Corn Commentary

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.

Protect the RFS — Times Three

nec14-insidersNow that the farm bill is a done deal, National Corn Growers Association Public Policy Vice President Jon Doggett says his organization has three main priorities for this year in Washington – protect the RFS, and protect the RFS, and protect the RFS.

That may seem redundant, but that’s just how important the Renewable Fuel Standard is for corn growers.

Doggett sat on a panel with one of his best lobbyist friends at the National Ethanol Conference this week – Bob Greco of the American Petroleum Institute.

nec14-doggettWell, maybe not BEST friends, but Jon says they are friends, although they do disagree on important issues, like the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “I like Bob Greco, I have friends at API, but if any person in this room doesn’t think that they will leap at the chance to get rid of the RFS between now and the election or during the lame duck session – you’re crazy!” said Jon during the panel session, warning the ethanol industry sternly, “Don’t be complacent.”

Besides Greco, Jon shared the annual Washington Insiders panel at NEC with Aaron Whitesel of DuPont, Kris Kiser with the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, and Shane Karr from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Listen to the whole conversation between them, moderated by Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen: NEC Washington Insiders Panel

Listen to my interview with Jon from the NEC where he talks about the importance of the RFS, next week’s Commodity Classic, and what NCGA likes best about the new farm bill: Interview with Jon Doggett, NCGA

2014 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Lower Farm Income No Crisis

tractorcadeWord out of USDA this week that farm income is projected to drop dramatically this year brought visions of tractorcades and Farm Aids from the 1980s, but hold those calls to Willie and keep the tractors in the fields because a repeat of the infamous farm crisis is highly unlikely.

Net farm income is forecast to be $95.8 billion this year, down 26.5 percent from last year, and net cash income is expected to be almost 22 percent lower. “I wasn’t surprised at the farm income projections for 2014,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “After all, there are very little, if any, government payments involved in this projection because of the way in which the new farm bill is structured.”

Putting it in perspective, Vilsack says the projection is actually about $11 billion above the ten year average for farm income. “While it’s not as great as last year’s record, it’s still pretty doggone good,” he said.

USDA chief economist Joe Glauber says the reason another farm crisis is unlikely is that the farm financial picture going into this year is very positive. “Farmers are still carrying very low levels of debt relative to their assets,” said Glauber. In fact, farm asset values will likely increase this year, lowering the debt to asset ratio to just 10.5 percent, compared to the 25% seen during the ’80s. “You’d need almost a 70% reduction in land values to get you in that range,” he added.

In other words, this is not your father’s farm economy. And if the mood at the National Farm Machinery Show this week is any indication, farmers are pretty optimistic going into planting season this year and ready to plant some big crops to make up for lower prices.

Farmers Explain Why They Are Not Farmed and Dangerous

Have no fear, real farmers are here. And they want to tell you why Chipotle’s new TV series, “Farmed and Dangerous,” does not sit well with the farming community. For starters, the series, created for the online video-streaming service Hulu, mocks modern agriculture and warns viewers that today’s farming practices are dangerous and cruel.

The new series features Buck Marshall, an image consultant for Industrial Food Image Bureau, which spins and covers up negative behavior in the agriculture industry. In a recent New York Times article, Chipotle executives say the show intends to raise sustainability and animal-welfare concerns.

Farmers like Jennifer Schmidt would argue that the depiction of modern or, as the show refers to them, “industrial,” farmers is not accurate. Schmidt challenges Americans to go to the source with questions about food and to not believe everything you see on TV or the Internet.

“‘Farmed and Dangerous’ is intended to be a comedy, but I think the show is anything but funny,” says Schmidt. “As farmers, we want to open doors to open minds. And CommonGround volunteers like me want to invite consumers to take a peek behind our barn doors and see what really happens on our farms.”

The 100-plus CommonGround volunteers across the United States really want to help bridge the gap between farmers and those disconnected from farms. Americans can connect with CommonGround volunteers in multiple ways.

  1. Through blogs like Schmidt’s The Foodie Farmer
  2. Through social media – get a real-time glimpse of the farm. Check out which volunteers are on popular social media sites by heading over to our state page.
  3. Face to face – many CommonGround volunteers host farm tours. Connect online or through a state contact if you would like to visit a farm near you.

Growing Global Food Security through Growing Acceptance Modern Ag

A Reuters news story released today confirmed that the advanced tools and practices used by modern American farmers can have a massive positive impact in reducing global hunger if more widely adopted. Assuming the idea of reducing human suffering holds near universal appeal, this finding demonstrates how arguments for a return to the farming ways of yesterdays and against the use of tested, proven technologies would actually have a negative impact on anyone financially unable to pay the high price of adherence to these pseudointellectual ideals.

The study, conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute, concluded that widespread adoption of an array of technologies, including biotech seeds, could cut commodity prices in half and reduce global food insecurity by as much as 36 percent by 2050. Noting that no single technology alone can produce this impact, the researchers found that used together practices such as no till farming, irrigation and biotech seed technologies can substantively change the future of global hunger.

For an infographic summarizing the findings, click here.

An over-fed, under-questioned segment of the population is pushing to take away the very tools farmers need to feed a growing world. With full stomachs, they use misinformation and empty rhetoric to launch a full sail assault on scientific advancement in agriculture. Whether for personal profit or out of sincere short-sightedness, anti-GMO activists and their anti-ag allies fight for misguided movements that would directly result in a future where more poor children go hungry.

The fight for modern farming is a fight to feed the world.  Eschewing science in favor of foolish fanaticism has repercussions that reach far beyond U.S. borders and far into the future. Don’t let those born tomorrow suffer for the ignorance ignited today.



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