You can call them aerial applicators, or crop dusters, or ag aviators – or you can call them the unsung heroes of agriculture. They are the folks who sometimes risk their lives flying low to the ground to protect countless acres of our nation’s corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, cotton, sugar beets and pastures.
“Aerial application is vital to American agriculture,” says National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) executive director Andrew Moore, noting that about 20 percent of all crop protection is applied by air and that is likely to continue to increase as farming operations get larger.
NAAA currently represents more than 1,500 members in 46 states, and just like the rest of agriculture, ag aviators are facing increasing regulations that threaten to ground them.
At the NAAA convention this week, one of the primary topics of discussion was the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, which Moore says just went into effect on Halloween. “It’s kind of a scary regulation,” he said about the regulation which impacts pesticide application near water. “The problem is that it’s duplicative of everything that already exists to protect the environment in regard to pesticide regulation.”
Moore says the NPDES would require a great deal of paper work on the part of applicators. “FIFRA already regulates the safety of pesticides to water, so this is a completely unnecessary burdensome rule.” In addition, Andrew says they are very considered about lawsuits under the new regulation.
One thing that NAAA is urging its members to do is to contact their senators regarding pending legislation that would exempt pesticide applications over water for FIFRA approved pesticides. The measure has been passed by the House and has gone through the Senate Agriculture Committee. “We believe we have the votes in the Senate but it’s not being brought to the floor for a vote,” said Moore.
It’s important to note that this could impact all of agriculture, including both farmers and ranchers as well as the crop protection product companies, because if aerial applicators are grounded as a result of this regulation, it will hurt everyone. So, find out more and contact your Senator today.
Corrections to hyped-up misperceptions can crop up in unlikely places. Many people might assume that they already know what a magazine called The Natural Food Insider would publish regarding high fructose corn syrup. Reading a recent article detailing nutritionist and weight-loss expert Joy Bauer’s advice to an industry-wide convention, it became evident that both Bauer and the publication want the world to understand what corn farmers and scientists already know: high fructose corn syrup is metabolically the same as sugar that, like all sweeteners, is fine to eat in moderation.
Bauer, a widely-respected expert who has been featured on The Today Show, addressed the suppliers’ conference in Vegas speaking authoritatively on the steps that food producers should take to increase the overall health of their products. Those who may have considered jumping on the anti-HFCS bandwagon received quite a shock when Bauer noted that, not only is HFCS the same as sugar, but that she feels okay with marketers changing the name on the ingredient label to corn sugar. She went on to explain that her acceptance of the name change is based in the fact that HFCS is actually not higher in fructose than sugar.
Dashing food marketers’ hopes that simply labeling a product “HFCS free” should connote a better selection for weight or health conscious consumers, Bauer explained that the type of sugar consumed does not matter. Instead, consumers should look at how much sugar a product contains.
Saturday Night Live may mock the information explained through the “Sweet Surprise” educational campaign, but natural food industry publications validate the accuracy of its message. Sugar is sugar whether corn, cane or beet. So enjoy it! Just watch how much you eat.
France’s top administrative court on Monday overturned a government order banning French farmers from planting genetically modified crops France’s agriculture ministry imposed a ban in February 2008 amid concerns over public safety, but its decision had already been called into question by the European Court and has now been annulled by the State Council.
Truthfully, their ongoing and Zombie-like fight against proven GMO technology has been like watching a bad movie that you just can’t stop watching. The ludicrous and persistent effort has been watched by farmers, scientists, regulators and some consumers without cable TV around the world. And one might suspect there might even be some betting pools initiated regarding who would finally put a bullet in the head of this persistent, riveting political theatre. (Ok, I have France planting their first GMO crop in 2013 with 3-1 odds).
Both courts overturned the national ban declaring the French Government presented no scientific evidence of any risk to health or the environment from these crops. EuropaBio’s Director of Green Biotechnology Europe, Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, said: “These judgments from the highest European court and the highest French court send one message loud and clear: bans of GM crops cannot be based on political dogma. As both judgments state, no ban on planting GM crops can be declared without valid scientific evidence, something that France and other European countries have not produced.”
