Corn Commentary

Rebels Without a Cause

sturgis-signYou seriously have to wonder why the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) would hold a rally in Washington DC to protest the sale of 15% ethanol blended gasoline (E15), a fuel that is not approved for use in motorcycles.

“I think we need to look no further than the event sponsor – the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, otherwise known as our nation’s oil refiners,” said Renewable Fuels Association Director of Market Development Robert White about the “Fuel for Thought” rally held on Wednesday, June 19.

The AMA wants “independent testing of the E15 ethanol fuel blend in motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle engines before it is allowed for sale at retail gas stations,” even though it is the most tested fuel ever offered for sale in the United States, and – again – NOT approved for use in motorcycles. Period.

The AMA has “repeatedly expressed concerns to government officials and federal lawmakers about possible damage to motorcycles and ATVs from the inadvertent use of E15,” which is currently only available at 30 stations in six states. If I were a motorcyclist, I would be kind of offended by that. It gives the impression that they are too stupid to be able to read the bright orange warning labels on the pumps, required by law, that state the fuel can only be used in 2001 and newer cars and light trucks and flex fuel vehicles.

sturgis-1White, who is a motorcyclist himself, also points out there are many other fuels that should not be used in motorcycles. “(E15) is the only non-approved fuel for motorcycles that actually requires a label stating who can and cannot use the fuel. Think of diesel, kerosene and other fuels. I personally think of 85 octane that is not approved for any engine manufactured today, let alone motorcycles,” said White, noting that 85 octane is even for sale in Sturgis, South Dakota – site of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which RFA has sponsored for several years now specifically for the purpose of educating motorcycle owners about ethanol.

Most importantly, the EPA and the ethanol industry worked hard to make sure the concerns of motorcyclists were addressed when approving the fuel for use. “We actually strengthened our misfueling mitigation plan three times since its initial approval, all because of these concerns,” said White. “Since the latest approval in February 2013, the AMA has not found a problem with how it is sold, they just don’t want it for sale, proving that there was really no issue before.”

Bottom line to motorcyclists – don’t use E15 in your bikes, it’s illegal – but don’t stop the rest of us from being able to use it.

Listen to a press conference with Robert on the issue here: Motorcycles and E15

Ag Facing a Different Kind of Drought

Heavy rains this year have pretty much washed away the drought conditions of last year at this point, but Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant says there is another drought in agriculture right now that could have more devastating long term impacts to the industry on a global scale.

“Today we’re in a different kind of drought – and that’s a talent drought,” he said. “You don’t see plants withering, you see ideas withering and innovation gets starved.”

ifama-signGrant was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the 23rd annual International Food and Agribusiness Management Association World Forum, attended by some 450 representatives from 28 different countries focused on global talent development for agriculture. Also speaking at the event was director of USDA’s National Institute of Food & Agriculture Sonny Ramaswamy. “Here in the United States, just in the next five years based on surveys that we’ve done, we know we’re going to have about 60,000 jobs available in the agribusiness enterprise – and we’re generating only about 28,000 graduates,” said Ramaswamy. “Not enough people are wanting to get into the agricultural enterprise although there are fantastic opportunities and we need to be thinking of helping to develop the workforce.”

The new president of IFAMA is Thad Simons , CEO of NOVUS international, and he says they are hoping to reverse the talent drought for agribusiness and get more young people interested in this growing field. “What’s different here is business skills,” says Simons. “The agribusiness schools need to be developing people with marketing skills, economics, connecting that farmers’ produce with that consumer. That’s what IFAMA’s all about.”

Simons is replacing outgoing IFAMA president Mary Shelman, director of the agribusiness program at Harvard Business School. “The very term agribusiness was created by a colleague of mine at Harvard Business School who wrote a book in 1958 called “The Concept of Agribusiness” so we’ve been looking at this field for an extremely long time.” In fact, Shelman says the same colleague who coined the term agribusiness was responsible for the creation of IFAMA 23 years ago as a way for industry and the academic community to work jointly toward professionalizing agribusiness education.

Are all Scientific Studies Equal?

