Corn Commentary

Agricultural Education on the Hill

agday-katieThe U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance helped celebrate 40 years of National Agriculture Day this week with a breakfast on Capitol Hill and educational briefing on “The New Language of Food and Modern Agriculture.” More than 150 people — including Ag Day participants, members of the food industry, and Congressional staff — attended the event.

Illinois corn farmer and USFRA “Face of Farming and Ranching” Katie Pratt shared her farm story and the need for others to share their personal stories. “This Ag Day – and every day – I encourage farmers and ranchers from across the country to be active, share their personal stories, and answer questions from their community about how food is grown and raised,” she said. Katie also live tweeted the event @USFRA.

Also on the program was Erika Bowser-Poppelreiter, a Midwest farmer and farming/ranching expert with Ketchum, who presented a briefing on consumer messaging research and how the agriculture industry can work to restore relevance. The event featured a new perspective on food culture today led by farmers and ranchers.

Listen to the whole session here: USFRA Ag Day Educational Session

2013 National Ag Day Activities Photo Album

Ag Day at USDA

usda-agdayOur U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke at the annual National Ag Day banquet Tuesday at the USDA Whitten Bldg.

Secretary Vilsack wished everyone a Happy Ag Day and then talked about American farm productivity, pointing to a chart showing how high the ag sector is compared to other industries since 1948. “American agriculture’s productivity far, far outpaced the entire American economy and its productivity,” Vilsack said. “It’s a remarkable story and it’s in large part a result of American farmers and ranchers embracing new technologies and new ways to do business.” Vilsack added that the main beneficiaries of this tremendous productivity are consumers.

Vilsack spoke to farmer and rancher representatives in Washington D.C. this week for National Ag Day.

Listen to Vilsack’s remarks here: Ag Secretary Vilsack Remarks

2013 National Ag Day Activities Photo Album

House Ag Committee Chair at National Ag Day

lucasThe chairman of the House Agriculture Committee spoke to farmer and rancher representatives in Washington DC at National Ag Day activities on Tuesday, praising those who work in the agriculture industry.

“The fact of the matter is we’re a critical part of the national economy and the food safety net for the country and the planet,” Congressman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said in an interview after his address to National Ag Day attendees. “We’ve been so successful in agriculture that there’s a tendency to ignore us – and people will ignore us at the peril of their future.”

Lucas explained where Congress is right now on a new farm bill and when he hopes to have it finished. “We are finishing up the budget process in the United States House and the Senate is doing that too,” he said. “Before the end of September, before the one year extension of the ’08 farm bill expires, we’ll have a new one signed into law and on the books. That’s my goal.”

Lucas says there are other issues the House Agriculture committee has on its plate now, such as oversight of the commodity futures trading commission and keeping an eye on how USDA is handling sequestration, especially when it comes to keeping meat inspectors on the job.

Listen to Chuck’s interview with Congressman Lucas here: Interview with Congressman Frank Lucas

2013 National Ag Day Activities Photo Album

Rural America: Today’s Canary in the Coal Mine

ETHANOL-1-hpMediumEthanol has not just fueled a movement toward domestically-produced, greener, renewable fuels in America, it has fueled a resurgence in the small communities that provide the backbone of our national character.

Rural America, simultaneously idealized in culture and forgotten in national debate, surged back to life during the biofuels boom. Children who only a generation earlier would have been forced to leave their homes in search of opportunities after college came back to their families. Equipment dealers, small bankers, coffee shop owners and so many others benefitted from the locally-owned plants that fueled our nation’s cars and trucks. Ethanol not only helped clean our air, it helped rebuild small towns and strengthen rural communities.

This quiet story, forgotten by a media that glamorizes a more fast-paced, high profile lifestyle, has been largely ignored. Victims of their remote geography and of the very values which set them apart, the farmers, small business owners and many others who struggled to build an energy secure, environmentally sustainable tomorrow for our country once again fade conveniently into sepia-toned memories of a bygone era.

Yet, someone has taken notice. Following in the noble footsteps of journalists like Dorothea Lang who detailed the ravages of the Great Depression, the New York Times gave a voice to one rural Missouri community. Here, the suffering from the anti-ethanol sentiment purposefully ignited to maintain the energy monopolies of the past is tangible. These men and women feel the immediate pain of a system that eschews the science and sense of Americans growing fuel for their cars and their economy.

Before spewing spurious statements and invoking the en vogue rhetoric, take a moment to consider the palpable consequences already taking hold by clicking here.

The men and women who became entrepreneurs, risking everything to build our biofuels industry, questioned the status quo. They did not accept the polished propaganda carefully designed to denigrate their dreams. In that spirit, one of optimism and rugged individualism, take a moment to consider the facts.

Obviously, someone has something to gain from this biofuels backlash. A great deal of time and effort has been put into convincing the American people to follow suit. Refuse to be a part of the crowd that would hand our nation’s energy security and environmental health to the silver tongued, covert coalition on a silver platter.

