Corn Commentary

Getting to Know New NCGA First VP

The newest member of the officer team for the National Corn Growers Association is Martin Barbre, a farmer from Carmi, Illinois. I had the opportunity to get to know Martin a little better at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) annual meeting last week in Kansas City.

Martin has been farming since he was 19 years old and now shares the operation about two hours east of St. Louis with his son. “Right now my passion is making sure that we have a future in agriculture for my son and all the other sons and daughters that are joining on the family farms,” said Martin.

Martin is concerned about the fact that Congress has yet to pass a farm bill. “We just went through a record drought, the need for that has never been more important, and yet Congress has not gotten the job done,” he said. “We’ve gone out this year and we still raised a pretty good job considering the conditions that we had. We’ve done our job, we’ve got the crop harvested, let’s get Congress to do their job and get us a farm bill for the next five years.” He says the corn growers would like to see a revenue-based protection plan tied to crop insurance.

The Barbre farm raised a corn crop this year that was about 30% of normal. “We had a lot of really bad acres,” said Martin. “Really, the heat hurt us more than the drought. We saw that evidenced by our irrigated fields that still weren’t up to par. The heat really affected pollination.”

This was the first year that Martin has attended the marathon interview session that is NAFB Trade Talk, but it won’t be his last. Listen to my interview with Martin from NAFB here: Interview with Martin Barbre

2012 NAFB Convention Photo Album

Update from NCGA Policy Pro

Phone to the ear is the way National Corn Growers Vice President of Public Policy Jon Doggett spends most of his day, so doing interviews at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting just two days after the election was no different than any other. He just had to squeeze in that phone time between the interviews!

Broadcasters were most interested in what now after the election and Doggett told them that getting a farm bill done is a major priority for the upcoming lame duck session, but will they get it done? “I think the chances are excellent – IF there’s a commitment from the leadership that they will move forward, but if there’s not the commitment, I can guarantee what the result will be – it will be nothing,” said Doggett.

Congress will also have to deal with the “fiscal cliff” in the short lame duck session. “If we don’t make our decisions by the end of 2012, we’re gonna jump off a cliff,” said Doggett. “We’re not at the edge yet, but we’re kind of looking over the edge.”

Doggett also talked about other issues, like the RFS waiver and how important it is for farmers to make their voices heard in Washington.

Listen to my interview with Jon from NAFB here: Interview with Jon Doggett

New NCGA President Meets the Press

Pam Johnson of Floyd, Iowa has been president of the National Corn Growers Association for just over a month now and Thursday she had her first real opportunity in that position to “meet the press” at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB).

Pam is the first woman president of NCGA but she takes exception to the idea that she is a “token” in a man’s world. “I’m a sixth generation farmer and I come from a long line of strong men AND women,” she said. “Just like anybody else, male or female, I had to work very hard, learn a lot, work together and compromise and come up through the chain.”

Pam says there is lots more opportunity for farm women to get involved in leadership positions than ever before. “I’ve got a lot of respect for women in agriculture, young and old,” said Pam, noting the great enthusiasm she witnessed at the Executive Women in Agriculture conference last year in Chicago.

Pam’s goals as president for NCGA are very simple. “To bring all that I am and all that I’ve learned to this position and be the best president that I can be for NCGA. That means that I will continue to advocate for the policies that we worked very hard to develop and advocate for our priorities as we move forward into this new year,” Pam said.

I also talked with Pam about her crop this year, how farming has changed in six generations on her farm, and the 2013 Commodity Classic.

Listen to my interview with Pam – one of dozens done Thursday with farm broadcasters! Interview with Pam Johnson

As the National Mood Darkens, Agriculture Must Provide a Strong, Unwavering Light

This election day, a substantial majority of Americans believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Only five days ago, Rasmussen Reports found that only 39 percent of voters believe the country is actually on the right track. The negativity that has descended over the country hangs like a nearly palpable dark cloud, shading perceptions and obscuring the view of the horizon.

For farmers, a plethora of problems loom large on that horizon, threatening the industry which they have labored for decades to build. The shadowy figures resemble monsters. The drought menaces productivity gains or, at the very least, the perception thereof. Hard-fought battles to grow markets for their crops no longer seem like memories. The fog of fear creates doubt.

No longer able to clearly envision the brighter tomorrow that once inspired passionate pride in  agriculture, a strong biofuels industry, an abundant supply of healthy foods and a resurgent rural economy,  short-sighted attacks from launched under the cover of night lunge from reactionary corners.

Keenly aware of the cyclic moods of Mother Nature, farmers understand that a year of drought does negate centuries of innovation. Now, more than ever, this vibrant viewpoint needs to shine through the morass, leading Americans forth on the long-charted path toward that crystalline vision.