For those of us who aren’t scientists it is easy to read a seemingly scientific study and assume that it must be true. We like to think that scientists would never lie or misinterpret information. They would never allow a personal bias to interfere with their work, right?

Wrong! In a recent review of Robert Lustig’s book, Fat Chance, Dr. Mark Kern exposed Lustig’s contradictions and falsities. Throughout his book his bias against fructose-containing sugars is very strong, yet in the beginning he states that he has no bias.

Lustig claims that everything in his book can be backed up by cold, hard facts. However, he cites non-peer reviewed publications and makes up facts of his own to align with his message. No reputable scientist would ever take that information seriously, so why should anyone else

On top of everything else, Lustig portrays himself as an expert on the metabolic process, yet he shows a blatant lack of knowledge on that process. This publication should lead one to ask what qualifications this man has to tell you what you should and should not consume.

Unfortunately studies such as Lustig’s are far too common and the American consumers really need to start asking questions about credibility. Pay attention to the real experts, not just those who claim to be.

To read Dr. Kern’s review of Fat Chance click here.

Anti-GMO Study Actually a Bunch of Hogwash

HogwashAnti-GMO activists and the pseudoscientists they turn to for support are at it again. Claiming hogs fed corn and soy varieties developed with biotechnology show an increased incidence of severe stomach inflammation, this so-called science amounts to nothing more than hogwash.

Authored by two veteran anti-biotech activists, Australian researcher Judy Carman and Iowa farmer Howard Vlieger, the report was published in an obscure online journal, far from the scrutiny required for inclusion in respected peer-reviewed tomes. Here, reporting only their own observations, they assert claims which fly in the face of the preponderance of the scientific evidence gathered over hundreds of independent food and feed safety studies that found no difference in animals fed GMO or non-GMO diets.

Outside the probing scope of mainstream academia, they can get away with reporting that both groups of pigs actually showed stomach inflammation without explaining how this supports their theory. They can ignore the prevalence of stomach inflammation in hogs that have high feed intake or consume finely ground feed. They can decide to avoid any sort of critical analysis from parties already aware of this fact by leaving this important information out altogether.

When it comes down to it, almost anyone can get away with saying almost anything on the internet. Those who wish to blindly buy into their claims in order to reaffirm their personal beliefs will. Those who want to discern the truth must put forth the time and effort to look at what respected, peer-reviewed articles say on the subject.

If readers do not critically evaluate studies such as this one, they may be buying this hogwash with a side of poppycock to go with it.

Let’s Talk About Food

For years now, the National Corn Growers Association, along with a broad array of other agricultural groups, has stressed the need for farmers to tell their own stories about food and farming. Time and time again, they have tried to direct attention to the growing public desire to understand what happens to the food on their tables prior to its arrival at their grocery stores. Through programs like CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, they have created pathways for farmers to reach broad audiences and offered training tools that help increase the effectiveness of their efforts.

The everyday business of farming and ranching often saps the time and energy of the men and women who grow our food though. With so many demands already placed upon them, the task of volunteering these precious resources for something so seemingly apparent to those involved in agriculture seems daunting, if not impossible.

Last week, the attendees at BlogHer Food 2013 had the opportunity to meet real life farmers and have honest, open discussions about food. Their incredible interest and insightful questions served as a strong reminder that this need for dialogue is not only real, but it is actually growing.

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross and Morgan Kontz, who farm in Iowa and South Dakota respectively, saw firsthand how great this need for an open dialogue with consumers is. As bloggers, many of whom have thousands of avid followers, stopped at the booth, they warmly received these real-life farmers. Many expressed gratitude for the chance to talk about what happens on modern farms and ranches. Even those who disagreed with some practices came to these conversations with an open, respectful spirit and an honest desire to not only express their own viewpoints but to also truly listen to what these women had to say.

Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.

Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.

Friday night, Ross and Kontz joined USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching winners Chris Chin and Will Gilmer, along with other hog and cattle ranchers, to share a meal with a group of approximately 40 bloggers who took time away from the conference, foregoing a night of fun on Austin’s Sixth Street, to visit an urban farm and learn more about how the foods about which they write are grown and raised. The incredible variety of bloggers who attended was astounding. The interest that they brought was genuine.

