Corn Commentary

And the Hits Keep on Coming

It seems that the attacks on corn commodities and corn ethanol will never stop. In a new report released last week called Green Scissors 2010, Friends of the Earth (aka FOE, how apropos) is calling for an end to subsidies in several areas including agriculture, biofuels, energy, infrastructure, and public lands.

Many of the recommendations of this report cut into corn ethanol from various angles. First, FOE calls for an end of government subsidies for commodity crops including corn. Next, they call for an end of ethanol subsidies, specifically the ethanol tax credit (VEETC) and the ethanol tariff. They do, however, acknowledge that the subsidies directly go to oil but indirectly help the ethanol and agricultural industry.

They write on their website, “Tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money has already been wasted under the credit [VEETC]. And these funds do little more than to further line the coffers of the oil industry. This coalition is working to prevent an additional 30 billion plus dollars from being lavished on the industry to fulfill a legally mandated requirement to blend an environmentally harmful fuel into another environmentally harmful one.”

They argue that eliminating commodity crop subsidies by 50 percent could save taxpayers more than $26 billion over the next five years. They also argue that eliminating VEETC could save the U.S. Treasury as much as $5.4 billion in 2011.

If attacking the subsidy issue isn’t enough, they also attacked corn and corn ethanol on multiple environmental fronts including water quality (Dead Zone and hypoxia) as well as the ‘major’ amount of land that must be used to grow the crops. They go so far in the report to accuse corn-ethanol as being a bigger environmental offender than petroleum.

Corn ethanol may not be perfect, but I can’t stomach the false accusation that corn ethanol is environmentally worse than petroleum. But maybe the most frustrating thing is that not only is Friends of the Earth uneducated about agriculture and the corn ethanol industry, they don’t want to be. And in a world that is so “concerned” about the environment, FOE’s refusal to be open to non-fossil fuel options is a disservice to the American public.

The Anti-Ethanol Circus is in Town!

My brother-in-law recently asked me why ethanol had a great reputation for two decades and suddenly seems to be getting pounded constantly, especially in editorial/opinion pages by the media.

 He doesn’t have a farming background and isn’t invested in the ethanol industry so he is a neutral and somewhat uninformed observer. He is also one of the busiest guys I know so for him to notice it means the anti-ethanol crowd are now officially pervasive. Apparently, it’s not just me feeling paranoid.

 The conversation came back to me in a hurry this week with the latest “ethanol is evil” Tsunami rolling across the country once again. It started with the Wall Street Journal  (No link here because you have to pay for this tripe) and the Washington Post and worked its way across the country hitting the Chicago Tribune and Des Moines Register yesterday and likely making its way for the West Coast like some cheap traveling circus.

 And like the aforementioned Circus the anti-ethanol gang leave a trail behind much like Barnum and Bailey’s elephants only there is no guy with a shovel and bucket cleaning up in their wake. They leave their load of “misinformation” to fester in the road in full knowledge that most people are also too busy to check the veracity of their propaganda.

 The public lynching of ethanol began with the bogus food vs. fuel charade in 2008 and since then has continued to resurface over and over again in several different guises that get trotted out and recycled whenever opportunity presents itself.

 Several things remain consistent as the attacks continue. The noxious cocktail they serve up is made with equal parts of the best bad science money can buy and poor logic. And the olive on the toothpick seems to be just plain old avarice.

 That’s greed, materialism, or covetousness with a Capital “C.” The people fanning the fires of these attacks have rationale and motivation that are simple if not transparent. They are the folks that want the cheapest corn possible because it boosts their profits; want ethanol to be made from another source; or want ethanol crippled forever because the market share just got too big.

 So, for the next couple of days come back here and you will get a sneak peak each day of some of these players and the Machiavellian games they play and fund all to snuff out the only real competition that imported petroleum faces in the marketplace today…ethanol.

Irrigation Efficiency in Corn Production

When it comes to efficiently producing corn, water is a very important factor. So water usage was the topic of the concluding session at the Corn Utilization and Technology Conference. One of the presenters during the session was Derrel Martin, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His presentation was titled, “Impact of Irrigation Efficiency & Farming Practices on Ag Hydrology and Economics.”

