Corn Commentary

Pure Science: Lynas Advocates for GMOs

Many have heard that Mark Lynas, who once opposed GMOs, became an advocate after further exploring the science behind this technology. What motivated him? In short, climate change.

While pro-GMO climate change activists may not have gained as much press as some of their counterparts, for many like Lynas, climate change serves as an important motivation to advocate for GMOs. In an interview published in The Huffington Post, Lynas explained how his support for GMOs and biotechnology actually springs from his passion for reducing climate change.

“I strongly feel that we need biotech and GMOS are only a component — but an essential part of the bigger picture on how we can make agriculture more sustainable while we feed a growing population,” Lynas said in the interview.

“The longer-term agenda here is to make agriculture as intensive as possible on the smallest land area as possible while making that intensive agriculture environmentally friendly. So at the same time we’re sparing large acres of natural landscape from being plowed up. The ultimate goal is to allow a re-wilding across as much of the planetary surface as possible.

“I’m quite deep green about this, and that’s my real motivation for pushing the GMO case and you couldn’t abandon the climate change narrative.”

For the full article, click here.

Lynas acknowledges in the article that many farmers urge science-based consideration of GMOs and reject climate change science. He urges a greater acceptance but, in doing so, he shows how so many agricultural practices already in place actually benefit the environment.

“Precision agriculture by and large is a step forward from throwing granular fertilizers all over the place. And your productivity of labor is the most important thing. Back in the day farm laborers were doing everything by hand. Having 80 percent of the population working the land like in some African countries is much worse from a food security standpoint.

“While it is true that only 1-2 percent of Americans are directly engaged in farming, it is probably too small of a number. Because you have all sorts of issues with people are so disconnected from farming and how their food is produced and then we have this silly fight over GMOs.”

Politics can make strange bedfellows. Lynas came to support GMO through climate change. Maybe, if farming looks closely, opportunities lie in finding mutual interest with others supportive of science off the farm.

Sing Agriculture’s Praises

agdayIf there ever was an American success story, it is agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is fond of talking about how today’s farmers and ranchers make it possible for people like him to be a lawyer, or for any of us to pursue any career, because we don’t have to worry about the production of our own food. Just think about that for a minute. The progress of civilization has meant that less and less people have to produce their own food. But there are some people who look at farmers as “Old McDonalds” who have become “Big Ag” and care nothing for the environment or the people they feed.

A video published recently to YouTube by a group called Only Organic attacks the good farmers and ranchers of this country in a most repugnant way, using children to basically accuse them of crimes against nature. Singing the Old McDonald kids song with lyrics about pesticides and GMOs and hormones and antibiotics, these children were fed a diet of fear and hate by agenda-driven adults. It’s scary and sad.

In response to the video, a diverse group of farmers representing all types of production practices responded with one voice during an Only Organic Twitter party last week to “celebrate the video”. According to U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance CEO Randy Krotz, what happened was that both conventional and organic producers criticized the video for being misleading and unfair. And they used dialogue to share what happens on their individual farms and called for an end of “farmer bashing”.

“We have farmers that grow both organic and conventional crops,” said Krotz. “It’s concerning to see people trying to demonize today’s agriculture and promote only their type of food production.”

Krotz says they are reaching out to Only Organic and food companies that support the organization to engage in dialogue rather than attacks. “Farmers and ranchers have the tools to tell their stories, even in hostile environments,” he said. “And organic and conventional farmers who respect each other are beginning to work together to make sure that truthful information gets to consumers.”

It’s hard to believe that such a successful American industry which literally feeds the world can be so constantly and relentlessly attacked by critics who think they can do it better. Ironically, it is because of the success of our food production system that they have the time to sit around and complain about how their food is produced.

National Ag Day and everyday we should sing the praises of farmers and ranchers to drown out the noise of those attacking them with mouths full of hate and fear.

Putting Agriculture in the Political Spotlight

iowa-summitNine potential Republican presidential candidates were asked their opinions on various agricultural issues at the Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines on Saturday.

Comments made by at the event by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are still generating stories from major national news sources.

Over 270 journalists who attended the event, representing most if not all of the major news outlets nationwide, heard about some of the top issues for agriculture including trade, regulations, conservation, food safety, biotechnology, renewable fuels, and immigration as each taking candidate sat down on a stage with agribusiness entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter for about 20 minutes.

