Corn Commentary

Biopolymers – Cutting Edge Technology

USDA Joe RichDuring this year’s Corn Utilization Technology Conference biopolymers took the stage first when the program moved into breakout sessions. Leading this session was Joe Rich, research leader of the Renewable Products Technology Group at the National Center of Agricultural Utilization Research.

I first asked him to explain what a biopolymer is. Joe says biopolymers are a wide ranging group of materials that are used in plastic products, clothing and more. A biopolymer is a material made from a renewable resource like corn rather than a petroleum. The presentations in his session focused on different applications for biopolymers and how they can be produced. One of the key take aways Joe wanted attendees to have from the session was a “need for new materials.” Interestingly, some of the biopolymer materials discussed in the presentations don’t even have applications created for them yet. How’s that for cutting edge technology!

Listen to my interview with Joe here: Interview with Joe Rich

2014 CUTC Photo Album

Be Proud to Support American Ethanol

As we prepare to celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, many of us will be out on the roads driving to see family, friends and fireworks. But, thanks to upheaval in a little country halfway across the world, gas prices are up again so we are going to be paying more at the pump, a stark reminder that we are not so independent when it comes to our energy sources.

ethanol-prideNational Corn Growers Association president Martin Barbre says that this Independence Day, more than ever before, it’s important for us to remember the great strides our country has made in moving toward energy independence and to keep moving forward, not backward.

“The Environmental Protection Agency wants a 10 percent reduction in corn ethanol this year, and earlier this year nearly 200,000 people around the country demanded the EPA not cut the Renewable Fuel Standard,” says Barbre. “Because it’s produced here in the United States, every gallon of ethanol blended into fuel means a gallon of gas from foreign oil that we don’t need. It provides a cushion in times such as these with Mideast violence and gives drivers a choice that helps clear the air and boost the economy.”

He suggests that all Americans (especially farmers!) do their part to support domestically produced ethanol. Buy a flex fuel vehicle. If you already have an FFV, fill up with E85 whenever possible and if it’s not available at your gas station, tell the manager you want it.

Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen also reminds us that ethanol saves Americans money at the pump, stretches the fuel supply and is the perfect remedy for skyrocketing gas prices.

In this interview Dinneen talks about that, as well as the new milestone reached this week in cellulosic ethanol production and why the government needs to be expanding the use of biofuels rather than contemplating scaling back our nation’s renewable energy policy and striking a blow for American energy independence. Share it with your friends on social media.

Ethanol Report on Energy Independence

Filling up with domestic, renewable ethanol is a great way to celebrate our great nation’s 238th birthday, and we at NCGA wish everyone a memorable and safe holiday weekend.

Corn Fiber is Pathway to Cellulosic Ethanol

quad-countyThe very first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol gallons flowed from the Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) distillation unit in Galva, Iowa this week, made from a “bolt-on” process that allows a plant to convert the kernel’s corn fiber into cellulosic ethanol, in addition to traditional corn starch ethanol.

“Our Adding Cellulosic Ethanol (ACE) project will not only increase our plant’s production capacity by 6 percent, but it will also continue to boost energy security and provide consumers with more low-cost, cleaner-burning ethanol without adding any additional corn to the production process,” said QCCP CEO Delayne Johnson, who also noted the new technology will improve the plant’s distillers grains (DDGs) co-product. “As a result of the new process, the DDGs will be much more similar to a corn gluten meal. It will increase the protein content of the livestock feed by about 40 percent, and we also expect to see a boost in corn oil extraction by about 300 percent,” he said.

corn-cobsOddly enough, within 24 hours after Quad County made that announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency gave its final blessing to allow crop residue such as corn fiber to qualify as a fuel pathway for the production of cellulosic biofuel. EPA decided that crop residue actually does meet the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction requirements for cellulosic biofuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) provided that “producers include in their registration specific information about the types of residues which will be used, and record and report to EPA the quantities and specific types of residues used.”

“Cellulosic ethanol and corn ethanol are not mutually exclusive,” says Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen. “There are synergies that will make the production of both at existing facilities very attractive.”

Cellulosic ethanol is no longer a “phantom fuel” and corn is helping it become a reality.

