Corn Commentary

Support Solid Science, Speak Out for Solid Journalism

This weekend, The Washington Post stood up to the fear-fueled tactics of anti-GMO activists in a brilliant editorial, “Genetically Modified Crops Could Help Improve the Lives of Millions.” The piece, which points out the incredible benefit GMOs offer for both farmers and anyone who depends upon them, denounces the anti-GMO movement for its promotion of mandatory labeling and outright bans.

Noting that consumers wishing for whatever reason to avoid GMOs can do so by simply buying food bearing the “organic” label, the Post brings common sense back into a discussion where it often has been sorely lacking. Furthermore, the piece focuses on the real victims of the anti-GMO movement – the starving and malnourished stating:

“The prospect of helping to feed the starving and improve the lives of people across the planet should not be nipped because of the self-indulgent fretting of first-world activists.”

Discussing both the anti-GMO laws passed in Oregon and other states, and proposed labeling that would “stigmatize products with a label that suggests the potential for harm,” the editors take a straight forward position in defense of this important technology saying:

“Voters and their representatives should worry less about “Frankenfood” and more about the vast global challenges that genetically modified crops can help address.”

Predictably, a small but vocal contingent of science-eschewing activists launched an immediate assault in the comments section. Clearly, the level-headed, clearly constructed piece pointed out both the logical fallacies in their arguments and the real results their proposed policies would inflict.

Take a stand in support of The Washington Post’s editorial staff. Click here to make sure the voices of farmers and those who depend on them are not drowned out. The Post took a stand which many have longed to see in mass media, one that is supported by science and un-intimidated by the fringe. Let them know that their efforts did not fall upon deaf ears.

Corn is Coming Along

ky-corn-14There are a few states that are still struggling, but overall the corn crop is off to a great start.

Lots of farmers were in the fields over the Memorial Day holiday, planting over one fourth of the nation’s crop last week to tie the five year average at 88 percent, according to USDA. Emergence is catching up with 60 percent of the crop out of the ground, just four points behind the average.

“Modern farm technology allowed farmers across the country to spring into action and plant at a pace unimaginable just a few decades ago,” said National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre of Illinois. “America’s corn farmers can plant faster, taking better advantage of shorter windows of time, and this definitely benefits America’s economy and consumers in the end. Today, we can produce abundance in the face of adversity.”

Check out the Wall Street Journal’s look about “Planting Corn at Warp Speed” – people need to know this stuff!

Put Your FFA Jacket in the Smithsonian?

You know how they refer to outlaw motorcycle gangs like Hell’s Angels as 1 percenters? Well, I jokingly referred to the omnipresent blue corduroy jacket ffa jacket historicalwearing FFA members in high school as 2 percenters. That’s because only about 2 percent of the population had a real shot at becoming a farmer and feeding the world.

There are more than 20 million jobs in this country that are in related agricultural fields but the number of people who will make a career of farming is even lower today. Pretty elite company and many never parted with their old trusty jacket. Now you might have a shot to put yours in the Smithsonian museum.

No, I am not kidding. A new exhibit entitled “American Enterprise” is scheduled to open in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum next summer and agriculture will be well represented in the exhibit including FFA. Specifically, they are looking for a jacket that tells a great personal story and how FFA affected the wearer’s life.

If “Old Blue” was retired years ago the Smithsonian also wants to hear your story anyway about how FFA gave you purpose and direction and landed you on a tractor instead of a motorcycle.

 

Fight Back Against AAA

If the president of AAA had to take a true/false test on ethanol, he would probably score FFF.

According to AAA President & CEO Bob Darbelnet, “More than 90 percent of the vehicles on the road today are not approved by manufacturers to use E15, including most 2001-2013 models.” Notice how he carefully words this misrepresentation “not approved by manufacturers.” This is based on the owner’s manuals of the vehicles, which were all written before extensive testing proved that higher blends of ethanol are perfectly safe for them, allowing the government to approve the use of E15 blends in 2001 and newer vehicles.

aaa-cancelThis November 2013 statement by Darbelnet was used by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an article about Missouri approving the retail sale of E15 this month.

That made Missouri Corn Growers CEO Gary Marshall mad enough to cancel his 33-year membership with AAA and write a letter to Darbelnet explaining why and pointing out the facts.

