Corn Commentary

Why Does Open Ag Data Matter?

Representatives from eight nations just gathered in Washington DC to discuss how they can work together to share important agricultural data with the rest of the planet with the ultimate goal of increasing global food security. Overall, they agreed that they need to make government data sets such as research and crop production as accessible as possible.

data-2At the G8 Open Data for Agriculture conference, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack revealed how the U.S. data would be made available in a new virtual community for Food, Agriculture and Rural issue, located at

“This new online community is a big step toward opening information for agriculture, making it public in useable formats,” said Vilsack. “This will increase the value of the investments U.S. taxpayers make in agricultural research, it will create a data ecosystem that will fuel economic growth, it will help drive that innovation to meet our global food challenge we all face.”

Other G8 countries represented at the conference are also making their ag data available in similar ways. USDA Chief Scientist Dr. Catherine Woteki says the idea is to share research and production information particularly with farmers in Africa to help them increase productivity. “Some of that is coming from our plant and animal research program, where we’re mapping the genomes of important crops and animal species for agriculture,” she said. “We’re also including all of our agricultural statistics that traditionally we have made available but now it’s going to be easier through this new community on”

Paul Welbig of Raven Industries, who attended the G8 conference as an industry partner actively involved in data distribution platform development, says the ability to share information with farmers in less developed nations is easier than ever before. “Remarkably enough, although they may not have running water or electricity, a lot of these communities actually do have good wireless access and cell phones are a main means of communications” especially by SMS or text messaging. So, applications have been developed taking the ag data sets and communicating them by SMS platforms.

Why is this important? Welbig says one of the most significant developments in agricultural productivity in recent history was made possible by the sharing of open data. “And that was GPS,” he said. “The satellite signals that were once proprietary to the government. They made those signals available and now look at the precision ag industry as a result of what they can do with this open data.”

Still Cold and Wet

snowmanPlanting progress continues to be slowed by wet and cold weather in most of the major corn producing states, with some states even getting more snow last week.

According to USDA
, just 5% of the U.S. corn crop was planted as of Sunday, only a percentage point of difference compared to the previous week. Last year at this time, nearly half the crop was in the ground and normally at least 30% should be planted by now. All 18 major corn producing states are behind the five year average. The only states even close are North Carolina and Texas. Every state should be showing progress in the double digits, but only six are and five have nothing in the ground yet. Another half dozen have less than 3-4% planted.

In Missouri, where both the photos on this page were taken last week, corn planting was 15 percent complete as of Sunday, 24 days behind last year and 15 days behind normal. According to the Missouri Corn Growers Association, farmers in southeast Missouri were starting to see corn emerge last week, while some northern Missouri locations were dealing with snow. The Gary Porter family of Mercer in north central Missouri made a little snowman instead of planting last week.

corn-emergeJason Mayer of Dexter, sent in this photo of his corn emerging. Johnny Hunter in the same southeast area of the state reported last week that he was finished corn planting and was hopeful the crop would make it through the cold temperatures. “Cold has caused a slow start and corn is only in V1 or V2 stage, which is pretty rare for almost the first of May,” Hunter reported to MCGA. “Cold is costing us bushels right now and corn doesn’t look that great, but we have an even stand so I’m happy with that.”

Just 2% of total U.S. corn has emerged, compared to 14% last year at this time and 6% on average. In Missouri, 9% of the crop has emerged.

Truth in Labeling

biotech-labelBills were introduced last week in the U.S. House and Senate that would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to “clearly label genetically engineered (GE) foods so that consumers can make informed choices about what they eat.”

The legislation would require clear labels for genetically engineered whole foods and processed foods, directing the FDA to write new labeling standards that are consistent with U.S. labeling standards and international standards.

To simplify, perhaps this wording would help: “This product may contain ingredients derived from safe modern biotechnology.” Just a suggestion.

Around the World at NASCAR Speeds

NASCAR Ethanol_4C no NASCAR[1]-1The incredible reliability and performance of ethanol has been proven once again. As part of its NASCAR Green ™ campaign, NASCAR™ announced that its drivers have now logged so many miles using Sunoco GreenE15™ that it would be the equivalent of driving around the world 160 times.

