Posted By Cindy February 16, 2012
University of Illinois Professor of Plant Physiology Dr. Fred Below is always excited to point out to growers how seven factors work together for high yield corn – weather, nitrogen, hybrid, previous crop, plant population, tillage and growth regulators.
Dr. Below talked about his seven wonders of corn yield research at a recent meeting of growers pursuing the dream of consistent maximum yields. He says of the seven factors, only one is really beyond the control of growers. “The largest factor affecting corn yield is obviously the weather,” he said, adding that his research has assigned a value of 70+ the impact of weather on bushels per acre.
On the other hand, Below says good fertilizer nitrogen management can have almost as much impact as weather and it’s the one that farmers have the most control over. “70 bushels is the current average for getting it just right,” he said.
For much of the Corn Belt, 2011 was one of those bad years for weather, but we still saw some good yields. “The weather worked against us in 2011 and we were geared up to grow 300 bushels right out of the ground. It looked pretty good,” he said. “If our management had not made yield by the third week of June, we were pretty well done.” Still, over at his research plots in Illinois, Below says they managed to get better yields with high tech management. “Even under those poor conditions, by managing from the very beginning and planning for high yields, we managed to eke out an extra 26 bushels in a bad year,” he said.
Dr. Below has been researching how to get higher corn yields for a couple of years now and even has a website about the “7 Wonders of Corn” and this coming year is will be doing some complementary research on soybeans. With no nitrogen component to soybeans, there will only be six wonders for soybean success.
Listen to my interview with Dr. Below here: Dr. Fred Below Interview
Posted By Cathryn February 16, 2012
Today, Corn Commentary features a guest blog entry from Jennifer Elwell, Director of Communications for the Kentucky Corn Growers Association, CommonGround team member and author of the popular blog, Food Mommy! Following the CommonGround Shared Voices Conference, Elwell took a moment to share her thoughts on the volunteers that she met, the state of agriculture today and to suggest that her readers take advantage of the valuable resource that they have in CommonGround volunteers.
I remind myself everyday how lucky I am to work for farmers. The world of agriculture is like a family to me, and I have built some very strong relationships within my state and across the nation. The exciting part is that my family continues to grow.
For the past year, I have been witness and huge nurturer of a sprouting seed called CommonGround. Farm moms and women are becoming empowered to talk about life on their farms and how they are working to raise safe, nutritious, ethical and environmentally-responsible food. And for the first time in my career, I am working with young, vibrant ladies who represent all facets of food production!
From Shana Beattie who raises corn, soybeans, alfalfa hay, beef cattle, 8 million pounds of pork and her four children alongside her husband on a 100+ year old farm in Nebraska to Mary Courtney, who raises vegetables for local customers through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Kentucky. She and her husband bought a new farm and are working to support their two young children with one on the way. Linda grows organic produce and crops to enable a livable return on their small farm and Ashley farms several thousand acres of grain in which her family is able to support 14 families by providing jobs in their community. Did I mention they voluntarily participate in an environmental certification program? The best part is that they all support each other.
As a mom of two, I embrace the concept of CommonGround: being able to have a conversation with my peers. I have learned so much by listening to these ladies, and I feel better than ever about making a trip to the grocery store. I also know that I want to support local farmers like the Courtney’s, because I have a connection with them, and I know that getting produce closer to the source tastes better. And… wait for it… I no longer look at organic food as some evil marketing scheme trying to dupe me out of my money. It takes a lot of work to comply with certification standards, and a farmer willing to do that should be paid more for his or her labors.
There is room on my table and in my refrigerator for it all, and I can feel good about what I am feeding my family. I have developed trust in my farmers because they are willing to be open with me about why they choose to grow my food in the manner that they do. They are also willing to listen to my concerns and tell me if they can do better. That is meeting on CommonGround, and I am proud to support the movement.
My plea to my readers is that the next time you hear of a food issue in the news or from a fellow friend who may not get their knowledge first hand, seek out one of these fabulous ladies and just ask. You can find them at http://www.findourcommonground.com/. Bookmark it! You can also find many of my farmer friend’s blogs by clicking on the tab at the top.
Follow Jennifer at www.facebook.com/foodmommy and www.twitter.com/foodmommy.
