Corn Commentary

HuffPost Blog Provides Clarity on Cleaner Fuels

In a media landscape that often seizes upon sensationalism, The Huffington Post took a balanced, thoughtful approach to ethanol issues today in publishing a piece written in support of E15 by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory.

The city of Chicago is considering a proposed ordinance that would require most gas stations to offer E15. The measure would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide consumers a domestic, sustainable choice for fuel. In their post, the researchers provide a clear, supported argument as to why this is a step in the right direction for America.

To read the post, click here.

In offering actual information to the public, HuffPost and the scientists alike elevate the conversation. The fact that Big Oil has waged an ongoing war against biofuels for years is no secret. One invented argument after the next, the proponents of petroleum have repeatedly tried to cloud the conversation with misinformation and thus maintain a stranglehold on America’s fuel supply and Americans pocketbooks. Sadly, some of the rouses have garnered airtime and slowed the advance toward a fuel supply that offers consumers real choice.

Chicago may gain actual options. These options could both help clean the air and reduce dependence upon a finite and often foreign fuel supply. The prospects for freedom from oil’s monopoly look a bit brighter. The Drs. Michael Wang and Jennifer Dunn and The Huffington Post Blog deserve a round of applause for bringing the conversation to consumers in the clear manner worthy of such a weighty issue.

Who Goes to CUTC and Why

cutc-14-novaset-burrisAs the name implies, the Corn Utilization and Technology Conference is a scientific and technical kind of meeting, which is organized every two years by the National Corn Growers Association with presentations focusing on the latest research, concepts and applications in the corn world.

A wide variety of people attend the event, such as Brian Burris with Novosep, a life sciences and biotechnology company with facilities all over the world. “I’m invested in the industry,” he said about why he attended the 2014 conference. He’s been to the conference before but not lately and was “looking for some intellectual stimulation and that objective was definitely fulfilled.”

As a chemist, Burris found this year’s focus on corn processing very interesting and he highly recommends the conference to anyone in the industry. Interview with Brian Burris, Novosep

2014 CUTC Photo Album

CUTC Platinum Sponsors

Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer were pleased to be the major sponsors at the recent 2014 Corn Utilization and Technology Conference in Louisville.

cutc-1“We work very closely with the National Corn Growers Association,” said Morrie Bryant with DuPont Pioneer’s End Use Team. “We also have a relationship with the corn processing community and being able to help keep a sustainable supply of milling quality corn is important to all of us.”

Bryant says CUTC includes a blend of people all across the value chain. “It’s an opportunity to share the issues and what’s concerning us about the productivity of our crops,” he said. Interview with Morrie Bryant, DuPont Pioneer

cutc-2Ryan Bartlett, Emerging Technologies Lead with Monsanto’s Global Corn Technology Group, gave a presentation at CUTC on the future of agriculture technology. “There’s a lot of opportunity that we have in the pipeline for farmers,” said Bartlett. “We’re working across the globe to understand issues that growers may be facing that may not always be the same as what we have in the states.”

Bartlett talked about Monsanto’s recently announced BioAg Alliance with Novozymes. “We’re looking through what Novozymes has available today and in the pipeline to bring that next generation of biological products to growers.” Interview with Ryan Bartlett, Monsanto

2014 CUTC Photo Album

Have a Little Corn with Your Beer

flying-dogPlato is quoted as saying “He was a wise man who invented beer.” With craft beers all the rage now, a wise brewery is taking a second look at corn as a main ingredient.

Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, Maryland calls its new brew Agave Cerveza.

Our latest Brewhouse Rarities release, Agave Cerveza, is the artisanal answer to the easy-drinking, light-bodied beers typically produced south of the border.

Flaked maize makes up one third of the malt bill and highlights the distinctive corn and cracker flavor typically found in Mexican lagers. The agave is added at the end of the boil and lime peel post-fermentation to impart a distinctively zesty character and a crisp, clean finish.

The Washington Post has a nice article about this craft beer and the history of corn and beer brewing. Interesting read will leave you saying, I did not know that!

Father of Ethanol Award

ace14-merle-collinThe American Coalition for Ethanol meeting in Minneapolis last week honored Congressman Collin Peterson of Minnesota with its highest award for supporters of ethanol, the Merle Anderson Award.

Anderson, a co-founder of ACE and known to many as the “Father of Ethanol,” proudly presented the award to his congressman. “Farmers have probably tripled their net worth in the last ten years,” said Anderson, giving credit to Peterson for getting farm bills passed. “I don’t think you’d have had a farm bill the last two farm bills if you wouldn’t have had Collin Peterson.”

