Corn Commentary

Global Rebound Effect Defies Reason

If you thought Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) was a crazy and unprovable theory, now ethanol is being challenged by something even crazier - the Global Rebound Effect.

The Clean Air Task Force has filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency over the Renewable Fuel Standard for failing “to account for the “global rebound effect” when analyzing the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels.”

It is doubtful that a truly sane person could put any credence in this theory, which goes on the assumption that, “By displacing some gasoline from the US market, the RFS reduces overall demand for petroleum, which in turn leads to lower prices, increased consumption, and higher greenhouse gas emissions in other countries. If EPA had considered the “global rebound effect” in its analysis of different biofuels, only a few of those fuels would have met Congress’s emissions reduction requirements.”

Using this theory, ANY action the United States might take to reduce gasoline consumption - from using more ethanol to increasing vehicle fuel efficiency - will result in INCREASED gasoline use elsewhere in the world. So, it makes no sense. As Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen puts it, “Whatever environmentalist activists call this new theory, I call it nonsense.”

Near as I can tell, this theory was proposed in August of last year by Steven Stoft, founder of the Global Economic Policy Center. In something he wrote called, “Corn Whiskey vs. the Climate,” Stoft says, “More ethanol use causes less oil to be imported, which causes a lower world “oil” price, which causes more liquid-fuel use worldwide. This same effect applies to conserving oil as well as to replacing it with ethanol, or even to pumping more oil from Alaska.”

Perhaps the environmentalists have come up with this new theory as another rabbit for EPA to chase now that ILUC is getting tired, but this is seriously crazy talk. Does this mean we should not bother trying to reduce our use of oil at all? If someone can explain the reasoning here, I would love to hear it.

Atrazine Loss Would Impact Sweet Corn

A summer without sweet corn would be like a summer without sunshine, but that could be in our future if atrazine is eliminated as a weed control.

Granted, sweet corn only accounts for about one percent of all the corn produced in the United States, but it is a high value crop for states like Florida and California, with a farm value of close to a billion dollars annually. According to a Weed Science Society of America study, atrazine is the primary mechanism of weed control in all types of corn, used on about two-thirds of the sweet corn fields they studied just here in the Midwest.

Atrazine is already known to play a central role in field corn weed management systems. This study shows that the herbicide is even more important in sweet corn. Loss of atrazine would have serious consequences, especially to growers whose fields are particularly weedy and to growers moving away from soil cultivation. Moreover, other herbicides registered in sweet corn perform better when applied with atrazine. One alternative, mesotrione, is both more expensive and less effective. Subsequent production cost increases would invariably be passed on to consumers, whose demand for sweet corn has made it one of the most popular crops in the United States. Atrazine is a significant component of sweet corn weed management. Presently, economically viable alternatives to replace atrazine are not well developed or demonstrated.

Of course, atrazine has been registered and used in the United States for more than 50 years but ongoing controversy about the herbicide has prompted the EPA to conduct a reassessment which is on-going. If they decide to eliminate it, this could be the last summer we can afford to enjoy sweet corn on the cob, and that is a sad thought.

But, hopefully, that will not happen. So, as you get ready for summer grilling season, here is a website with tips for tasty grilled corn on the cob. Enjoy!

Farmers Take us to School on the Environment


The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has just released its latest National Resources Inventory.  The document is a report card of sorts that gives us a look at how we are doing in regard to managing and caring for non-public lands including farms and ranches.

According to farm leaders like Bob Stallman if you look at the NRI environmental report in conjunction with USDA’s productivity figures you get a compelling picture of an American success story. The shrinking environmental footprint of farmers who produce our food and fiber is remarkable, and even more so when you look at the accompanying increases in productivity.

The latest data basically gives farmer documentation for what we already knew…growers are doing more with less; Less land, less water, less crop inputs from pesticides to fertilizer, and all the while getting gonzo increases in productivity of crops like corn.

This was the very reason corn growers created the Corn Farmers Coalition (CFC) last year; to bridge the large gap between what consumers don’t know or think they know and the reality of modern, innovative farming. In the case of CFC the idea was to start small by educating decision leaders in Washington, DC because of the enormous impact Congress and other federal agencies can have on farmers either legislatively or through regulation.