Instead of engaging the willfully obtuse in a never-ending debacle of a debate, farmers need to appraise arguments against their triumvirate of triumphs, ethanol, biotechnology and production advancements, with an eagle’s eye. Even though it may seem illogical, certain sectors have tied a blindfold around their own eyes and plugged their own ears rendering themselves unable to contemplate evidence that might contradict their anti-agriculture agendas.

Then, after writing off the screeches of the intentionally obtuse harpies, farmers can focus with pinpoint precision on the rock solid record of success. Repeatedly, American agriculture has set the bar far beyond what many believed it could reach. Repeatedly, it has vaulted well over that bar, soaring to greater heights time and time again.

Farmers set out to build an ethanol industry that would provide a new market for their crops, spur rural economic development, increase domestic energy production and decrease air pollution. Today, they have already achieved every one of those goals. In five short years, a booming industry has improved the fortunes of farmers and their communities at an exponential rate.

When critics attack these achievements, often detracting from ethanol’s success to draw attention from the lack of their own, American agriculture must defend its record with pride instead of apologizing for a single year of mild production setbacks. The rains will come. The corn will grow. It is crucial to the continued success of agriculture and of rural America farmers that the demand built through an incredible investment in ethanol remains strong.

Instead of falling prey to the demons of doubt, American agriculture should shine like the beacon, illuminating the increased employment, improved food and energy security and economic advancement that farmers have built through innovation and hard work. Farmers chartered the right course years ago. Now, they must lead others who got lost in the fog back to the path toward a brilliant tomorrow.

Wish the Candidates Would Put It in Writing?

With only days remaining before the election, the vast majority of Americans have already decided which candidate they will back when they cast their ballot. President Obama, Mitt Romney and both men’s proxies are running at a feverish pace back and forth between a hand full of “key” states trying everything short of giving away free puppies in an effort to woo the rare undecided voters.

Although it hardly competes with the precision-crafted media events that candidates call rallies, the National Corn Growers Association offers farmers something that seems to be in short supply this year. It offers concrete answers, in writing, on where the candidates stand on the issues that matter most in rural America.

Take a moment this weekend to take advantage of this incredible resource. Even decided voters should know exactly where future leaders stand on the unique issues that will impact their lives in a direct manner.

NCGA, non-partisan in its very nature, understands the grassroots power its members can wield. In providing this information, it hopes to help farmers take that power to the polls.

To access the candidate responses in their entirety, click here.

Crops in the Path of the Storm

The impact of Hurricane Sandy on agriculture is still being assessed but the storm did have one immediate effect – delaying the release of USDA’s crop progress report by two days.

Meterologist Brad Rippey says the corn crop is now 91% harvested nationwide, well ahead of the five year average of 60%, but while much of the corn belt is done, some areas that got hit by the storm were still underway. “Pennsylvania, for example, on October 28 – a day or two before the storm hit – had the crop just 64% harvested. That is ahead of average but leaves virtually a third of the crop in the field,” said Rippey. “Same is true in Ohio with 64% harvested by October 28.”

Rippey says it’s a similar situation for the soybean harvest which is 87% complete nationwide. “We saw very little harvest underway in North Carolina, Virginia and on up into Maryland and Delaware,” he said, noting that just 17% of the crop in North Carolina was harvested by October 28.

Rippey adds that next week’s crop progress report will provide more information on just how bad the damage was from Sandy.

World Grain Buyers Get US Producer Perspectives

Grain buyers from around the world at the recent 2012 Export Exchange had the opportunity to hear directly from U.S. farmers themselves about the impact of the drought on the 2012 crop through a producer panel during the opening general session. Among the panelists was Ron Gray, an Illinois farmer and Secretary/Treasurer of the US Grains Council.

Gray related how this season got off to a great start but quickly went downhill due to lack of rainfall, resulting in a severely diminished corn crop. “Our farm probably averaged 50 bushels an acre, which is approximately 1/3 of our normal production. The rainfall did come later and the soybean crop is a fairly good crop, but the corn crop was devastated,” Gray said.

However, Gray notes that “hope springs eternal in the farm community” and farmers are forging ahead with optimism in 2013. “That will mean it’s not 2012 anymore and that will be a good thing,” he said, pointing out that most farmers who had crop insurance this year will be in good shape for next season.

His take home message for international grain buyers was that U.S. corn and distillers grains will still be available for the export market. “We do have quality product available,” he said.

Listen to Jamie Johansen interview Ron at the Export Exchange: Ron Gray Interview

You can find photos from this years Export Exchange here: 2012 Export Exchange

Biotech Could Help Feed the World

The list continues to grow of newspapers, organizations and companies opposed to California’s Proposition 37, that would require the labeling of any foods containing genetically modified crops.

“It’s just awful in my opinion,” said Truth About Trade & Technology (TATT) Chairman Emeritus and former American Farm Bureau president Dean Kleckner. “It’s as though there’s something wrong with biotech. Seventy percent of the food that we buy in the supermarket in this country has some element of biotechnology in it – could be corn oil, could be soybean oil.”

