Corn Commentary

Spread Holiday Cheer with a Renewable Message

If you are looking for a cheery holiday message for your friends and family members, let them know how much you care with a Fuels America e-Card.


The holidays are upon us.

That means parties, gift giving, and finding that perfect card to send to your loved ones.

Send your friends and family a Fuels America holiday e-card to spread the joy and holiday spirit this season:

Whether young or old, everyone’s life can be improved by renewable fuel, especially during the holidays. Just this past Thanksgiving — the busiest travel time of the year — ethanol helped American families reduce their gasoline usage by an average of $29.13.

That reduction in gasoline usage means more money to spend on gifts for your friends and your loved ones this season.

So don’t just spread holiday cheer — spread the word about the benefits of renewable fuel at the same time. Send a Fuels America e-card now.

Happy Holidays,

Fuels America

World Corn Supply and Ethanol Demand

USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate (WASDE) out this week reported a big increase in the Chinese corn crop, raising total global grain production this year to nearly 2706 million metric tons, the second-largest on record.

Global 2012/13 corn production is raised 9.4 million tons with China corn output up 8.0 million tons based on recent estimates from the National Bureau of Statistics. Strong price incentives to expand corn plantings and favorable summer rainfall, particularly in the northeast provinces, support increases in area and yields raising them to new records. Corn production for Canada is raised 1.5 million tons this month to a new record on higher yields and a record area as reported by Statistics Canada. Russia corn production is raised 1.0 million tons, also a new record.

There were offsets to those increases, particularly in Argentina and Ukraine, so global ending stocks are still expected to be lower and USDA maintained corn ending stocks in the U.S. for the marketing year at a tight 647 million bushels.”The drought reduced production by four billion bushels from what we thought earlier this year,” said USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber. “No question that’s rationed demand and we’ve seen a really tight stock situation.”

The new forecast lowered the season average corn price estimate by 20 cents to $7.40 per bushel, which Glauber says has tightened margins for ethanol producers this year. “If you look at ethanol production, it’s been below 13 billion gallons on an annualized basis, if you look at weekly production numbers, and that reflects the lower margins for sure,” he said. Corn use for ethanol is forecast at 4.5 billion bushels, 10% lower than last year.

However, if you consider the fact that ethanol production returns about a third of that corn in the form of distillers grains to the livestock market, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), notes that the U.S. ethanol industry is projected to use only 78.9 million metric tons of grain or less than three percent of the world grain supply – the lowest rate in five years. “Further, more grain will be available for non-ethanol use than any other time in history with the single exception of last year,” said RFA Vice President, Research and Analysis Geoff Cooper. “In fact, grain available for non-ethanol use in 2012/13 will be 15% higher than 10 years ago in 2003/04.”

This is all important because it illustrates several important points:
1. Farmers are more productive than ever, despite weather challenges.
2. Markets respond to higher prices by rationing demand and increasing production.
3. The world is producing enough corn for food, feed, and fuel demands.

Biotech Anniversary Triggering Accord

An important milestone for biotechnology is nearing, which will mean the beginning of a new era for genetically modified traits.

In 2015, patents for the very first ag biotech “events,” as they are called, will be expiring and becoming “generic.” Like pharmaceutical drugs are less expensive when they can be offered in a generic form, one benefit to the expiring patents may be lower seed prices and greater opportunities for the industry. However, also like drugs, International Seed Federation (ISF) president Tim Johnson of Illinois Foundation Seeds says these “events” are highly regulated. “We do not want biotechnology to disrupt markets,” he said, noting that the seed industry has been working on a framework to ensure access to the technology while addressing international trade concerns.

The initial step was announced recently by the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in “The Accord” – which has already been signed by most of the major companies involved in the biotech business for agriculture. “The Accord is a framework that we developed to provide a mechanism for that transition from proprietary biotech events to off-patent or generic biotech events,” says ASTA Vice President for Science and International Affairs Bernice Slutsky. “We view it as an opportunity for our broader membership to utilize events when they go off patent to provide farmers with a wide array of product.”