The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.

The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.

From Google Glass-wearing hipsters to DC policy wonks, the dinner attendees illustrated how diverse the demand for dialogue about agriculture has become. While these women and men brought a myriad of interests and perspectives, they shared two main commonalities. They wield significant influence on broader consumer opinion through their work, and they want to know more about what happens on America’s farms.

Volunteers like Ross and Kontz have taken on the challenge, giving of themselves to become a part of that conversation. As the demand from consumers for a greater understanding of farming grows, so to must the supply of farmers and ranchers willing to become a part of that conversation.

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?

Today, less than 2 percent of the population is directly involved in agriculture, but 99.999 percent of the population eats. Learn what you can do to help make the math work by visiting the websites for CommonGround or USFRA.

Conversations about food and farming will happen regardless of farmer involvement. Show consumers that you care about their concerns and want to share with them the amazing story of today’s American farmer.

Farm Bill Ball in House Court

deb-stabThe farm bill game is over in the Senate – again – now that senators have passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 by a vote of 66 to 27. Senators stressed that the ball is now in the House court.

“This bill has been bipartisan from start to finish,” said Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). “The House agriculture committee passed a bipartisan farm bill last year but for whatever reason the full House didn’t consider the bill. The good news is this year it looks like it’s going to be different.” Comments by Senator Debbie Stabenow

klobachar“It has been 354 days since the Senate passed its last farm bill,” said Senator Amy Klobachar (D-MN). “What we have here is a bill that saves the taxpayer $24 billion in 10 years over the last farm bill. That’s why it makes no sense to me to play a game of Green Light, Red Light and then at the end of the year we extend the last farm bill that’s even more expensive.” Comments by Senator Amy Klobachar

heitkampSenator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) was pleased to be part of passing a farm bill in her freshman year. “It is a year late but it is a bill that will send a message to the American people that we need to provide a certainty, we need to do things in a timely fashion,” she said. Comments by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

sherrod-brown“The Senate has again passed a deficit-reducing, bipartisan bill that will help our farms, our families, our economy, our environment,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) upon passage of the bill. “We’ve shown the Senate can do its work.” Comments by Senator Sherrod Brown

vicky-smallSo, can the House do its job so a farm bill can be completed by the end of summer? Representative Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, a member of the House agriculture committee, is hopeful. “Certainly that should be the goal,” says Rep. Hartzler. “I know the leadership of the House Ag and I think the Senate Ag Committee as well want to see this done and wrapped up by August, so we’re certainly going to try.” Interview with Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)

ISU Climatologist Looks at 2013

wpx13-taylorIowa State University professor Dr. Elwynn Taylor is one of the nation’s foremost extension climatologists, but even the best sometimes get the weather forecasts wrong.

When asked this time last year what the drought possibilities were for Iowa he said “less than 50%.” Take those odds to the racetrack and you would have been a big winner last year if you had bet on the drought.

At the World Pork Expo last week, Dr. Taylor provided his insights for 2013. “My outlook I put out most recently for the national corn yield is 147 bushels to the acre,” he began. “147 is considerably better than 123 for last year’s corn yield for the U.S. and considerably below the trend line which is 160.”

He noted the radical weather extremes Iowa has already seen this year, going from snow in early May to 101 degrees on May 14 to flood on May 24, breaking all kinds of records set in 1947. “Seems like I’m mentioning 1947 quite a bit,” said Taylor. “This is the year that we’re in right now with the volatility of weather that we had seen in ’47.”

“We’ve got a hurricane season just started expected to be on the harsh side, drought likely to persist in the western part of the Corn Belt, temperature high and low both being significant and more extreme than usual, and climate likely increasingly erratic during the next 25 years,” Taylor summarized. “Manage your risk, that’s the way we live through the volatile weather.”

Listen to Dr. Taylor’s full presentation here: ISU Climatologist Dr. Elwynn Taylor

For the latest GMO news, check Snopes

Recent attacks on biotechnology (or “GMOs,” for those who don’t like big words) have reached a fevered pitch. And like anyone with a fever, one can expect a bout of hallucination, or seeing things that aren’t quite there. Did Russian President Vladimir Putin threaten war over GMOs? Do GMO cucumbers cause (pardon the expression) genital baldness? Is Kraft Macaroni and Cheese made from GMO wheat? And what about those Indian farmer suicides?

