Corn Commentary

How’s Your Harvest Going?

il-harvest-14The corn harvest nationwide is running behind average for this time of year and just a bit ahead of last year, but the crop continues to look good.

According to USDA, the condition of the corn crop remains 74% good to excellent, 60% of the crop is mature, and 12% was harvested as of Sunday. All states are behind normal pace in the harvest.

Meanwhile, there’s more grain in the bins than there was a year ago at this time. USDA’s newest Grain Stocks report shows 1.24 billion bushels of old crop corn in all positions as of September 1, up 50 percent from the same time last year. Of the total stocks, 462 million bushels of corn were stored on farms and 774 million bushels were stored off the farm, up 68 and 42 percent from the prior year, respectively. The U.S. corn disappearance totaled 2.62 billion bushels during June-August, up from 1.95 billion bushels during the same period last year.

The Illinois Corn Growers Facebook page has been showcasing harvest photos from around the state, including this one here submitted by Jordan Miles. So, how is your harvest going?

And don’t forget — You can enter your harvest pictures in the competition at Fields-of-Corn.com.

Increasing DDGS Exports

2014-export-exchangeComing up October 20-22 in Seattle is the 2014 Export Exchange sponsored by the Renewable Fuels Association and the U-S Grains Council to bring international coarse grain buyers and U.S. suppliers together, with a particular focus on the ethanol co-product distillers grains for livestock feed. More than 180 international buyers and end-users are expected to meet and build relationships with more than 300 domestic suppliers in attendance at this event held every two years.

RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen says the Export Exchange is more important than ever right now. “We export about 25% of our distiller’s feed and in the past more than half of that has gone to China,” said Dinneen. “China is making export of distiller’s feed to that country today a bit more challenging today with their concerns about GMO.”

Expressing his opinion that China’s concerns are primarily about price and politics, Dinneen said this year’s Export Exchange will include an educational session on biotechnology, “but more importantly we’ll have buyers from more than 33 other countries” to build markets beyond China.

Registration is still open for the event and USGC Industry Relations Director Lyndsey Erb-Sharkey talks about what is planned for this year’s Export Exchange in this interview. Interview with Lyndsey Erb-Sharkey

Know Your Enemy

carter-africaIt was 1997 when former President Jimmy Carter penned an op-ed for The Washington Times entitled “Forestalling Famine With Biotechnology.” He noted then that “extremist groups in affluent nations have begun to mount attacks against plant biotechnology” and that they were also concerned “that fertilizer and pesticides will “poison” the earth’s farmland, even when used in moderate amounts.”

Carter called that thinking “dangerously misguided” and said it would be “grievous that we have within our power the ability to prevent starvation, but fail to act on it.”

“Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy; starvation is,” he concluded.

That was 17 years ago when agricultural biotechnology was in its very infancy. A new study has taken a look at livestock productivity and health data from more than 100 billion animals covering a 29 year period from prior to 1996 when all animal feed was non-GMO, and the years since then as use has increased to more than 90%. The study done by animal biotechnology specialist Alison Van Eenennaam with the University of California-Davis conclusively found no abnormal trends in livestock health since GMO crops became commonly used as livestock feed. “Although this is field data, it really supports the wealth of scientific studies that have shown no deleterious effects from consuming genetically engineered feed in our livestock populations,” said Van Eenennaam. Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences has just undertaken a comprehensive independent study of genetically engineered crops, sponsored in part by USDA.

The question is, will any results matter to the anti-GMO extremist groups that Carter warned about in 1997, to whom no amount of scientific evidence on the safety of genetically engineered crops will suffice. These groups consistently claim research on GMOs has been limited, is inconclusive, or is biased because it was funded by the industry.

These activist organizations are the enemies of biotechnology and arguably the enemies of our world’s very future. “Without adequate food supplies at affordable prices, we cannot expect world health or peace,” Carter said in 1997. The world could well be a better place if we truly turned our swords into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks and got on with the business of feeding hungry people.

Dr. Oz, Again? Can Someone Hand Me the Remote

ozLet’s get one thing straight from the get go. Dr. Oz is a professional celebrity who hawks his opinions for money. Whether fear-mongering or shilling for “magic pills,” he makes exaggerated, even unsubstantiated claims to get attention. Attention turns into ratings. Ratings turn into money.

There is one reliable way to stop his bogus claims. Turn off your television. Tell your friends how bogus he is. Explain that he is not watching out for their best interests. Repeat the above paragraph.

If everyone ignores him, he will go away.

With that said, Dr. Oz still basks in the glow of the Oprah-effect. Her blessing radiates like a golden halo around his head. She has sprinkled fairy dust on his tongue and now his words come out as if proclaimed by an angel sitting on its tip, chiming like golden bells in the ears of many.

What makes his brand of show business particularly heinous is that he capitalizes upon this image and on the M.D. behind his name.

Today, he will air a show bashing what he calls “GMO pesticides.” From the information already online, it appears to focus on Dow’s Enlist product which is still in the regulatory process. The episode’s preview shows children eating fruits and vegetables, flashes words like “president” in red type and contains the great Oz’s melodramatic warnings of an oncoming Armageddon.

The fact Enlist is meant for use on row crops and not fruits and veggies aside, the heavy-handed tactics employed conjuring the imagery used in dramatic interpretations of conspiracy theories.

