Corn Commentary

Fuel By Any Other Name

It’s been called alcohol, gasohol, and ethanol, among other names – but could a different moniker help improve the image of plant-based fuel?

nec13-divallThe founder of a widely respected public opinion research firm suggests that calling ethanol a “biofuel” more often might be better.

“Biofuel is seen as a more futuristic energy source than saying the word ethanol,” American Viewpoint president Linda DiVall said. “There are very positive images associated with biofuels.”

DiVall presented findings from a poll on consumer views of ethanol commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) at the National Ethanol Conference last week. “The ethanol industry has a compelling narrative to advance to consumers — it significantly reduces greenhouse gases, lowers our dependence on foreign oil, creates quality jobs, reduces fuel costs for Americans, and is serving to advance further innovations in renewable fuels.”

Listen to DiVall explain in this interview: Linda DiVall at NEC 2013

Will Drought Continue in 2013?

The good news is that the overall drought area in the U.S. is continuing to decline from week to week. The bad news is that 2013 may be even drier than 2012 was.

The latest U.S. drought monitor shows less than 56% of the country in drought now, the lowest point since last July. “It’s also a decline of 5.36% since the beginning of the year and we’re down almost 10% from the peak in 2012,” said USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey. “It is noticeable change but the problem is we’ve really been struggling to chip away at the drought right at the core.”

pulwarty“The forecast for this season is that in fact, we are predicting drier conditions,” said Dr. Roger Pulwarty, Director of the National Integrated Drought Information System at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing last week.

Pulwarty emphasized that the big problem last year was the heat exacerbating the drought. “The major issue in the Midwest and the Southwest, Colorado Basin in particular, is that we are having back-to-back dry years and a third year of that puts our systems completely under stress,” he said.

hearing-farmerIndiana farmer Anngie Steinbarger was one of four producers on a panel who explained just how bad the drought was last year. “Our average yields are 150 bushels for corn,” she said, explaining that their decision to add an irrigation pivot on 35 acres of really sandy soil is what helped them get a crop last year. “Under the pivot was close to 200 bushels per acre and outside of the pivot was 10 bushels per acre,” said Steinbarger, adding that “The number one barrier to increasing our yields is lack of water.”

Irrigation helped the Steinbargers meet their contracts but it was crop insurance that helped them survive. “We paid a substantial premium for crop insurance and that decision is keeping us in business for the 2013 crop year,” Steinbarger said.

Sweet News about Your Valentine’s Day Sweets

Today, Corn Commentary offers a guest post from blogger Sara Ross, a CommonGround Iowa volunteer. Ross, along with 85 volunteers in 15 states, is participating in a movement that looks to open a conversation between the women who grow food and those why purchase it.

CommonGround was formed by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates to provide our nation’s female farmers with opportunities to connect with their urban and suburban counterparts on an issue important to all of them – the food they feed their families.

Corn HeartIt’s Valentine’s Day.  It’s a day of love, flowers, presents, candy and high fructose corn syrup….


Yes, high fructose corn syrup will be present on Valentine’s Day in many of your candies and soft drinks.  Not to worry though!  In this post I’m going to clear up some common myths and misconceptions about this hot topic. Misconception 1:  High fructose corn syrup is bad for you.
Answer:  High fructose corn syrup has almost the same composition as table sugar, honey and fruit juices like grape and apple.  “When high fructose corn syrup and sugar are absorbed into our bloodstream, the two are indistinguishable by the body,” Joan Salge Blake, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.  Sugar is sugar and all of it should be consumed in moderation.

Misconception 2:  High fructose corn syrup is not natural.
Answer:  This is not true.  HFCS is made from corn, a naturally occurring food.  It contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives.  It also meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for use of the term “natural.”

Misconception 3:  High fructose corn syrup is causing wide-spread obesity in the United States.
Answer:  In 2008 the American Medical Association (AMA) concluded that HFCS does not appear to contribute more to obesity than any other caloric sweeteners.  “At this time there is insufficient evidence to restrict the use of high fructose syrup or label products that contain it with a warning,” said AMA Board Member William Dolan, MD. “We do recommend consumers limit the amount of all added caloric sweeteners to no more than 32 grams of sugar daily based on a 2,000 calorie diet in accordance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

“The real issue is not high fructose corn syrup. It’s that we’ve forgotten what a real serving size is. We have to eat less of everything,”stated David Klurfeld, Ph.D, from the Agricultural Research Service at the USDA.