Posted By Cathryn February 13, 2012
For years now, musicians and actors have taken time out from patting themselves on the back during awards ceremonies to advance politicized causes. The mega-produced shows, which take a public willingness to indulge the already pampered in self-congratulation all the way to the bank, now serve as a platform for entertainers to remind us that they are thoughtful, culturally-aware types. Seemingly, it wasn’t enough for them to be richer and more attractive. Now, they have to prove an intellectual and moral superiority by raising a ruckus on the hot issue of the day.
At the Grammy Awards this year, Chipotle cashed in on this trend releasing a two-minute commercial decrying the evil of modern animal agriculture. Willie Nelson, long known to be a fan of a different type of farmer, strummed and sang to a Coldplay tune as cartoon images of a farmer and sweet little cartoon piggies drifted across the screen.
Personal repulsion to the insufferably self-aggrandizing, overly-produced, pseudo-intellectual impersonation of actual pain that underlies Coldplay’s music aside, the commercial plays upon the tendency of people to project what they want onto what they see.
Without a word, the ad strums along with melancholy nostalgia. The pictures show that many animals now, yes, live in barns. The sweet little cartoon pigs are shown actually locked behind a jail cell door like criminals. The farmer debates medicating himself, as shown through a thought bubble with a pill inside, or releasing his pigs back into pastures and blue sky with chickens running about too.
Luckily, it isn’t an actual depiction of how tender piglets might fare in a cold Iowa winter or how chickens do interact when left to their own devices. Instead, it is the same sort of wishy-washy, rose-tinted vision that most people would like to be true, despite the many difficulties with the realities of such a situation. If you are already projecting an actual message for Chipotle, it isn’t a stretch to willfully block out the fiction underpinning the situation.
Instead of buying into the portrayal of agriculture in the commercial, Nebraska farmers and ranchers fought back by showing the amazing story of the livestock industry in a commercial of their own. With solid information presented by actual human beings, the ad stands in stark contrast to Chipotle’s. Unlike its counterpart it offers a forthright message too – Farming is ethical. Learn about it and become a fan.
As a public, we should applaud this effort. Unlike the fast food giant, the farmers and ranchers of Nebraska trust that an informed public will see how amazing agriculture actually is today. They stand behind their production practices and invite those outside of the industry to learn more. They do not create a dream world with sappy music and emotionally evocative drawings. They treat thinking adults as such rather than signing them a lullaby.
So become a fan. Farmers work hard every day to produce a wide-variety of healthy, quality food options for us to enjoy. So many in fact, that it would be easy to avoid Chipotle, demonstrating an unwillingness to accept their uninspired brainwashing, in favor of a those other options until they hit a less condescending note.
BTW: If you want to know about the actual Chipotle, the one that they obscure through this kind of advertising, check out past reporting from Corn Commentary here.
Posted By Cindy February 13, 2012
Membership, leadership and communications were the main focuses of the biennial Membership Symposium for the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) this past week in Kissimmee, Florida.
NCGA Director of Development Tim Brackman (right) says the meeting is a crucial part of the planning efforts for the organization. “It allows us to meet with the state staff as well as farmer leaders and recruiters who are out there in the trenches,” he said.
Brackman says NCGA membership continues to grow. “I’m pleased to report that while many of the associations out there are experiencing flat or even declining membership, our numbers continue to remain strong. In fact, this past year in August, we hit an all-time membership high of over 37,000 members,” he said.
Listen to an interview with Tim here: NCGA's Tim Brackman
The program featured a variety of topics for member services, including use of social media, something that Grower Services Action Team chairman Brandon Hunnicutt of Nebraska knows a little something about. “This is the key with the up and coming generation,” he said. “You’re going to reach out to them on Twitter, on Linkedin, on Facebook, or whatever the next one is.”
Brandon says it’s a great way to stay in touch with growers and others all over the country and he should know. You can follow Brandon, who is Chairman of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association and a fifth generation Nebraska farmer, on Twitter – @cornfedfarmer.
Listen to an interview with Brandon here: Brandon Hunnicutt interview
Posted By Cindy February 9, 2012
Energy issues relating to the production of corn and soybeans are more complex than some would like to think.
That’s the basic conclusion of a recent paper issued by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST).
