Corn Commentary

Praying for Nine Inches

With harvest nearing 90 percent completion, many news stories address the impact of the drought in the past tense. The drought hit farmers. The drought impacted yields. The drought of 2012 did this or that.

According to climatologists and meteorologists who know what is needed to grow, farmers across the Midwest should be praying for nine inches.

Why is that the magic number?

According to Iowa State Climatologist Harry Hillaker and DTN Senior Meteorologist Bryce Anderson, the areas of the Corn Belt still categorized in some form of drought required nine inches of rain before the new year to ensure sufficient soil moisture for spring planting in 2013.

While these experts note that the likelihood of this happening is statistically slim, some areas of Illinois have gotten more than two inches of rain in the past 24 hours. With a few days of showers in the five-day forecast, some hold out hope for clouds on the horizon.

Many farmers have already begun purchasing next spring’s inputs and, for some, the risk of continued drought seems significant enough to factor into planting decisions. Yet, even for those with a less optimistic outlook, new varieties of drought resistant corn developed through biotechnology offer hope unimaginable only one generation ago.

“I know when I had my first drought in 1977 that we actually had three bushels to the acre,” said Nevada, Iowa farmer Bill Couser in a recent interview with the Kansas City Star. “If I would have had the hybrids today back then, we would have never had that kind of a drought, because with the hybrids today it’s just amazing what they’re pulling through.”

Whether more rains come or farmers consider corn designed to tolerate a drought, U.S. corn farmers are preparing to put 2012 in the past, resiliently looking ahead toward the 2013 planting season. Hope remains that Mother Nature may yet give them what they need, but America’s farmers will be ready to meet the challenge with the help of technology should the drought persist.

Overseas Visitors Gain First-Hand Knowledge of Corn, DDGS

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest blog post from Wisconsin Corn Growers Association Communications Director Nancy Kavazanjian.

Seeing is believing for grain buyers from around the world as they visit our farms and farm businesses this week in conjunction with the U.S. Grains Council Export Exchange Conference.

I had the privilege of hosting top management officials from grain importing companies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia who came to learn more about our corn industry, crop quality and especially the production of Dried Distillers Grains (DDGS).  The Algerian delegation includes the largest corn and soybean importers of Algeria, representing over 85% of all Algerian corn imports (3.1 MMT) and their government recently (September 1, 2012) exempted custom duties on DDGS. All three countries have growing poultry, dairy and livestock markets that require imported feed grains to meet their needs.

Our farms and farming businesses truly are the envy of the world – as this visit clearly demonstrated. However, without a farm bill that funds such first-hand experiences as these, along with the imports they stimulate, may become a thing of the past.  Just another really important reason why Congress must reauthorize the Farm Bill as soon as possible!

First stop was Big River Ethanol plant, Boyceville, Wisconsin, where they marveled at the technology and plant efficiencies and were dazzled by the bright yellow color of the incoming corn and resulting DDGS.

Day two of our tour started at Beskar Farms, Wheeler, Wis., where they raise and store corn for Big River Ethanol along with identity preserved soybeans and kidney beans for canning. They are one of two businesses that originate nearly 40% of all U.S. kidney beans as the group was surprised to learn! As impressive as this was, the importers were especially delighted to find an unharvested corn field they could examine.

Support for California GMO-labeling Proposition Plummets

As the election draws closer, more and more California voters oppose Proposition 37, commonly referred to as the GMO-labeling law. A sharp decline in support, 19 percent in two weeks, shows that Californians understand the regulation increases opportunities for frivolous lawsuits and redefines simple terms like “natural” in a confusing way without actually providing useful information that benefits consumers.

In a bi-monthly opinion poll released last week, 48 percent of the likely voters contacted indicated support for California’s Proposition 37, a 19 percent drop from only two weeks prior. Notably, this was the single largest shift in opinion on the 11 ballot initiatives covered in the report, which was released by the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and the California Business Roundtable.

Why the change?

First, 33 daily newspapers have come out in opposition of the ballot initiative. Due to the nature of print journalism, these news sources have been able to detail the reasons to oppose the measure and dig deeper into the implications of the regulation. Armed with the facts, Californians have gained an appreciation for what the measure would actually do and grasped that the real world effect would not be what proponents promise.

