Corn Commentary

Corn Starch Bioplastics and Farm Pest Control

Hamed AbbasMore and more research is being done on biological control of all forms of pests including in the agricultural market. Dr. Hamed Abbas, USDA, talked about “Bioplastics Made from Corn Starch as an Effective Biological Delivery Vehicle for Control of Agricultural Pests” at the recent Corn Utilization Technology Conference. Here’s another example of a new use for corn starch.

Before he got started I asked him to explain how bioplastics play a role and provide examples of the form they take. He says bioplastics make an excellent delivery system for biological controls. The beneficial fungus used in biologicals love bioplastic because it provides them with nutrition and it has longer shelf life.

Listen to my interview with Hamed here: Interview with Hamed Abbas

2014 CUTC Photo Album

Save the Corn Farmers?

Google “save the rainforest” and watch all the organizations that pop up; everything from the World Rainforest Fund to Kids Saving the Rainforest.  I don’t have a problem with that because rainforests are a critical cog in the blue planet’s eco-system.

Rainforests provide incredible biodiversity and through the process of photosynthesis they also provide the duel function of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it to life-sustaining oxygen. Then I realized most the American public has a rudimentary understanding of  the importance of the Amazon on another continent but has little understanding of the contributions our corn crop makes just from the process of simply growing.  It was the accompany image that got me thinking.

grawk-earth-photosynthesis-crop-660x410The image from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center represents satellite measurements of plant fluorescence.  It represents a compilation of data collected over a four year period. During photosynthesis, the chlorophyll in healthy plants absorbs light to be converted into energy, but it also emits a little bit of light that’s not visible to the human eye. Scientists have now figured out how to use that fluorescent glow to measure the productivity of plants in a given region.

What it reflects is a startling revelation even to a corn-o-phile like me. Using existing data from satellites designed for entirely different purposes, such as ozone monitoring, NASA scientists were able to show that during the Northern Hemisphere’s growing season, the Midwestern U.S. has more photosynthetic activity than anywhere else on the planet, including the Amazon rainforest. Nearly all of this can be attributed to agriculture, and much of it to corn.

So, feeding people aside, providing cleaner ethanol fuel aside, corn takes bad things out of the air much like a tree and gives us oxygen to breathe.  So I want to start a new organization called Save the Corn….or maybe that should be corn farmers?  

EPA Chief Hopes RFS Rule Coming “Soon”

epa-mccarthyA final rule on the volume obligations for this year under the Renewable Fuel Standard is taking longer than expected, but Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy says they want to get it right.

“I’m hoping it will come out soon,” she said during a press conference on agricultural issues this week. Explaining about the delay in releasing the final rule, which was expected by the end of June, McCarthy said it has become clear that there is concern “not only about what the volumes of the fuels are but the way in which we are adjusting those volumes.”

McCarthy stressed that the administration “continues to have a strong commitment to biofuels” and they want to make sure the final rule “clearly reflects that interest.”

“My goal is always to make sure we get it right,” she concluded.

Listen to McCarthy explain here: EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on RFS rule release

2014 CUTC Receives Rave Reviews

NCGA BoothIt takes a team to have a great CUTC conference. But the man who was actively checking on everything to make sure all was well is Richard Vierling. I talked with Richard at the conclusion of this year’s conference. He says it was a fabulous conference with nothing but rave reviews from attendees. He says the planning committee hit a home run on the topics that are important to farmers and important to the industry.

Richard says they often had to cut off the Q&A sessions after presentations because they were going over their time limits. That’s a sure sign of strong interest. A unique part of CUTC is having researchers interacting with industry representatives as well as farmers. Richard says that helps encourage the free flow of ideas.

Listen to my interview with Richard here for more on this year’s conference: Interview with Richard Vierling

2014 CUTC Photo Album

Don’t Worry, Consumers! Big Oil Will Make Those Pesky Choices for You

Standing at the pump, have you even wondered who decides which options you will have? Maybe the gas station owner? The government? Who knows?

If you thought that it impacted what you pay, would you care? What if it was cheaper and kept money in the United States and out of oil regimes in the Middles East? Maybe then?

According to a report card released today by the Renewable Fuels Association, Big Oil is taking care of the big decisions in most cases. The biggest names in the oil industry have been stacking the deck in favor of their product for years by writing a series of restrictions into every franchise agreement. If consumers want to go to a name they know, chances are they have to take whatever Big Oil is willing to give.

The reasoning behind the regs is simple. By making it cost prohibitive or even forbidden to carry renewable fuel blends currently available, like E15 or E85, they make sure that their pockets will be as full as possible. As for consumer wallets? Oh well.

Take a second to find out more by clicking here.

Big Oil does an incredible job of watching out for itself. What they fail to do is watch out for consumers, the environment, the U.S. economy and U.S. energy security.

Next time you fill up, take a second to wonder why you are paying more, and losing more, because of the undue influence of a modern monopoly. Take a look at the options. They do exist.

Biopolymers – Cutting Edge Technology

USDA Joe RichDuring this year’s Corn Utilization Technology Conference biopolymers took the stage first when the program moved into breakout sessions. Leading this session was Joe Rich, research leader of the Renewable Products Technology Group at the National Center of Agricultural Utilization Research.

I first asked him to explain what a biopolymer is. Joe says biopolymers are a wide ranging group of materials that are used in plastic products, clothing and more. A biopolymer is a material made from a renewable resource like corn rather than a petroleum. The presentations in his session focused on different applications for biopolymers and how they can be produced. One of the key take aways Joe wanted attendees to have from the session was a “need for new materials.” Interestingly, some of the biopolymer materials discussed in the presentations don’t even have applications created for them yet. How’s that for cutting edge technology!