“Quantifying energy issues associated with agricultural systems, even for a two-crop corn (Zea mays L.) and soybean (Glycine max [L.] Merr.) rotation, is not a simple task,” reads the abstract of the paper. “It becomes even more complicated if the goal is to include all aspects of sustainability (i.e., economic, environmental and social).”
That’s why the whole issue of lifecycle assessment and related indirect land use change is so difficult. In fact, the authors of the paper choose to say indirect land use change might be nearly impossible to evaluate with any degree of certainty, explaining that “because of the uncertainties involved, it may not be possible to reliably model the indirect effects of biofuels outside of the country in which they are produced.”
The relatively brief paper considers many key agricultural sustainability issues, including nitrogen management, economic viability, market prices and public policy. The authors ultimately make suggestions that might address some concerns, including:
- quantify real versus perceived effects of no-tillage on C sequestration and the associated GHG mitigation value;
- find ways to decrease adoption barriers for energy-conserving practices;
- develop integrated usage of renewable fuels and co-products; and
- develop consistent federal, state, and local policies for bioenergy development to provide guidance for private and public investment.
Interesting reading. The full text of www.cast-science.org”>’Energy Issues Affecting Corn/Soybean Systems: Challenges for Sustainable Production” may be downloaded free of charge on the CAST website at www.cast-science.org/publications, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications. The paper also is available in hard copy for a shipping/handling fee.
Posted By Cindy February 1, 2012
It is possible for ethanol and livestock to live and work and play nicely together in the same state – and the main reason is the ethanol livestock feed co-product of distillers grains (DDGS).
A great discussion at the 6th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit featured corn and cattle organizations on the same panel talking about the “Synergies of Livestock and Ethanol.”
Moderator Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey opened the discussion by noting that sales of crops and livestock have risen as ethanol production has increased from $12 billion in 2002 – 6 billion in crop and 6 billion in livestock – to $24 billion in 2010, and 2011 is expected to be about $30 billion with at least $13 billion of that for livestock. “$13 billion on the livestock side versus $6 billion nine years ago,” Northey said. “Has ethanol been good for livestock agriculture in Iowa? I think very clearly.”
Listen to a brief interview with Secretary Northey here: Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey
The livestock industry has traditionally been the most important market for corn, noted Iowa Corn Growers CEO Craig Floss, although use for ethanol has increased significantly in the past decade. “But a third of every one of those bushels that goes into an ethanol plant goes into DDGS,” he said, noting that Iowa corn farmers will continue to meet the growing demand for all markets – feed, fuel, food and exports.
Listen to Craig’s part of the panel discussion here: Craig Floss on IRFA panel
Iowa Cattlemen’s Association Executive Director Matt Deppe says it’s easy to see the benefits that distillers grains (DDGS) have brought to especially cattle feeders. “We look at it as a corn replacement,” Deppe says about DDGS. “It means that they (feedlot operators) have another option that’s cost effective to put into their rations.”
Listen to an interview with Matt Deppe here: Matt Deppe Interview
Photos from 2012 Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit
Posted By Cindy January 31, 2012
It’s a bird, it’s a plane …. it’s a flying ear of corn!
You can see this piece of aerial artwork at Gate E-16 in the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. It is one of a number of pieces that became a part of the international Concourse E at the airport when it was built in 1996 to make way for the Centennial Olympic Games.
“Each gate has a unique installation by an artist from the southeastern region of the United States,” according to the airport website. “Peppered through the rest of the concourse are additional artworks and displays. As a result, Concourse E has the Airport Art Program’s largest collection of permanent and site-specific art. We hope that passengers from around the world leave Concourse E delighted, intrigued and with a sense of the complex culture of the American South.”
The flying corn is called “Corncorde” and the artist is Craig Nutt. “From Nutt’s “Flying Vegetable” series, the design was inspired by jetliners. With its wings swept back, leaping into flight the corn is propelling upward to cruising altitude. This humorous work was hand-carved by Nutt from wood and painted to capture the details of this indigenous American crop.
To accompany the flying corn, Nutt created an air traffic control tower. Nothing is more appropriate to guide the “Corncorde” on its journey than a tower composed of a giant carrot and motorized spinning butter bean also made out of carved and painted wood.”