The main focus of the event was to get the potential candidates to take a stand on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Six of the nine expressed at least conditional support, including Wisconsin Governor Walker who recently had been criticized by biofuel producers in his state for not taking a stand on the law. Three of the candidates – Cruz, Pataki, and Perry – came out firmly against the RFS, while at the same time saying they supported ethanol and other renewable fuels.

couser-cruzThe summit was organized with the support of America’s Renewable Future, a quasi-political campaign for the RFS introduced earlier this year. Co-chair Bill Couser, pictured here with Sen. Cruz, says their goal is to educate potential presidential candidates.

“Show them why we do this, how we do this, and say what do you think?” said Couser, an Iowa cattle producer and ethanol advocate. “I can say, let’s go look at a corn field, let’s go look at a feedlot, let’s go look at some windmills, let’s go look at Lincolnway Energy, and then let’s go to the DuPont plant right next door and I’ll show you what we’re doing with the whole plant and being sustainable.”

Couser says they plan to approach all potential presidential candidates individually and invite them to visit and learn more about agriculture and renewable energy, including Hillary Clinton. “Wouldn’t that be something if she showed up?” he said.

Listen to my interview with Bill at the recent National Ethanol Conference here: Interview with Bill Couser, America's Renewable Future Co-Chair

Leno Anti-Ethanol Rant Smells Like BO

leno-e85-corvetteThis picture from an April 2008 Popular Mechanics article written by former Tonight Show host Jay Leno shows him with a 2006 Corvette Z06 that he said “has a top speed of 208 mph and runs on a homegrown alternative to gasoline – cleaner burning E85 ethanol.”

In this interview with DomesticFuel in 2007, Leno talks about biodiesel specifically but all renewable fuels in general about being good for America and agriculture. “We try to support companies that make products here in America,” he said. “To me, it’s a great thing to see people no longer losing their farms because they can’t make a crop that’s viable anymore …you support the farmers, they watch my TV show, I buy their products.” 2007 Interview with Jay Leno on Renewable Fuels

Leno is a car enthusiast who has always supported renewable fuels, so his full-out attack monologue on ethanol this week in AutoWeek has to leave one wondering what inspired him to write it, since it has the distinctive smell of B.O. – that would be Big Oil.

Leno’s attack is not only blatantly false, but mean-spirited.

I just don’t see the need for ethanol. I understand the theory—these giant agri-business companies can process corn, add the resulting blend to gasoline and we’ll be using and importing less gasoline. But they say this diversion of the corn supply is negatively affecting food prices, and the ethanol-spiked gas we’re forced to buy is really awful.

The big growers of corn have sold us a bill of goods. Some people are making a lot of money because of ethanol. But as they divert production from food to fuel, food prices inevitably will rise. Now, if you don’t mind paying $10 for a tortilla …

Say it ain’t so, Leno. You seem like a basically nice guy we wouldn’t normally think would stoop to criticizing farmers. So, what gives?

Since the thrust of the article is contacting Congress to reform or eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard, it’s a good guess that there is some big money behind it.

Syndicated car show host and technician Bobby Likis also thinks Leno’s article seems uncharacteristic. “I cannot believe “what Jay said” is “what Jay really believes.” His words smack of otherwise invested horse-whisperers who use personal agendas to sway vulnerable-for-whatever-reason people towards their way,” says Likis in an editorial for the E-xchange Blog refuting all of Leno’s claims.

I love the title to Bobby’s counter article. With Leno’s article titled “Can’t we Just Get Rid of Ethanol,” Bobby responded, “Can’t We Just Get Rid of Ethanol Ignorance?” Can’t we?

Bill Nye Proves Why He Really Is a Science Guy

Science, at its heart, values the ability to examine issues, consider evidence and change one’s opinion when proof supports another theory. Science Guy Bill Nye illustrated the importance of re-evaluation this week by announcing that he has come to embrace GMOs.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported Nye, once publicly against GMOs, has come to embrace this important technology. The article explained:

“Backstage after an appearance on Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” Nye said an upcoming revision to his book would contain a rewritten chapter on GMOs. “I went to Monsanto,” Nye said, “and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there, and I have revised my outlook, and I’m very excited about telling the world. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.”

To read the story in full, click here.

While the change in Nye’s position does have some nuance, his overall shift opens a public conversation about the staggering science supporting the safety of GMOs.