Listen to my interview with Joe here: Interview with Joe Rich

2014 CUTC Photo Album

Be Proud to Support American Ethanol

As we prepare to celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, many of us will be out on the roads driving to see family, friends and fireworks. But, thanks to upheaval in a little country halfway across the world, gas prices are up again so we are going to be paying more at the pump, a stark reminder that we are not so independent when it comes to our energy sources.

ethanol-prideNational Corn Growers Association president Martin Barbre says that this Independence Day, more than ever before, it’s important for us to remember the great strides our country has made in moving toward energy independence and to keep moving forward, not backward.

“The Environmental Protection Agency wants a 10 percent reduction in corn ethanol this year, and earlier this year nearly 200,000 people around the country demanded the EPA not cut the Renewable Fuel Standard,” says Barbre. “Because it’s produced here in the United States, every gallon of ethanol blended into fuel means a gallon of gas from foreign oil that we don’t need. It provides a cushion in times such as these with Mideast violence and gives drivers a choice that helps clear the air and boost the economy.”

He suggests that all Americans (especially farmers!) do their part to support domestically produced ethanol. Buy a flex fuel vehicle. If you already have an FFV, fill up with E85 whenever possible and if it’s not available at your gas station, tell the manager you want it.

Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen also reminds us that ethanol saves Americans money at the pump, stretches the fuel supply and is the perfect remedy for skyrocketing gas prices.

In this interview Dinneen talks about that, as well as the new milestone reached this week in cellulosic ethanol production and why the government needs to be expanding the use of biofuels rather than contemplating scaling back our nation’s renewable energy policy and striking a blow for American energy independence. Share it with your friends on social media.

Ethanol Report on Energy Independence

Filling up with domestic, renewable ethanol is a great way to celebrate our great nation’s 238th birthday, and we at NCGA wish everyone a memorable and safe holiday weekend.

Corn Fiber is Pathway to Cellulosic Ethanol

quad-countyThe very first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol gallons flowed from the Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) distillation unit in Galva, Iowa this week, made from a “bolt-on” process that allows a plant to convert the kernel’s corn fiber into cellulosic ethanol, in addition to traditional corn starch ethanol.

“Our Adding Cellulosic Ethanol (ACE) project will not only increase our plant’s production capacity by 6 percent, but it will also continue to boost energy security and provide consumers with more low-cost, cleaner-burning ethanol without adding any additional corn to the production process,” said QCCP CEO Delayne Johnson, who also noted the new technology will improve the plant’s distillers grains (DDGs) co-product. “As a result of the new process, the DDGs will be much more similar to a corn gluten meal. It will increase the protein content of the livestock feed by about 40 percent, and we also expect to see a boost in corn oil extraction by about 300 percent,” he said.

corn-cobsOddly enough, within 24 hours after Quad County made that announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency gave its final blessing to allow crop residue such as corn fiber to qualify as a fuel pathway for the production of cellulosic biofuel. EPA decided that crop residue actually does meet the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction requirements for cellulosic biofuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) provided that “producers include in their registration specific information about the types of residues which will be used, and record and report to EPA the quantities and specific types of residues used.”

“Cellulosic ethanol and corn ethanol are not mutually exclusive,” says Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen. “There are synergies that will make the production of both at existing facilities very attractive.”

Cellulosic ethanol is no longer a “phantom fuel” and corn is helping it become a reality.

Corn Acres are Lower but Weather is Key

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is now estimating corn acreage planted is at 91.6 million acres, down 4 percent from last year, which represents the lowest planted acreage in the United States since 2010, but still the fifth-largest acreage planted since 1944.

USDA chief economist Joe Glauber says with the numbers in, the attention shifts from acres to weather and yield prospects. “July is a very important month for corn,” said Glauber. “So for the next six weeks, the attention is going to be shifting to what those yields look like.”

corn-damageAs of Sunday, the corn crop was looking pretty good, according to meteorologist Brad Rippey. “The corn now 75% good to excellent on June 29, an increase of one percent from a week ago, eight points better than this time in 2013,” Rippey says.

Rippey notes there are problem areas like Minnesota with 10% of the crop in poor to very poor condition due to flooding. And since the crop progress survey was done on Sunday, corn fields in Iowa, like the one pictured here, were literally flattened after severe storms brought heavy rain, hail and high winds.

Just saw a meme that seems applicable. “Mother Nature is not only bipolar, but clearly off her meds.” Keep that in mind farmers, you are at the whim of a crazy lady.

Hillary Clinton Favors Biotech Crops

hillary-bioHillary Clinton seems to be everywhere these days and this week she spent over an hour at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) convention in San Diego chatting with BIO president and CEO Jim Greenwood, a former congressman from Pennsylvania.

The wide ranging discussion touched on a variety of topics, including agricultural biotechnology. Greenwood asked Mrs. Clinton where she stood on the use of genetically modified crops. “I stand in favor of using seeds and products that have a proven track record,” said the former first lady, adding that the case needs to be made for those who are skeptical. “There is a big gap between what the facts are and what the perceptions are,” she said, receiving applause from the packed crowd that included as many as possible of the 15,000 attendees at the convention.

Clinton noted that focusing on the benefits in terminology of the crops could help. “Genetically modified sounds ‘Frankensteinish’ – drought resistant sounds really like something you want,” she said.

Hear all of Clinton’s ag biotech comments here. Hillary Clinton at BIO convention



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