Derrel says that since Nebraska is the state with the most irrigated land this has been a very important subject for his research and work. He says that farmers are being challenged by water limitations and to meet the bottom line while optimizing the use of ground water resources. He says that contrary to what some people may think about the aquifer going dry, it’s not. There’s plenty of water there. But states are looking at water a lot more critically and that’s putting pressure on farmers to make more efficient use of it. He says they’ve been looking at crop water use efficiency for quite a while.

When it comes to irrigation efficiency he says “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Technology today makes that pretty easy to do though. He says about 80 percent of the irrigated land is done with center pivots which can be very efficient but they need to be managed to make sure they’re working properly. He also cautions farmers to be careful about irrigating too early in spring and too late in the fall. Interestingly, Arkansas is the fourth largest irrigated state. He says irrigation is moving east.

You can download (mp3) and listen to my interview with Derrel here:

Agriculture’s Role in Deforestation Minimal

A recent initiative in one of South America’s largest agricultural areas shows deforestation is not being driven by expanding soybean acres. The findings of the GTS Soy Work Group show that less than ¼ of 1 percent of land use change over the 3 year time frame studied was due to additional soybean acres.

From a corn grower perspective the GTS info is more than a little interesting because ethanol critics often argue increased ethanol production drives demand for U.S. corn, reduces U.S. soybean acres, and thus opens the door for more soybean acres – and more deforestation – in South America.

The tactic has always been a bit suspect because the vast majority of new corn demand is being filled through burgeoning yields on existing U.S. acres. Even more interesting is this convoluted logic is now being drawn into serious doubt by an effort that uses real-world data rather than speculation and hyperbole.

The industry-led project in the Brazilian Amazon, now in its third years shows land clearing for cattle remains a much bigger contributor to than diversion than expanding soy production.

GTS, a coalition that includes their Ministry of the Environment, NGOs, exporters and civil society organizations, uses a combination of state of the art satellite technology and on-the-ground shoe leather assessment to gauge deforestation and any relationship to crops, specifically soy planting.

A company called Globalsat conducted flyovers and field visits in Brazil’s Mato Grosso, Para, and Rondonia part of the Amazon Biome and the virtual epicenter of Brazilian soybean production.

Ethanol bashers seem to be remarkably mum on this revelation. Hmmm

Ethanol Looks Great When Same Critical Light Falls on Oil!

Ethanol critics often cite “subsidies” that support ethanol sales and distribution as a reason people should oppose the home-grown biofuel. However, what they often neglect to tell you is the dollars – which are actually a tax break and not some kind of direct payment – go to the gas blenders or other oil interests.

Ethanol companies and farmers have supported these tax incentives that go to whoever blends the ethanol in with gasoline be it local or regional business or larger big oil wholesalers. The truth is, for an industry that has had your fuel dollars in a choke hold for decades, oil interests have had little reason in the early years for them to blend.

Better for the environment, domestic jobs, energy security are noble reasons to support biofuels but ultimately, profit is the central focal point for big oil.  Profitability is likely a key directive for any business that wants to survive.

However, with increasingly competitive ethanol prices, the oil and gas guys often pad their profits nicely over and above the blender tax credit. Why not eliminate it? Most rational people in the industry think is should be phased out and the amount has been reduced already. The trick will be reducing it again and eventually eliminating subsidies it in a way that makes sense for consumers and will assure we sustain this critical domestic fuel source long term.

And any cuts to tax incentives for renewable should be directed at big oil too, especially considering the years they have been at the public tax trough. The largest U.S subsidies to fossil fuels are attributed to tax breaks that aid foreign oil production, according to research released by Environmental Law Institute.

The study, which reviewed fossil fuel and energy subsidies for Fiscal Years 2002-2008, reveals that the lion’s share of energy subsidies supported energy sources that emit high levels of greenhouse gases. Fossil fuels benefited from approximately $72 billion over the seven-year period, while subsidies for renewable fuels totaled only $29 billion.

In the interim, one interesting side effect from the BP oil disaster is the growing public awareness of how profitable Fortune 100 companies like BP are and have been for decades. For BP, a $20 billion outlay for oil spill damages is a drop in a very large bucket. (more…)

Oil: The Real Green Fuel? What?