Corn Acres are Lower but Weather is Key

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is now estimating corn acreage planted is at 91.6 million acres, down 4 percent from last year, which represents the lowest planted acreage in the United States since 2010, but still the fifth-largest acreage planted since 1944.

USDA chief economist Joe Glauber says with the numbers in, the attention shifts from acres to weather and yield prospects. “July is a very important month for corn,” said Glauber. “So for the next six weeks, the attention is going to be shifting to what those yields look like.”

corn-damageAs of Sunday, the corn crop was looking pretty good, according to meteorologist Brad Rippey. “The corn now 75% good to excellent on June 29, an increase of one percent from a week ago, eight points better than this time in 2013,” Rippey says.

Rippey notes there are problem areas like Minnesota with 10% of the crop in poor to very poor condition due to flooding. And since the crop progress survey was done on Sunday, corn fields in Iowa, like the one pictured here, were literally flattened after severe storms brought heavy rain, hail and high winds.

Just saw a meme that seems applicable. “Mother Nature is not only bipolar, but clearly off her meds.” Keep that in mind farmers, you are at the whim of a crazy lady.

Hillary Clinton Favors Biotech Crops

hillary-bioHillary Clinton seems to be everywhere these days and this week she spent over an hour at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) convention in San Diego chatting with BIO president and CEO Jim Greenwood, a former congressman from Pennsylvania.

The wide ranging discussion touched on a variety of topics, including agricultural biotechnology. Greenwood asked Mrs. Clinton where she stood on the use of genetically modified crops. “I stand in favor of using seeds and products that have a proven track record,” said the former first lady, adding that the case needs to be made for those who are skeptical. “There is a big gap between what the facts are and what the perceptions are,” she said, receiving applause from the packed crowd that included as many as possible of the 15,000 attendees at the convention.

Clinton noted that focusing on the benefits in terminology of the crops could help. “Genetically modified sounds ‘Frankensteinish’ – drought resistant sounds really like something you want,” she said.

Hear all of Clinton’s ag biotech comments here. Hillary Clinton at BIO convention

Fighting Anti-GMO Rhetoric

mitch-daniels-astaFormer Indiana governor and current president of Purdue University Mitch Daniels calls it immoral to be opposed to genetically modified crops. At the recent American Seed Trade Association annual meeting, Daniels talked about the “unspeakable sadness” of millions of children in underdeveloped countries going blind because political activism has prevented them from getting rice genetically engineered to provide beta carotene. “This is not merely a scientific argument, it’s a moral question,” said Daniels. “It is our only hope in feeding a world of 9 billion people.”

Last week I had a conversation on a flight to Atlanta with a seemingly normal, intelligent gentleman in his early 60s who lives on the Florida panhandle. As our discussion turned to health issues, he said his wife had gotten into organic foods and he agreed with her because “why do you think America has more cancer than any other country?”

Wrong. The United States has the seventh highest cancer rate globally. While that’s certainly not great, it’s very interesting to see that some of the countries ranking higher than the U.S. in cancer rates are those where there are at least partial bans on genetically engineered crops, including Ireland (2), Australia (3), New Zealand (4), and France (6).

Of course, cancer is only one of the maladies that are blamed on GMOs, which includes just about everything from allergies to Alzheimers, none of which has been proven. What has been proven is the benefits of GMOs – economic, environmental and even health benefits, which I tried to explain to my friend on the plane.

ASTA first vice chair Risa DeMasi is from Oregon, where two counties recently voted to ban the production of genetically modified crops, which she says shows how emotional the conversation has gotten. She believes using words such as new technology or advancements would be better than genetic modification or biotechnology. “We focus on GMO and it becomes this big, bad ugly monster,” she said. “Nobody wants to get rid of their cell phone, but if we hadn’t allowed that technology, where would we be today?”

That’s an interesting analogy, because there have been claims that cell phones cause cancer, yet there’s is no anti-cell phone activists out there calling on government to ban their use or label them as cancer causing. Because the benefits are greater than any risk the public may perceive. Somehow we have to bring that same message to biotechnology.

Is It Throwback Tuesdays Now?

Seralini’s Study Should Stay Put in the Past

It has often been noted that trends are cyclical. While something may go out of fashion today, it will almost certainly return in a slightly revamped version somewhere down the road. From high-waisted denim to Doc Martens, evidence of this truth glares at anyone with a few decades under their belt walking down a city street.