Merle Anderson Presents Award to Rep. Collin Peterson

Peterson helped to pass the energy bill with the Renewable Fuel Standard and remains a strong supporter of ethanol in Congress. “It’s just been a tremendous success story in agriculture because it’s changed the marketplace so farmers can get a decent price for their corn,” he said. “We do have our opponents and they are still working to undermine things,” he continued.”They want to go back to $1.85 corn and I tell them if they are successful they will rue the day because nobody can grow corn for $1.85.” Peterson says the only way farmers survived when prices were $1.85 a bushel was because of the government subsidy “and that’s gone.”

Peterson remains hopeful that the EPA will eventually come out with a better final rule on the 2014 volume obligations for the RFS. “I think the fact that they delayed this for now a third time shows they are listening,” he said. “It appears to me that they realize they made a mistake here and they’re trying to figure out how to undo it.” He thinks it could be next year before the rule is final, but “a delayed decision is better than a bad decision.”

In this interview, Peterson also comments on WOTUS, farm bill implementation, immigration, and more. Interview with Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) at ACE Conference

27th Annual Ethanol Conference photo album

Increasing Ethanol Yield

cutc-14-novozymesOne way enzyme technology can help ethanol plants is by yielding more ethanol per bushel of corn.

At the recent Corn Utilization and Technology Conference, Nathan Kreel with Novozymes talked about Olexa, a unique enzyme designed for oil recovery. “We developed it mainly to enhance corn oil extraction for the customer, but we are seeing there are a lot of other benefits,” he said. That includes an increase in ethanol yield, better yeast health, and more efficient fermentation.

“The most important thing is that we see back end process improvements with an average of 13% oil increase,” Kreel said. “It’s a simple drop-in product that is added right to the fermentation and you can see improvements right when it’s used.”

Learn more in this interview: Interview with Nathan Kreel, Novozymes

2014 CUTC Photo Album

It’s Time to Speak Up!

Today, Corn Commentary shares a post from CommonGround Wisconsin volunteer Kim Bremmer. To find more posts on a wide variety of subjects authored by CommonGround volunteers, click here.

It’s Time to Speak Up!

Kim BremmerOne of my favorite ways to start the day is at the counter of my favorite coffee place, ordering a grande triple shot caramel macchiato and a spinach and feta breakfast wrap. But I ALWAYS ask them to use regular eggs instead of cage-free eggs.

I am usually met with looks of question, not only from the barista but also from all the people in line with me. The response is always a disappointed, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that, ma’am.”  I then smile and ask them to please pass on my message to the corporate office that I would like the choice.

But the best part is that I then have a captive audience for the next 20 seconds or so.

I use that time to explain that I prefer eggs from chickens grown in cages. I used to raise chickens outside, and I know how much they like to eat things out of the dirt, including bugs, grubs and more. I also have friends who have some really nice chicken barns, where they raise very healthy, happy birds in cages.

It’s time to speak up.

With less than two percent of the population actually farming today in the United States, we have opportunities every day to talk to about food production with a very large audience that has never actually “been there and done that.”

We now live in a time when the opinions of journalists and marketing that plays on emotions trump solid peer-reviewed science every single day.

All of this well-funded creative marketing wants consumers to buy the latest and greatest trend: organic, natural, GMO-free, rBST-free, cage-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, humanely raised, responsibly produced and the list could go on and on. Consumers are led to believe that the latest buzzword must be good and conventional food production must be bad. But, all of these strategically worded labels come at the expense of consumers’ trust in agriculture.  The story of agriculture is being told by people selling stories, not by those actually involved in agriculture every day.

Well, it’s time for us to sell our story.

Another one of my favorite things to do is go to the grocery store either on Friday afternoons at 5:00 or Sunday mornings right after church. Some of my very best conversations about farming and food happen then!

It is so easy to strike up a conversation with someone comparing labels in the dairy aisle or meat counter and ask if they have any questions. I tell them I am simply a mom who understands the importance of feeding my family the healthiest food.

I also tell them I get the great opportunity to work on different farms every day. I can share my perspective on the different food-production practices because I work with all of them. The real tragedy is how truly scared people have become of food, even though we are producing the safest food in history, using fewer resources than ever before. My mission at every visit to the grocery store is to give people permission to not fear their food.

It’s time to speak up.

I am proud of conventional agriculture and not afraid to feed my family conventional food. I see how the animals are raised every day and how the land is cared for. I have friends who are organic farmers, but I would never pay more for the food they produce.

The biggest misconception is that a label means something is safer or healthier. A great example of this is the fact that added steroids and hormones aren’t even allowed in poultry production in the United States, yet consumers continually pay a premium for “hormone-free” chicken in the grocery store.

I believe that it doesn’t matter which production method a farmer uses because it is really the human element that makes all the difference. I always encourage people who have questions about agriculture to visit a farm instead of just “Googling” it.

