Corn Commentary

A Few Words from the Chairman

There was lots of activity of interest to corn farmers last week – both on The Hill and in the field.

garryI caught up with National Corn Growers Association Chairman Garry Niemeyer of Auburn, Illinois on Friday as he was busy playing catch up on planting progress. “We are probably about a fourth done with planting corn,” Garry said. “We normally are finished planting corn by the middle of April.” He added that since June 1 is the cutoff date for crop insurance they still have quite a bit of time to get a crop in and “everybody here is feverishly working.” While it has been the longest cold, wet spring that he can remember, Garry says it has really warmed up now in the Midwest and he thinks the corn will probably “come flying out of the ground” now.

Up on Capitol Hill last week, as so many like Garry were busy in the field, two pieces of legislation very important to farmers made significant and long-awaited progress. One was the passage of a new five year farm bill through both the House and Senate Agriculture committees. However, Garry is quick to note that we are still no further along on a new bill than last year at this point. “We never got a House bill to the floor (last year),” Garry noted. “I’m going to hope that the House finishes up, then they go to conference and we get a reasonable bill which will help all American farmers.”

Meanwhile, the Senate finally passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) last week, paving the way for upgrades to the inland waterways system important for farmers. “It’s been a long time, since 2007, since we’ve had a WRDA bill and back before 2000 they used to have a WRDA bill every other year,” Garry says. “Now we just need the funding to get these project moving forward.”

Of specific interest to corn farmers, the bill contains provisions to remove the over-budget and long-delayed Olmsted lock and dam project from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), the remainder of the cost to be paid 100 percent by general treasury revenue and not cost-shared 50-50 through the IWTF. This action will free up around $750 million to the IWTF to complete critical priority navigation projects. An increase in the threshold for major rehabilitation, from the current $14 million to $20 million, was approved.

The bill now goes to the House for approval and Garry says they are encouraging farmers to call their representatives in Congress to tell them how important this legislation is to them.

Listen to Garry’s comments here: NCGA Chairman Garry Niemeyer

Media Sees “Massive Farm Bill”

The term “massive farm bill” has been used repeatedly in the general media this week to describe the bills passed out by the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, and by “massive” they mean the farm portion of the bill, not the nutrition portion which accounts for 80% of the funding called for in the legislation.

“The Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday approved a massive five-year farm bill that would cut spending while also creating new subsidies for farmers,” reads the first sentence in an NPR story this week that was picked up and carried verbatim by many other news outlets.

The Senate bill cuts about $400 million out of almost $80 billion spent annually on food stamps, while at the same time cuts $5 billion a year in direct farm payments. The House bill makes deeper cuts in nutrition, about $20 billion over the life of the bill, while the programs for farmers take a hit of more than $18 billion.

lucas“There will be some folks out in the countryside who will say ‘80% of the bill is saving $20 billion and 20% of the bill is saving $18 billion, how can that be fair?'” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas meeting with farm broadcasters Wednesday just before the markup began. “This is the first real reform to the nutrition title in almost 20 years.”

Listen to Lucas’s comments here House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas

The cuts to the nutrition title caused several members of the House committee to vote against the bill, and Lucas is well aware that will be one of the major sticking points when the bill gets to the floor of the House, which he believes will happen next month. “Whatever we do in the committee, many of the battles – whether it is over dairy, or sugar, or the size of the nutrition reforms, will be fought out again on the floor of the United States House,” he said to the farm broadcasters, echoing that sentiment after the bill was passed out of committee late Wednesday night. “We have an adventure ahead of us in June,” he said before banging the gavel to adjourn.

Agriculture groups seem quite willing to accept the disproportionate cuts for farm programs compared to nutrition programs because they want to see a bill passed that will finally allow them some kind of long term security to keep producing food and fiber for the country and the world. As long as there is just enough of a safety net to protect them from going bankrupt trying to do their job, farmers themselves are likely to agree that the bill is fair enough, but not at all “massive.”

What Is in a Name? For Renewable Biofuels, Quite a Bit

It may be trite to define a commonly used term as a lead in to a larger story, but it seems a Texas lawmaker has completely forgotten what the word “renewable” means.

U.S. Representative Pete Oleson (R-TX) wants to rewrite what qualifies as a biofuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard to include ethanol made from natural gas. Maybe Rep. Oleson was confused by the word natural or maybe his support for the state’s oil industry blinds him, but natural gas, a coproduct formed with petroleum, does not qualify because, intrinsically, it is not renewable.

