Corn Commentary

Kentucky Shoppers Taking CommonGround Farmers Home

CommonGround Kentucky will be reaching out to start a conversation between the moms who grow food and the moms who buy it all next year through a series of articles in Today’s Family magazine. A free publication offered throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana, the magazine looks at the topics facing families today.

With so much confusion surrounding food and farming, Today’s Family readers, like families across the country, are looking for real resources to help them address their concerns. CommonGround Kentucky volunteers highlighted in the series want to share their knowledge and experiences with their neighbors off of the farm so that no one has to fear their food.

Take a moment to check out the article on CommonGround Kentucky volunteer Amanda Gajdzik featured in the current issue. A farmer who, along with her husband, grows apples, peaches, corn and soybeans in addition to raising beef cattle, Gajdzik speaks from personal experiences when addressing issues such as why food prices sometimes rise and how she cares for her cattle.

Food Dialoguing in the Big Apple

The USFRA Food Dialogues hit the Big Apple last week with three sessions of panelists on a variety of pretty hot topics related to food and agriculture: Media, Marketing and Healthy Choices; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Antibiotics in Your Food; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Biotechnology (GMOs) in Your Food.

Among the panelists on the GMO session was Greg Jaffe, director of biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “There’s a lot of misinformation about this technology, about these products and that was clear from questions from the audience,” said Jaffe. “This kind of discussion is a good first step.”

Jaffe said this is a topic that brings out a lot of emotion. “I wish that wasn’t the case,” he said. “But I think for now it is going to continue to remain controversial.”

You can listen to an interview with Jaffe here: Interview with Greg Jaffe

The moderator for the New York Food Dialogues was Ali Velshi, CNN chief business correspondent, which he says includes the food industry.

Ali thought the event today was remarkable. “This is an area of which I have cursory understanding of,” he said. “I understand commodities and I understand economic impacts of droughts and storms, but I don’t have this degree of detail and granularity that we got today.”

He said it was great to get that and hear from the farmers who are really connected to the food and he was intrigued to hear all the differences of opinion on the controversial topics covered in the sessions. “People have very strong beliefs when it comes to food and that’s understandable,” he said.

You can listen to an interview with Velshi here: Interview with Ali Velshi

2012 USFRA Annual Mtg. & Food Dialogues Photo Album

American Ethanol and NASCAR Make a Splash in USA Today

In an era of compartmentalized media, USA Today holds a unique position. A truly national newspaper with circulation only surpassed by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today reaches Americans across the country every day with bright graphics and its bold layout.

This Friday, American Ethanol and NASCAR celebrated hitting the three million mile mark in a very public way running a full-page announcement on the back cover of the popular daily’s Sports section. Drawing readers in with a visually arresting image showing the American Ethanol flag flying high over the pulse pounding racetrack action, the spread also provided exciting information about what switching to a 15 percent ethanol fuel blend has done for the sport and could do for American drivers off track too.

For two years, every vehicle in every NASCAR race has raced toward victory with E15 in the tank. Through the American Ethanol and NASCAR partnership, the nation’s top drivers, whether they race in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Trucks series, have trusted their tanks to this sustainable, renewable biofuel blend.

What have they found?

Running on a 15 percent ethanol blend has not only reduced their emissions by 20 percent, it has actually increased their horsepower. Ethanol provides the performance NASCAR drivers demand and fuels the pulse quickening action that keeps fans on the edge of their seats.

American Ethanol and NASCAR want to share the great news and celebrate this achievement with NASCAR fans and environmentalists alike. Whether reading USA Today in a hotel lobby or at the end of a driveway, sports fans across the country are joining in the celebration of America’s homegrown sport’s successes running on its homegrown fuel.

Commentary from Former Ag Secretaries

A highlight of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting annual meeting last week in Kansas City was a panel featuring three former secretaries of agriculture – Bob Bergland of Minnesota who served under President Carter from 1977-81; John Block of Illinois who served President Reagan from 1981-86; and Clayton Yeutter of Nebraska who was agriculture secretary for George H.W. Bush from 1989-91 and also was U.S. Trade Representative for Reagan from 1985-89.

It was nearly two hours with these three outspoken gentlemen who took a variety of questions from farm broadcasters, so I’ll break it down into a few bite-sized pieces.

