Corn Commentary

Smithsonian Wants Iconic Corn Ads

classic14-tolmanNational Corn Growers Association (NCGA) CEO Rick Tolman had bushels of great corn farmer news to share at the recent Commodity Classic about what the organization has done in the past year and what is happening now. We have since learned that this was the last Commodity Classic for Rick, as he has announced that he will be retiring at the end of September to enjoy more family time. He will surely be missed after 14 years of service to NCGA, but his retirement is well-deserved.

One exciting bit of news Rick announced at the NCGA banquet was that the Smithsonian Institution wants to put the Corn Farmers Coalition DC metro campaign ads in a new exhibit. “Those ads have been very iconic,” he said. “The Smithsonian Institution is doing a new exhibition called “American Enterprise” and they contacted us and said they really liked them because they’re about education, not about selling.”

cfc-20The ads have been featured in the Corn Farmers Coalition annual campaign which takes over every ad space in a single DC metro station for two weeks, a campaign that has been running for five years now.

The Smithsonian will include the ads in a new permanent exhibit scheduled to open next year in the Museum of American History. “It will last for 20 years and we anticipate about 90 million people seeing it,” Rick said.

In this interview on the final day of Classic, Rick also talks about the great corn grower response last year to commenting on the EPA proposal to gut the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and how NCGA plans to keep that momentum going. Interview with Rick Tolman, NCGA CEO

Classic Records Smashed

classic14-openWith more than 7,300 total attendees, the 2014 Commodity Classic convention and trade show, which took place last week in San Antonio, Texas, shattered previous records for the landmark event.

“We knew it was the biggest event ever, but the numbers really surprised us as we saw them rolling in over the course of the event,” said Commodity Classic Co-Chair Rob Elliott.

And the numbers are impressive:
Total attendance – 7,325 – up 18% from 2013
Number of growers – 3,874 – up 16.5%
First time attendees – 1,261
Trade show companies – 301

I talked to Rob just before the Classic actually got underway and he was already optimistic that it would be a record breaker. Interview with Rob Elliott, Classic Co-Chair


2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Missouri to Make States with E15 Availability a Baker’s Dozen within Months

This summer, Missouri drivers could be saving money as E15 provides a new option at gas pumps across the state. This action, which would ease the pain of rising gas prices and bring money back to rural America, now awaits publication by the Missouri Department of Agriculture of the proposed rule which would provide Missouri drivers with this environmentally, economically sensible option. If the Department of Ag acts quickly, E15 could become a reality for drivers by May 30.

In a recent article by the Kansas City Star, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who championed the rule spoke in support of allowing Missouri drivers choices that have been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for cars built in model year 2001 or later.

“Expanding the use of renewable fuels like E15 is a proven strategy for boosting our nation’s energy independence and bringing more dollars back to farming communities across Missouri,” Nixon said.

In addition to Nixon’s support, the Missouri Corn Growers Association has worked tirelessly to expand ethanol use in the state. MCGA’s educational efforts and ongoing support of E15 may provide a fuel option several cents a gallon cheaper than current fuel blends, resulting in an economic boon for drivers and for the many communities across the state dependent upon agriculture.

Following in the footsteps of a dozen other states, Missouri will join the movement toward increased biofuel availability. Drivers will have a choice. Pump E15 and thus pump money back into America. They can race into a future on biofuels that will help keep our air clean and our energy supply safe. Or, if they want, they can pump money back into big oil’s bloated bank accounts. Either way, at least they will have a choice.

Parable of the Popcorn

popcorn-smallIn honor of the start of Lent, we present “The Parable of the Popcorn” as read by National Corn Growers Association CEO Rick Tolman at the Commodity Classic corn banquet last week. This is a clever take on the biblical Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:1-23) and most on-line sources say the author is unknown.

It’s about choice and accountability. To pop or not to pop, that is the question.

Behold at the time of harvest, the ears of corn did bring forth kernels which were dried and prepared for the Popper’s hand. And then it was that the Popper did take the kernels, all that did appear alike unto Him, and applied the oil and the heat.

And it came to pass that when the heat was on, some did explode with promise and did magnify themselves an hundred fold. And some did burst forth with whiteness which did both gladden the eye and satisfy the taste of the Popper. And likewise some did pop, but not too much. Behold, there were some that did lie there, and even through the Popper’s heat was alike unto all, some did just bask in the oil and keep everything that they had unto themselves.