While NASCAR adopted the 15 percent ethanol blend as the official fuel of every car in every race because it decreases harmful greenhouse gas emissions, American Ethanol has demonstrated that it can perform. After more than two years and 160 trips around the world, the world’s best drivers and their pit crews rely on E15 for the horsepower they need and the continual performance their sport demands.

Learn more about what NASCAR and its partners, including American Ethanol, are doing to make a greener tomorrow by clicking here.

Print All You Want, We’ll Make More

print-emailThis might not be the most politically correct message for Earth Day week, but it’s true.

I’m sure you’ve seen email signatures saying something to the effect of “Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail!” Today I got one with a very different message:

Notice: It’s OK to print this e-mail.

Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees and corn starch. Growing and harvesting trees and corn provides jobs for millions of Americans. Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Thanks to improved forest and agricultural management, we have more trees and corn in America today than we had 100 years ago.

To give credit where credit is due, the signature came from an employee of GROWMARK, Inc. I plan to add it to my email signatures in the future.

It’s Always Something

This spring is an example of what Gilda Radner’s character Roseanne Roseannadanna on the old Saturday Night Live shows used to say: “It just goes to show you, it’s always something! If it’s not one thing, it’s another!”

fieldwaterThat’s what farming is all about when it comes to the weather. Last spring’s weather was picture perfect for planting and fast emergence – this year, not so much. By summer of 2012, the crops were wilting from heat and lack of moisture – now fields in some areas are flooding. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

“Virtually no field work accomplished across the heart of the Midwest” this past week, according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey. Corn planting as of April 21 was just four percent nationwide, compared to 26% this time last year and 16% for the five year average. I took the photo in this post on Sunday off I-35 in DeKalb county Missouri. The Show Me State is showing 13% of the corn planted, compared to nearly 50% this time last year and about 30% for the average.

Illinois and Indiana managed to get 1% planted during the week, a far cry from last year when Illinois had 56% and Indiana had 43%. Ohio stayed stagnant at 1%, compared to over 30% this time last year. “Still haven’t seen a single field planted in some of the other major states,” said Rippey. That includes Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Colorado. But, normally those states should only be about 10% or less by now so there is still plenty of time to catch up.

The good news is that the moisture is much needed and that should be a big help whenever the crop does get in the ground. Warmer temperatures will also be helping the soil temps heat up a bit.

NASCAR Go Green Features Ethanol

nascar-race-greenIn honor of Earth Day, NASCAR rolled out a new TV spot Sunday designed to show how they are being eco-friendly – and ethanol is front and center.

The NASCAR RACE TO GREEN™ spot features Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle, currently ranked third in the Nascar Sprint Cup standings.

“So, wanna be eco-friendly?” the announcer asks Biffle, who answers “Of course.”

ANNCR: “Ok, got corn?”
BIFFLE: “We got that.”
ANNCR: “Got some of it blended into fuel?”
BIFFLE: “Got it.”
ANNCR: “Got a car to use that fuel?”
BIFFLE: “Sure do.”

Watch it here:

The NASCAR campaign also features a tree-planting initiative, and American Ethanol is part of that effort, pledging to plant a tree for every mile raced in April. With almost 4,000 miles fuels by Sunoco Green E15 over the month, the 4,000 trees planted will be enough to offset the carbon emissions of all the miles driven on American-made ethanol in practices and qualifying laps.

“American Ethanol shares the commitment of NASCAR to operate sustainably and do our part to protect and preserve the environment,” said National Corn Growers Association board member Jon Holzfaster of Nebraska. “Farmers manage their farms every day with the tandem goals of making a profit but doing it in a way that is better for the environment. So we are proud to expand our commitment to NASCAR Green.”

God Made Farmers to Care for the Earth

And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer. Paul Harvey, 1978

earthdayThanks to the Dodge Ram Super Bowl commercial this year, millions and millions of people now know the words to radio icon Paul Harvey’s beautiful ode to farmers and ranchers. Since today is Earth Day, it’s a good time to remind those who seem to want to blame farmers for ruining the paradise God created that, in fact, farmers were the original environmentalists. Paul Harvey’s words really get to the very heart and soul of how seriously farmers and ranchers take their responsibility as caretakers of the earth and all that dwells upon it. Here’s just a few lines:

“I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark.