Congress created the RFS to reduce our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. While they certainly did so to cut pollution, they also wanted to shift our nation’s energy future away from an addiction to a finite resource. As an oil coproduct, natural gas also qualifies as a fossil fuel. The supply of natural gas however, while more abundant than the oil supply, still is finite.

The oil industry’s stranglehold on America’s energy supply should not be tightened by redefining the word renewable. It shouldn’t be tightened at all.

Common sense prevailed when lawmakers crafted the RFS. They had the foresight and wherewithal to create a way to break free from fossil fuels. They created a way to build the greener, more sustainable energy future that renewable biofuels can provide. Today’s lawmakers should exercise the same integrity and deny big oil a backdoor win.

Redefining renewable biofuels will not magically make oil wells that never run dry. A renewable future needs a renewable feedstock. It needs corn.

Why Don’t They Get It?

Driving home from work last night, I was confronted with a story on NPR that showed just how short-sighted and visionless today’s media can be. The reporter characterized the Supreme Court Decision in Bowman v. Monsanto as a victory for big ag at the expense of farmers. Since then, countless radio and television talking heads have repeated this banal banter based in the bogus assumption that paying for something is always a bad thing.

Quite often, paying for something can be a good thing. In this case, paying for the use of a product that requires extensive research and years of testing provides an incentive for companies like Monsanto to develop improved seeds that have the traits farmers want. From corn varieties that can maintain yields under heat or drought stress to plants that have stronger stalks, companies must spend extremely large amounts of money and make astonishing time and resource investments in these traits well before ever seeing one dime of return.

Even large companies need to make a profit in order to reinvest in research and development. Even large companies need an incentive to innovate. Intellectual property rights provide that incentive by creating a fair system in which innovation is rewarded .

Likewise, the companies developing these traits monitor that quality of the products they bring to market. Farmers who invest in their seeds have a clear picture of what they are buying. The further down the genetic line from these original seeds that a farmer gets, the less likely it is that the advantages of the original variety are preserved. In this case, violating intellectual property rights is breaking the law to steal an unknown.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Bowman v. Monsanto was not a victory for big ag at the expense of the farmer. It was a victory for innovators and for the people who need those innovations to thrive in their own profession.

Everyone may grumble when the check comes, but it makes little sense to declare having to pay for a product one wants a loss. When it comes down to it, no one works for free.

Note: CommonGround Kentucky volunteer and family farmer Mary Courtney explained why she feels it is important to pay for GMO technology in a recent interview with Modern Farmer. Check out what she had to say by clicking here.

May Snow Showers Bring Spring Crops for Farmers

IMG_0467Recently, CommonGround Colorado volunteer Danell Kalcevic, who farms and raises cattle outside of Denver, penned an op-ed on why consumers may see higher beef prices this grilling season. While some may say farmers and ranchers must be profiting from this rise, Kalcevic explains how last year’s drought is still impacting ranchers.

May Snow Showers Bring Spring Crops for Farmers

As we gear up for grilling season, many shoppers may notice higher beef prices at the grocery store. Beef prices are triggered by supply and demand, and this year, the supply is low. “How low?” you ask. The last time cattle numbers in the U.S. were this low was it was 1952.

Moisture—or the lack thereof—is the culprit for supply issues in the beef industry. I know it might seem like it’s been snowing and raining nearly every day the last couple of weeks, but the lack of moisture in our region over the past ten years has caused strain on the feed supply, and ultimately our cattle supply. For cattle farmers like me, the price of beef depends on the commodity prices for wheat, corn and soybeans—all of the big commodities used in feeding cattle.

A low supply and high demand normally means the person selling the goods in demand will make a large profit. This theory does not hold true in agriculture. In reality, it costs more to produce our low supply of cattle, and we are by no means getting rich off of the profits. Farmers actually see less than 12 cents for every dollar spent on food in America. The rest of the money goes to processing, transportation and marketing.

Call us crazy, but my family considers the recent snowy weather a blessing. Sure blizzard conditions make getting in the field or feeding cattle difficult, but with this type of moisture farmers will be able to plant a much greater supply of crops like corn or soybeans. And we are hopeful that being able to plant more spring crops will help bring those cattle numbers back up and your beef prices down!


Danell Kalcevic, farmer, Bennett, Colo.

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.”

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