The blatant fear mongering relates back to a letter sent to the EPA by a group of scientists. The “evidence” to which they point has been discredited time and time again. Yet, they trot it out another time as if facts do not matter; baseless fear trumps fact in their logic.

Some might be blinded by the signatories’ titles. Reading to the very end of the document, find the very last line.

“The signers of this letter have done so in their personal capacities. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes and do not imply any institutional position.”

The signatories have not been given the backing of their respective institutions in this matter. They are acting on their own behalf on this one.

Dr. Oz flashes the names of terrifying illnesses on the screen. He magnifies their claims and ignores the incredibly stringent standards any pesticide must meet to gain EPA approval.

Why would he do this? If you do not wish to simply refer to the first paragraph, consider what Dr. Oz said himself when testifying before Congress on some of the claims made on his show earlier this year.

“I actually do personally believe in the items which I talk about on the show. I passionately study them. I recognize that often times they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact.”

Passionate or not, he clearly understands that what he says does not always pass for fact. He willingly creates panic and stress amongst those who place their trust in him. His credentials may have meant something once. Now, they seem sullied as he breaks his oath to “first do no harm” every time he misrepresents his program as factual advice provided by a caring doctor.

Together, let’s turn him off. Then, tell those we care about to do the same. Dr. Oz relies upon our complicity to promulgate his propaganda. Shutting him off will shut him down.

Get Pumped!

This weekend, movie goers in select markets across the country will have a chance to find out more about America’s oil addiction and how it can be ended with cleaner, cheaper, American-made fuels as the movie PUMP hits theaters. An all-inclusive look at alternative fuels, PUMP draws consumer attention to both the problem and offers real, immediate solutions.

The documentary film aims to change attitudes about fuel forever. Narrated by Jason Bateman, PUMP tells the story of America’s addiction to oil, from its corporate conspiracy beginnings to its current monopoly today, and explains clearly how Americans can end it – and finally win real choice and competition at the pump.

To watch the PUMP trailer, click here.

The film presents the stark reality that every time consumers fill up their tank there is only one option – gasoline. Since the days of John D. Rockefeller, it has been rigged, and America has been taken for a ride.  With a stranglehold on our fuel system that is absolute, most people have no idea there are alternatives.

PUMP presents a sharply focused look at all of the domestically produced, alternative paths to a very different fuel future – where multiple fuels can be used and blended, where the oil monopoly is ended, and where our nation no longer depends on foreign oil.  PUMP concentrates on the specific pathway where ethanol, methanol, biofuels, gasoline, natural gas and electric all share the same platform at gas stations across the country, where there is choice and competition.  The solution presented is not based on unproven future technologies or wishful thinking.  PUMP presents a practical and achievable vision that could be realized in the near term – beginning now.

While the film represents many viewpoints that may not be completely in line with those advocated by groups like the National Corn Growers Association, it shines an important spotlight on the common problem all alternative fuels face. The documentary advocates for consumer choice and an end to Big Oil’s monopoly- a point which America’s farmers can certainly get behind even if they would advocate for an alternative approach.

So learn more about it. This independently-produced film has the potential to highlight an issue of vital importance to both farmers and consumers, which is certainly a step in the right direction.

Find a location playing PUMP or learn more about the movie by clicking here.

New Farm Marketing Idea

The new Subway ad is not only funny, it offers a great idea for an alternative source of income on the farm, and getting your chores done too!

In the television spot, a young man tells his meal partner at Subway that he’s currently doing “Crop Fit,” a hardcore fitness program “based on 19th Century farming practices” – like pulling a plow and pushing a huge pumpkin.

Why not develop a “Farm Fitness” program? If we can’t get Americans to work on the farm, maybe we can get them to work out on the farm!

Food Babe’s Science Is as Fluffy as Her Marabou Slippers

From suburban dog parks to Park Avenue, people are buzzing about the Food Babe. Using crazy videos filmed in low-cut workout clothes, she has garnered quite a bit of attention seemingly overnight. Television being a visual medium, talk shows book the petite brunette with the telegenic face. She is getting more attention than counterparts whose credentials outshine their smiles.

All of that is changing though. Today, Bloomberg news compiled a growing list of media critiques of the Food Babe and her pseudoscientific comrades. The article, based on the premise that public conversations on food should actually include credible data from certified subject matter experts, dissects how she rose to internet empowerment and how the food industry is responding. While the article approaches her from a less biased, more respectful place than she uses in her own work, it shines a spotlight on something that has been missing from her pseudoscience stunts – the truth.

“They are attacking the messengers who are spreading the truth,” she vented to her Facebook fans in August. “They are hoping I, along with other activists, including you, just give up.”

Ms. Food Babe, the truth is not a flexible concept. A computer scientist has no business pretending engineering classes qualify her to speak on food chemistry and public health issues. Every ingredient that you cannot pronounce, which notably you might be able to if you were an actual expert, does not secretly cause death. Your own personal ignorance does not provide a substantive basis for your public indignance.

People spend years upon years studying the vast array of subjects necessary to form a well-qualified, thoughtful opinion on food issues. From doctors to dieticians and nurses to nutrition scientists, credible, scientifically sound data does exist.

Cash hungry charlatans touting trumped up theories provide more flash than facts. Don’t fall for their hip hype.

Serious conversations deserve serious participants. In conversations about food, too much is at stake to substitute pseudoscience for the real thing, even if it comes in a prettier package.

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



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