None of these urban legends appear to be true.



Mac and cheese?

Farmer suicides?

A blogger recently posted a list of “Nine Things You Should Not Post on Facebook.” I recommend this for anyone who wants to be more active in social media, especially No. 1.

And when it comes to GMOs, here are a few resources for more information. I know there are a lot more, but I am sort of partial to USFRA and CommonGround:



Iowa E15 Takes Unwanted Summer Vacation

When customers arrived at Linn Coop Oil Company in Marion, Iowa the morning of June 1 to fill up their 2001 and newer model vehicles with 15% ethanol they were surprised to find the pumps bagged as “out of order.”

e15-bagged“I had three consumers come in and ask me why the pumps were bagged and I said it’s because we can’t sell it,” said manager Jim Becthold. “It’s really hard on the consumer to understand the rules and regulations as they come down to us.”

What is really “out of order” is regulations that make it impossible for retailers like Linn Coop in Iowa to get the proper blendstock for E15 that is necessary during the summer months. “We’ll be able to sell it again on September 15, but through the summer months with the high gas prices, we can’t offer that fuel,” he said. “Really can’t see why we can’t do that. We can sell E10, E85, E30, but we can’t sell E15.” Bechtold faced the same situation last summer as he was preparing to offer E15.

Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA) sees the issue as part of a “war on renewables being funded by Big Oil.”

“Consumers who want a higher grade ethanol blend (E15) are being denied that choice,” said Braley, who is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). He notes that is exactly why Congress passed the RFS in the first place, “to make sure that we were providing a cleaner burning fuel that would help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and provide consumers greater choices at a lower cost.”

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association held a press conference at Bechtold’s station Monday morning to draw attention to the situation. “We’re not asking for something that doesn’t exist,” said executive director Monte Shaw. “The gasoline blendstock we need to make E15 in the summer is available, it flows through the very pipeline system that services Iowa, but they will not let us take it out of the pipeline here.”

Listen to press conference here: Iowa RFA E15 press conference

Earlier this year, Iowa’s E15 retailers sent a letter to the oil refiners asking them to provide the proper summertime gasoline blendstock for E15. The letter noted that such fuels are already transported by the pipeline servicing Iowa. Yet, as of the June 1st summertime deadline, no oil refiner allowed Iowa retailers access to the necessary fuel. That refusal forced Linn Coop Oil Company and Iowa’s other E15 retailers to stop selling E15 as a registered fuel to 2001 and newer vehicles.

So, until and unless Braley and others can get the rule changed, E15 remains on summer break in Iowa and consumers will have to pay more at the pump when they go on their summer vacations.

More Moms Bring Home the Bacon, But Do They Know Where It Came From?

pigThis week, the Pew Research Center released its analysis of Census and polling data showing that four in 10 American households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner for her family. Coupled with the notion that consumer food questions are on the rise, the importance of communicating the real story of American agriculture to America’s moms becomes evident.

Progressive Farmer Editor-in-Chief Gregg Hillyer took note of this point, sharing his insight into the issue in the “We’d Like to Mention” section magazine’s June/July edition. The story, which looks at the effectiveness of opening a conversation about food and farming between moms on and off the farm, took particular note of CommonGround, a program founded to do just that by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates.

In the article, Hillyer sites from interviews with CommonGround volunteers about why this program serves a growing need in our society.

“As our population continues to shift from rural to urban communities, people become more disconnected from their food,” pointed out CommounGround Kentucky volunteer Carrie Divine. “We’re here… to provide moms with useful information so they can worry less and feel more confident in their food choices.”

Concluding that “afterall, moms always know best,” Hillyer shares the incredible story of these volunteer farm moms on a mission with the agricultural community. For helping illuminate the efforts underway to start an honest, open dialogue about farming with the general public, he is to be commended.

Information about CommonGround, including ways to join the conversation, is always available. To learn more, click here.

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