The former secretaries first took the opportunity to reflect on their time running USDA and tell a few “war stories.” Interestingly, all three talked about how much more bipartisan government was during their times. This was the longest segment of the program at 30 minutes, but that’s really only 10 minutes for each one to sum up some very interesting years they spent as agriculture secretary. Ag Secretaries opening comments

With the panel happening the day after the election, that question was number one and the three had answers that reflected their party affiliations – Bergland being the Democrat of the three. As to when a farm bill might be complete – Bergland said he had no idea, Yeutter expects a temporary fix and Block said the fiscal issues are more important. Ag Secretaries on election and farm bill

How about government regulations impacting agriculture? Block predicts the next four years will bring more regulations, and Yeutter again agreed while Bergland made the case that some regulations are necessary. Ag Secretaries on government regulation

A broad question encompassed the long term viability of current high prices, land values and feeding the world. Bergland said the population demands may force us to eat more cereal and less meat in the future, Yeutter believes feeding the nine billion by 2050 won’t be as big a problem as people are making it out to be, and Block talked a bit about food versus fuel. Ag Secretaries on feeding the world

Asked about the RFS and whether it should be considered a subsidy to corn growers, Bergland said he was dead set against all subsidies and thinks the budget will force the government to eliminate all subsides. Yeutter predicted that EPA will keep the RFS intact and Block agreed. Ag Secretaries on RFS

Did the secretaries have any advice about how to defend modern agricultural practices, specifically GMOs? Bergland recalled hysterical reactions in the 1930s when hybrid corn was first introduced, and Yeutter pointed out the international implications of the GMO debate. Ag Secretaries on GMOs

There was lots more, but those were a few highlights. It was an entertaining conversation!

2012 NAFB Convention Photo Album

Getting to Know New NCGA First VP

The newest member of the officer team for the National Corn Growers Association is Martin Barbre, a farmer from Carmi, Illinois. I had the opportunity to get to know Martin a little better at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) annual meeting last week in Kansas City.

Martin has been farming since he was 19 years old and now shares the operation about two hours east of St. Louis with his son. “Right now my passion is making sure that we have a future in agriculture for my son and all the other sons and daughters that are joining on the family farms,” said Martin.

Martin is concerned about the fact that Congress has yet to pass a farm bill. “We just went through a record drought, the need for that has never been more important, and yet Congress has not gotten the job done,” he said. “We’ve gone out this year and we still raised a pretty good job considering the conditions that we had. We’ve done our job, we’ve got the crop harvested, let’s get Congress to do their job and get us a farm bill for the next five years.” He says the corn growers would like to see a revenue-based protection plan tied to crop insurance.

The Barbre farm raised a corn crop this year that was about 30% of normal. “We had a lot of really bad acres,” said Martin. “Really, the heat hurt us more than the drought. We saw that evidenced by our irrigated fields that still weren’t up to par. The heat really affected pollination.”

This was the first year that Martin has attended the marathon interview session that is NAFB Trade Talk, but it won’t be his last. Listen to my interview with Martin from NAFB here: Interview with Martin Barbre

2012 NAFB Convention Photo Album

Update from NCGA Policy Pro

Phone to the ear is the way National Corn Growers Vice President of Public Policy Jon Doggett spends most of his day, so doing interviews at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting just two days after the election was no different than any other. He just had to squeeze in that phone time between the interviews!

Broadcasters were most interested in what now after the election and Doggett told them that getting a farm bill done is a major priority for the upcoming lame duck session, but will they get it done? “I think the chances are excellent – IF there’s a commitment from the leadership that they will move forward, but if there’s not the commitment, I can guarantee what the result will be – it will be nothing,” said Doggett.

Congress will also have to deal with the “fiscal cliff” in the short lame duck session. “If we don’t make our decisions by the end of 2012, we’re gonna jump off a cliff,” said Doggett. “We’re not at the edge yet, but we’re kind of looking over the edge.”

Doggett also talked about other issues, like the RFS waiver and how important it is for farmers to make their voices heard in Washington.

Listen to my interview with Jon from NAFB here: Interview with Jon Doggett

New NCGA President Meets the Press

Pam Johnson of Floyd, Iowa has been president of the National Corn Growers Association for just over a month now and Thursday she had her first real opportunity in that position to “meet the press” at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB).

Pam is the first woman president of NCGA but she takes exception to the idea that she is a “token” in a man’s world. “I’m a sixth generation farmer and I come from a long line of strong men AND women,” she said. “Just like anybody else, male or female, I had to work very hard, learn a lot, work together and compromise and come up through the chain.”

Pam says there is lots more opportunity for farm women to get involved in leadership positions than ever before. “I’ve got a lot of respect for women in agriculture, young and old,” said Pam, noting the great enthusiasm she witnessed at the Executive Women in Agriculture conference last year in Chicago.

Pam’s goals as president for NCGA are very simple. “To bring all that I am and all that I’ve learned to this position and be the best president that I can be for NCGA. That means that I will continue to advocate for the policies that we worked very hard to develop and advocate for our priorities as we move forward into this new year,” Pam said.

