Corn Commentary

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

Food Dialogue at a Farmers Market

In New York recently for meetings of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and its Food Dialogues town hall, I was able to visit the popular Union Square Greenmarket with two farmers who are finalists for the USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching competition. Daphne Holterman is a dairy farmer from Wisconsin, and Tim Nilsen is a turkey farmer from California.

As someone who was raised in, and has always lived in, the suburbs, I am intrigued both by life in the country and life in the city. The farmers market tour was a good way to see how fresh food makes it to an urban core like Lower Manhattan. In fact, the Union Square location, which in peak season has 140 regional farmers, fishermen, and bakers, is one of 54 markets in the New York City area operated by Grow NYC, with more than 230 family farms and fishermen participating. These farms represent more than 30,000 acres of farmland protected from development.

Working with Daphne and Tim was a great experience, in part because I am so used to corn farmers that it is often refreshing to learn new things from other sectors in agriculture, something I appreciate about my activity with USFRA. From Daphne, I learned that 87 percent of milk produced in Wisconsin becomes cheese; and Tim had to explain how he does not raise Thanksgiving turkeys. His are much larger (50 pounds!) and are used for deli meat and ground turkey products.

USFRA has been a great attempt to unite agriculture, and while it’s brought together commodity growers fairly easily, it remains sincere in its attempt to bring even more groups together. Feeding the country, and the world, will require an atmosphere where all farmers and ranchers can work together – commodity and specialty, large and small, conventional and organic. Just as our growers are dedicated to dialogue, transparency and continuous improvement, so too should all farmers be dedicated to working collaboratively and learning from each other.

In fact, we saw a lot of that in our New York meetings, and at the greenmarket on a cold November morning not long after a hurricane wreaked havoc, Daphne and Tim had some great conversations with some East Coast farmers who, as different as their farms may be from those in Wisconsin and California, are just as concerned as they are about farming sustainably and providing healthy food choices for all. The time has certainly come for a real food dialogue, and I’m proud to be part of USFRA’s efforts.

American Farmers Clarify Where the Money from Higher Food Prices Goes

Contrary to what many believe, higher food prices do not equal more money for farmers.

As the Northeast continues to deal with the effects of Hurricane Sandy, other parts of the United States are still dealing with the most severe and extensive drought in at least 25 years. And that drought has spurred some talk about whether consumers will pay more for food at the grocery store.

While the current USDA food-price forecast for 2012 is below some recent food-inflation rates, such as the spikes in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2011, shoppers can expect to pay a little more at the grocery checkout this year. And U.S. farmers, who saw firsthand the effects of the drought on their crops and livestock, want to be sure that consumers understand exactly where those extra food dollars end up. (Hint – it isn’t farmers’ pockets.)

“Believe me, as a farmer and a mom of one child, with another on the way, I definitely pay attention to food prices because they affect my family’s pocketbook, too,” says Iowa farmer and CommonGround volunteer Sara Ross. “I know it can sometimes be tough to look past the price tag. But it’s important for families to remember that, as Americans, we are very fortunate to only have to spend 10 percent of our income on food, versus the 18-25 percent spent by people in other countries around the world.”

Where does the money that families pay for their food go? CommonGround walks through the truth about food prices below:

 

OMG GMO!

One of the positive outcomes of the 2012 election was that Californians actually voted against Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of foods containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). However, those opposed to GMOs continue to attack the technology that increases safe, affordable and abundant food by stepping up their scare tactics.

GMOinside, for example, is urging people to “Celebrate a Non-GMO Thanksgiving!” Check this out:

Thanksgiving is a time for celebrating around the dinner table with family and friends. But, is there an unwanted guest at your table? You may not realize that many common Thanksgiving foods contain genetically engineered ingredients!

The website proceeds to provide a chart to help people “identify the GMOs in popular holiday foods” and urging them to “keep a look out for foods from companies that opposed Prop 37, such as Campbell’s, Coke, General Mills, Kraft, Nestle, Pepsi, Hershey, Unilever.” Oddly enough, turkey is not mentioned on the list, despite the fact that the majority of commercial turkey production uses corn for feed – and most feed corn is genetically-modified.