It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with a five-mile drive to church.”

God bless our farmers on Earth Day and every day.

Watch the Super Bowl commercial again below.

EPA Seeks Better Relationship with Agriculture

For many farmers and ranchers, the federal agency that best exemplifies the cynical phrase “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” is the Environmental Protection Agency.

gina-2During a Senate confirmation committee hearing last week, President Obama’s nominee for EPA Administrator admitted that the relationship between the agency and those working in agriculture could be improved.

“I think the agency has bridges to build with the agriculture community,” said nominee Gina McCarthy in response to questioning by Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska about one particular rule that requires farmers to have an oil spill prevention plan in place to protect against water contamination. McCarthy said she looks forward to addressing the issue with Sen. Fisher and others because “I know just how hard the farming community protects their resources and I want to make sure that we have an opportunity to change the relationship between that community and the EPA.”

bittlemanThis week, EPA’s new senior Agricultural Counselor held a conference call with agriculture media to discuss how that might happen. Sarah Bittleman, who previously served as USDA’s Senior Advisor on energy policy, says she knows that there is a lack of trust in the agency on the part of farmers and ranchers.

“My job is to restore some of that trust,” she said, noting that it might be improved by working more closely with USDA, conservation districts and state departments of agriculture that have a better relationship with producers. “By partnering with these other folks who work so closely with agriculture, we can little by little grow a base of increased and better trust relationships,” Bittleman added.

Bittleman says her goal as EPA advisor is to serve rural America.

Listen to her comments here: Sarah Bittleman, EPA Ag Counselor

You can also listen to Senator Fischer’s questioning of EPA Administrator nominee McCarthy here and watch a YouTube of part below: Sen. Fischer/Gina McCarthy

McCarthy has served as director of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation since 2009 and has been nominated to replace Lisa Jackson who resigned as EPA administrator in February.

Fuels America Fueling Push for Ethanol Education on the Hill and Online

Fuels America launched a campaign to set the record straight on the real way to lower prices at the pump yesterday, releasing both a video and an op-ed that ran in Beltway must-read Politico. Using facts to combat the anti-ethanol hype being used in the current assault on the RFS, the multi-pronged push to provide real information is making a splash in the media and with those engaged in the online energy dialogue.

The video, “The Truth Behind High Gas Prices in 60 Seconds”, explains that:

“We can’t drill our way to cheaper gas, but we can get lower gas prices – by stopping the oil industry’s monopoly. First step? We need to fight for other options – like renewable fuel. Watch our video to learn the truth behind the price we pay for gas.”


To watch the video, click here.

In an op-ed published in Politico, Growth Energy CEO Tom Bius and Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen looked at volatility in the RINs market, a cause of concern for many on the Hill as of late.

“The story here is simple. Opponents of renewable fuel, led by the oil industry, want to convince Capitol Hill that renewable identification numbers, or RINs, are the harbingers of doom for U.S. gas prices. Three facts every member of Congress should know about RINs: They are free, they are primarily traded by oil refiners to oil refiners, and they were created at the oil companies’ insistence. Early this year, the price of RINs rose dramatically, but since oil companies dominate the RINs market — and since ethanol supplies are increasing — we are hard-pressed to see a reason for that spike in prices.”

To read the editorial in opinion piece in Politico, click here.

Today, a second op-ed by Bius and Dinneen ran in Roll Call. Here, they called for the confirmation of Gina McCarthy as EPA administrator and Eric Munoz as secretary of Energy as these confirmations would help continue the successes already achieved by biofuels under the RFS.

“We’ve done our part: Foreign oil imports are down 10 percent. We’ve added $40 billion to America’s gross domestic product. We’re offering blends from E15 to E85 in some parts of the country. But, as energy analyst Daniel Dicker says, ‘[Oil] refiners don’t make ethanol, so they’re not really all that happy about making E15. What they want to do is make gasoline because that’s what they make money off of.’”

To read the editorial in opinion piece in Roll Call, click here.

The push to get the truth about America’s renewable, environmentally conscious energy source out is growing. To become part of this positive change, click here.

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