Misconception 4:  High fructose corn syrup is used only as a sweetener in food and beverages.
Answer:  HFCS is a popular ingredient for many manufacturers.  Here are some of the ways it is used:

  • As a liquid, it is easily incorporated into beverages and also stays in solution better— making a higher quality product.
  • As a form of invert sugar, fructose combines with protein in the presence of heat to give browning—toasted bread is an example. Because it has a higher amount of fructose, HFCS provides better browning in baked products.
  • Using HFCS instead of granular sugar helps lock in moisture in baked products. This extends shelf life by keeping the baked product fresher for a longer time period. This same moistness also gives cookies and snack bars a softer texture.
  • Because it is a syrup (rather than granules), the fructose and glucose molecules do not form undesired crystals in candies and ice cream—giving those foods a smoother mouth feel and a more desirable product.
  • HFCS contributes thickness, or viscosity, to condiments and salad dressings.

When doing some research on candy companies and what their stances are about HFCS, I found thatThe Hershey Company says this, “The Hershey Company uses a variety of sweeteners to deliver products with well-known tastes and textures while maintaining our high quality standards. Different types of sweeteners are better suited for different types of products. High fructose corn syrup, although used sparingly, provides better functional properties in selected products.”

When I looked to Pepsi Co to see what their stance is on HFCS I found that they say, “HFCS and table sugar have the same calories and sweetness so the decision to use one or the other is based on a variety of other factors. For example, HFCS is an easier ingredient to work with because it is a liquid. It also costs less than table sugar which helps us keep the cost of our products down for consumers. However, since some consumers prefer beverages sweetened with table sugar, we give people choices in the different products we make.”

With all this information about HFCS, just remember that sugar is sugar and while eating candy on Valentine’s Day, moderation is the key!

This post originally ran on the blog Sara’s House HD.

To learn more about the CommonGround program or connect with it through social media, click here.

Vilsack Biofuels Pep Talk

nec13-vilsackAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hit two meetings in one city last week, appearing at both the National Ethanol Conference and the National Biodiesel Conference in Las Vegas and serving as the biofuels industry cheerleader to rally the troops in an uncertain time.

“A critical component to the success of rural America is in the renewable fuel and energy industry,” Vilsack said. “You are responsible for increasing farm income.”

The secretary acknowledged that the Renewable Fuel Standard is under attack. “You have to ask yourself, why all these challenges?” Vilsack asked. “The reason is that you are winning.”

Vilsack told both groups that the renewable fuels industry is worth fighting for. “Your country’s future depends on it,” he said. “It’s that important. That’s why I’m here – I firmly believe it.”

Watch the Secretary’s address at the NEC below:

Video streaming by Ustream

Listen to his speech to the ethanol conference here: Vilsack at NEC

2013 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

What’s in My Beef?!?!

Today, Corn Commentary offers a guest post from blogger Lana Hoffschneider, a CommonGround Nebraska volunteer. Hoffschneider, along with 85 volunteers in 15 states, is participating in a movement that looks to open a conversation between the women who grow food and those why purchase it.

CommonGround was formed by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates to provide our nation’s female farmers with opportunities to connect with their urban and suburban counterparts on an issue important to all of them – the food they feed their families.

lana-kidsAnyone else feel overwhelmed by the quantity of information out there about food and food safety? I’ve recently been on a quest to increase my knowledge about food safety, and feel like now I can’t eat anything!! I swear there’s a study out there to prove anything. So how do we sort out the information… the studies, the food labels, the facebook posts, the news stories, what our friends tell us, etc?!?! I can’t promise I have the answer to that… but I’ll give you my take on it! Read on…

Since we have a feedyard, I’m going to direct my comments to beef, and hopefully answer some of your questions about what you’re eating. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a scientist, and I’m not a meat processor, but I can tell you what happens at our feedyard.