In a new story posted at National Review, writer Jonah Goldberg breaks from his normally rational approach to issues by arguing that oil is “greener than green” fuels like ethanol and the BP oil disaster doesn’t change that.

I beg to differ. There is nothing green about oil, and contrary to his contention this changes everything. The BP incident may very well be the poster child for the future literally and figuratively. Literally because it will happen again somewhere else in the world because of the inherent risk and figuratively because it reinforces the point that all the easy oil is gone.

From here on out each barrel will carry an increasingly high environmental price whether it comes from the deep ocean or is dug from open pits on the face of mother earth as tar sands.

Goldberg goes on to compare the hypoxic zone at the mouth of the Mississippi, otherwise known as the “Dead Zone”  by those with a flair for the dramatic, to the oil disaster. Several things make agriculture’s role in these areas of oxygen starved water difficult to understand. Many scientists say hypoxic zones are naturally occurring. Dead zones exist at the mouth of lots of rivers around the world, including many that mysteriously use no commercial fertilizers in their watersheds.

His contention that increased ethanol production will increase the size of the dead zone (he cites a National Academy of Sciences 2008 study)  is clearly off base and displays an ignorance of what the technological revolution taking place in modern agriculture. Corn yields are skyrocketing on the same acreage and at the same time this is occurring while new, innovative fertilization methods mean we are growing 70% more corn per ounce of fertilizer.

Much of the science also seems to be solely focused on agriculture while giving short shrift to other major sources that contribute large quantities of nitrogen, phosphorus etc…such as homeowner and golf course applications. Then there is always the one big documented offender…antiquated, deteriorating or just plain inadequate public sewage treatment plants. (more…)

The Facts Are Piling Up

Looks like some of the so-called environmental groups may be having crow for dinner yet again.  A new peer-reviewed study from Stanford University demonstrates how modern agriculture has slowed the pace of global warming.  Given the incessant string of baseless criticism lobbed at agriculture over the past few years, it is refreshing to see a major university recognize the incredible role modern agriculture plays in feeding and sustaining our planet.

The study determined that high-yield agriculture has prevented the equivalent of 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.  The same high-yield production that many criticize while advocating for a return to more primitive methods has actually helped save the planet.  So when some environmentalist wannabe comes down on farmers, let him know the truth.  Well- respected scientists and informed citizens know that the U.S. farmer is a great environmentalist.  Arguing against the best technology, advanced practices and most carefully thought out agricultural model available in pursuit of a romanticized notion of a bygone era does not makes sense.

Corn Farmers Coalition Creating Buzz in Washington


One good barometer of the success of an advertising campaign is to generate buzz, cultivate conversation and even attract the attention of the occasional rock thrower. Based on this yardstick the new Corn Farmers Coalition campaign in Washington, DC is a raging success.

It has attracted positive attention from the media, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and several key societal thought leaders. On the negative side several environmental bloggers have taken exception to the campaign labeling it “hilarious, calling it “greenwashing” and “pro-corn propaganda. Since when did publicly displaying USDA and EPA facts become a subversive pursuit? Feel free to go to these sites and comment.

CFC  efforts have also surfaced the old traditional tactic used by these detractors to label family corn farmers as “industrial corn” (whatever the heck that is)  or one of my personal favorites….”King Corn.”  Anyone who actually knows one of the 300,000 family farmers in the U.S. already knows the proper term is “industrious” as this is a prerequisite to surviving in the low profit margin world that is modern agriculture. If you want to see what these fourth and fifth generation farmers look like click here. (more…)

Public Needs to Know Facts About Family Farmers

Facts are stubborn things” says Guestblogger Lindsay Mitchell, Project Coordinator for the Illinois Corn Marketing Board.

 The Illinois Corn Marketing Board is part of the Corn Farmers Coalition  along with other state corn grower groups and the National Corn Growers Association.  Earlier this week, we launched a new phase of our educational campaign that started last year. The goal is to let policy makers – and those who influence them – from think tanks to environmental groups in Washington, DC  - know corn farmers really are environmental stewards, conscious about food safety, and enjoying every minute of life on the farm with their family at their side.

 We covered the launch on our website if you’d like to read more.