Second, Californians are getting the message straight from the farmer’ mouth. Groups opposing the measure, including the National Corn Growers Association, have taken their message to the airwaves through a series of television commercials. With one spot highlighting what the conversation would be if they “Ask a Farmer,” voters have a chance to hear why this “GMO-labeling law” would increase the cost to farm and would hit consumer pocketbooks at the grocery store checkout.

Consumers and voters should be able to base their decisions on the facts. Increasingly, Californians are looking at Proposition 37 and seeing past the propaganda. In staggering numbers, they are deciding to oppose the costly, confusing measure that would help agenda-driven interest groups and hurt both the people who grow food and those who buy it.

Californians want the information necessary to make solid decisions. They want to analyze the facts for themselves. In doing so, they are standing up for themselves and family farmers across the country. They are standing against Proposition 37.

Record Harvest Pace Continues

The numbers for the corn harvest progress so far are staggering in some states.

“We continue to see some respectable to even record setting harvest progress for both corn and soybeans,” said USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey of the latest harvest progress report. For corn, “we see harvest passing the three quarters mark for the week ending October 14 to reach 79 percent, more than twice the five year average of 38 percent.”

For the Corn Belt states, Missouri takes the lead with 95 percent of the corn crop harvested, compared to 66 percent normal for this time of year. So, that’s just about 30 percentage points ahead of average, but look at the other states. North Dakota has 84 percent harvested, which is a whopping 70 points ahead of normal. South Dakota with 90 percent complete is up 68 points compared to the five-year average. Minnesota has 90 percent harvested also, compared to 27 percent average, Iowa is 57 points ahead of the average with 87 percent harvested and Nebraska is running 54 points ahead of schedule with 80 percent complete. In Illinois, 87 percent of the corn is harvested, but that’s only 34 points ahead of normal.

The soybean harvest is also roaring along a breakneck speed, with over 70 percent harvested with Minnesota, North and South Dakota virtually done already. So, it may not be the best of years for production, but at least farmers are getting the harvest behind them quickly so they can focus on next year!

Auto Technicians Get Ethanol Message

The ethanol industry reached out to auto mechanics and technicians from around the country last week at events held as part of Automotive Service and Repair Week (ASRW) in New Orleans.

The Renewable Fuels Association, Bobby Likis Car Clinic Network and Ricardo Engineering teamed up to bring that message on the trade show floor of the Congress of Automotive Repair and Service (CARS) and during a Myth Busters panel at the National Automotive Service Task Force meeting.

RFA Director of Regulatory Affairs Kelly Davis, Ricardo Chief Engineer for powertrain controls Dr. Matti Vint and automotive talk show host/service center owner Bobby Likis each addressed one myth about ethanol related to the vehicle industry.

Vint busted the myth that ethanol ruins engine performance by detailing the benefits of the fuel’s higher octane rating, which is a measure of its anti-knock properties. “The higher octane, the higher the cylinder pressure you can operate without causing destructive damage to the engine,” he said. “So high octane is good for extracting the maximum performance of the engine and improving the efficiency.” He explained how designing engines like the Ricardo EBDI (Extreme Boost Direct Injection) engine will better utilize ethanol’s higher octane rating.

Likis busted the myth that ethanol poses repair and service problems. “In the 41 years I’ve been in the automotive service business, I’ve never had a single engine fail as a result of ethanol,” he said, noting that engines have been designed to run on E10 for the past 30 years.

Finally, Davis busted the myth that consumers don’t want choice at the pump. “A recent survey complete by American Viewpoint showed 61 percent were in favor of replacing imported fossil fuel dependency with renewable fuels like ethanol,” Davis said, pointing out that the approval of E15 allows more options for model year 2001 and newer vehicles.

Listen to the panel presentations here: Ethanol Myth Busters Panel

Bobby Likis also provided live broadcasts from the trade show floor with representatives from RFA and Ricardo to highlight ethanol. Likis offered a live feed of the event on Watch Bobby Live where he interviewed guests Thursday and Friday last week leading up to his regularly scheduled live program on Saturday from 10 am to noon Eastern. The program on October 13 featured RFA’s Kelly Davis as well as engineers from Ricardo.