“Debating GMOs’ benefits and risks is healthy,” the article concludes. “But making GMOs the bogeyman while giving other crops a pass isn’t.”

Scientific advancement has shown the world is not flat, the earth is not the center of the universe and many tenets once considered sacred should actually be reconsidered. While society often embraces these shifts of thought slowly, true scientist lead the way in advocating for thoughtful consideration of the evidence subsequent changes to popular opinion. So kudos, Bill Nye, on being a real science guy and supporting the science that shows the safety of GMOs.

#Classic15 Memorable Moments

classic15-knife-cuttingRibbon Cutting by Pocket Knife

The Commodity Classic trade show ribbon cutters were having a hard time with some dull scissors so it came down to a pocketknife to start the show. Good reason to pack it in your suitcase or drive to an event – you never know when that pocketknife can come in handy!

Record Crowd

Once again, Commodity Classic set new records for both the trade show and attendance. The trade show featured 355 booths and attendance broke the record on the first day with 7759 registered and more expected in the final numbers.

classic15-recordSecretary Makes 6th Classic Appearance

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has now attended more than one quarter of the 20 Commodity Classics, with his sixth appearance last week. Vilsack said he felt “in the presence of greatness” at the event, and spent much of his address talking about the importance of Trade Promotion Authority for the president in achieving new trade agreements. Vilsack Addresses Commodity Classic

classic15-vilsack-tradeVilsack Visits Trade Show

After spending the whole morning visiting with farmer leaders, addressing attendees, and meeting the press, Secretary Vilsack took a quick stroll through part of the Commodity Classic trade show before heading out. He visited each of the commodity organization booths, all of the USDA booths, and a few others along the way, like the Renewable Fuels Association.

2015 Commodity Classic Photo Album

EPA Official Apologizes to Ethanol Industry

nec15-grundlerLast year at the National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, EPA’s Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality told the ethanol industry that the agency intended to finalize the volume requirements for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by the end of spring 2014.

As everyone knows that never happened and at the 2015 National Ethanol Conference in Dallas last week, EPA’s Chris Grundler began his remarks to the industry with an apology. “I wanted to come to Texas and personally tell you all how sorry I am that we did not get our work done,” he said. “We did not finalize a standard in 2014 that I promised we would when I appeared before all of you in Orlando.”

Gundler offered no excuses but pledged to get the RFS back on track with a three year standard for 2014, 2015 and 2016 that they hope to have done by the end of this spring. “Obviously implementing the RFS has been very challenging for us,” he said, noting that finalizing annual rules has been a “tall order.”

Listen to all of Grundler’s remarks here: EPA's Chris Grundler at NEC 15

Grundler was the first person on the NEC program last week, following the traditional “State of the Industry” speech by Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president Bob Dinneen, who criticized EPA on several issues, including holding back expansion of 15% ethanol fuel (E15).

“E15 will never realize its full potential until there is parity with regard to EPA volatility regulations for E10 and E15,” said Dinneen in his State of the Industry speech at the 20th annual ethanol conference. “To date, the Agency has rejected our efforts to secure parity, thereby ensuring that E15 is at best a seasonal fuel, a huge disincentive for marketers to adopt E15 at their stations.”

In an interview following his remarks, Grundler said, “That’s one of the areas that Bob and I have vigorous debates on, because I’m questioning how big a factor that is in terms of the slow uptake in E15.”

Grundler said parity is not an issue in regions where reformulated gasoline is required. “That accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of our fuel supply …. including places like Chicago,” he said, adding that governors have the ability to petition EPA to remove this one pound RVP waiver for their states but they “have received no such petitions.”

Listen to Grundler’s answers to my questions here: EPA's Chris Grundler press questions

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

NASCAR Starts Fifth Year on E15

american-ethanol-fuelFuel with 15 percent ethanol, known as E15, has been approved for sale by the Environmental Protection Agency since January 2011. Two months later Sunoco Green E15 debuted at the 2011 Daytona 500.

American Ethanol
celebrated the start of the fifth year of its partnership with NASCAR at the Great American Race this weekend. “They’ve put over six million hard-earned miles at high RPMs on these race cars,” said Tom Buis of Growth Energy at the race on Sunday. “They got better performance, they didn’t lose mileage and they haven’t had a single problem.”