And so it came to pass that those which had given of themselves did bring forth much joy and delight to many munchers. But those which kept of the warmth and did not bring forth were only cast into the pail and thought of with hardness and disgust.

And thus we see that in the beginning all appear alike, but when the heat is on, some come forth and give all, while others fail their purpose as chaff, so as to be discarded and forgotten.

Standing O for a Corn Industry Legend

classic14-jere-ovationThe National Corn Growers Association celebrated the long and productive career of a corn farmer, friend and industry legend last Saturday during the concluding Corn Congress at the Commodity Classic.

Jere White is retiring from the Kansas Corn Growers after leading that organization for a quarter of a century. During the Congress, he was presented with the Meritorious Service Award from NCGA and received a standing ovation from those present. Our friend had a serious motorcycle accident in September 2012, and while he has made a remarkable recovery from critical injuries, he recently decided it was time to pass the reins of the association on to someone else.

classic14-greg-jereThe new Kansas Corn CEO, pictured here with Jere, is Greg Krissek – who is both highly qualified for the job and a long-time friend. In his career, Greg has served as Assistant Secretary at the Kansas Department of Agriculture; Director of Operations at Kansas Corn and Kansas Grain Sorghum; Director of Government Affairs for ICM Inc. and, most recently was a manager at Kennedy and Coe, LLC. He has also served on many ethanol and agricultural association boards and on seven ethanol plant boards of directors.

So, Jere leaves the Kansas Corn Growers in capable hands, although he will never be replaced. Greg’s a great guy and all – but I’m pretty sure we’re never going to see him on a motorcycle, or dressed up as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz!


2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Secretary Vilsack at Commodity Classic

classic14-vilsack-stageAs long as he has been Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack has made it a priority to address the annual Commodity Classic, so for the fifth time he took the stage last week at the event in front of a record crowd of more than 7,000.

“It is awfully nice to come here today to talk about the PASSAGE of a farm bill, as opposed the need for a farm bill,” Vilsack began, adding that people don’t thank farmers enough for the work they do, especially considering how vital they are in the food, energy and economic security America enjoys. In return, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with making sure the implementation of the Farm Bill translates into hope for all farmers, old and new alike. “Our Farm Bill, which you helped pass, for me creates a hopeful set of opportunities and rewards, and will invest in innovation.”

While he did not mention the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) specifically during his address, Vilsack did talk about the need to increase exports of ethanol. “We think the world is ready for American biofuel,” he said. Secretary Vilsack at Commodity Classic

The Secretary did meet with farmer leaders at the Classic and discussed the pending EPA proposal to lower the RFS volume obligations this year and he was asked about his discussions with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during a press conference following his address. “I have focused not simply on talking to her and repeating what she’s getting from comments about people’s attitudes about this, I’m looking for ways that we can help this industry regardless of what EPA does, because I think it’s critically important,” said Vilsack.

That includes not only promoting exports of ethanol to countries such as India, China and Japan, but also finding ways to add infrastructure. “Congress sort of closed one door by saying we no longer could use the REAP program for pumping systems… but there are other rural development programs so we’ll just be creative about using the other programs until Congress decides to shut that door,” he said.

Vilsack stressed that he will continue to do everything he can to help the biofuels industry and “trust that EPA at the end of the day makes the right set of decisions.”Vilsack Classic Press Conference


2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Speak Biotech in Simple Language

The granddaughter of the father of the Green Revolution is carrying on with his mission to help feed the world, and Julie Borlaug believes that must include communicating the benefits of biotechnology on a more personal level.

Julie Borlaug“For years, we in the ag sector have been on the losing end of the argument, partly because we thought we could win the day on science alone and with scientists doing the talking,” said Borlaug, who is Associate Director of External Relations at the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, during the Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum prior to Commodity Classic last week. “Scientists like my grandfather were unfortunately a lot better at doing science than communicating about it.”

Borlaug says her famous grandfather Dr. Norman Borlaug, who will be honored this month with bronze statue in the U.S. Capitol, had a “lifelong passion for feeding the hungry and miserable” and was a supporter of biotechnology just as she is. But she says that agriculture needs take a more personal approach to talking about biotechnology. “We must remember we are talking to those outside of agriculture who have never been on a farm,” she said. “We are talking to moms who believe everything on Facebook.”