Interview with Bernice Slutsky

It’s amazing to think that the first biotech events aren’t even old enough to drink yet. That includes Bt corn and cotton, and Roundup Ready soybeans, as well as canola with modified oil composition and bromoxynil resistant cotton. “Biotechnology’s in its teenage years,” said Johnson, giving credit to Monsanto’s Hugh Grant for the analogy. “We’ve learned a tremendous amount over the last 15-20 years in biotechnology.”

If biotech is only a teenager, it’s achieved Justin Bieber-like popularity in that time. Between 90 and 95% of the U.S. canola, corn, cotton and soybean crops are genetically modified today – up from zero in 1994, when Justin Bieber was born.

“It’s important for us to find pathways that respect all technologies and all genetics to move forward on behalf of society,” Johnson says. “The accord lays that foundation down for us.”

Interview with Tim Johnson

Find out more about The Accord at agaccord.org.

A Growing Problem

Does anyone remember the scientific method? In elementary school across the country, children learn this process by which scientists investigate phenomena, acquire new knowledge or correct what had been considered knowledge until that point. Following these simple steps, the testing of ideas remains unbiased and analysis stringent. It provides data which, if the tests are constructed properly, can be considered somewhat credible upon scrutiny.

Unfortunately, some scientists have become so focused on promoting personal agendas that they have tossed their dedication to conducting the type of rigorous studies that generate new knowledge to the wayside.

Take, for example, the recent study alleging a link between HFCS consumption in particular and diabetes. Looking broadly at the study, structural flaws nearly blind those who look with an unbiased eye.

Comparing massive groups while controlling for only a few factors, the study finds that countries with high rates of HFCS consumption have higher rates of type 2 diabetes. Immediately making a massive leap of logic, jaundiced journalists grab into the veritable treasure-trove of debunked metabolism myths for a conclusion.

What do these pseudoscientists ignore? A ton of reasons people are packing on the pounds.

In addition to HFCS consumption, Canada, the United States and Japan, some of the countries with the highest rates, have many other dietary and lifestyle similarities which certainly warrant consideration. Economically developed and, by global standards, prosperous, citizens of these nations are less likely to engage in physical labor and more likely to have an abundance of food.

Basically, the stage is set for us to be fat regardless of our choice of sugar, be it corn, cane or beet.

While some developing nations make it onto the “low consumption, low diabetes” list, developed nations certainly placed also. With countries such as France and Ireland facing much lower levels of diabetes, the anti-HFCS activists claim it must be related to the lack of this single ingredient.

Obviously, factors such as higher levels of physical activity and differing attitudes towards diet in general play no role.

Maybe, what everyone needs is a trip back to elementary school. The goal of science is enhancing our knowledge base. To do so, one must remain objective and analytical. One must control for outside factors. The study must be sound if the results are to be trusted.

It isn’t that children know more about sugar, although their love of it may be impressive. It is that many have lost perspective, becoming blinded by bias.

Our society needs the best possible research into the causes of this epidemic. Shoddy science detracts from efforts with merit. As a nation, we need to lose our appetite for sensational pseudoscience and push our mental heavy weights to help us deal with our heavy weights.

China and US Seed Groups Sign MOU

A newly signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and the China National Seed Association (CNSA) is designed to promote cooperation relating to innovation in the seed industry, and ultimately help farmers feed a growing population.

“This agreement achieves two extremely important goals,” said ASTA President Andy LaVigne. “First, it is an important first step in providing new business opportunities for the world’s two largest seed industries; and second, it will ultimately work toward increased farmer productivity.”

The MOU reflects both parties’ desire to promote mutual interests through cooperation, information exchange and training in the areas of intellectual property rights, quality seed, science-based phytosanitary measures, seed movement and innovation in the seed industry on the basis of equality and mutual benefits.

Listen to an interview with Andy LaVigne here: Andy LaVigne Interview

ASTA Chairman Blake Curtis calls the MOU “monumental.”

“Everything has to start somewhere and this is a great start,” said Blake, with Curtis and Curtis Seed Company of New Mexico. “China is a very aggressive force in our world today and we’re excited about the things they’ll be able to develop using the ideas we bring to the table.”

Listen to interview with Blake here: ASTA Chairman Blake Curtis

Find Kentucky Farmers at a Grocery Store Near You

Today, Corn Commentary shares a post from Kentucky Corn Growers Association Director of Communications Jennifer Elwell. On her new blog Kentucky Food and Farm Files, Elwell discusses a variety of interesting topics, including her work with the CommonGround Kentucky program.