It is sad how few people outside of farming understand this achievement. In fact some very vocal elitist minorities in our society want us to divert from the progress-lined path that has made U.S. agriculture such a marvel. The good news is the start made by CFC is now part of a larger fabric of educational efforts underway from Monsanto’s Thank a Farmer to The Hand That Feeds Us campaign.

Today’s farm families are making a difference in one of the most fundamental and important professions on the planet…growing crops to convert the sun’s energy to calories. Including calories for food to sustain our bodies, calories to feed livestock, calories like ethanol to drive our cars, and the list goes on.

Now NRCS gives us a well-deserved “A” on our environmental report card. This is a story worth telling, especially given the misleading information being spewed by some agenda driven groups. So, look for opportunities to speak up for your farm; Do it locally, tell your story online through social media, tell your elected officials. We all have a vested interest in getting this right.

Ethanol Offers Environmental Benefits

 It’s Earth Day so it seems an apropos opportunity to discuss an often ignored environmental calamity resulting from our addiction to oil and petroleum products. And two words tell the story – Exxon Valdez. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was one of the most publicized and studied environmental tragedies in history, largely because it happened near the United States.

The Valdez incident in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989 is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters ever to occur in history dumping nearly 11 million gallons of crude into the sea.

However, the public has a short memory and this disaster was quickly forgotten. Other spills continue around the world, many in remote places that don’t draw media attention. Most recently a Chinese freighter, the Shen Neng, crashed into Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The incident prompted a question from a friend who asked what if the vessel had been loaded with ethanol?

After the mandatory wise crack about drunken marine life things turned a little more serious.

If ship-load quantities of ethanol were to be spilled, there could be some immediate area effects because of high concentrations. There could be effects on aquatic life.  However, this is easily remedied by something as simple as aeration.

Even better news is that ethanol will decrease in concentration rapidly because of the way it reacts with water and it is non-toxic. Equally important, ethanol biodegrades rapidly.  A little research indicates the effect of the Valdez is still being felt today despite diligent efforts and millions spent on restoration.

 So in short there will be no continued loss of aquatic life, or long term effects.  This is contrasted by the clean-up process of a crude oil spill – The environmental damage done during the clean-up phase (bringing in equipment, vacuuming up the oil, etc.) is almost as bad as the original spill – the cleanup itself brings significant damage to the local environment.

Given the many environmental benefits of ethanol on the land too, ethanol and biofuels deserve some serious thought if you really care about the planet. Happy Earth Day.

Activists Should Foot the Bill For Wasting Our Time and Tax $$

Personally, I need to diet, but I would rather not starve….I don’t mean cutting calories by choice either. If the anti-chemical crowd has their way the safest and most often studied chemical of all time called Atrazine will be relegated to history.

Perhaps the only thing more disturbing than this pit bull approach to attacking Atrazine (ok, it’s really more like a whiney 2nd grader – albiet with a lawyer -  who didn’t get their way) is that the Environmental Protection Agency is risking their credibility by giving these activists yet another audience.

Forbes columnist Jeff Stier, bemoans the craziness in his most recent piece, which he says is transparent from the start because of the filing of the case in Madison County, IL. The shear mention of this locale will make a lawyer chuckle. A friend once told anyone pleading a case here should be required to wear Mickey Mouse ears.

As Stier says, “A lawsuit in the “judicial hellhole” that is Madison County, IL., against the makers of the world’s most widely used herbicide threatens to undermine our way of evaluating risks in this country. If the lawyers-and the anti-chemical, anti-business activists-get their way, American agriculture will be forced back to practices of the pre-industrial age. And that will be only the first step in the “environmentalist” agenda to roll back progress.”

“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), unfortunately, has now loaned its weight to the activists’ Luddite effort to restrict or ban a number of safe and useful agricultural chemicals in common use-with Atrazine, the most effective weed-killer available, only one of the targets.”