The phenomenon extends to pseudo-science as well. Today, Seralini released another paper detailing the work of his widely discredited 2012 study. This republication of work so riddled with errors it was eventually retracted by the journal which originally published it, Food and Chemical Toxicology, shows how even the most ridiculous, unsightly trends pop back up again.

Like many flash-in-the-pan throwbacks, the second paper offers nothing new or of additional value. It just regurgitates the same tired tune already labeled flawed, implausible and scientifically invalid by government bodies and scientific organizations around the world.

The retro rerelease plays like the sad cry of an aging diva who keeps crooning long past her prime, devoid of talent or integrity. The attempt to pass off discredited data as somehow new and more scientifically-sound shows utter condescension on Seralini’s part. The public can remember mistakes from the past. Not everything old succeeds in its second life. Some tired trends still seem stale when they see the light of day again.

Don’t buy into Seralini’s attempt at a pseudo-science comeback tour. Get off the bogus bio-bashing bandwagon.

Well-informed and scientifically-sound beliefs never go out of style. Hundreds of studies adhering to rigorous, unbiased methodologies prove biotech and glyphosate are safe and benefit our world and with whom we share it. High tech, eco-conscious and socially aware? Biotech has all of the elements to build a brighter future, so forget Seralini’s self-centered scheme to obscure it with science better left in the past.

Making Precision Ag Decisions

2014 CUTCOne of the platinum sponsors for this year’s Corn Utilization Technology Conference is Dupont Pioneer. Speaking on “Precision Ag to Decision Ag” was Joe Foresman, Director – Services Americas at DuPont Pioneer. That’s an interesting talk title since we hear a lot of discussion about the volume of data being collected in precision agriculture today and a lot of questions about what to do with it.

Joe was on the program to talk about rolling out Encirca Yield, a new feature from the suite of Encirca Services. He says, ‘We are going to be featuring nitrogen and seed management in this offering. With Encirca, we are going to provide tailored, brand neutral whole-farm solutions with an advisor for farmers. This will allow us to move away from just the maps to actually developing new management zones in the field.”

Encirca is a crop observation tool that a farmer can download from the Apple Store or Android Marketplace.

Listen to my interview with Joe and learn more about Encirca here: Interview with Joe Foresman

2014 CUTC Photo Album

Cellulosic is Real, According to CUTC Panelist

edeniqAt the recent Corn Utilization and Technology Conference, Steve Rust with Edeniq talked about new processing technology and products taking ethanol to the next level.

“Cellulosic ethanol is for real now,” says Rust. “People need to know that because this is key right now with discussions on the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

rust-headRust says new technology like Edeniq’s PATHWAY Platform is helping to make cellulosic ethanol a reality. “We have a piece of equipment that pre-treats the slurry in a corn ethanol plant and then we add a helper enzyme in it that we co-fermentate cellulosic and corn ethanol in the same fermenter,” he explained. “The nice thing about our technology is that it can be used in any dry mill ethanol plant for them to be able to get cellulosic gallons for a small capitol investment.”

Interview with Steve Rust, Edeniq

2014 CUTC Photo Album

Starting the Conversation on T-TIP

vilsack-usdaAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Europe last week meeting with agricultural and trade officials and about the importance of agriculture’s role in the U.S.-European Union (EU) Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). He started the week in Brussels by meeting with 28 agricultural ministers and representatives from the EU.

“I wanted to emphasize the opportunity and the necessity that agriculture has got to be a significant part of whatever the trade discussions ultimately end up being with T-TIP,” said Vilsack. “I was very candid with my colleagues that absent a real commitment to agriculture in this trade agreement it would be very difficult for Congress to get the votes to pass T-TIP.”

Vilsack said among the challenges related to agriculture in the agreement are tariffs, non-tariff barriers, sanitary and phyto-sanitary issues, biotechnology, regulatory simplification, pathogen reduction, and geographic indicators.

Ultimately, Vilsack believes there are more similarities than differences between the United States and Europe. “We have a common goal, which is expanding markets, and we have a common language when it comes to dealing with these difficult issues and that common language is science,” he said.

In addition to Brussels, Vilsack visited with officials in Luxembourg, Paris, and Dublin.

Vilsack press call from Brussels

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