What happens when you place a passionate, smiling farmer in the middle of a grocery store? It opens a door for conversations about food and farming. Many Kentucky farmers are now volunteering their time to talk with food buyers about what the heck is going on at their farms and within their food industry.

Programs such as CommonGround, Operation Main Street, AgChat (#agchat or #foodchat) and many others are providing volunteer farmers for speaking engagements and events, and the feedback has been very positive.

This past weekend, volunteers (including myself) set up at the newest Kroger location in Georgetown, Ky. to talk with shoppers and provide recipes and farm information. We had questions about different types of egg production, a conversation about how a diabetic needs to manage their diet, my nine-year-old daughter encouraged kids to eat lots of fruits and vegetables by trying new dishes, and many just wanted to share their appreciation for what farmers do.

Volunteer Becky Thomas of Elizabethtown talks with a shopper at the Georgetown Kroger.

My daughter and I ready with smiles on our faces. She was so good at sharing the good news about what our Kentucky farmers do and is ready to take on my other blog, Food, Mommy!

I am very thankful that grocery store chains are opening their doors to local farmers to talk with their customers. It puts a face on our food production and puts the notion away that most of our food is produced by “industrial-strength” farms. At least 98% of the farms in Kentucky are still family-owned and operated.

Volunteer Tonya Murphy from Owensboro talks with a customer at a Louisville Kroger this summer about how she cares for the chickens on her farm. Everyone loved seeing her photos.

Volunteer Carly Guinn, a grain and beef cattle farmer who lives in Danville has a long conversation about food myths and shares how she feels they hurt farmers.

Kentucky farmer volunteers Ashley Reding, Carrie Divine and Denise Jones talked with Louisville ValuMarket shoppers in 2011, shortly after the Common Ground program launched nationwide.

Elwell invites both comments and requests from groups looking for speakers on food and farming. Click here to find out more.

RFS Opponents Not Giving Up

The waiver didn’t work, so now opponents of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) are using every other tactics in the book to try and get the standard reformed or repealed.

Last week, the American Petroleum Institute held a press conference calling for the elimination of the RFS. “We believe the Renewable Fuels Standard is unworkable and should be repealed,” said API Downstream Group Director Robert Greco. “There is a fundamental flaw in the enabling statute so the only way to fix it is to scrap the law and start over if Congress believes such a program is necessary.

In a one-two punch, the National Council of Chain Restaurants then released a new report on the impact of the RFS on food prices and small business which concluded that “the RFS mandate could cost chain restaurants up to $3.2 billion annually, with quick-service restaurants witnessing cost increases upward of $2.5 billion, and full-service restaurants seeing increases upward of $691 million.”

Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) hopes the study will get him support in Congress for his “The Renewable Fuels Elimination Act” HR3098. “This is a bipartisan effort,” Goodlatte said, noting that a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson encouraging a waiver of the RFS was signed by 156 members of the House. “That group provides a basis for moving forward with legislation that would do what unfortunately she chose not to do.”

Listen to Goodlatte’s comments here: Congressman Bob Goodlatte

The fast food chain study was quickly debunked by corn farmers and ethanol producers. “They lost in their bid for a waiver of the RFS, so now they are resorting to super-sized myths about the impact of the RFS on food prices. Every reasonable analysis of the factors influencing food prices has concluded that the cost of diesel fuel, gasoline, and other energy inputs is the major driver,” said Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen, who calls the study more of a “book report” that cherry-picks results from other studies that support their analysis.

Listen to an interview with Dinneen: RFA president Bob Dinneen

National Corn Growers Association president Pam Johnson notes that the NCCR study looks at only two possible scenarios regarding the economic impact of the RFS. “When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its look at the RFS earlier this month, its researchers looked at 500 scenarios and made the right decision to reject an unnecessary waiver request,” said Johnson. Of those 500 scenarios, EPA found 445 of them showed ‘no impacts from the RFS program at all’ when it comes to corn, food and fuel prices.

