Posted By Cathryn May 9, 2012
In coverage of the recent “occupation” of agricultural research land at the University of California- Berkley, one essential point was striking in its absence. While a public university, the land these so-called activists forcibly took over is, in fact, private property. Their actions in doing so showed complete disregard for the principles upon which our nation was founded, for the well-being of the institution’s students and for the rapidly growing world population whose food security depends upon the products of agricultural research.
Clinging to worn-out rhetoric shrouded in a mindless, trendy façade, these protesters stand against a fundamental principle upon which the nation is based. The ownership of private property has been held as a fundamental value of American society since the revolution. The nation’s forefathers enshrined it in the Constitution, and, in doing so, created a country to which many have fled in order to gain this protection. Placing their judgment above that of the university governing board, state government and of the people which those legislators represent, this fringe group forcibly chose to repurpose land to suit its own agenda.
What did the people who support this university lose?
They lost a valuable asset that provided the university with an outdoor laboratory. Agricultural research often culminates in necessary field trials that allow scientists to test how new varieties or products will react in circumstances similar to those in which they may ultimately grow. This land was not a common area without a stated purpose. These protestors stole a valuable resource.
They lost the valuable time. Right now, the future food security of the world depends upon agricultural research. In next 40 years, farmers will need to produce more food than was produced in the last 10,000 years combined to ensure the food supply keeps up with population growth. In light of this challenge, taking fields used for research into the products which will make this possible is tantamount to taking food from the mouths of those who will need it within our lifetime.
Actions have real consequences. The “Occupy the Farm” movement has shown how disregard for the basic ground rules governing our society, no matter how supposedly well-intentioned, results in real harm. Their lack of foresight and careful scrutiny of the possibly consequences of their actions shows the irresponsibility inherent in policies they espouse.
Posted By Ken May 8, 2012
The Environmental Working Group loves to call the National Corn Growers Association the “corn lobby.” Likewise, when it stands up against crop protection companies, it’s the dreaded “pesticide lobby.” When it comes to plastics, there’s the “BPA lobby.” There is also the “highway lobby,” the “farm lobby” and even the “arsenic wood lobby.” These terms are not meant as compliments. To the EWG and its allies, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution does not apply to those who disagree with them.
And yet, in their inconsistent little world, it’s perfectly OK for EWG to lobby. An article in The Hill, a prominent Washington newspaper and website, talks about how EWG has hired “top K Street lobbyists” to do battle on the farm bill. On Twitter, EWG President Ken Cook even bragged about it.
The Hill puts it rather succinctly: “EWG is no slouch when it comes to lobbying.” We don’t begrudge them their right to lobby, or even to contract with a powerful millionaire lobbyist firm for that matter. But we do think they should think twice before attacking someone else as a lobbyist. There’s got to be another word, and the English language provides so many other options.
Posted By Cindy May 8, 2012
Nationwide, over 70% of the corn crop is planted now, well ahead of the less than half average for this time of year, according to the latest report from USDA.
“In spite of the wettest weather of the spring, producers in the Midwest still managed to plant a significant acreage of corn and soybeans” last week, says USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey. “Corn emergence was greatly benefited by the rain and continuing warm weather.” Nearly a third of the crop is emerged nationwide, compared to the average of 13%. Last year, just six percent was emerged by this time.
Couple of weeks ago, Iowa was one of only a couple of states behind in corn planting, but farmers have surged ahead since then and progress now stands at 64%, compared to the five year average of 58%. Emergence of 23% in Iowa is more than twice the normal pace for this time of year. Only Texas remains behind the average, with 75% planted compared to 80% normal. Emergence-wise, three states are behind schedule – Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, along with Texas. But everyone else is well ahead of normal and soybean planting is now surging ahead as well with 24% planted, compared to 11% on average.
“What growers optimistically viewed as a potentially optimal planting season has become a reality in many areas,” said National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer. “Conditions could still change, but either way, farmers will meet the challenge and produce an affordable, abundant supply of corn.”
Farmers are making good progress, but it’s no record. The record for this time of year was set in 2010 with 81% planted.
