Corn Commentary

Corn Moves Energy Independence Forward

corn-cobs-libertyThe age of commercial cellulosic ethanol has finally arrived. The first gallons were produced this summer and two plants in a week have been officially opened for business.

The definition of cellulosic ethanol is a biofuel produced from wood, grasses, or the inedible parts of plants. In the case of the first plants moving forward, the inedible parts are coming from corn plants.

We’ve all heard from people bemoaning the use of food – or feed – to make fuel, even from those who understand corn used to make ethanol is not corn on the cob. It’s simply a matter of building on our past to reach goals for the future. The ultimate goal is diversifying our nation’s fuel supply to be less dependent on foreign oil. To do that, we started with corn.

We had lots of corn already, we had an efficient way to harvest the crop, we already had a proven method of economically producing fuel from the crop – all the pieces were in place. The investment came mostly from farmers themselves who built the first ethanol plants. That’s why we started with corn.

Moving to the next generation of ethanol, it only made sense to use the parts of the corn kernel and plant. We already have lots of it, we had companies to develop the equipment and methods to harvest it, and the processing technique could be perfected in conjunction with existing corn ethanol facilities.

So the fantasy fuel has arrived and like most of our dreams come true it has been made with hard work, ingenuity and the tools at hand.

Food Fears and Avoidance

killer-tomatoesLast year, more people were killed by automobile accidents, heart attacks, lung cancer, and natural causes combined than by any one tomato. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

When you have plenty of food on the table, it’s easy for us in America to decide we want to avoid certain foods. I mean, lots of us may avoid things like Brussels sprouts or squid, for example. But there is a growing trend to cast certain categories of food or food ingredients out of our diets for a variety of reasons – weight loss being number one since just about any diet tends to cut out certain food segments. There are also a good percentage of people with serious food allergies or intolerances to things like shellfish, peanuts, gluten, lactose, sulfides or even strawberries that need to avoid them.

But there is a significant amount of the population that experts say are increasingly developing an unjustified fear of certain food ingredients, particularly genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Dr. David Just of Cornell University recently testified at a congressional hearing about biotechnology that many consumers are starting to adopt beliefs about GMOs with very little knowledge about them. “There’s a large and growing number of consumers that now stigmatize GMOs in the U.S.,” said Just. “Consumers associate GMOs primarily with some unidentifiable health risk.”

However, Just has done research that shows what happens once consumers understand the reasons for genetic modification. “When consumers are presented with direct explanations of the direct benefits they are much more willing to accept the technology,” said Just.

A study cited by Just
surveyed over 1,000 mothers about their attitudes towards high fructose corn syrup in an effort to determine what drives people to stigmatize certain food ingredients. Their primary findings were that some may overweigh the perceived risks of the avoided ingredient, and secondly, “some individuals who avoid ingredients may have a greater need for social approval among their reference group.” In other words, they may be doing it because it’s the trendy thing to do, not because they have any facts or knowledge to back them up.

Indicating perhaps that their beliefs are not strongly held, the study also found that “while HCFS Avoiders had negative attitudes toward HFCS, they were not willing to pay more (compared to non-avoiders) for products that were sweetened instead with table sugar.”

During his testimony, Just repeatedly commented that the industry needs to do a better job of communicating the benefits of biotechnology to consumers and goodness knows the industry is trying, but it still seems like it’s an uphill battle, since the most effective way of getting the message across seems to be one on one conversation. We all have a dog in this fight, so wherever you are – on the plane, in the store, in an elevator – start the conversation somehow and get the word out. We need to make it trendy and cool to support GMOs!

NCGA Busy at FPS

fps14-ncga1National Corn Growers Association officers were out in force at the 2014 Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa this week.

Right out of the gate on the first day I met up with NCGA chairwoman Pam Johnson of Iowa, First VP Chip Bowling of Maryland, and President Martin Barbre of Illinois. It was a soggy start to the show on day one, while day two was lovely, and day three looks to be a complete wash out.

gps14-ncga-chipChip stepped up to the podium in the media tent on day one to talk about our record corn crop in the fields this year. “We’re keeping a close eye on corn prices and are greatly concerned about efforts in Washington that may reduce or stifle demand for corn and raise the cost of production,” said Bowling, specifically noting the EPA’s proposal to lower volume obligations for ethanol under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Chip Bowling, NCGA comments on record corn crop
Interview with Chip Bowling, NCGA

fps14-ncga-robNCGA soon-to-be Vice President Rob Elliott of Illinois sat down with us to talk about NCGA’s involvement in the American Ethanol NASCAR program which has had the popular racing platform running on 15% ethanol. “We’ve had about a four year program with Growth Energy and others to talk to 100 million NASCAR fans,” he said. “NASCAR in its three levels has run over six million miles (on E15) which is the same number of miles EPA drove to prove E15 to be a good fuel!”

