Corn Commentary

Let the Farm Bill Markups Begin

As both the House and Senate Agriculture committees are marking up their versions of a farm bill this week, that was the number one issue for farm broadcasters meeting in the nation’s capitol for their annual Washington Watch.

nafb-ww-doggett“We absolutely want to get a farm bill done this year,” said Jon Doggett with the National Corn Growers Association. For corn growers, the top priority is risk management and crop insurance, which is why they joined with a number of other agriculture and environmental groups last week in hammering out a compromise to support tying conservation compliance and crop insurance but oppose means testing or payment limitations. “We worked out some common sense language that makes this a very workable program for growers that offers them plenty of opportunity that if they inadvertently get out of compliance they can quickly get back in,” he said. “In return, we have an assurance from the conservation community that they will be with us to protect the funding for crop insurance.”

Listen to an interview with Jon here: Interview with Jon Doggett, NCGA

The Senate farm bill mark up is scheduled for Tuesday and the House on Wednesday.
Link to Senate farm bill page.
Link to House farm bill draft.

2013 NAFB Washington Watch Photo Album

Historian of Corn Breeding

Troyer5It’s a safe bet that few people in the world know more about corn than A. Forrest Troyer, who has devoted his long life to developing improved corn hybrids and has been involved in the development of at least 40 commercial corn hybrids that have sold over 60 million bags of seed. That’s more than enough to plant all the corn in North America for two years!

Troyer worked for Pioneer Hi-Bred, Pfizer Genetics, Dekalb and Cargill Hybrid Seeds, and in his “retirement” is now adjunct professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois. Recently, Todd Gleason wtih the University of Illinois and WILL Radio interviewed Troyer for a great series on “The Story of Corn.” From the evolution of open pollinated corn to today’s genetics, it’s a fascinating story.

Listen to Todd’s report here: Todd Gleason with Forrest Troyer

Snow Slows Planting Progress

corn-snow2Nothing like a little snow in May to really slow down a planter!

This photo from Minnesota was posted last week on the Case IH Facebook page. Despite the snow, Minnesota farmers did manage to get two percent of their corn crop in the ground last week, but they should have over half of it planted by now.

Nearly 50% of the crop nationwide should be planted by now in an average year, but only 12% was planted as of Sunday according to USDA. Last year at this time, nearly 70% of the crop was planted.

There was more progress last week than in recent weeks, even in states that saw more white stuff on the ground. Minnesota, Michigan, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin all finally got a few points on the board after making no progress in the previous weeks. Illinois, Indiana and Iowa move up a few notches from 1-2% to 7-8%. But, again, all should be at or nearing the halfway point by now.

Emergence is far behind normal as well with 11 of the 18 top corn producing states showing no corn above ground yet. Just three percent of the crop has emerged compared to 29% last year and 15% average.

Not to worry yet, however. “It is still early in the planting season and slow progress at this point should not cause alarm,” said National Corn Growers Association President Pam Johnson, a grower in Iowa. “Modern farming technology has dramatically reduced the time needed for farmers to plant a large number of acres, and this means we can begin planting much later if need be.”

And a little cooperation from Mother Nature would help.

Before You Criticize, Take a Look at Your Own Backyard

In recent conversations about the environment, some fingers have been pointed toward corn farmers. The finger pointers wrongly allege that growing corn emits massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

If you want to see an enviro-villain responsible for a far greater percentage of our nation’s COemissions, just look out your front door.

Residential lawns actually emit more CO2 than corn fields according to a study recently published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal. As more exurbs push city boundaries further and residential developments move land out of agricultural production, the effect can even intensify according to David Bowne, an assistant professor of biology at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania who led the study.

Everyone needs a place to call home. Everyone needs nutritious, healthy foods. Instead of pointing a finger at a farmer because, as such a small subset of the population, very few outside of agriculture personally know about and have experienced our nation’s incredible farming and ranching tradition.

Farmers work hard to act as good stewards of the land, air and water upon which they depend for their livelihood. The original environmentalists, farmers want to work with their counterparts from all parts of the country to ensure that their children will be able to continue farming the land that their grandparents once did.

All fruitful efforts start when we extend an open hand instead of wagging a finger. So take a moment to look at the facts. We have all contributed to the problem. Now, we all must be part of the solution.

Why Does Open Ag Data Matter?

Representatives from eight nations just gathered in Washington DC to discuss how they can work together to share important agricultural data with the rest of the planet with the ultimate goal of increasing global food security. Overall, they agreed that they need to make government data sets such as research and crop production as accessible as possible.

data-2At the G8 Open Data for Agriculture conference, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack revealed how the U.S. data would be made available in a new virtual community for Food, Agriculture and Rural issue, located at

“This new online community is a big step toward opening information for agriculture, making it public in useable formats,” said Vilsack. “This will increase the value of the investments U.S. taxpayers make in agricultural research, it will create a data ecosystem that will fuel economic growth, it will help drive that innovation to meet our global food challenge we all face.”