Even if French corn growers don’t get to enter the modern world of corn production in 2012, this is yet another positive sign that the belabored and disingenuous GMO soap opera is on its final legs. Forgive me for saying this but I can hear the EU fat lady signing.
The French court’s decision also offers support for what U.S. scientists, regulators, and industry have been saying all along….there has been copious scientific testing and years of actual use in the real world and the GMO bogeyman remains firmly in the closet where he belongs. However, evidence rises that France will launch new restrictions. French president Nicolas Sarkozy said this week the government was preparing a “new safety clause” to forbid sowing of MON810 produced by Monsanto.
“The French government keeps and will keep its opposition against the cultivation of the Monsanto 810 maize on our soil,” Sarkozy said during a visit in southwestern France. Why do I have this feeling that President Sarkozy DVR’s the “Walking Dead?”
Voilà (pronounced vwah-lah, of course) is a French term that literally means “See there!” – used in English to call attention to or express satisfaction over something. As in, “Take an ethanol plant, add corn, and voilà! – you have ethanol and high quality corn oil that can be used for biodiesel production.”
That’s what POET has been doing with patent-pending technology at six different ethanol plants that by the end of this year will have produced enough corn oil to make 12 million gallons of biodiesel.
POET has been selling its branded Voilà™ corn oil into biodiesel and feed markets since January, with POET’s plant in Hudson, South Dakota the first to produce it. The technology was installed in five additional POET plants this year, with more on the way in 2012. Plants that are producing corn oil today are POET Biorefining – Emmetsburg, Gowrie, Jewell and Hanlontown in Iowa. POET Biorefining in Laddonia, Missouri, will be the next to come online this month. The six plants’ combined capacity is about 100 million pounds of corn oil per year.
“Voilà has been a very strong part of POET’s business this year, and I’m excited to see more plants getting this technology,” POET founder and CEO Jeff Broin said. “The more we can diversify into new profitable products, the more successful our plants will be.”
Voilà is just one item on POET’s growing list of products created at its plants. In addition to ethanol, POET produces quality products for animal feed including Dakota Gold distillers dried grains. POET also captures carbon dioxide at seven of its plants for sale to beverage producers, and the company last year unveiled Inviz, a zein product used to replace petroleum-based films and coatings.
“This is pretty exciting. We’re producing energy as a by-product of energy,” Broin said. “It’s incredible to see how many different things we can get from a kernel of corn.”
There is a conversation going on about food. Entire television networks, radio programs and magazines have long sought to elevate the humble act of eating by transforming the tastes and textures of our meals. Now, consumers want to know more. They want to know how their food was produced, if it is safe and if it is the best option for their families.
Farmers must be part of this conversation. Logically, it makes sense. Farmers grow the food. They have the most intimate knowledge of how they do so and why they select particular methods. They understand consumer questions intimately because they too must answer them when they prepare meals for their own tables.
Programs such as CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance facilitate this discussion. Helping bridge the gap between the rural communities in which farms exist and the urban landscape in which most consumers reside, the volunteer farmers who speak out about their personal experiences lend a voice to the very small percentage of the population who grows food for a hungry world.
How effective are these efforts? Can one conversation really make a difference? While this evidence may be anecdotal, the impact of one conversation can radiate infinitely like ripples on a pond.
This summer, a group of women who volunteer to speak through the Missouri CommonGround program shared a lunch with Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Jon Hagler during the state fair. Through the course of their conversation, the women talked about their farms, their feelings about food and the importance of opening a positive, inclusive dialogue with the people who eat what they grow.
November 30, those messages hit a larger audience when Hagler appeared on the National Public Radio Program St. Louis On the Air. While Hagler certainly covered a variety of topics and in no way parroted the conversation, the tone of inclusive, positive, open conversation carried through.
Callers responded. Ordinary citizens from across the metropolitan area asked specific, direct questions about a wide variety of food-related topics. Whether their particular interest was in food safety, production practices, sustainability or in where to find answers, the move toward an intense public interest in agriculture was evident.