Or ask a farmer by contacting a farmer-volunteer at www.findourcommonground.com. I could take you to visit a beautiful 35-cow dairy or a beautiful 3,500-cow dairy. Both use very different management practices, but both provide safe, high-quality food. If the farmers I see every day choose to do their job by responsibly using antibiotics, GMOs, rBST, cages and barns, I feel they should be able to.  I don’t ever want to be forced to pay more for food with a fancy label when I understand the safety of conventionally raised food and get to see how it’s produced every day.

I am proud of agriculture today. You should be, too. Share the real story.

It’s time to speak up.

The Yeast Dynamics of Ethanol Plants

cutc-14-dupontDuPont Industrial Biosciences is looking into understanding the yeast metabolism and dynamics associated with various stresses in the fuel ethanol fermentation process.

“Those stresses could be putting in too much enzyme, or not enough enzyme,” said Dr. Donald Cannon, who presented at the Corn Utilization and Technology Conference. “So, we’ve identified succinate as a marker for nitrogen stress and what we’re using that for is to help in protease trials.”

Cannon says they believe these metabolite insights will be helpful as ethanol plant technology diversifies. “Increasing efficiency and taking care of process upsets,” he explained. “What we want to be able to do is help plants identify those upsets.”

Listen to my interview with Joe here: Interview with Donald Cannon, DuPont

2014 CUTC Photo Album

If the Corn Fact Doesn’t Fit, Those Still Reading Should Quit

In a world where it can be hard to cut through the media morass, Bloomberg Businessweek made it even more difficult to get to the heart of the GMO-labeling issue with an article on the differing political stances taken by Ben and Jerry’s and their parent company, Unilever. Noting the opinion of food activists who already openly take sides without consulting with market or industry analysts, the diatribe draws heavily on self-interested opinion to conclude Unilever faces financial repercussions for taking this course of action. The logic makes about as much sense as calling Chubby Hubby health food.

Ignoring the more studied statements of an actual analysts, who suggests Unilever would not want to risk potential PR-backlash should it shush the ice cream icons, the journalist pushes the prophecies Marion Nestle. While certainly a well-credentialed professor of nutrition and public health, her expertise in the realm of market realities does not engender the type of trust which the story’s author so willingly provides – and expects reader to also bestow.

In addition to the lose logic, an infographic on the benefits of biotech crops accompanies the stories. While one might also call it confusing at best, the picture tutorial draws some curious conclusions about corn. At first, it seems to imply GMO-varieties improved the yield of the average U.S. acre to 26 bushels of corn between 2001 and 2010. As anyone who follows agricultural statistics would automatically know, this does not hold even an iota of truth as the average yield per acre in 2010 published by USDA was 158.2. Upon further examination, the increase in average yield over that period does not even come out to 26 bushels as the 2001 data details an average acre yielded 138.2 bushels of corn. Thus, the infographic clearly demonstrates only the lack of informed data contained in the article it accompanies.

Everyone is entitled to have their own point of view but, if one seeks credibility, said point of view should be well informed. If Ben and Jerry’s wishes to adhere to a costly and confusing patchwork of state-level labels, so be it. As there is no guarantee of what each actually will mean in terms of standards or how it will appear on the product, it can choose to chase the next hip idea without reasoning how it might impact cost and logistics without offering additional actual information. Unilever, while allowing a wayward child to learn a lesson for itself, has the right to look at the potential impacts of disjointed, confusing regulations and come to another logical stance. That does make sense.

What does not make sense is the portrayal of the GMO-labeling free-for-all as some sort of greater moral battle. Food labels should be based upon factual, scientific information relevant to the health of consumers. Yet, as Bloomberg Businessweek could not get even the basic facts right, it makes sense that logic could not come from misinformation and misplaced credence.

Are Farmers Scapegoat in Fish Fix?

With only one percent of the population still farming, it can seem politically expedient to propose faux-fixes to odd or unique problems that impact the farming minority.  Yesterday, The Washington Post joined in the fracas with a piece on intersex fish. The story, heavy with aqua-explicit imagery and short on hard numbers, noted several sources of possible chemical contributors but failed to suggest any fix larger than moving piles of poo.

Polishing that strategy into a gem that makes the masses feel better without taking responsibility for the role they may play makes something akin to shinola.

Hormones naturally present in animal excrement do not hold up so long in nature as those made by humans to prevent unwanted little humans. Do I propose getting rid of birth control? Absolutely not. Do I propose considering its environmental impact instead of taking the easy way out? Absolutely.

If we as a people consider the intersex fish phenomenon to be of importance, we should treat it with equal respect. Consider the sources in a more measured manure. Document what might and might not have the impact scientifically significant enough to move the needle. Weigh the impact of those actions on our fellow persons. Simply, act like we are less mentally confused than those fish are physically.

Washington in general needs to expect more of Americans. We are up for the tough conversations. We don’t want to take meaningless stabs that impact the fewest people so that we can rest better at night. We want to actually solve the real problems.

Farmers, like the rest of the country, want to be part of the solution. First though, let’s make sure the solution makes sense.



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