybody know that there’s a clean alternative fuel out there.”

He was glad to see the corn growers having a good time and happy to show everybody “that we can go fast on ethanol.”

Listen to an interview with Austin here: Interview with Austin Dillon

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