“Approximately 80 percent of the vehicles on the road today are 2001 or newer and approved by the EPA to use the ethanol blend,” wrote Marshall. “In terms of possible engine damage, E15 is sold in 12 other states with no issues reported. We are unaware of AAA’s Roadside Assistance program picking up a single driver stranded alongside the road due to an engine issue caused by E15.”

If your organization is concerned about warranties, it should be noted E15 wasn’t approved by EPA when many vehicle owner’s manuals were written. Just like aftermarket fuel additives, such as stabilizers and octane boosters, specific fuels or additives are not always listed in a vehicle’s owner manual. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, use of these non-mentioned fuels and fuel additives does not necessarily void a vehicle warranty. In fact, vehicle manufacturers may not deny a warranty claim based on use of a different fuel if that fuel did not contribute to the problem for which the warranty claim is made.

Marshall informed Darbelnet that he is canceling his membership because he refuses “to support an organization so clearly aligned with the oil industry.” Every member of my family is also a long-time AAA member. I just used it last week when I was driving to Ft. Lauderdale with my oldest daughter to see my family and our car broke down halfway into a 10 hour trip. I’ve never had a problem with their service and it gives me great piece of mind to know that our daughters have someone to call if they have car trouble.

However, there are alternatives. According to Consumer Reports, there’s actually “an army of other businesses” offering roadside assistance plans – including insurance companies, carmakers, oil companies, credit-card issuers, even cell-phone service providers.

We’re looking at our options now and plan to cancel our AAA membership as soon as possible. No reason to support a company so outspokenly against a fuel we believe it and the farmers who make it possible.

GMO Bans Threaten Farming Freedom

“This is just the beginning,” says Rebecca Spector with the Center for Food Safety about new laws passed this week in two Oregon counties banning the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops.

no-farmsAnd that is a scary thought. We’re talking about making laws telling farmers they cannot grow perfectly legal crops. The initiatives in both Josephine County and Jackson County passed overwhelmingly – by a whopping 32% in one of them! These counties border California and produce mainly fruit, potatoes and livestock.

Oregon has a right-to-farm law and last year the state legislature passed a law preempting local governments from regulating genetically engineered crops. However, since Jackson County’s GMO measure was already approved for the ballot, it was exempted from that bill. And supporters of the ban say it is “well crafted” to withstand a legal challenge to the right-to-farm law and Oregon’s constitution.

Farmers in Oregon are understandably worried. “This isn’t Monsanto or Syngenta, these are local farms that have been farming the way they have chosen here in the valley for generations,” said Ian Tolleson of the Oregon Farm Bureau. “Regrettably ideology has won over sound science and common sense.”

Indeed. And what are farmers to do about it? How on earth are we to win this battle with only sound science and common sense on our side? Remember, this is just the beginning, and the very future of farming is at stake.

Women Finding “Common Ground” Through Food and Talk

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from CommonGround Minnesota volunteer and social media maven Wanda Patsche. In her post, Patsche offers links to common questions CommonGround volunteers hear and offers the inside scoop on the group’s recent dinner event.

Women Finding “Common Ground” Through Food and Talk

Cooks of Crocus Hill.

Cooks of Crocus Hill.

What happens when 24 urban women join 5 farm women and cook a meal together?  Let’s just say you would have seen a roomful of conversations, joy, and camaraderie. Food is an emotional topic for many of us and this night of talking about food and preparing it was no exception. We talked, laughed and truly enjoyed each other’s company and at the end of the night, learned a little more about each other. Yes, we found common ground through food and talk.

CommonGround is a volunteer organization of farm women who connect with other women answering questions they may have about their food. CommonGround invited a cross-section of women from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to participate in a cooking class held at Cooks at Crocus Hill. These women represented academia, mommy bloggers, nutrition and dietetics and media.

Cooks of Crocus Hill is a kitchen cookware and gadget store in St. Paul.  In addition to their retail store, they also provide cooking classes. Their cooking philosophy surrounds two words –joy and connection. And that describes our evening as we cooked and enjoyed a meal together. The evening started with wine and appetizers, followed by a short introduction of the CommonGround volunteers. We immediately broke into five random groups, where each group was assigned to cook a certain portion of the meal. Just imagine a large kitchen with nearly 30 women cooking and preparing a meal together! You may think chaos, but it was the exact opposite. The cooks of Crocus Hill had everything in place and were very helpful in keeping us on task. Here is the menu that we prepared (along with recipes and pictures!):

Warm French Herbed Potatoes

Roasted Root Vegetables with Gremolata

Boston Bibb Salad with Walnuts

Pork Medallions with Mustard-Braised Leeks

Fresh Berry Mini-Shortcakes

As we were preparing the meal, the chefs gave us cooking tips and information. I must admit I grilled Chef Mike on how he cooks pork. Let’s just say he knows his “pork.” When we finished, it was time to eat. And I must say, the food was fabulous!