What really bugs me about the non-GMO movement is that the people who are most against modifying crops to prevent disease or tolerate drought are very much in favor of attempts to genetically-modify humans to prevent or eliminate diseases or increase life spans. What’s wrong with that picture?

One of the main reasons that Thanksgiving is celebrated during this time of the year is to give thanks for the blessings of the harvest. Instead of demonizing GMOs, we should be giving thanks for the scientific breakthroughs that continue to allow us to produce more bountiful harvests every year.

It’s almost Thanksgiving. So let’s talk turkey.

Today’s post originally ran on the Fuels America blog. Fuels America, of which the National Corn Growers Association is a founding member, is a coalition of organizations committed to protecting America’s Renewable Fuel Standard and promoting the benefits of all types of renewable fuel already growing in America. Fuels America is founded on a simple core principle: Renewable fuel is good for the U.S. economy, for our nation’s energy security and for the environment.

Some special interests are claiming that renewable fuel is raising the cost of your Thanksgiving turkey. The fact is that turkey prices are lower this year than they were in October of last year. Renewable fuel does not dictate the price of a turkey and it does not dictate the price of your food.

Despite a decrease in the price of a turkey, food prices on the whole have gone up. But that is a result of rising oil prices, which have skyrocketed since 2005.

The oil sector, threatened by increasing fuel diversity, is trying to mislead consumers to turn back the clock on our progress in creating alternatives to oil.

Let’s take a closer look. Corn makes up 3 cents of every dollar spent on food at the grocery store. The rest comes from things like transportation, marketing, labor and packaging. Those Super Bowl commercials advertising for your favorite snack aren’t cheap. And paying for the petroleum to transport food inputs isn’t cheap either. Costs like those—costs that have nothing to do with the crops that go into your food—make up $.84 of each food dollar you spend at the market. As oil prices fluctuate, food prices follow because petroleum is a large input into food prices. Corn is not.

The EPA set out to discover the true impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) on corn prices. And they found that the RFS has not had a significant impact on corn prices. In a study that included 500 scenarios, in nearly every case, EPA concluded that waiving the RFS for a year had no impact on corn prices.

Self-interested players are twisting the facts try to kill an industry that is creating American jobs, increasing our energy security and delivering alternatives to oil. Thanks to the EPA analyses, and a cornucopia of other data showing the reality that the RFS is working, we no longer need to eat the false choice between food and fuel.

For more information on Fuels America, click here.

Thankful for Affordable Turkey Dinner

It will cost about the same to gobble up your Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner this year as it did last year, according to the annual survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

“Our meal for 10 people that includes a 16-pound turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, relish tray, pumpkin pie… the whole nine yards… this year we think is going to cost us $49.48. And that’s only about 28 cents more than we were last year,” explained AFBF economist Bob Young during an interview at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention. That translates to less than a 1-percent price increase… not too bad when you consider how some commodity prices spiked due to the drought. In fact, Young pointed out that about the only thing that went up in the Thanksgiving basket was the price of the turkey, increasing just 4 cents a pound. “Given what feed costs did this year, that’s a pretty amazing thing,” he said.

Some prices are lower than a year ago. “A lot of the dairy products, the butter, the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie, went down,” said Young. “A lot of the bread products, surprisingly enough, went down – the cubed stuffing mix for example, the rolls went down.” And the price of a vegetable tray was exactly the same.

Farm Bureau has been reporting the price for an average Thanksgiving meal since 1986, when it cost $28.74. “You know, if you went back and bought a car in 1986, somehow I don’t think it would be quite the same kind of deal that we’re talking about for this dinner,” Young said.

In fact, comparing the increase in price between a new car and Thanksgiving dinner – yikes! The average price for a new car in 1986 was $9255 – this year it was $30,274 – an increase of a whopping 227%! The percentage increase for your turkey dinner this year compared to 1986 is just 42%. A great reason to be thankful for our food and our farmers this Thanksgiving!

Listen to my interview with Bob Young on the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving meal: Bob Young, AFBF economist



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