Celebrating the Relevance of Agriculture

agdayFarmers and ranchers are celebrating the 40th National Agriculture Day this week in Washington DC and hopefully letting those running the country know that as long as we need to eat, agriculture will still be “relevant.”

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) Chairman Bob Stallman says they are encouraging farmers and ranchers across the country to use National Ag Day this week as a springboard to share their stories and answer consumer questions. “That includes talking about the new technologies we have, an emphasis on sustainability, and talking about that new, next generation of farmers and ranchers coming on board,” said Stallman.

The celebration of agriculture on Capitol Hill this week includes a briefing for congressional staffers on Tuesday, March 19 – which is the official National Ag Day. “The whole purpose is to talk about what our research has shown that consumers want to know about ag, how they want to relate, how they want to communicate,” Stallman said.

National Ag Day is celebrated during National Ag Week, which is always the week of the first day of spring, celebrating the start of planting season. If you would like to participate in USFRA’s event on Capitol Hill during Ag Day through Twitter – follow @USFRA or tweet with hashtag Ag Day (#AgDay) or hashtag food D (#foodD).

Biotech May Be Solution to Food Allergies

bayer-13-horanThe post on this blog that has received the most comments is one about corn allergies, which – like all food allergies – can be very serious to those who suffer from them. A better future for them, and those who suffer from allergies to other foods like peanuts, could be in biotechnology.

“Biotechnology is going to be the solution to food allergies,” said Iowa corn grower Bill Horan, who is COO of Horan BioProduction and also chairman of Truth About Trade and Technology. “As those products come along people are going to understand the real value of biotech.”

Bill farms over 4,000 acres of corn in northwest Iowa with his brother Joe and was on a panel at the recent Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum on farmers who are doing things differently. His difference is farming pharmaceuticals. “About 11 years ago we started with a French company,” he said. “They had inserted canine lipase into a corn plant to produce a lipase for cystic fibrosis patients.”

This year they will be working with a German company growing potatoes that produce an antibacterial protein for use in cosmetics. Horan points out some of the leading biotech companies are based in Europe, but because of the laws against growing genetically modified crops they have to contract for commercial production outside of Europe. However, he adds that it’s not easy for the average farmer to do it in this country either. “It’s very difficult to get permits from USDA to grow these biologics,” he said, noting that because he and his brother have been working at it now for over a decade they know how to get it done.

Listen to some of Bill’s comments here: Iowa Farmer Bill Horan

God Really Did Make a Farmer

farmer-handsThe original Ram Trucks Super Bowl commercial featuring Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” is up to over 14 million views on YouTube, not counting all the re-posts of the video, and has led to parodies too numerous to count.

There’s God made a factory farmer, liberal, banker, photographer, skateboarder, printer, DJ, realtor, gamer, machinist, chemist, publicist, YouTuber, teacher, Democrat, cat – you name it.

But, really – God really did make a farmer. Just check the Book of Genesis. “God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen. 2:15)

Of course, we all know the rest of the story. When Adam and Eve misbehaved, God made farming more difficult and even more of a sacred calling – “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.”

And the first parents passed their vocation on to their children. “Eve … gave birth to Cain…Later she gave birth to his brother Abel…Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.” We won’t go into the rest of that story (since one of them also became the first murderer) but suffice it to say – God really did make a farmer first. Not a chemist or a DJ or even a liberal – but maybe a cat.

Little Change in New Supply Demand Report

usda-logoProjected 2012/13 U.S. corn ending stocks were unchanged from last month’s estimate in the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate report out Friday, lowering exports but increasing feed use and keeping corn use for ethanol the same.

Corn exports were lowered 75 million bushels, imports were increased 25 million, and feed usage was increased by 100 million – due in part to “continued expansion in poultry production.” The projected season-average farm price for corn was lowered by 20 cents a bushel to $6.75-7.45.

Projected corn use for ethanol this season remains unchanged at 4.5 billion bushels, which is down 10 percent from last year on lower gasoline use, according to USDA Deputy Chief Economist Rob Johansson. “Obviously we expect that will increase towards the end of this year when the new crop comes in,” said Johansson.

Export projections were lowered by eight percent from last month “based on the slow pace of sales and shipments to date and stronger expected competition from South American corn and from competitively priced feed quality wheat.” But drought is the main reason the forecast of 850 million bushels for this year is nearly half last year’s total estimated 1.5 billion bushels in exports.

Weather is always the key variable when it comes to predicting global supply and demand for agricultural commodities but there is another variable in the mix that could also impact those estimates this year. USDA noted at the very top of the March report that “potential impacts of U.S. budget cuts are not reflected in today’s report.” Whether that may be due to sequestration or lack of funding for export promotion programs or a combination of cuts is not specified, but the final outcome right now seems to be just as unpredictable as the weather.