Posted By Cindy May 8, 2012
As President Reagan once said to Mr. Gorbachev, we might say to the oil companies today – tear down this wall!
While the president was talking about the Berlin Wall, we’re talking about the Blend Wall – but both are symbols of freedom denied.
As Ken said in the previous post, freedom means choice. The Berlin Wall served to prevent freedom of movement, the blend wall is serving to prevent freedom of fueling.
“For the time being, I think we are at a blend wall and it’s a pretty hard wall,” said USDA chief economist Joe Glauber during a recent gathering of farm broadcasters in Washington DC. Glauber says the general feeling now is that the blend wall is about 13.5 billion gallons. “What gets produced in excess of that has to go out through the export market,” he said. “Last year we had a spectacular year, exporting more than a billion gallons, but most people think that won’t happen this year.” He expects Brazil in particular will not import as much ethanol this year.
The industry is moving steadily toward the 15 billion gallon corn ethanol cap under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) but Glauber says right now the market is steady at about 10 percent of ethanol blended fuel as getting E15 in the marketplace is slowly becoming reality. “But you still have the underlying economics of whether or not a gas station is going to change over equipment to be able to sell E15,” he said. “The likely thing would be so-called blender pumps, which are expensive propositions.”
The expense of putting in blender pumps for stations can be offset by numerous federal, state and industry programs that offer grants and incentives to stations, but the oil companies are still putting up walls to discourage station owners from doing so. Last week, the American Petroleum Institute (API) proclaimed that EPA approval of E15 poses “serious safety and environmental concerns for consumers” because “an estimated half of all gasoline station equipment is not compatible with E15.”
American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Senior Vice President Ron Lamberty, who owns and operates a Sioux Falls convenience store, found that surprising since most of pumps and tanks have been tested for decades using at least 15% ethanol. “Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listing for petroleum equipment requires that they pass dozens of tests using fuel that contains 15% ethanol and their listing for tanks and piping defines “alcohol-gasoline mixtures” as any level of ethanol or methanol up to and including 100%,” he said, adding that the pumps at his station are warrantied for E15, and his tanks and lines are compatible with gasoline ethanol blends. “My biggest infrastructure problem with E15 is that the API-member oil company that supplies my station won’t let me sell it,” he said.
While there are some legitimate concerns with infrastructure, the industry is actively working with all stakeholders to address any safety issues regarding E15, including a website dedicated to E15 information (www.E15fuel.org), a misfueling mitigation plan to help retailers avoid confusion, and an E15 Retailer Handbook for gas station owners seeking to offer E15. But all of that requires the cooperation of the oil companies that control a majority of fueling stations to make it happen.
For the sake of fueling freedom, we challenge the oil companies – “Tear down this wall” – sooner rather than later.
Posted By Ken May 7, 2012
The sign of real fuel freedom.
When we needed to buy new cars last year, my wife and I settled on two late-model used cars – she, a 2009 minivan and me, a 2008 sedan. One thing we noticed right away were the headrests. They were leaning forward in a way that the older cars did not, and they leaned forward in a way that was a little more uncomfortable than before. Just Google the problem and you will see we are not alone in our complaint.
The headrests come to mind whenever ethanol opponents of a more conservative or libertarian persuasion tell me we need to get rid of ethanol “mandates” like the Renewable Fuel Standard. The fact is, so much in the car you drive is a mandate of one sort or another – sometimes for auto safety, sometimes for energy efficiency, sometimes for cleaner air. Sometimes, government bureacrats mandate things just because they can.
So, here’s the thing. Take away the RFS and there is still “mandated” fuel at the pumps. Gas station owners can’t just put whatever they want in their pumps, just as consumers are prevented by federal law from mixing alternative fuels themselves. Opposing the RFS because it may be a mandate is pointless.
But there is one ethanol approach that should have libertarians rejoicing. With its E15 waiver, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is allowing gas stations to offer more choice. It’s not a “mandate,” as ethanol opponents wrongly charge – it’s an option.