Did this one luncheon shape Hagler’s perception? While it certainly was not the entire basis for his viewpoint, the importance of a sustained conversation between farmers and the public is undeniable. Directly or through influential persons, farmers need to help address concerns and become a part of the conversation.
Make today count. Join the discussion on food. Farmers impact the world through what they grow. It is time to talk about it.
New research shows that Atrazine is more effective and important than ever for both farmers and the general public.
According to the study released this month by Syngenta, U.S. consumers and society benefit from atrazine and other triazine herbicides by up to $4.8 billion per year, due to increased yield as well as decreased producer costs and reduced soil erosion. In addition, the U.S. economy benefits from atrazine and other triazine herbicides by as much as $22 billion over a five-year period. Benefits to farmers and consumers from the triazine herbicides include increased corn, sorghum and sugar cane crop yields, lower weed-control costs, significantly reduced soil erosion and less carbon released into the atmosphere. Atrazine and the triazine herbicides account for as many as 48,000 American jobs in corn production alone.
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering a petition from the amphibian conservation group, Save the Frogs, requesting that the Agency ban the use and production of atrazine. Comments were due in to the EPA on the subject November 14 and this study was submitted as evidence of the importance and safety of the herbicide that has been used by growers for over 50 years.
Syngenta also looked at the issue of herbicide resistance, which was Iowa State University extension weed scientist Dr. Mike Owen’s part of the study. Dr. Owen says the changes in agriculture over the last 15 years has led to glyphosate resistance. “What has to happen is there needs to be diversity in weed management,” he noted. “Which gets us to the point of Atrazine.”
Dr. Owen says despite the fact that Atrazine is more than 50 years old and has been a mainstay of corn management for all those years, “we have made such strides in the environmental perspectives of Atrazine use that it really now is a key player in managing this increasing problem of glyphosate-resistant weeds.”
During the recent NAFB convention, AgriTalk recorded a panel discussion about the Atrazine research. You can watch the AgriTalk program with all the researchers, as they share highlights of the new data, documenting atrazine’s impact on weed management, crop yields and jobs.
Thanksgiving dinner this year will cost more, but it’s still a bargain no matter how you slice it.
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the retail cost of menu items for a classic Thanksgiving dinner including turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the basic trimmings increased about 13 percent this year. That may seem like a lot, but it still means that the average cost to feed a hungry table of ten is less than $50 – not even five bucks a plate. Try to get that in any other country for the same price!
“The quality and variety of food produced for our dinner tables on America’s diverse farms and ranches sets us apart from our contemporaries around the world,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “It is an honor for our farm and ranch families to produce the food from our nation’s land for family Thanksgiving celebrations.”
The turkey itself is what gobbled up most of the price increase this year. According to AFBF, a 16-pound turkey will cost about $21.57 this year at $1.35 per pound, an increase of about 25 cents per pound over last year. That triggered some misinformed columnists to start crying fowl and place the blame for the higher price on ethanol.
“Our biofuels policies are a big cause of the rising cost of food in recent years, and it just feels wrong to use food for fuel with so many families struggling to feed their families,” wrote Marie Brill of ActionAid in the Huffington Post, adding that “federal ethanol subsidies … are driving up the price of everything from eggs to milk to — yes, turkeys — and undoubtedly, some families will just have to go without.”
However, AFBF economist John Anderson says it’s more a case of basic economics – supply and demand. “Turkey prices are higher this year primarily due to strong consumer demand both here in the U.S. and globally,” said Anderson.
A more well-rounded and less emotional look at the cost of turkey comes from New York Times’ Wealth Matters columnist Paul Sullivan. “It turns out that turkey pricing is not much tied to commodities prices. Instead, other factors, like tight margins for farmers and perceptions of value, play a much bigger role,” he explains. “For most of us, the price we pay for our turkey bears little relation to what it costs to raise it.”
By the way, if you are into the organic scene, you can expect to pay double the amount for the average Thanksgiving meal, according to the Arizona Farm Bureau. The Organic Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings will cost $106.39, with a 16-pound organic turkey at $63.84 or $3.99 per pound. But really, even that is a bargain at just over $10 per person.