Listen to our interview with Rob here: Interview with Rob Elliott, NCGA

2014 Farm Progress Show photo album

Whether Drilled Abroad or Fracked at Home, Oil Causes Problems, Okay?

Americans used to rally together around the idea of extracting our military from the Middle East by decreasing our dependence upon foreign oil. As we saw military involvement increase and climate change claims on the upswing, Congress even passed an act mandating biofuels.

Then came fracking.

Suddenly, despite the finite and insufficient increase in domestic oil production, America sunk back into the comfortable couch that is inertia. Arguing that oil can now be created within our borders, the movement toward renewable, domestic biofuels lost some steam.

Clicking on the front page of Bloomberg.com today makes one wonder why.

From stories highlighting the role oil money plays in the ascendance of ISIS to reports fracking may be harming our health, the multitude of reasons an oil-fueled, oil-rigged system harms our country seem apparent. The need for another answer does too.

The answer is actually simple. Return to the RFS. Grow our nation’s independence and health by growing our biofuels industry.

Big oil can create a barrage of bogus barricades to change. This time, let’s fight inertia. The problem will always come back, whether it be overseas or at home. Join Fuels America today and find out more about how to lead the way.

Marketing Magic

Yesterday, the Center for Consumer Freedom ran a story highlighting Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap’s verbal sleight of hand in promoting consumer information while clearly providing slightly deceptive details on its own products.

Reflecting upon the specifics of the situation, I got to thinking. The comments about Dr. Bronner’s could be applied to so many situations involving the marketing of both organic and non-GMO.

During a recent walk through the Barney’s cosmetic department in Chicago, a pale hipster accosted me ranting about the amazing non-GMO skincare line now available just to my left. Raving how exciting this addition was, he threw out a stream of inspiring, lofty adjectives to describe its virtues.

Confused as to why a non-GMO skincare line might yield superior results, I asked what he felt to be a terribly silly question from someone obviously unacquainted with the horrors of biotechnology.

Simply, how do GMO’s damage your skin?

Sputtering a stream of noncommittal, barely discernible propaganda, he claimed that everyone knew it was better. He had no clue as to why everyone came to this conclusion.

From picking up a bottle of magic soap to sinking serious cash into the clout-heavy, science-light scrubs, consumers feel pressured every day to pony up pretty sums for products developed with top notch marketing and second-rate science. Pressured to buy based on status instead of sound reason, we feel compelled to comply with something at its core based in capitalism and cloaked in the carefully-crafted, feel-good fallacies.

In the end, consumers get pick-pocketed by stylishly-clad, silver tongued shysters. We urge teens not to give in to peer pressure, not to be lemmings. Maybe, more adults should do the same.

Peer reviewed, sound scientific studies have shown repeatedly biotechnology and GMOs provide incredible environmental and, in the future, nutritional benefits while impacting people in the same way as non-GMOs.

Whether you slather it on your skin or sip it with a straw, someone will always try and spruce up a description to sell you on paying more for something just like you have had before. Think for yourself. Real facts show what is best for your physical and financial health.

Taking Proactive Water Quality Steps

Following closely on the heels of the toxic algae bloom on Lake Erie that shut down water supplies in Toledo Ohio, Michigan’s livestock and crop producers recently announced proactive steps on water quality issues.

“Michigan agriculture is proactive and part of the solution when it comes to water quality issues in the Western Basin of Lake Erie and surrounding areas,” said Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, who announced steps in a long-term effort to ensure Michigan’s continued leadership on water quality issues.

mi-cornJim Zook, executive director of the Michigan Corn Growers Association, says technology plays a major role in providing solutions to water issues and Michigan is a leader in the use of precision agriculture technology, which helps producers optimize fertilizer use.

“Even just a few years ago, the technology just wasn’t where it is today,” said Zook. “Growers didn’t have the precision agriculture tools that are in use across the state to pinpoint fertilizer applications. Michigan’s corn producers have embraced new technology, and they’re using it to be part of the solution on water quality issues.”

Listen to Byrum, Zook and other Michigan ag leaders talk about proactive steps they are taking on water quality issues: Michigan Agriculture Groups Discuss Water Quality

Motorcyclists Get Ethanol Education

sturgis-14-rfaConcluding the sixth year of sponsorship at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the Buffalo Chip Campground, Robert White with the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) believes they are making some real headway in getting the true story about ethanol to motorcycle riders.

“The education to the riders is actually taking on a new life,” said White. “We’re seeing riders talking to riders.”

White talks about a rider who pulled up for the Free Fuel Happy Hours who said he defended ethanol to his friends at the rally who told him it was a bad for his motorcycle. “He said ‘I kinda came unglued on them’,” he related. The biker told him that he had been talked in to using it at the rally the year before, and he’s “been using it this entire last year without any issue.”