The things you see when you travel …
Posted By Ken January 27, 2012
Now in its 55th year of operation and going strong, the National Corn Growers Association continues its role in creating and increasing opportunities for its farmer members, and a new series of interviews with current and former grower leaders demonstrates this success over the years.
From the introduction to the series:
Corn growers have increasingly stepped beyond the farm itself to influence changes that affect their ability to operate. One of the most important steps came in 1957, when farmers saw the need for a stronger voice on corn issues in Washington and decided to establish the National Corn Growers Association.
It has been farmers, in each generation since then, who have spoken for their neighbors and their industry on a roster of issues that began with agricultural policy and now includes infrastructure, energy, biotechnology, conservation, research, and education about production agriculture.
Their stories are a study in grower initiative, leadership, and change. In the weeks to come, NCGA will share some of the corn industry’s success in the words of the farmers who experienced this innovation and change first hand.
Posted By Cindy January 26, 2012
Earlier this week, the federal district court judge who ruled California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) to be unconstitutional denied a motion to continue implementation of the law.
In response, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) decided to appeal to a new court in the 9th Circuit in hopes of a different outcome.
You may remember that the district court last month ruled that the LCFS “discriminates against out-of-state corn-derived ethanol and impermissibly regulates extraterritorial conduct” and that the CARB failed to establish that there are no alternative methods to advance its goals of reducing GHG emissions to combat global warming.
To make an analogy, the California LCFS is like Iowa deciding to ban California wine because they determined through some model that it has a higher carbon footprint than wines produced in Italy or France or Spain, which are the three countries that rank higher than California in wine production. (The United States ranks fourth in terms of countries, but California produces 90% of U.S. wine)
No doubt California would be up in arms if that were to happen.
The ethanol industry has led the challenge against the California LCFS, but it has an unlikely ally in a diverse multi-state coalition that is primarily concerned with the rule’s impact on oil and gas. The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), a coalition of over 170 energy consumer groups and 300,000 individual members across the United States, is also one of the plaintiffs opposing the regulation.
“Not only is an LCFS unconstitutional, but it would also hurt the California economy, farmers, consumers and truckers by raising fuel prices sharply and burdening consumers,” said CEA Executive Vice President Michael Whatley. The CEA’s main concern about the California LCFS is the potential for it to be used to prevent certain sources of petroleum from being converted into fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene and heating oil and that it could adopted nationwide, resulting in lost jobs and declining household revenue.
“The decision by CARB to appeal the decision by the District Court is disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising. We look forward to a decision by the Ninth Circuit upholding the District Court and confirming the unconstitutional nature of California’s low carbon fuel standard,” said Whatley, urging CARB to “scrap this faulty program” instead of appealing the decision.
Posted By Cindy January 25, 2012
I was sitting at the airport Tuesday night, waiting on a delayed flight back from the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit in Des Moines and desperately trying to ignore the tired and whiny two-year-old at the gate, as well as the live broadcast of the State of the Union address on the TV monitor.
When President Obama mentioned clean energy, however, I started paying attention to him, in spite of the 2-year-old. “We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough,” the president said. “It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising.”
My jaw hit the ground. It was a theme I had heard repeatedly at the summit during the day, starting with the opening address by Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) executive director Monte Shaw. “Today the oil industry enjoys billions of dollars in tax subsidies while the renewable fuels industry has none,” said Shaw, proceeding to name off all of the subsides unique to the oil industry.
It’s a long list that requires a high-price accountant to understand – not a problem for the oil industry! Percentage depletion allowance, marginal oil well incentives, enhanced oil recovery credits, intangible drilling costs expensing, deduction for tertiary injectants, exception from passive loss limitations for oil and gas, etc. According to a DTN analysis, the total comes to about $17.9 billion a year.
All of it goes back to the inception of the tax code in 1913. What that means is simply that these subsidies, unlike the meager tax credit that helped the ethanol industry for a fraction of that time, are EMBEDDED in our tax code. They are never going to expire.
So, that begs the question of whether Congress will ever do anything to get rid of those subsidies. It will not be an easy process. But, like the president said, a century is long enough. If the ethanol industry is now mature enough after about 20 years to stand on its own, surely the oil industry can do so.