Interview with Tom Buis, Growth Energy, at Daytona 500

NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Brent Dewar says the partnership with American Ethanol has been very positive for them. “What we love about ethanol is not only is it a great renewable but it’s a great racing fuel, higher octane so it’s great performance for the drivers,” he said. “It’s also great for the environment, reduces greenhouse gases, homemade here in America …. it’s a win-win-win and in car races we’re all about winning!”

Interview with Brent Dewar, NASCAR, at Daytona 500

Growth Energy, the National Corn Growers Association, New Holland and POET-DSM are partners in American Ethanol with NASCAR.

nh-daytona-dillonAmerican Ethanol NASCAR driver Austin Dillon says he really supports the efforts American Ethanol and is proud to be part of it. “It’s funny that you wouldn’t think NASCAR would be a “green” sport” but what we’ve done with American Ethanol has helped us be the leader in sports with green American Ethanol,” said Dillon.

Dillon drove the number 33 car in the Xfinity Series Alert Today Florida 300 race at Daytona Speedway on Saturday and the #3 car in the Daytona 500 race for Richard Childress Racing.

Interview with NASCAR driver Austin Dillon

CommonGround Volunteers Take Stories from behind the Farm Gate to Consumers Over Breakfast Plates

Today, Corn Commentary shares a guest post authored by Iowa farmer and CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney. The narrative, which discusses her recent work taping an episode of “The Balancing Act” on GMOs, originally ran on her blog www.farmeatscitystreets.com.

TV Interviews and Kid-Friendly Sloppy Joes

I have been traveling a little bit lately. Not a ton, but just enough to scratch the itch of getting out of town for a while and being around some amazing, brilliant people (and great friends, too!). I couldn’t pass up the opportunity last week to travel to Florida to tape an interview with The Balancing Act on Lifetime Network. The host, Julie Moran, asked me all kinds of questions about food, farming and GMOs.

Kelsey Pope, a rancher from Colorado, also did an interview about her ranch and how they care for their cattle. I hadn’t met Kelsey before, but was so impressed with her and loved hearing about her ranch. I’m thinking a trip to Colorado for a nice, juicy steak on her ranch might be in order.

balancingact-juliekenneykelseypope

Working from home and around the farm these days doesn’t lend itself to getting dolled up much anymore, so having someone do my hair and makeup was an added bonus! After the interview, Julie Moran gave us a tour of her dressing room and wardrobe collection. If she wasn’t an itty bitty size 2, I might have asked to borrow something. Kidding (kind of).

balancingact-juliemoranjuliekenney

My interview is scheduled to air on Lifetime Network in April and Kelsey’s will be on in April and May. I’ll let you know when the exact dates are set.

To read the full post, including how Kenney sets her family up for success at the dinner table while she shares stories from the farm with consumers at their breakfast tables, click here.

Interested in CommonGround and how it brings together the women who grow and raise food with those who buy it? Visit www.findourcommonground.com to learn more about the women at the heart of this program, which is supported through a collaboration of NCGA, USB and their state affiliates.

A Billion Gallons of Ethanol from One Plant

Golden Grain Energy in Mason City, Iowa is celebrating the production of its one billionth gallon of ethanol this month.

That’s a lot of ethanol over the course of ten years from a plant with a nameplate capacity of 115 million gallons per year. Nameplate means they are capable of producing that much per year, and often that goal is not attained in a year for various reasons – like drought, for example. This means Golden Grain had to have achieved its nameplate goal almost every year for a decade, falling only 150 million gallons short of the most they could have possibly produced.

That billion gallons represents over 351 million bushels of corn.

gge-billion-shirtsGolden Grain Energy celebrated the milestone on Monday with special guests including Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Plant employees wore special t-shirts to note the occasion calling it the Billion Gallon Club.

“This is a huge occasion for the plant, the staff, and the community as a whole,” said Chad Kuhlers, Chief Operations Officer of Golden Grain Energy. “I believe we are the first single location ethanol plant in the country to reach this production mark and it couldn’t have been done without the support from the shareholders, community and the great work from our employees over the years.”

American Coalition for Ethanol Executive Vice President Brian Jennings noted that the impact of just that single plant on the local economy is significant. “Golden Grain Energy has … paid out more than $2 billion dollars to corn farmers, suppliers and service providers, and employees, and returned nearly $137 million dollars to its investors,” said Jennings.

The plant was started by 900 area farmers and citizens, broke ground in the fall of 2003, and started producing its very first gallons at the end of 2004.



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