I put together a little five minute highlight video of the show below and you can find more on the Watch Bobby Live page. You can also see pictures from the event here:
CARS Event Photo Album

Romney on the Farm

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney put his focus on agriculture and rural policy on Tuesday with the release of an agricultural policy white paper and a visit to an Iowa family farm.

Romney pledged to get a farm bill passed as president and blamed President Obama for the failure of Congress to do so yet, despite the fact that Republican leadership held up getting a bill to the House floor while Democratic leadership got one passed on the Senate side. “The president has to exert the kind of presidential leadership it takes to get the House and Senate together and actually pass a farm bill,” Romney said during his speech to over 1000 supporters at the Koch family farm near Van Meter, Iowa.

Romney’s “vision for a vibrant rural America” includes tax policies to support family farms, expanding agricultural trade, achieving energy independence by 2020, and creating a commonsense regulatory environment. “The regulatory burden under this administration has just gone crazy,” said Romney. “I’m going to put cap on regulation and any new major regulation will have to be approved by Congress.”

Under tax policy, the white paper says Romney will permanently eliminate the estate tax while his trade policy for agriculture includes completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and pursuing new agreements, specifically in Latin America. His agenda for energy independence includes maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), “fulfilling the federal government’s commitment to biofuels growers and refiners and providing them the certainty they need to follow through on their investments in promising technologies.”

Listen to Romney speak in Iowa – Mitt Romney in Iowa

While Governor Romney failed to mention biofuels in his speech, he did tell a couple of Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) members after his speech that he supported both the RFS and ethanol. The exchange between IRFA President Brad Albin with the Renewable Energy Group (REG) and past president Walt Wendland of Golden Grain Energy and Romney saying “I do support the RFS and ethanol” was captured on video which can be seen below.

A Real Political Party

Rural America, in large part, votes. With a keen awareness of how government policies and regulations directly impact their operations, farmers head to the polls. While most farmers actively support candidates who value agriculture, understand the impact of over-regulation and who see the importance of supporting rural America, the political influence of rural America has waned in the past few decades.

Issues such as the farm bill, renewable fuels policy, estate taxes and proposed regulations could, if mishandled, sock U.S. farmers in the collective gut. In America’s heartland, the men and women who grow food and fuel for the nation look toward the election with a drought on their minds and a steely resolve in their eyes.

What does this picture lack?

This weekend, reports from New Orleans detailed a festive atmosphere on Bourbon Street. Unlike Mardi Gras revelers intent upon imbibing, the 10,000 plus Venezuelans celebrating in the streets had traveled to Louisiana not to party but to vote.

Registered voters, these men and women brought their families made the journey from Florida because, after Chavez had closed their embassy in Miami, New Orleans offered the closest polling station. News outlets across the United States took notice. The scene was, in its rarity, newsworthy.

Take a moment and imagine what an incredible effort these men and women exerted in order to exercise their vote. The trip entailed travel expenses, preparation and time away from work for many. Yet, grandparents proudly displayed flags and caps for photos with children and grandchildren, proudly smiling and sharing in an important moment for their community.

Now, imagine the political influence rural America could assert yet again. The number of men and women who farm has dwindled with improved technology allowing for increased productivity. The numbers alone will not restore political prominence.

What rural America needs is enthusiasm. Yes, many people meet a candidate or even host a tea. But the country, rural, urban and suburban, has lost its patriotic excitement for exercising this fundamental right. If farmers, ranchers and their allies bring energy and unabashed excitement for voting back into American politics, they will make our candidates and our country stand up and take notice of rural issues.

Ethanol Going to the CARS

The Congress of Automotive Repair and Service (CARS) coming up this week in New Orleans is boasting more mechanical attendees, vendors and attractions than in recent years – including a special spotlight for ethanol.

CARS is an event held during Automotive Service & Repair Week (ASRW) dedicated specifically to mechanical service and repair professionals and among the featured exhibitors in the CARS section of the International Autobody Congress & Exposition (NACE) this year is the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

Radio talk show host Bobby Likis will broadcast his nationally syndicated Car Clinic show live from the show floor Saturday, Oct. 13, in addition to numerous interviews that will be conducted live from his booth during the Expo. “CARS is ‘the’ all-call for the automotive service industry, so we’re packing up the Car Clinic show trailer to shine a bright spotlight on the event,” says Likis. “And, we’re bringing with us the Renewable Fuels Association – the trade association for the U.S. ethanol industry – and Ricardo Engineering’s Extreme Boost Direct Injection (EBDI) engine, optimized for the high-octane properties of ethanol. Technology will rock and roll!”