Without You, There Would Be No Us

Today, Corn Commentary joins with the Corn Refiners Association in celebrating their 100th anniversary. In doing so, CRA offers this guest post to America’s corn farmers. A post authored the National Corn Growers Association will be featured on their blog also. Click here to view NCGA’s thoughts offered in celebration of this momentous event.

Without You, There Would Be No Us

100th Anniversary LogoAs the Corn Refiners Association celebrates its 100th anniversary we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the legacy of a prosperous partnership between corn wet millers and corn growers, a partnership that we very much enjoy and couldn’t survive without.  Although the CRA is celebrating 100 years, this partnership actually exceeds that and goes back more than 150 years when corn starch was first manufactured in Jersey City, N.J., by Thomas Kingsford, who most consider to be the founder of the corn refining industry.

Thanks to productivity of corn growers with technological advances in machinery, farming techniques and breeding, and the innovative visionaries in the corn wet milling industry and their commitment to research and development of new products and technologies, the beneficial effect of this partnership is something we wish we could embed in the mind of every American.  The corn that producers grow and that corn wet millers refine is used in millions of households in the form of ingredients, plastics, oils, toothpaste, batteries, carpet and numerous other quality products that provide convenience and choice and are so very embedded in our current way of life.

cornpckgThe success of our partnership shows itself in the economic impact corn has had, as thousands upon thousands have been employed as a producer or a refiner, with our shared commitment to enriching not only the lives of those who have been employed, but also in helping to build stronger communities.

For a glimpse of our accomplishments, we can look back to 1906, when approximately 2.9 billion bushels of corn were produced in the U.S. and of that, corn refiners used 36.4 million bushels.  Now, in 2012 nearly 11 billion bushels of corn were produced in the United States, and the USDA estimates that more than 1.8 billion bushels of corn will be used for corn wet milling over the next year.

Who could have imagined we would be able to achieve productivity gains of this magnitude?  Maybe pioneer Thomas Kingsford knew it all along; from his tiny mill producing only corn starch to a thriving and growing partnership between corn growers and corn wet millers, we have vastly extended the uses of refined corn products. Looking back 150 years, it seems to be an understatement to note that our partnership and the benefits that have come with it have been priceless for all of us.

6harvestSo what does the future hold? I would argue that there is no limit to what we can accomplish together.  American corn farmers will continue to be the most productive in the world, growing 20 percent more corn per acre than any other nation.  They will continue to focus on stewardship of the land and advancements in biotechnology, which has revolutionized agriculture, increasing yields and creating a sustainable crop for generations to come.

On the corn wet milling side, sweeteners and starch will still be fundamental to our industry, but the products that hold promise for creating a carbohydrate-based economy will continue to grow. The opportunity to replace petroleum-based products with corn-based ones has the potential to be very large. Advancements continue in the area of corn-based plastics, fibers, acetates and other products that continue to chip away at our dependency on non-renewable feedstocks. With that said, there is no doubt that innovation and productivity will continue to drive all the gains we produce and undoubtedly there will be more game changers to come, as was the case with the introduction of HFCS in the 70s and ethanol in the 80s.

I think this note from the previous Corn Refiners Association President, Chuck Conner, says it best: “There is something remarkable about an industry that has found thousands of applications for a plant we take for granted. For more than 150 years, corn refiners have been developing and perfecting products made from corn – transforming it into starches, sweeteners, fuel alcohol, oil and chemical feedstocks with a growing range of end uses. Relying on science and imagination, corn refiners have built an impressive line of products all stemming from the demand for starch.”

We thank the NCGA for inviting us to speak to this partnership on their blog.

Corn Growers Chart Policy Course

cc13-pamAs it was last year at this time, getting a new farm bill was the top priority for delegates to the National Corn Growers Association Corn Congress policy meeting at the 2013 Commodity Classic.

NCGA President Pam Johnson says NCGA supports fundamental changes to farm programs that include effective and affordable federal crop insurance to provide assistance only when most needed.

“An effective, affordable federal crop insurance program remains our No. 1 farm policy priority,” Pam said during the NCGA press conference at Classic. “And we have long supported programs that complement growers’ crop insurance protection in those years where prices or yields are significantly reduced. For growers, especially young farmers, managing the potential loss of revenue is critically important.’’

cc13-ncgaAnother big priority for corn farmers is ethanol and Pam says they will continue to fight the attacks on both the Renewable Fuel Standard and the approval of E15 in the marketplace. “We will not let these attacks stand,” she said. “We know our potential to produce is very great and we know that we need to continue to build that demand.”

Pam adds that growers have been hit with demand destruction because of the drought but “we hope to plant a really great corn crop this year and get some of that back.”

Listen to Pam Johnson summarize issues important to corn growers at the 2013 Commodity Classic: NCGA President Pam Johnson

2013 Commodity Classic Photo Album

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