In another case, White said a guy with a brand new Harley said he had been told by the dealer not to use ethanol and he wanted to get a response to that. “And I said why would you believe me?” White said. “I didn’t engineer your motorcycle, I didn’t put the parts together, I’m not providing a warranty for that motorcycle.” The man agreed, noting that neither did the dealership, but his owners manual from Harley in fact said he could use 10% ethanol. “Harley’s been doing this a long time, as have (other motorcycle manufacturers) they know what fuel is going to be most prominent, least expensive, highest octane option for these motorcycles, and it’s going to be ethanol.”

White says they are looking forward to next year, which will be the 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, where RFA will having an even bigger presence with an even bigger crowd.

Listen to Robert talk about this year’s ethanol promotion at Sturgis in this interview:
Interview with Robert White, RFA

AgRowers Take to the River

agrowers-logoMissouri corn and soybean growers were rowers last week in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of river transportation for agriculture.

The Missouri Corn and Soybean Rowers, also known as the Ag Rowers, spent nearly 77 hours last week paddling their tandem kayak across the state from Kansas City to St. Charles in the Missouri American Water 340 (MR340). The Ag Rowers are sponsored by the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council (MSMC), Missouri Corn Growers Association (MCGA) and industry partners, including NCGA.

ag-rowers1Teammates MSMC Executive Director Gary Wheeler and MCGA Director of Public Policy Shane Kinne joined fellow paddlers and spectators to test their physical abilities and highlight the river’s relationship with Missouri agriculture. They were among 283 registered kayaks and canoes at the start of the race.

“It was an honor to compete and complete this race representing Missouri farmers,” Kinne said after they landed their kayak on the river bank in St. Charles. “Our goal in competing was to bring some awareness to the benefit of the river to Missouri agriculture. It is a vital resource for corn growers, whether it is transporting grain and other ag products or providing the rich bottom ground needed to grow crops to help feed the growing population.”

Wheeler and Kinne were the 119th boat to cross the finish line after hitting all nine race checkpoints within the allotted time frame. Competitors are allowed 88 hours to paddle the 340 mile course and must finish by midnight tonight.

“Participating in the MR340 provided a unique opportunity to connect with others who share a passion for the river and to highlight the important role this river plays in Missouri agriculture and our state’s economy,” Wheeler said. “It is important we work together to maintain this valuable resource for the benefit of all Missourians – for agriculture, transportation, and recreation, among other uses.”

Read more here.

A Sign of the Times

SIGN CORN SKAGITPersonal experience provides the lens through which we view the world. Looking out at the road while driving by, every person tends to make analogies. Maybe a house looks like the one in which he grew up. Maybe a certain tree reminds her of a great day in grade school. The visual evokes a mental image and thus creates feelings wholly unrelated to the actual object.

While this may be waxing the philosophical, it actually explains something very important when trying to understand how consumers have come to believe that so many farms are actually owned and run by corporations.

Heading up Interstate 55 from St. Louis to Chicago, signs with the names of seed companies line the fields. To a farmer, these markers indicate something clear. To someone who may live in a city or may have not ever been on a farm, they look completely foreign.

So, how does that exacerbate the Big Ag misperception? Because when faced with something foreign, most people subconsciously make an analogy that provides context for the current situation. Looking out at the fields, the signs look like a corporate advertisement tacked onto the side of a building. The seemingly logical conclusion leads that person to believe the corporation on that sign must own that farm or, at the very minimum, have advertising rights.

Jenny, author of the blog Prairie Californian, provided a great post today that helps describe what these signs really mean in terms that make sense whether or not you have ever set foot in a field. To read it, click here.

With farmers’ numbers constituting less than 1.5 percent of the American public today, it becomes increasingly imperative that they share their story. Everyone eats. The vast majority of people want to know where their food comes from and what all of the terms that they hear mean. Share your story. What American farmers have to say is overwhelmingly positive and powerful. So speak up.

Oxygenate from Ethanol and Corn

xfxF Technologies Inc. is an advanced biofuel company that has developed a chemical process to convert corn or biomass plus alcohol (especially ethanol or methanol) into an oxygenate that can be blended with gasoline and diesel.

cutc-14-rob-randle“It’s a completely chemical process – no enzymes, no bacteria, no fermentation,” said Bob Randle of xF Technologies, who spoke at the recent Corn Utilization and Technology Conference. The end products are furoates – from either ethanol, methanol or butanol – that can then be used as oxygenates for fuel transportation to improve mileage, reduce emissions, increase lubricity, and more.

Randle says the technology offers co-location and add-on opportunities for ethanol and corn wet milling plants. “Because our primary feedstocks are corn and ethanol, or biomass and ethanol,” he said. “We can also be co-located with a cellulosic ethanol plant as well.”

Learn more in this interview: Interview with Bob Randle, xF Technologies

2014 CUTC Photo Album



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