So, gobble up and give thanks this week for the most abundant and affordable food supply in the world.
The end of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) is coming and the ethanol industry is prepared.
“The market place has changed,” says Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen. “We’re now looking at $85-100 a barrel oil on a sustained basis so it’s difficult to go to the taxpayer and ask them to provide an incentive when the marketplace is already providing the incentive. We’re the lowest cost liquid transportation fuel in the world today.”
In addition, Dinneen says the ethanol industry itself has changed. “it’s not your father’s ethanol industry anymore. We are more efficient, we are utilizing new technology,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be in the ethanol industry.”
However, Dinneen would like to see the oil industry sacrifice its tax incentives as well. “They are hanging on to their subsidies to their dying breath,” he said. “I hope at some point Congress takes a look at all the energy tax subsidies and decides to level the playing field.” Dinneen notes that, unlike the ethanol tax credit which is temporary, oil subsidies are imbedded in the tax code and “will go on for all eternity until somebody steps up and rips them out.”
As the VEETC goes away, however, fuel retailers are concerned about what that means for the future of E85 so the recently-formed Coalition for E85 is working to have 85 percent ethanol designated as an alternative fuel under the tax code.
“E85 as an alternative fuel is defined everywhere in the U.S. code, except for the Internal Revenue code,” explains tax code specialist Jeff Trinca, who is working with the coalition. That was because of the VEETC, to avoid “double dipping” in tax credits. “Now VEETC’s going away and what we’re basically saying is we would like E85 to be included in the definition of alternative fuels with propane, natural gas and others so there’s a level playing field,” Trinca says, noting that the coalition is only looking for a five year bridge to get the infrastructure in to be competitive with gasoline.
Trinca says they are working on getting a bill introduced in Congress to address the issue before the end of the year.
Local food is sexy. Like any trend, interesting, powerful people seem to love it. From Michelle Obama to a slew of celebrity chefs, everyone seems to be talking about the exact farmer from which they purchased their lettuce. The hottest restaurants include menu descriptions that read like a list of the most prominent family from every bordering local community. On the surface, local foods appear to be the epicurean’s equivalent of retro chic.
Scratch beneath the surface, though, and the local food movement isn’t always what it seems. A complete cultural shift to a paradigm in which local foods reign supreme would yield some ugly results for the economy and for our health.
On top of that, the foods which would become the most expensive in a local food world would be those needed for a healthy, balanced diet. Obesity already plagues the United States. If locavores get their way, the poor would be condemned to a sentence of junk food options for the crime of being unable to afford their nutrient-rich, lower-calorie counterparts.
So speak up. Trends and fads come and go. Fashions and crazes like leisure suits and pet rocks pass naturally through the cycle of cool. Don’t let this trend, and all of its harmful repercussions, be written into our laws and regulations. Tell the government to keep our options open instead of basing public policy in popularity.
One of the busiest booths at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting Trade Talk last week was the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), where president Garry Niemeyer of Illinois and first vice president Pam Johnson of Iowa spent the day doing interviews with broadcasters from all over the country.
Among the topics of interest were farm policy, this year’s crop, the American Ethanol partnership with NASCAR, USFRA, exports and atrazine. I hit on just about all of those subjects during my interview with Garry. Here’s some of his comments:
Farm Bill – “Passing farm bills usually takes about 15 months, and ironically, this one – if it happens – will be one of the quickest ever in history.”
Corn Crop – “All the adversity we’ve had, and here we are with the 4th largest corn crop. I’m thoroughly amazed.”
USFRA - “We’ve been laying a lot of the ground work here to get the message out to defend agriculture. We have everybody working together on the same page for the first time, telling our story.”
Trade – “These three free trade agreements give us the impetus to move forward to improve our infrastructure – locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.”
American Ethanol – “We have been going back over the advertising and we’re at 71% acceptance, that’s with 75 million fans throughout the United States.”
Atrazine – “It’s been a stalwart, it works, it’s inexpensive, it keeps the price of food affordable for the American public.”