 The thing is, the Environmental Working Group is calling our campaign “Greenwashing,” meaning that we’re trying to paint our industry as a green industry even though it’s not.  Well, call me old fashioned, but when someone I love is attacked, it ruffles my feathers a bit and this blatant disregard for facts just doesn’t sit well with me.

 The FACT is farmers are green. 

 CFC ads report data like “Thanks to new, innovative fertilization methods, today’s American corn farmers are producing 70% more corn per pound of fertilizer.”  That data comes straight from the USDA and that data reflects an industry that is conscious of what they are using and placing on the land in their care.  Show me another industry that is so environmentally conscious or has such a great story to tell.

 The FACT is farmers are operating family (not corporate) farms.

 I’ll speak from experience here; I know a lot of farmers.  Every single one of them is just a regular, down home guy – the sort that would wave at a stranger from the cab of their pick-up truck, the sort that would stop and help you if you had car trouble, the sort that jumps from the tractor to the shower and speeds into town to watch their son’s t-ball game or their daughter’s dance recital. 

 EWG says that “There are thousands of large, plantation-scale corn factories dotting the American landscape, family-owned or not.  And family ownership does not necessarily equal small.  Agricultural supply giant Cargill is family-owned.  So are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Twins.”

 To compare the family farm I grew up on to the Minnesota Twins is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard.  My dad farms a lot of acres – some his own, some his brothers, and some his neighbors that retired from farming.  To the local farmer’s market consumer, I know he looks like a plantation owner.  But he’s the one driving the tractor.  He’s the one stressing over marketing decisions.  He’s the one dealing with environmental regulations that EPA bureaucrats decide are relevant.  He’s the one trying to make his small business work with only the help of wife at home to support him and his dad at the end of the row to bring him a drink.  I doubt Cargill and the Minnesota Twins are operated in the same manner.

 And he’s not unique. (more…)

Corn Farmers Coalition Showcases Facts About Family Farmers

If you haven’t already tuned into the new level of activism in agriculture, especially regarding misinformation on our largest industry, then you won’t find better evidence of this evolving cultural phenomenon than the Corn Farmers Coalition.

Speaking to a couple of family farmers recently they expressed their frustration at the misinformation, innuendo and outright fabrications that are being used to frame their chosen profession. As upset as they were, there was also a prevalent sense that there was nothing they could do to change things.

If you are frustrated and tired of all the attacks and negative news swirling around agriculture you have come to the right place. Read slowly, soak this up, and then if you are a corn farmer give yourself a big pat on the back.

Imagine 60,000 city people getting a positive message about farmers every day. As they go to and from work, go out for dinner, go to a movie, or just go about their life in general. Next imagine that most of these people are employed in jobs on or near Capitol Hill in Washington, DC…Congressmen, staffers, agency employees, lobbyists, environmental groups, and even media. That’s what is happening right now as you read this thanks to the efforts of farmers themselves.

In the attached photo of the Union Station Metro stop in Washington, DC you can see several of the ads that will be prevalent throughout June and July as part of CFC’s efforts.  From the highly trafficked Metro system, to Reagan National Airport, to the most widely read political publications like Politico and Congressional Quarterly. Throw in on-line advertising at the aforementioned publications,, National Public Radio, ads in the Washington Nationals baseball team programs, and a smattering of talk, sports, and contemporary radio and you begin to get a feel for the breadth and scope of this campaign. It is conservatively estimated the educational campaign will create more than 10 million positive impressions in the land of policy and regulation.

Equally as impressive is that CFC, and the $1 million in corn checkoff funds backing the campaign, comes straight from family farmers in Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and Michigan who believe we need to introduce a foundation of facts to the dialogue in Washington.

Ten messages based on USDA and EPA facts will be used in the campaign to show tech-savvy, innovative farmers are growing more corn every year - for food, animal feed, ethanol and exports - while using fewer resources and protecting the environment.

The coalition will meet with media, members of Congress, environmental groups and others to talk about what’s ahead: how U.S. farmers, using the latest technologies, will continue to expand yields and how this productivity can be a bright spot in an otherwise struggling economy.

We have a great story to tell so take heart.  You can make a difference and CFC offers clear evidence.

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