“Biotech is here to stay,” Kleckner added. “It’s the new conventional agriculture, really.”

TATT hosted its annual Global Farmer Roundtable at the World Food Prize in Iowa recently, which featured a visit to the seed lab at Iowa State University and Couser Cattle Company adjacent to Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa. Participants at this event included 17 producers from Canada, Honduras, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Swaziland, United Kingdom, Uruguay, US, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Kleckner says most farmers in the world want to use biotechnology and those living in countries where the use of biotech crops is prohibited believe they are at a disadvantage. “And I agree with them that they are disadvantaged against the U.S. and Argentina and Canada and South Africa and other countries that do use biotechnology.”

Exposing producers in other countries to the advantages of using distillers grains as livestock feed is also important, which is why the visit to the Couser operation is a regular feature for roundtable participants.

“I’m a believer in ethanol from corn,” said Kleckner. “The corn that is used for ethanol, a lot of that comes back to farmers in the form of distillers grains.”

Couser Cattle Company owner Bill Couser was instrumental in starting the farmer-owned Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant, which is located next to his operation so he can take full advantage of using distillers grains as feed for his livestock.

You can see more photos from the TATT Global Farmer Roundtable on their Facebook page.

Listen to my interview with Dean from World Food Prize: Interview with Dean Kleckner

Conference Addresses US Grains Importers Concerns

More than 200 international buyers and end-users were in Minneapolis earlier this week to meet with grain suppliers and to hear from industry and government leaders about prospects for U.S. export capacity, particularly in light of this year’s drought.

“What we’re telling customers around the world is how the U.S. producers will be there for them,” said Tom Sleight, President & CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, which sponsored the 2012 Export Exchange with the Renewable Fuels Association. “The US farmers will be there for them now and in the future. Yes, we have droughts, that’s a problem we have, but for the future the U.S. has always responded to production challenges with more acres, greater production. Our message to the international community is that the US farmer is there in the international market for keeps.”

Listen to an interview with Sleight here: USGC President Tom Sleight

The Export Exchange focused heavily on exports of the ethanol co-product distillers dried grains (DDGS), which have increased substantially in recent years. RFA vice president of research and analysis Geoff Cooper addressed concerns that a waiver of the Renewable Fuels Standard could impact the supply of DDGS, quoting one study that estimated a waiver might reduce ethanol production by about 3% or 500 million gallons. “If a waiver was granted, you might see distillers grains prices increase about six percent commensurate with that 500 million gallon reduction,” he said.

However, Cooper says they expect a waiver will only reduce corn prices by about four cents a bushel. “We believe that a waiver of the RFS is completely unnecessary and we do not believe that it would noticeably impact corn prices or availability in the current marketing year,” he said. “The markets are already adjusting and there is no evidence that a waiver will provide any additional relief.”

Listen to Geoff’s comments here: Geoff Cooper Comments

At the conclusion of the Export Exchange conference, teams of international grain buyers fanned out across America, from Ohio to Washington State, and Minnesota to Louisiana to gain further first hand information about the current U.S. corn crop and build relationships leading to future sales. Teams from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Mexico and Taiwan got a head start, visiting U.S. farms, agribusinesses, and export terminals before heading to Minneapolis. This week after the conference, a Japanese team headed to Iowa and Minnesota, a European team went to Nebraska and a Chinese team had visits scheduled in Ohio and Louisiana.

You can find photos from this years Export Exchange here: 2012 Export Exchange

USDA Economist on Outlook for Grains

A highlight for the 2012 Export Exchange this week in Minneapolis was a presentation by USDA Chief Economist Dr. Joe Glauber on the supply and demand outlook for coarse grains, both in the United States and globally.

Needless to say, much of his focus was on the impact on this year’s drought in the U.S. “What looked like was going to be a great year, good soil moisture, ideal weather to plant, largest area since the ’30s for corn and what we thought would be record yields, turned out we had one of the worst droughts we’ve seen in many years,” said Glauber, who gave a detailed explanation of how the drought developed over the year all over the country, impacting yields for corn, soybeans and other crops.

Glauber pointed out how while the U.S. corn crop is down this year, global production has done very well. “The rest of the world production actually went up a little this year,” he said, despite declines in the Ukraine due to a drought.

Meanwhile, demand has remained strong, bringing stocks to a very low level. “I do think this is a situation that can turn around pretty rapidly,” Glauber noted. “If we get this sort of area planted next year and more return to trend yields, we should see substantial stock building in the U.S.”

Dr. Glauber also spent several minutes of his presentation discussing how the drought has influenced ethanol production this year, as well as some insight on the blend wall and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Listen to Dr. Glauber’s entire presentation here: Joe Glauber at Export Exchange

You can find photos from this years Export Exchange here: 2012 Export Exchange

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