There is no question there is a food movement happening in our society.  People are wanting to cook more healthy foods in their own homes and even though I am a “church cookbook” type of cook, I would definitely make these dishes again. My favorites were the pork medallions (they were so moist and tender they practically melted in your mouth – cooked the way pork was meant to be cooked) and the berry shortcakes (can you say heavenly?)

After we finished eating, the CommonGround volunteers sat together in front of our guests for a Q & A forum. With food being such an emotional topic, no question was off the table. The majority of the questions centered around animal antibiotic use and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). There were great questions and we as CommonGround learned a lot also by listening to concerns and questions our guests had about the health and safety of food. Something we all share.

On a personal note – I don’t think you can downplay the openness and connectedness that I saw with this roomful of women.  Another observation was the genuine passion for agriculture showed by the CommonGround volunteers. It really took me aback as I listened to the other volunteers speak . I am proud to be a part of this group.

At the end of the night, I was pleased how well the evening went. I had never been to a cooking class before and somewhat sheepishly, I must admit that I am not very adventurous in my cooking endeavors. But that may change! The only problem of the evening? It ended too soon! Great comments of the night were received and many of them told us they hoped to be invited again. And I do too.

Do you have food questions? Be sure to check out CommonGround  or Minnesota’s CommonGround for answers to your questions!

Here are a few more links to other questions you may have about your food.

Why It Is Okay to Feed Your Family GMOs

Top 5 GMOs Myths From a Mom’s Perspective

Why I’m Pro-GMO

Antibiotics are Rampant in our Food Supply

CommonGround is a program to increase awareness among urban and suburban consumers of the value of modern production agriculture in their lives.  As the name implies, the program emphasizes that urban and farm families share the same values and concerns and that urban consumers can trust the process and the people that provide their food.

With more Americans growing up in urban and suburban areas, miles from farm life, there is an increasing disconnect between consumers and the people who grow their food.  CommonGround is an effort to tell the truth about modern agriculture – that thanks to modern American farmers, U.S. families enjoy the safest, healthiest and most affordable food choices in the world.

CommonGround is a shared collaboration between the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates.  It is built upon broad messages that promote modern agriculture of all kinds.  It does not focus on corn or soy issues necessarily, but rather works to promote the importance of our country’s efficient and effective system of agriculture.

To find out more about CommonGround, click here.

Potential for Ethanol Exports to China

A trade mission to China last week revealed great potential for U.S. ethanol producers.

china1The USDA-led a mission to promote U.S. biofuels and agricultural product exports was part of President Obama’s “Made in Rural America” export and investment initiative, designed to help rural businesses and leaders take advantage of new investment opportunities and access new customers and markets abroad. Leaders from state departments of agriculture in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington participated in the mission, along with representatives from 28 U.S. biofuels and agriculture companies and organizations.

Growth Energy Chief Economist Jim Miller, who formerly served as USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, participated in the trip led by the current under secretary Michael Scuse. “Our goal was really to gauge what are the intermediate term opportunities to export ethanol to China, as well as to discuss the situation concerning our exports of distillers dried grains to China, which happens to be our largest export market for that commodity,” said Miller during a telephone press conference Tuesday regarding the mission.

National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson says the trip revealed that the potential ethanol export market in China is substantial. “Demand for ethanol is high, and domestic production meets less than half of their projected ethanol needs,” said Johnson. “However, in order to meet this demand, it is clear that we must first resolve some government regulatory and environmental issues.” Johnson added that there are issues with exports of the ethanol co-product distillers grains (DDGs) to China. “DDG exports to China will likely continue to be difficult and sporadic until China modifies its biotech approval process so it is comparable to that of the rest of the world,” he said.

Kelly Davis of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) was also on the trip. Listen to their observations here: China Mission Press Conference Opening Remarks

WRRDA Flows Out of Conference

wrrdaThe long-awaited Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) conference report was released by House and Senate negotiators on Thursday, to the great relief of agricultural interests and others who wondered if they would ever see the day.