Taken to its next logical level, the idea of blender pumps allow even more fuel freedom for those who want a greater say in what goes into their car. We’re not forcing a fuel on consumers, we’re liberating the pumps.
Now, if we could just get the headrest problem fixed.
Image courtesy Tricia Braid
Posted By Cindy May 7, 2012
It never fails to amaze me how many products can be made from corn.
Take this watch, for example. It is made by Sprout Watches which offers a line of eco-friendly watches that contain corn resin and bamboo. The watches come in multiple colors, each with a different earth-themed design.
The corn resin is used as a component of the plastic, rather than using petroleum-based products. Sprout promotes the technology on its website and notes that corn resin pellets sequester far less fossil fuel and emits much less greenhouse gases. In addition, the watches are biodegradable and will not leach toxins into the ground. If you want to learn more, they have some neat graphics to demonstrate the process from stalk to watch.
Energy blogger Joanna Schroeder found the corn watch sometime last year and did a post about it recently on AgWired. Nice that the corn watch matches the corn jeans that she found a few years ago.
Add this to the list of products that can be made with corn – like skateboards, doggie waste bags, diapers, toilet paper, carpeting, trash cans, even phones! When we think about becoming less dependent on petroleum, we have to remember that petroleum is used to make plastics – and corn can replace that as well. It’s about time!
Posted By Cathryn May 1, 2012
Kashi, in a move almost certainly based on a desire to drive profits and not a strong-held belief, joined the legions of companies currently making very public, splashy moves toward non-GMO ingredients. Openly disclosing this action seeks to meet the “ever-evolving needs of our consumers,” the company showed its willingness to kowtow to the rantings of food elitists.
Tellingly, the press release issued by Kashi comes quickly on the heels of an agenda-driven campaign to “out” the health food maker’s use of foods produced with biotechnology. The declaration of the cowardly cereal creator’s about-face on biotechnology use fails to site new science, or any damaging information on biotechnology, that would explain the rapid move away from ingredients that have been used by the company since its inception more than two decades ago.
Instead, the nuevo-hippie equivalent of a corporate titan, chose to play the blame game. As a member of the Whole Foods-loving, any “green” embracing set so popular among luxury SUV-driving wannabe earth mothers, Kashi obviously has only used the ingredients because the food system needs to be changed, man. It’s “big ag” growing those bad crops.
So, let’s get this straight.
Ninety-five percent of U.S. farms are family farms. Families, farming together, grow crops used in the foods sold on grocery store shelves, be they at posh luxury grocers or supersaver chains, across the country. So, those big bad families are forcing tiny, little Kashi (owned by the ginormous Kellogg conglomerate, by the way, producer of Froot Loops) to use their GMOs.
The fact that running massive advertising campaigns like Kashi’s, something family farmers could never afford, indicates the size of the food industry giant does not jive with their flow. Face it, “Big Health Food,” buying, including and selling cereal made with GMOs for as long as you have shows one of two things. Either:
A.) You actually do believe that biotechnology is safe, as studies have repeatedly shown, and that their use helps produce an abundant affordable supply of quality food. As you have no data that indicate there is any reason other than pandering to baseless accusations against the technology, you decided to institute a policy against GMO use, that will take effect sometime in the future, because the 99 percent of the global population unable to eat did not have enough cash to be Kashi consumers in the first place.
B.) You have only paid lip service to the idea of providing a quality, healthy product until this point and, rather than admit that, you prefer to just say that you are changing your policy, at least in a few years. Let’s face it, if they really believed biotechnology use was wrong or dangerous, Kashi would immediately cease production of any foods that contain biotech ingredients.
For a “movement” that wraps itself in touchy-feely images painted with broad, washed out brushstrokes, Kashi and its cohorts seem to espouse an approach to business where science and concern for the truth don’t sell, so marketing and public perception reign supreme.
It is time for the American public to take a long, hard look at the truth of the situation. The executives at companies do not sleep well at night because of their clear, blemishless social consciences; they sleep well at night because they sleep on 1,000-thread-count sheets paid for with the money of consumers they seem to confuse and guilt into buying truly tasteless cereal baked in an oven of propaganda and fear-mongering.