I also talked with Pam about her crop this year, how farming has changed in six generations on her farm, and the 2013 Commodity Classic.

Listen to my interview with Pam – one of dozens done Thursday with farm broadcasters! Interview with Pam Johnson

As the National Mood Darkens, Agriculture Must Provide a Strong, Unwavering Light

This election day, a substantial majority of Americans believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Only five days ago, Rasmussen Reports found that only 39 percent of voters believe the country is actually on the right track. The negativity that has descended over the country hangs like a nearly palpable dark cloud, shading perceptions and obscuring the view of the horizon.

For farmers, a plethora of problems loom large on that horizon, threatening the industry which they have labored for decades to build. The shadowy figures resemble monsters. The drought menaces productivity gains or, at the very least, the perception thereof. Hard-fought battles to grow markets for their crops no longer seem like memories. The fog of fear creates doubt.

No longer able to clearly envision the brighter tomorrow that once inspired passionate pride in  agriculture, a strong biofuels industry, an abundant supply of healthy foods and a resurgent rural economy,  short-sighted attacks from launched under the cover of night lunge from reactionary corners.

Keenly aware of the cyclic moods of Mother Nature, farmers understand that a year of drought does negate centuries of innovation. Now, more than ever, this vibrant viewpoint needs to shine through the morass, leading Americans forth on the long-charted path toward that crystalline vision.

Instead of engaging the willfully obtuse in a never-ending debacle of a debate, farmers need to appraise arguments against their triumvirate of triumphs, ethanol, biotechnology and production advancements, with an eagle’s eye. Even though it may seem illogical, certain sectors have tied a blindfold around their own eyes and plugged their own ears rendering themselves unable to contemplate evidence that might contradict their anti-agriculture agendas.

Then, after writing off the screeches of the intentionally obtuse harpies, farmers can focus with pinpoint precision on the rock solid record of success. Repeatedly, American agriculture has set the bar far beyond what many believed it could reach. Repeatedly, it has vaulted well over that bar, soaring to greater heights time and time again.

Farmers set out to build an ethanol industry that would provide a new market for their crops, spur rural economic development, increase domestic energy production and decrease air pollution. Today, they have already achieved every one of those goals. In five short years, a booming industry has improved the fortunes of farmers and their communities at an exponential rate.

When critics attack these achievements, often detracting from ethanol’s success to draw attention from the lack of their own, American agriculture must defend its record with pride instead of apologizing for a single year of mild production setbacks. The rains will come. The corn will grow. It is crucial to the continued success of agriculture and of rural America farmers that the demand built through an incredible investment in ethanol remains strong.

Instead of falling prey to the demons of doubt, American agriculture should shine like the beacon, illuminating the increased employment, improved food and energy security and economic advancement that farmers have built through innovation and hard work. Farmers chartered the right course years ago. Now, they must lead others who got lost in the fog back to the path toward a brilliant tomorrow.

Wish the Candidates Would Put It in Writing?

With only days remaining before the election, the vast majority of Americans have already decided which candidate they will back when they cast their ballot. President Obama, Mitt Romney and both men’s proxies are running at a feverish pace back and forth between a hand full of “key” states trying everything short of giving away free puppies in an effort to woo the rare undecided voters.

Although it hardly competes with the precision-crafted media events that candidates call rallies, the National Corn Growers Association offers farmers something that seems to be in short supply this year. It offers concrete answers, in writing, on where the candidates stand on the issues that matter most in rural America.

Take a moment this weekend to take advantage of this incredible resource. Even decided voters should know exactly where future leaders stand on the unique issues that will impact their lives in a direct manner.

NCGA, non-partisan in its very nature, understands the grassroots power its members can wield. In providing this information, it hopes to help farmers take that power to the polls.

To access the candidate responses in their entirety, click here.

Crops in the Path of the Storm

The impact of Hurricane Sandy on agriculture is still being assessed but the storm did have one immediate effect – delaying the release of USDA’s crop progress report by two days.

Meterologist Brad Rippey says the corn crop is now 91% harvested nationwide, well ahead of the five year average of 60%, but while much of the corn belt is done, some areas that got hit by the storm were still underway. “Pennsylvania, for example, on October 28 – a day or two before the storm hit – had the crop just 64% harvested. That is ahead of average but leaves virtually a third of the crop in the field,” said Rippey. “Same is true in Ohio with 64% harvested by October 28.”

Rippey says it’s a similar situation for the soybean harvest which is 87% complete nationwide. “We saw very little harvest underway in North Carolina, Virginia and on up into Maryland and Delaware,” he said, noting that just 17% of the crop in North Carolina was harvested by October 28.

Rippey adds that next week’s crop progress report will provide more information on just how bad the damage was from Sandy.



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