One common concern about beef is hormones. Yes, we give our cattle implants (they go under the skin on the outside of the ear). The main active ingredient is estrogen. The implants are given to increase feed efficiency and rate of gain. From the information I have read, yes – some of the hormone passes into the meat, but no – it’s not at high levels. in fact, check this out:

  • 4 oz. beef from steer given hormones: 1.6 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. beef from untreated steer: 1.2 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. beef from non-pregnant heifer: 1.5 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. raw cabbage: 2700 ng estrogen
  • 4 oz. raw peas: 454 ng estrogen
  • Average level in a woman of childbearing age: 480,000 nanograms/day of estrogen
  • Average level in a pre-pubertal girl: 54,000 nanograms/day of estrogen

So – I’m not worried about that. Period.

Next, how about shots… vaccinations, antibiotics, etc?

Our veterinarian giving vaccinations to a steer.

Our veterinarian giving vaccinations to a steer.

First of all, I think you might like to know that all shots go in the neck region of the animal.  This prevents any needle damage in the meat.

Second, you need to know that there are specific “withdrawal times” that antibiotics have – which means an animal cannot be harvested until after a specified number of days of receiving the antibiotic.   And yes – our cattle receive antibiotics (administered by a veterinarian).  It’s the right thing to do – we take care of our animals when they’re sick! Here’s a great blog post about this… Antibiotics in beef farming.

So I’m not worried about that. Period.

The last thing I want to hit on is regarding the talk about meat causing heart disease, cancer, and whatever else.  I understand that doctors give special instructions on diet for particular situations – listen to them.   If that’s not you – then here’s what I think.   MODERATION – everything in moderation.

We eat beef from cattle from our feedyard.  I feed it to my family.  We have 2 daughters – yes, I think about hormones and early puberty and the thought freaks me out on a lot of levels.  But I don’t change the meat we eat or the milk we drink because of it – I don’t think that’s what causes early puberty.

If you’re like me, and feel frustrated about information about our food… just keep in mind that there are so many health benefits in a variety of foods.   If you want to get radical about something, get radical about the amount of sugar you eat and the amount of processed/fried foods you eat.  Then eat a variety of foods, in moderation.

I think of it like weight loss.  There’s no magic “meal pill” that will be a perfect meal for your body just like there’s no perfect “diet pill”.  It’s not rocket science.  To lose weight, eat less and exercise (in most cases).  Same with making food choices – eat in moderation, and eat a variety.  No sense in getting overwhelmed and freaked out!

Now go eat some meat!

These steaks may not be what I would consider moderation, but you can always share:)

These steaks may not be what I would consider moderation, but you can always share:)

This post originally ran on the CommonGround Nebraska blog.

To learn more about the CommonGround movement, click here.

Confessions of a GMO Convert

lynasA leading environmental activist and critic of genetically modified food recently announced the error of his ways and his conversion to being a supporter of biotech crops.

“I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment,” said author and activist Mark Lynas during an address last month to the Oxford Farming Conference.

Lynas explained his change of heart towards GM by saying, “I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.”

In his one hour address to the conference, Lynas made a strong appeal to both the environmental community and governments to see the importance of safe biotech crops in feeding a growing population, invoking the sacred name of Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution.

Before Borlaug died in 2009 he spent many years campaigning against those who for political and ideological reasons oppose modern innovation in agriculture. To quote: “If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years.”

And, thanks to supposedly environmental campaigns spread from affluent countries, we are perilously close to this position now. Biotechnology has not been stopped, but it has been made prohibitively expensive to all but the very biggest corporations.

Worth reading, watching and quoting.

Growing African Agriculture

As Africa’s economy is growing and the population is urbanizing, more people are getting removed from food production – but some are calling on Africa to “think agriculture” for jobs.

af-ag“Agriculture should be Africa’s number one priority, especially when it comes to employment,” said Philippe Egger, Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Bureau of Programming and Management, in a recent commentary on the ILO website.

The reality is that agriculture in Africa has been neglected by governments, international development lenders and policy advisers alike. This carries a high cost: Per capita food production has barely grown over the last 50 years, at a pace of 0.06 per cent a year. With the population rising at 2.6 per cent a year, food imports have increased at an annual rate of 3.4 per cent since 1980, with cereals accounting for the largest share. Africa receives close to half of the world’s total cereal food aid.

Yields are comparatively low at an average of 1.3 tons per hectare of harvested land, less than half the world average. Yields have increased at an annual rate of just over 1 per cent, while the world average grew 2 per cent.