You can listen to Julie’s remarks here: Julie Borlaug Remarks

EPA Official Talks about RFS Proposal

The man directly responsible for the EPA proposal to lower the 2014 volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) last week addressed members of the ethanol industry directly impacted by that plan.

nec14-grundler“I really wanted to provide you with some context and what our thinking was behind our 2014 RVO proposal,” said Chris Grundler, EPA Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency speaking at the National Ethanol Conference. “And it is a proposal,” he stressed several times.

First off, Grundler wanted to make it clear that EPA does support biofuels. “The most disappointing thing I heard in the reporting is that EPA no longer supports the development of biofuels, and I’m hear to tell you that’s wrong,” he said. “We know that if we’re going to achieve what science is telling us we must achieve in terms of greenhouse gas reduction … biofuels has got to be part of that solution set.”

Gundler says they came up with the proposal to address marketplace realities for biofuels. “Our overriding goal with this 2014 RVO proposal is to put the RFS in what we call a manageable trajectory while continuing to support the growth of renewable fuels in our transportation supply,” he said. “We have to address some of the practical realities that we see today in the marketplace.” Comments by Chris Grundler, EPA at National Ethanol Conference

During a brief press availability after his remarks, Grundler defined manageable trajectory as “steady growth in overall biofuels space … where the market is able to move those fuels and people use them.”

Grundler also said specifically that the EPA can definitely change the proposal Grundler stressed that the proposal is just that and it could be changed. He also noted that EPA received over 100,000 written comments during the comment period with 6,000 “unique” comments, and that the hearing held in early December was a record. He added that they do intend to try and meet the goal of finalizing the rule by the end of spring. Press Avail Chris Grundler, EPA

Global Ethanol Discussion

nec14-globalIt is always interesting to hear the perspectives of different countries during the National Ethanol Conference global panel and to see the similarities as well as differences in viewpoint.

The panel was moderated by Bliss Baker, Global Renewable Fuels Alliance, and included Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen, as well as (from left to right): Joel Velasco, Senior Advisor to Board of UNICA; Scott Thurlow, President, Canadian Renewable Fuels Association; Jayant Godbole, President and Director PRAJ Americas, Inc.; and Robert Vierhout, Secretary-General, ePURE

nec14-epureA few years ago, it was Brazil and the United States sparring with each other over ethanol trade and tariffs, but now it is the Europeans who are challenging the U.S. ethanol industry in the export arena.

“The real loser in the EU’s nonsensical action is the European consumer, who is being denied access to low cost high performance renewable fuels,” Dinneen said in his state of the industry address. Vierhout challenged that assertion on the panel. “Bob, please wake up,” said Vierhout. “If you would export your ethanol to Europe, who’s going to gain? Not the consumer, it’s the oil companies.”

Even Brazil and Canada fired back at Vierhout over Europe’s policy. “I’ll summarize for Rob,” said Velasco. “He’s never met a gallon, or a liter, or hectoliter, of ethanol imports that he likes.”

Thurlow questioned how this would play in the current European-U.S. trade negotiations. “I don’t see how your position can be tenable, Rob, if you are going to have a dispute resolution mechanism that will basically make it impossible for these types of ‘snap-back tariffs’ to be put on,” he said. To which Vierhout replied, “There’s still a possibility (the trade agreement) will exclude ethanol.”

Listen to the conversation here and watch the European exchange on video below: Growing Global Ethanol Industry Panel Discussion

2014 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Farmers Continue Fighting Cynical Snark with Open, Inclusive Conversations

Last week, Corn Commentary ran a post on how CommonGround volunteers have begun answering Chipotle’s claims and explaining why they are farmed but not dangerous. Click here to view.

This week, more volunteers answered the call, creating fantastic content. In addition to the original post by Maryland farmer Jennie Schmidt, four Iowa volunteers also took the initiative to tell their side of the story. The inside chatter suggests that even more may be on the way soon.

Take a moment to find out what these farmers have to say as they open the farm gate and foster conversation.

To view Steph Essick’s post, click here.

To view Katie Olthoff’s post, click here.

To view Nicole Patterson’s post, click here.

To view Jennie Schmidt’s post, click here.

To view Jill Vander Veen’s post, click here.

Moms who grow food sharing stories with moms who buy it. The concept seems simple, but it can make a world of difference for a concerned consumer with real questions about how their food is grown and raised. Helping everyone enjoy food without the fear may be more revolutionary than the snarky marketing campaigns created to generate unnecessary concern in the first place.



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