RFA announced a partnership with Likis
earlier this year, which RFA Director of Market Development Robert White says has been very beneficial for the ethanol industry. “The group that we need to educate the most is service mechanics, the auto technicians, because that’s who people trust,” said White. “The radio program with Bobby Likis aired across the country helps put a trusted name behind the efforts of the ethanol industry.”

White says RFA will have general session time and a large display in the CARS trade show for automotive technicians and service professionals on hand “to walk them through what ethanol actually does to an engine.”

The 2012 ASRW/NACE/CARS Expo will take place October 11-13 at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

Listen to an audio report on the upcoming event here: Ethanol Report on CARS

Vilsack Talks About Farm Bill Expiration

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack talked about the impact of the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill at the beginning of this week during an appearance at World Dairy Expo.

While not all farm programs expired at the stroke of midnight on October 1, several very important ones did, including export assistance. “After having four of the best years of exports in the history of our country, the USDA is without the tools to go out and promote trade shows or exchanges that would encourage more exports,” Vilsack said during a town hall meeting, noting that this leaves the playing field open to countries that compete with us. “It would be one thing if there was no competition, but there is competition out there.” Also ending on October 1 with no new food/farm/jobs bill is sign-ups for conservation programs and the beginning farmer development programs.

Vilsack believes the House had both the time and the votes to pass a new bill. “They scheduled eight working days in September – last time I checked September has 30 days. And then they left early,” he said. As far as not having the votes, Vilsack says they never counted the votes. “They never did what is called a “whipping” of the vote,” he said. “Both Democrats and Republicans outside of leadership have done a count and they concluded that there would have been 230-240 votes to pass a farm bill.”

During a press availability, Vilsack noted that Congress should work just as hard as farmers do. “There isn’t a farmer in this country that in the middle of the harvest when work was not completed would get off the combine and say ‘I’ll just take a couple weeks off,’” he said. “They work and work and work until they get the job done, put the combine away, then they relax. Why is Congress any different?”

On another topic, Vilsack was asked about ethanol during the Dairy Expo town hall by a questioner who said it was “not a very popular word” with dairy farmers. “Where I come from ethanol is not a four letter word,” Vilsack responded, noting that ethanol has helped producers, national security, rural economies and the environment. He also carefully explained how ethanol returns livestock feed to the market in the form of distillers grains and how USDA is helping move into the production of advanced ethanol using feedstocks beyond corn. A very good and detailed response that is worth a listen.

Listen to Secretary Vilsack’s Town Hall at World Dairy Expo: Sec. Vilsack Town Hall

Secretary Vilsack press conference: Sec. Vilsack with Press

American Auto Innovators Embrace American Ethanol

In the ongoing slander campaign aimed at ethanol, the biofuel’s belligerent detractors have one less credible claim as U.S. auto manufacturers Ford and General Motors, Inc. will accept use of E15 in newer vehicles. Negating the claim that higher ethanol blends would void manufacturer warranties, this important decision shows that American car makers believe in the American made fuel.

The move toward accepting higher ethanol blends goes beyond assuaging any warranty concerns for owners of new Ford or GM vehicles though. By accepting E15, these industry-leaders set a precedent. Now, instead of simply claiming anti-ethanol policies follow industry standards, other auto manufacturers must explain their reluctance.

Whether the corporate culture fosters an adversity toward change or their board views ethanol as a reliable scapegoat, the refusal to accept E15 puts a car maker behind the curve. Notably, with E15 fueling NASCAR Toyotas to victory every week, it is time for the ethanol-eschewing suits dictating the company’s policies to catch up to the American innovators leading this pack.

Whether E15 fuels high performance races at NASCAR or trips to market in the family SUV, it helping more Americans reach their destinations daily in a more environmentally-friendly, affordable way. American farmers, car manufacturers and consumers stand together, and they stand firmly behind E15. More than ever, ethanol fuels our economy, our communities and our future.

Learn more about how ethanol fuels America by clicking here.

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