Corn Commentary

More Corn Acres than Expected

northey-cornDespite the challenging planting conditions this spring USDA is saying that farmers have planted even more corn than last year and the most acres in 77 years, according to Friday’s Acreage report.

Corn planted area for all purposes in 2013 is estimated at 97.4 million acres, up slightly from last year. This represents the highest planted acreage in the United States since 1936 when an estimated 102 million acres were planted. Growers expect to harvest 89.1 million acres for grain, up 2 percent from last year.

Not only that, soybean acreage is a new record. Soybean planted area for 2013 is estimated at a record high 77.7 million acres, up 1 percent from last year. Area for harvest, at 76.9 million acres, is up 1 percent from 2012 and will be a record high, if realized. Record high planted acreage is estimated in New York, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.

Corn acreage is up in 23 states, but most of them are not major corn producing areas. In fact, acreage is down in the big corn states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri but small increases are noted in states like Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio.

The question is whether USDA will resurvey farmers now, based on the spring planting issues. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has already announced it will collect updated information next month for acres planted to soybean in fourteen states, but no word on corn.

Credit for the photo once again goes to Iowa Secretary of Ag Bill Northey who has a great set of 2013 crop photos on Facebook.

Importance of Biotechnology to the World

As an Iowa farmer, National Corn Growers Association President Pam Johnson knows how important biotechnology is for American farmers and this week she was on the road trying to get the message out that it is vital to the world as a whole.

“The continued use of biotechnology in agriculture is a key component to food security,” Johnson said during the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture in New York on Tuesday. “However, we need to greatly improve the public’s acceptance of biotechnology. Agriculture needs to lead the conversation on this important topic and provide education on the advancements of the industry. Consumers should be able to make decisions based on science and facts, not fearmongering.”

pam-ttipJohnson followed up that appearance by provided policy recommendations for the U.S. Trade Representative during a House Committee on Small Business hearing in Washington on Wednesday.

“For NCGA members, the biggest challenge is the approval of corn and corn products that are derived through biotechnology,” she said. “Unjustified regulations are costing family farmers millions in lost sales to the EU and could result in even great losses of U.S. exports if they are adopted by other countries.” She pointed out that 88% of the corn grown in the United States is derived from biotechnology, as it is in Brazil and Argentina.

The main point Johnson said the corn growers want to get across to USTR in these trade negotiations is that any agreement must be comprehensive and address any sanitary-phytosanitary barriers to agricultural trade up front. That means, she says, “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”

Listen to or download Pam’s testimony and answers to questions from lawmakers: NCGA president Pam Johnson Testimony

Energy Independence Secures National Independence

flag fireworksAcross the United States this weekend, men and women will be picking up hot dogs and fireworks. They will be getting the grill ready and calling friends to finalize plans for the Fourth of July. While preparing for the Independence Day holiday, take a moment to think about what really enables our nation to remain free.

Our continued freedom has many aspects. One important one, one that each American can impact, is ensuring our nation’s energy security. Again, many factors contribute to energy security, but decreasing our reliance on foreign oil certainly plays a key role.

Getting ready for Independence Day, take just one moment to think about ethanol. Foreign oil made up 60 percent of U.S. liquid fuel in 2005, before the Renewable Fuel Standard went into place. By 2011, it fell to 41 percent.  That major decrease in imported oil represented a major increase in energy independence.

All of this happened as the U.S. increased its use of ethanol, a domestic, renewable biofuel. In growing our energy independence, corn farmers and the ethanol industry also grew our nation’s rural economies. In doing so, they strengthened our country as a whole.

As you set off fireworks this July fourth – which are also made using corn by the way – take a moment to celebrate the many ways in which we keep our nation independent. Support the nation’s farmers and ethanol producers who play a role in doing so.