“Further, the study falsely states that more corn goes into ethanol than other uses. Its reliance on the general USDA categories without diving deeper ignored the fact that nearly twice as much corn is used for livestock feed than for ethanol,” Johnson added.

There are other flaws in the study but that will not stop the RFS opponents from pressing forward with the goal of eliminating a program that has been successful in diversifying the nation’s fuel supply. “They are pulling out all the stops,” Dinneen says, which means that the industry must do all it can do to get accurate information out to lawmakers, regulators and the general public.

CommonGround New York Hits the Airwaves to Share Volunteers’ Stories

CommonGround New York volunteers will be taking to the airwaves tomorrow to share their stories and answer consumer concerns about animal welfare and milk. Through a series of radio spots, listeners in important markets such as Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Watertown get a brief respite from the holiday advertisements while the volunteers’ messages address the issues important to them.

“It’s impossible to talk to every single consumer who has a question or concern about their food,” said CommonGround New York volunteer Nancy Robbins, a dairy farmer who also runs an agri-tourism operation. “This radio campaign gives us, the farmers, an opportunity to talk to thousands of people at one time about where their food comes from and the methods that are used to produce it. With our first round of radio spots, we focused on suburban areas to reach people who live a bit further from the farm and country life.”

The messages will run for two weeks during this first series. To get a sneak preview of what New Yorkers will be hearing soon, click here.

Closing an Important Chapter in Farm Broadcasting

This week, National Corn Growers Association Past President Bart Schott and KFYR/KBMR Farm Radio Director Al Gustin sat down for their final interview together. Momentous for many reasons, this conversation marked not only one of the final of Gustin’s esteemed career but also served as a bookend for an on-air relationship that began decades prior.

See, Schott’s first television interview was also with Gustin. While both acknowledge that video footage no longer exists, Schott warmly shares memories of that day, talking about how the two young men worked together through what was a new experience for both. Now, as Gustin prepares to retire, both gentlemen handle the interview like old pros and like old friends.

Certainly, Gustin grew to become an impactful, important voice in farm radio over those decades. Broadcasting from Egypt, Jordan, China and Japan, Gustin traveled the world to bring the big stories that would impact U.S. farmers back home. At the same time, he developed meaningful relationships with so many in the ag community that his reports reflected a clear glimpse into the triumphs, struggles and inner workings of the industry and the men and women who constitute it.

While he has received awards too numerous to mention, Gustin has received a higher honor too. He has earned, through his personal character and professional excellence, the deep respect and sincere admiration of U.S. farmers like Schott.

To listen to the most recent interview, please click here.

USFRA Celebrates Two Years

The U.S Farmers and Ranchers Alliance has officially entered into its third year now, celebrating two years of making connections with consumers about food.

Stallman says USFRA just started with some of its initial programd 14 months ago. “We’ve made great progress considering we started from scratch,” he said. “We’re making great progress in engaging with consumer influencers … we’ve established a really robust social media platform for consumers and farmers and ranchers to have direct conversations.” USFRA has also set up training for farmers and ranchers to learn how to interact with consumers on social media.

Moving forward, Stallman says they want to continue the successful efforts they have begun, including the Food Dialogues that have been held throughout the past year in major urban areas like Hollywood and New York City.

Listen to my interview with Stallman here: Interview with Bob Stallman

In conjunction with the Food Dialogues held in New York City, USFRA held its annual meeting and elected new executive committee members:

Chairman – Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation
Vice Chairman – Weldon Wynn, Cattlemen’s Beef Board
Secretary – Bernard Leonard, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association
Treasurer – Dale Norton, National Pork Board
At-Large – Mike Geske, National Corn Growers Association
At-Large – Nancy Kavazanjian, United Soybean Board

Going off the executive committee is former NCGA president Bart Schott of North Dakota, who says it has been a great two years. “We’re really reaching an audience through social media that we’ve never really dreamed of,” Schott said.

He was especially impressed with the Food Dialogues in New York and said he has learned a lot himself during the panels. “Having a Food Dialogue with panelists that balance each other out and talk about their side, whether it’s right or wrong, just to talk about the issues and get them out there … for me it was a home run again,” said Schott who adds that it is a great way to connect farmers and consumers.

Listen to an interview with Bart at the NY Food Dialogues here: Interview with Bart Schott



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