Corn Commentary

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

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.


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).


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 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.

How Do I Love Soil? Let Me Count the Ways

By Nick Goeser



As Valentine’s Day approaches in this International Year of Soils, I found it fitting to stream a little Elizabeth Barrett Browning and think about how we show our love for soil.  Two of the best ways we can show our love for soil are to appreciate the important role it plays in our lives and to think about how we can work together to improve soils.

In December, Suzy Friedman, Environmental Defense Fund’s Director of Agricultural Sustainability, invited me to discuss the many reasons soils are important to food production.  Soil health is directly linked to a resilient food supply.  Beyond food, healthy soils function to support our urban parks and recreation areas, as well as fiber and fuel production at home and across the globe.

Just think – where do Valentine’s Day roses grow best?  In soil!  Where does Valentine’s Day chocolate come from?  Cocoa trees growing in the tropical soils around the world.  Soil is the common thread that weaves the most important parts of our lives together. So this year as you get ready to sit down to your Valentine’s Day dinner, take a few moments to think about what would be on it without soil.

How can we work together to improve the soils we love?  Partnerships.  Many partnerships are focused on improving soil health and conservation – some of which include The Soil Health Partnership, The Conservation Technology Information Center, The Conservation Cropping System Initiative and The Soil Renaissance.  These partnerships serve as a means for diverse organizations to come together to achieve common goals – and they are making great progress.  Together, many partnerships are helping farmers lead the way by adding support and information to make complex conservation decisions.

The Soil Health Partnership recently held its first Soil Health Summit.  This gathering served as a venue for the farmers, agronomists and collaborators of the Soil Health Partnership to share knowledge and talk about innovative ways to improve soil health.  We also opened the summit to the non-agricultural members of the public to open the dialogue between farmers and our urban neighbors.  Together, these groups spent time discussing modern agriculture and innovation in conservation.

Participants spoke to our common goals. “I see the value in soil conservation and nutrient reduction because I think that they can help address an issue that our urban populations are very concerned about as well– our clean water,” commented Soil Health demonstration farmer Tim Smith. “We need to reach a lot of people – not just the farmers, urban soils are also very important.  It is not only about creating a more desirable urban environment, but also for people in an urban environment to be aware of soils and how important they are.  It is not only about farming,” said Dr. Harold van Es, Cornell Professor of Soil and Water Management.

Whether urban or agricultural, soils are essential to our daily lives.  We must continue to work together through partnerships and collaborations to gather the information to help protect one of our most valuable resources.

About the author: Nick Goeser is NCGA’s manager for soil health and sustainability.

To track soil health and talk about it on social media, use #soilhealth2015.

Pope Francis Considers Farming a Vocation

“There is no humanity without the cultivation of the land; there is no good life without the food it produces for the men and women of every continent.” Pope Francis, 1/31/15

pope-francis-unWith the patron saint of all things of nature as his namesake, Pope Francis has serious views about protecting the environment, but he believes that agriculture plays a “central role” in the “cultivation and stewardship of the land.”

That’s what he said recently
in a meeting with the National Confederation of Direct Cultivators, which is some kind of agricultural organization, as the pontiff noted that the name “direct cultivators” refers to cultivation, “a typically human and fundamental activity.” Pope Francis said that farming and ranching constitutes “a true vocation.”

“It deserves to be recognised and suitably valued as such, also in concrete political and economic decisions. This means eliminating the obstacles that penalise such a valuable activity and that often make it appear unattractive to new generations, even though statistics show an increase in the number of students in schools and institutes of agriculture, which leads us to foresee and increase in the numbers of those employed in the agricultural sector. At the same time, it is necessary to pay due attention to the removal of land from agricultural use, to make it available for apparently more lucrative purposes”

castel2The pope actually has his own farm at the traditional summer place for pontiffs, Castel Gandolfo.

The 55 acre farm dates back to the early 1930s under Pope Pius XI as part of the renovation of the summer vacation home which has been in use since the 16th century. The farm includes cows, chickens, bee hives, ostriches, turkeys, rabbits, vegetables and more. The farm reportedly produces 185 gallons of milk a day, 50,000 eggs a year, honey, olive oil and vegetables.

There are news reports that the farm may be opened for public tours this year, but the Vatican has not confirmed that yet. I’d be interested in a visit if it happens!

Soil Health Hinges on Farmers

The first year of the Soil Health Partnership (SHP), introduced at the 2014 Commodity Classic, enrolled 20 farmers in six states to be demonstration sites for the effort and by the end of five years they expect to have 100. These farmers have agreed to basically be the “guinea pigs” to help other farmers learn from their experiments and innovations.

shps15-smithOne of those farmers is Tim Smith of Iowa who was one of the demonstration farmers on a panel at the Soil Health Summit in St. Louis last week. “I can see the soil conservation benefits and I can see the nutrient reduction benefits, but I think the soil health benefits are what’s going to help sell it to other farmers,” said Smith. His conservation efforts earned him the first National Corn Growers Association Good Steward award presented at last year’s Commodity Classic.

Smith believes that improving soil health is critical and just the right thing to do. “In the last 150 our average top soil (in Iowa) has gone from 14 inches down to eight inches,” he said. “We can’t continue that because it will run out if we don’t start taking care of it … any soil loss is not tolerable.” Listen to my interview with Tim here: Interview with Tim Smith, SHP farmer from Iowa

shps15-ncga-rossThe National Corn Growers Association is the administrator for the Soil Health Partnership and Corn Board member Kevin Ross believes it’s a very worthwhile initiative for farmers and all involved.

“I’m really pleased with the direction it’s heading,” said Ross during the summit last week. “It’s really good to see these groups on the same page with a common goal and that’s soil health.”

Ross, who is a farmer from Minden, Iowa, says he thinks of soil as a living, breathing thing that needs care to maintain and improve its health. “It’s just like your personal health, you have to manage it and correct things if there’s an issue,” he said. Interview with Iowa corn grower Kevin Ross, NCGA Corn Board

2015 Soil Health Summit Photo Album

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