Other G8 countries represented at the conference are also making their ag data available in similar ways. USDA Chief Scientist Dr. Catherine Woteki says the idea is to share research and production information particularly with farmers in Africa to help them increase productivity. “Some of that is coming from our plant and animal research program, where we’re mapping the genomes of important crops and animal species for agriculture,” she said. “We’re also including all of our agricultural statistics that traditionally we have made available but now it’s going to be easier through this new community on”

Paul Welbig of Raven Industries, who attended the G8 conference as an industry partner actively involved in data distribution platform development, says the ability to share information with farmers in less developed nations is easier than ever before. “Remarkably enough, although they may not have running water or electricity, a lot of these communities actually do have good wireless access and cell phones are a main means of communications” especially by SMS or text messaging. So, applications have been developed taking the ag data sets and communicating them by SMS platforms.

Why is this important? Welbig says one of the most significant developments in agricultural productivity in recent history was made possible by the sharing of open data. “And that was GPS,” he said. “The satellite signals that were once proprietary to the government. They made those signals available and now look at the precision ag industry as a result of what they can do with this open data.”

Still Cold and Wet

snowmanPlanting progress continues to be slowed by wet and cold weather in most of the major corn producing states, with some states even getting more snow last week.

According to USDA
, just 5% of the U.S. corn crop was planted as of Sunday, only a percentage point of difference compared to the previous week. Last year at this time, nearly half the crop was in the ground and normally at least 30% should be planted by now. All 18 major corn producing states are behind the five year average. The only states even close are North Carolina and Texas. Every state should be showing progress in the double digits, but only six are and five have nothing in the ground yet. Another half dozen have less than 3-4% planted.

In Missouri, where both the photos on this page were taken last week, corn planting was 15 percent complete as of Sunday, 24 days behind last year and 15 days behind normal. According to the Missouri Corn Growers Association, farmers in southeast Missouri were starting to see corn emerge last week, while some northern Missouri locations were dealing with snow. The Gary Porter family of Mercer in north central Missouri made a little snowman instead of planting last week.

corn-emergeJason Mayer of Dexter, sent in this photo of his corn emerging. Johnny Hunter in the same southeast area of the state reported last week that he was finished corn planting and was hopeful the crop would make it through the cold temperatures. “Cold has caused a slow start and corn is only in V1 or V2 stage, which is pretty rare for almost the first of May,” Hunter reported to MCGA. “Cold is costing us bushels right now and corn doesn’t look that great, but we have an even stand so I’m happy with that.”

Just 2% of total U.S. corn has emerged, compared to 14% last year at this time and 6% on average. In Missouri, 9% of the crop has emerged.

Truth in Labeling

biotech-labelBills were introduced last week in the U.S. House and Senate that would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to “clearly label genetically engineered (GE) foods so that consumers can make informed choices about what they eat.”

The legislation would require clear labels for genetically engineered whole foods and processed foods, directing the FDA to write new labeling standards that are consistent with U.S. labeling standards and international standards.

To simplify, perhaps this wording would help: “This product may contain ingredients derived from safe modern biotechnology.” Just a suggestion.

Around the World at NASCAR Speeds

NASCAR Ethanol_4C no NASCAR[1]-1The incredible reliability and performance of ethanol has been proven once again. As part of its NASCAR Green ™ campaign, NASCAR™ announced that its drivers have now logged so many miles using Sunoco GreenE15™ that it would be the equivalent of driving around the world 160 times.

While NASCAR adopted the 15 percent ethanol blend as the official fuel of every car in every race because it decreases harmful greenhouse gas emissions, American Ethanol has demonstrated that it can perform. After more than two years and 160 trips around the world, the world’s best drivers and their pit crews rely on E15 for the horsepower they need and the continual performance their sport demands.

Learn more about what NASCAR and its partners, including American Ethanol, are doing to make a greener tomorrow by clicking here.

Print All You Want, We’ll Make More

print-emailThis might not be the most politically correct message for Earth Day week, but it’s true.

I’m sure you’ve seen email signatures saying something to the effect of “Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail!” Today I got one with a very different message:

Notice: It’s OK to print this e-mail.

Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees and corn starch. Growing and harvesting trees and corn provides jobs for millions of Americans. Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Thanks to improved forest and agricultural management, we have more trees and corn in America today than we had 100 years ago.

To give credit where credit is due, the signature came from an employee of GROWMARK, Inc. I plan to add it to my email signatures in the future.

It’s Always Something

This spring is an example of what Gilda Radner’s character Roseanne Roseannadanna on the old Saturday Night Live shows used to say: “It just goes to show you, it’s always something! If it’s not one thing, it’s another!”

fieldwaterThat’s what farming is all about when it comes to the weather. Last spring’s weather was picture perfect for planting and fast emergence – this year, not so much. By summer of 2012, the crops were wilting from heat and lack of moisture – now fields in some areas are flooding. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

“Virtually no field work accomplished across the heart of the Midwest” this past week, according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey. Corn planting as of April 21 was just four percent nationwide, compared to 26% this time last year and 16% for the five year average. I took the photo in this post on Sunday off I-35 in DeKalb county Missouri. The Show Me State is showing 13% of the corn planted, compared to nearly 50% this time last year and about 30% for the average.

Illinois and Indiana managed to get 1% planted during the week, a far cry from last year when Illinois had 56% and Indiana had 43%. Ohio stayed stagnant at 1%, compared to over 30% this time last year. “Still haven’t seen a single field planted in some of the other major states,” said Rippey. That includes Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Colorado. But, normally those states should only be about 10% or less by now so there is still plenty of time to catch up.

The good news is that the moisture is much needed and that should be a big help whenever the crop does get in the ground. Warmer temperatures will also be helping the soil temps heat up a bit.

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