Corn Crop on the Upswing

It was right about this time last year that the intense hot and dry weather started taking its toll on crops that had started off great. Just the opposite is true this year.

ia-cornCorn is catching up in emergence and the condition is on the upswing according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey, who says 96% of the corn crop is now emerged, just a few points behind both the average and last year. “It’s looking pretty good and we’ve reached the crossover point from last year,” he said. “Last year at this time, corn condition was tanking.” Right now, 65% of the corn nationwide is in good to excellent condition, compared to 56% last year.

Rippey says there are a few trouble spots where it’s still a little too wet and emergence is behind. “Minnesota, 90% emerged; North Dakota, 87%; Wisconsin, 84% emerged on June 23,” he said, adding that soybean planting has caught up to within a few points of last year.

The photo here comes from the Facebook page of the most tech-savvy state ag director in the country. That would be our friend, farmer and former president of the National Corn Growers Association, Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. He posted pics from the WHO Tractor Ride from Le Mars to Lawton yesterday.

Giving Up Giving Up Meat

NP-51-C~Cafeteria-Lunch-Tray-PostersThe cafeterias that feed our nation’s federal legislators and their staffs are giving up giving up meat on Mondays.

Surprisingly, this actually causes strife in some circles. As detailed in a recent article in Politico, the Congressional Vegetarian Staff Association (yes, this is a real thing) holds the big beef lobby to blame for this sacrilege at the altar of the PC. Some cry foul, claiming the tradition-come-lately promotes what they deem to be a healthier diet. Seemingly, Congressional staffers share the same intense interest in lunch menus as employees across the country.

Some claim the practice should have been shut down as it is promoted by the Humane Society of the United States and similar radical groups. While this argument certainly holds water with anyone who hopes to have a pet or a burger someday, there is a much simpler reason that Meatless Mondays make no sense. They take away choice.

The country faces an obesity epidemic, and everyone has a solution. But, in the end, the workplace cafeteria should not become an agenda-driven diner that dictates diets. The lunch line may not offer your personal favorite option daily, but it should not force a particular, politically-motivated nutritional regime down your throat either.

Consumers, and even Congressional staffers, deserve options. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers provide a wide variety of nutritious food options. People should be able to dictate what they put into their own bodies.

So kudos to the kitchens of Congress for recognizing that lunches should be chosen, not dictated, every day of the week.

Immigration Policy Impacts Food Affordability

Thanks to highly mechanized planting and harvesting, plus the advantage of a crop that can be stored for long periods of time, corn growers are largely able to function without the use of a migrant work force. But, even those row crop farmers who don’t directly employ migrant laborers have a reason to care about comprehensive immigration reform.

The dairy industry is very dependent on a stable work force – year round, not just seasonal – and Dairy Farmers of America Board Chairman Randy Mooney made some pretty compelling points during a USDA forum on comprehensive immigration reform held Friday in Kansas City.

dfa-kc“We know from experience that too few domestic workers want these jobs and the issue is bigger than dairy,” said Mooney. Highly perishable specialty crop producers obviously need these workers, but Mooney says corn, bean and wheat farmers do as well, to meet the needs of the farms that buy their products. “For example, the U.S. dairy herd consumes more than 133 billion pounds of feed in the form of corn, corn silage, soybean meal and alfalfa each year,” he noted.

“Because of America’s farmers, we enjoy abundant, safe and affordable food in this country,” Mooney said. “In order to ensure that continues, we need Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Mooney added. See Mooney’s remarks at the event in the YouTube video below.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was the keynote speaker at the Kansas City event. “We are blessed by the most productive, most innovative and most hard-working farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “American agriculture is the greatest in the world, but we risk that if we don’t have certainty in our farm policy and we don’t have comprehensive immigration reform.”

The comprehensive immigration bill being considered by the Senate – with a final vote expected possibly this week – includes provisions for agriculture including a new “Blue Card” program for current experienced farm workers and a new agricultural visa program to meet future labor needs. The provisions in the bill were the result of an agreement reached between farm worker groups and agricultural organizations.

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.

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