Conference committee member Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL) is pleased with the final outcome. “The conference report I believe is a well balanced piece of legislation that takes into consideration the Senate needs and the House needs,” Davis said. “I’m just excited to get this bill across the finish line – the first one since 2007.”

The legislation is designed to “strengthen the nation’s transportation network, keep America competitive in the global marketplace, and reform and streamline the way we move forward with improvements to our ports, locks, dams, and other water resources infrastructure.” Davis expects the conference report to pass both houses of Congress with little opposition. “And we’ll chalk it up as a success in bi-partisanship and move on to other work that we’ve got to get done,” he added. The legislation is expected to come to the floor next week.

Listen to our interview with Rep. Davis here: Rep. Rodney Davis interview on WRRDA

Planting Zooms Ahead on Potential Record Crop

USDA is calling for record corn and soybean crops in the first outlook report for the 2014-2015 season. Chief economist Joe Glauber says corn production is forecast at just a little bit more than last year’s record crop with higher expected yields more than offsetting a reduction in planted area.

corn-emerge“What would be a record yield at 165.3 bushels per acre,” he said. Glauber says they are also expecting higher ending stocks but lower prices compared to this year. “I think we’re looking at a season average corn price of around $4.25, which I might add is higher than what we were carrying back at Outlook Conference when we were thinking prices would potentially be below $4, but still down 10% from this year.”

USDA is also forecasting a record soybean crop for the U-S at 3.635 billion bushels and record global production.

Of course it all depends on the weather, but USDA meteorologist Brad Rippy says Mother Nature helped corn planting seriously pick up the pace last week. “For just the single week ending May 11, we saw 30% of the U.S. corn planting during that seven day period,” he said. “The overall progress by May 11 reached 59%, that is now ahead of the five year average and more than twice last year’s pace.”

“All it takes is good weather, good equipment and long hours for our farmers to be able to catch up,” said NCGA President Martin Barbre. Out in front is Iowa with nearly half the state’s corn acreage was planted last week, with the state going from 23 percent to 70 percent planted. Some states however, such as North Dakota, are still lagging behind at 3 percent, with Michigan and Wisconsin following at 20 percent.

Meanwhile, corn emergence also continues to catch up, with 18 percent of the crop now emerged, compared to the five-year average of 25 percent.

What Do They Know that We Don’t?

Working in agriculture, you see a lot of research detailing consumers’ biggest questions about the foods that they eat and how farmers grow them. The same concerns come up over and over. If you are a communicator, you look for ways to break through the noise with real, honest answers. I worry about what I eat like anyone else. I understand why confusion over what is or isn’t healthy is a real cause for concern.

Today, a story came to my attention that directly addressed one of the concerns which I hear echoed most frequently.

“Why don’t Europeans eat GMOs if they are safe? What do they know that we don’t?”

While I have heard many scientists address this issue in lectures by offering detailed examinations of the difference between a science-based and politically-based regulatory system, The Independent, a British paper, published an article that cut to the heart of what Europeans really know about GMOs.

Interviewing United Kingdom Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, journalist Tom Bowden found the EU scientists know GMOs are actually safe.

“These products go through the most rigorous system. It’s extraordinarily closely regulated, at a national level and at a European level,” said Paterson. “We have not come up with any evidence of human health being threatened by these products.”

Questioned after his speech on whether the safety case for GM crops over conventional one was clear cut, Paterson said: “This isn’t speculation. We have had a categoric statement from the [European Commission's] chief scientific officer and you have the biggest field trial in human history when you think of the colossal volume of GM material that has been eaten in all those countries growing GM food.”

Paterson demonstrates how scientific understanding of the processes used to develop and regulate GMO crops does inspire trust. So much so that he hopes to “make Britain a centre for GM research and development.”

In short, the scientific experts who carefully examine GMOs day in and day out overwhelmingly embrace GMO technology. European policy shows the stains of politicians pandering to fear-based fanatics. Moving American public policy to more closely align to European on this issue would be move our country further away from the forward-facing, innovative system we know today.

In honestly answering this question despite propaganda-propelled public sentiment, Paterson’s words address not only the situation in Europe but that in America as well. EU policies are not anti-GMO because they have scientific evidence that we do not. They are anti-GMO because their public refuses to listen.



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