Egger suggests that Africa needs to focus on “raising food output per unit of land among the large majority of small-holders” by using an “agriculture first” strategy that includes “wider use of fertilizer and sound water management techniques; support to rural infrastructure and market access; and agricultural research.” But there is no mention of increasing use of biotech crops.

While there is no official ban on growing GMO crops in most of Africa, Europe’s restriction on imports of biotech crops has a significant impact on what farmers in Africa will plant.

A recent story in Europe’s Farmers Weekly, written by a farmer from the UK, claims that the European Union’s GM policy is “starving Africa.”

The EU is a market for much African produce and these restrictions are preventing many African farmers from growing GM crops. GM crops that could improve yields dramatically, or are more drought tolerant, or resistant to local pests, are being overlooked.

Bluntly, children in Africa are starving because their farmers are frightened to grow GM crops for fear that they will be unable to sell their produce.

That is blunt – probably a bit exaggerated as well – but the point is that both African food production and employment could benefit from growing more biotech crops. Bluntly, biotech crops increase yields which grows the agricultural economy – and helps feed starving children.

Minnesota Corn Growers Court Taiwan

The 2012 drought caused a little shake up in the top four corn producing states that produce more than a billion bushels a year. Normally Iowa and Illinois take the top two spots – sometimes Illinois is first but mostly it’s Iowa. Nebraska takes third and Minnesota usually comes in 4th. Last year, however, Minnesota moved up to second place because they actually increased corn production while the other three states were down due to the drought.

mn-corn-taiwanEncouraged by such a good year, the Minnesota corn growers are aggressively pursuing export markets and recently went on a trade mission to Taiwan. “We just want to emphasize that we had a very good crop this past year,” said Minnesota Corn Growers Association president Tom Haag, who noted that they also stressed the safety of genetically-modified corn. “We’re feeding them to our own livestock, so it’s safe for them to feed.”

Haag says they were able to meet with high level government and industry officials in Taiwan during the trade mission and would like to return the favor. “Every two years Taiwan has a mission to the U.S.,” he said. A delegation goes to Washington, D.C., to sign an agreement regarding corn purchases and then they visit corn producing states. “Two years ago when they came, they missed Minnesota as a state to visit and we were over there to convince them to come this time to show off our state,” said Haag.

Corn is Taiwan’s top agricultural import from the United States, with an annual trade value of $805 million.

Chicken Wing Shortage Claims Are as Bogus as the Calls of a Replacement Referee

Frozen Chicken Wings in Cold StorageNewspapers, online sources and television reports alike have spent days now terrifying a hungry public with reports that party food favorite buffalo chicken wings will be in short supply this Super Bowl. Linking the supposed shortage to a variety of factors, from the drought to government biofuels policy, these reporters need to check their readily available facts.

Chicken wings will be abundant for the Sunday night football festivities in 2013. Actually, chicken wing supplies are currently 68 percent higher than at this time last year. All of the commotion is for naught.

Using data available to the public, and to the reporters who promote this bogus story, the above chart details the amount of chicken wings in cold storage over the past few years. This information, updated monthly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides unbiased, factual data about our nation’s food situation. As it turns out, there will be wings enough for all.

So how does such blatantly false fodder gain national attention?

A group, interested in whipping up public panic and a loud uproar that could work to their own benefit, concocts a pace quickening story that ties directly into a major event. Media outlets, looking for a quick space filler that will attract attention without creating additional work for already strapped staffers, picks up said story. Then, the attention grabbing atrocity takes on a life of its own.

The age old strategy might have worked too. If only it weren’t for those pesky publicly available government reports.

So go ahead and invite a few extra friends over for the big game without fearing a fight will break out over the wings. America’s farmers have you covered.

Crying Fowl on the Chicken Council

Big Food is running in circles to rehash old – and incorrect – claims about renewable fuel.

This time, it’s the National Chicken Council trying to scare football fans about the supply of chicken wings, and it’s déjà vu all over again: the industry repeatedly ignores the true drivers of food costs.

Despite the Chicken Council’s claims, the poultry industry hardly seems to be cutting back on feed and animal production.

Click here for the full post as it originally ran on the Fuels America blog.

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