Posted By Cathryn April 27, 2012
If climate change occurs at a rate predicted by some in areas predicted by others accompanied by a rash of severe weather disasters, assuming no advancement in corn traits used maintain yield under said conditions, should come about while mandated biofuels production consumes a certain portion of said crop, assuming no advancements in the technology used in its production, price volatility might increase.
Does the above sound like a run-on sentence culminating in a premise based on a lot of supposition? It may be, but so-called experts who extract their living by sensationalizing strung-together worst-case scenarios would actually strike down the laws decreasing our dependence on foreign oil using that very same logic.
Worrying over potential situations that might occur down the line if a variety of circumstances come together to create a perfect storm is one of the fastest ways to ensure progress halts. True, policy and regulation should consider the likely consequences of implementation, but these consequences should be likely, imminent and balanced against the problems the policy addresses.
In this case, arguing against implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard because price volatility possible under a very specific vision of the future throws out the baby with the bathwater.
The RFS helps keep gas prices down for consumers, decreases dependence on foreign oil and reduces the environmental impact of transportation. It does this today. It does this well.
Bleak future forecasts fail to factor in the constant improvements in agriculture which consistently allow farmers to grow more, under more difficult circumstances, using fewer inputs. In the last 20 years alone, ethanol yields have increased by 10 percent, thus requiring less corn to make the same amount of fuel. At the same time, corn yield have risen by 39 percent, thus requiring much less land to produce the same amount of corn. Assuming that today’s crop will not continue to improve, thus looking the same another 20 years down the line, is foolish at best and disingenuous at worst.
Furthermore, ignoring the fact that these presumptions assume the ability to predict the weather 20 years out when most news channels would thrill at an accurate forecast for the weekend, the naysayers ignore the new, dynamic corn traits farmers are planting this year. With the first drought-tolerant traits already preserving yields under tough conditions, it makes sense that the scientists developing the next generation will improve seed technology enabling growers to meet demand under a variety of scenarios.
Right now, American consumers need ethanol. Right now, it is improving our national security, our air, our rural economies and our fuel prices. Do not let prophets of doom cloak their predictions in science, thus repealing the progress toward a cleaner, safer, more energy independent America.
American ethanol works constantly to improve, as do America’s farmers. Allow them to continue their progress while the country continues to benefit. Situations change, but the only way to make progress is to take a step forward without constantly shuffling back.
Posted By Cindy April 27, 2012
Great news this week for the future of America’s farming families.
The U.S. Labor Department officially withdrew proposed rules that would have prevented many young people from working on farms and ranches.
“The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations,” said the department in a press release. “Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders — such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H — to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.”
The Labor Department said it received “thousands of comments” against the proposal rule regarding youth in agriculture and made it clear that the “regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”
The rule ideally would have included an exemption for children of farming families, but once that door was opened it would only be a matter of time before they would have been included under it as well. It could have prevented the next generation of farmers and ranchers from acquiring skills and passion for the profession and definitely would have kept urban kids from working on farms and learning from the solid worth ethic found in this industry.
This is a great victory for farmers and ranchers and truly shows the strength of American agriculture and grassroots action. Thanks to the administration for using some common sense!
Posted By Cathryn April 25, 2012
Think that everyone should eat only organic foods? A new study published in Nature magazine disputes this notion as, if a move of this sort were made, many people would not eat at all.
Ignoring ongoing disputes over the value of different types of farming, many of which are based on anti-technology myths and misinformation, the study finds that, in most cases, truly organic production practices cannot meet the demands of a hungry world.
“Crop yields from organic farming are as much as 34% lower than those from comparable conventional farming practices,” the article cites. “Organic agriculture performs particularly poorly for vegetables and some cereal crops such as wheat, which make up the lion’s share of the food consumed around the world.”
In the end, the choice of whether to select organic or conventionally grown food comes down to consumer preference. America’s farmers work hard to provide an abundant, affordable variety of safe options every year. Don’t take away the very tools helping ensure that they can continue to do so.