Considering we will have 9 billion people to feed in the near future we might want to be careful about putting the golden goose agriculture represents on the legal barbeque. Personally, I have had enough of this over fed and overindulged crowd that are willing to make millions suffer so they can have a risk free life.

Perhaps the most salient truth in the article is that everything is toxic at some level but harmless in small enough amounts, including things like coffee. Since scientists can now detect substances at parts per trillion, an amount smaller than a drop in an Olympic-sized pool. It is time to stop expending this kind of energy and tax resources on a dead issue and move on.

Where’s the Love?

President Obama gave a speech this morning from a hanger at Andrews Air Force Base reiterating our country’s need for energy independence. While he merely gave a “passover” comment regarding biofuels, his big announcement is that our country will be pursuing offshore drilling as well as drill in sensitive environmental areas of Alaska in the quest for energy independence.

The irony is that we don’t have to drill for more oil when we can grow our energy with less harm to the environment while boosting our economy. However, day after day people keep focusing on what’s wrong with biofuels, rather than what’s wrong with fossil fuels and instead of focusing on what’s right with biofuels.

Two weeks ago a “new study” came out addressing indirect land use and claiming that it is worse than what the EPA or California Air Resources Board has accounted for. Needless to say, the researchers were funded by Big Oil and the report merely rehashed discredited science. Then yesterday, the National Wildlife Federation released a report that asked for the RFS to be repealed. Seriously? Because dirty fossil fuels are the way to a brighter, cleaner future? I think not.

This orchestrated smear campaign brings to mind the lyrics from the Black Eyed Peas song, “Where is the love?”

Father, Father, Father help us
Send us some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love?

Where is the love? And where is the love for the hardworking American’s that not only feed us but are poised to produce our energy as well? I recently moved to a farm, in part to better understand the role farmers play in America. I wish that every American, and more specifically, every environmental activist, could do the same. Maybe then people would quit being so caught up in all the wrong things which paralyzes us from taking action, and focus on the good things and how they are evolving to ensure our energy future.

But until we have the opportunity to live in Utopia, we must keep up the good fight and continue to get the positive messages out about agriculture in a world that continues to be guided by the wrong principals.

Fibs, Faux Pas, and Science According to the Beatles

Is it too much to ask for some integrityand just plain honesty in the world? Growing up I probably came across as totally naïve to many of those around me because I believed authority figures like government officials and scientists and most any adult in my life. And you could have convinced me my parents carried the second tablet down the mountain for Moses. The reason was simple…I had no reason not to.

Today, I share trust and dole out faith in the smallest of measures because we seem to be surrounded by fibs, manufactured “facts,” bogus science, and politicians and businessmen that would have been whacked back to the stone age with a ruler by Sister Mary Margaret in third grade.

A quick look at the news this week easily surfaced examples of this kind of fast and loose use of incorrect information, handy subterfuge, and dare I say it…lies.

The first is news from the London Telegraph which notes the venerable United Nations has admitted a report linking livestock to global warming exaggerated the impact of eating meat on climate change or global warming.

The 2006 study, Livestock’s Long Shadow, claimed meat production was responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions – more than transportation.

“Its conclusions were heralded by campaigners urging consumers to eat less meat to save the planet. Among those calling for a reduction in global meat consumption is Sir Paul McCartney.”

Now Sir Paul doesn’t strike me as the scientist type so perhaps that should have been a clue. If Dr. Ringo had made the claim that would have been different. The point is for three years many people have been assured eating meat would leading to global Armageddon brought on by nothing less than cow flatulence. Oh, the indignity.

All the time the truth is that “meat and milk production generates less greenhouse gas than most environmentalists claim and that the emissions figures were calculated differently to the transport figures, resulting in an “apples-and-oranges analogy that truly confused the issue.”

If your jaded self is still with me it’s on to example 2. While we have been blissfully driving about in our trucks and SUVs it seems the oil magnates of the world have been manipulating oil supply numbers for financial gain and to curry political favor. (Insert sound effects of heavy and shocked intake of breath here). (more…)

The Meltdown

Guest Blogger:  Laurie Johns, Iowa Farm Bureau

It’s that time again; time to put wool socks and sweaters back in storage (check); shop for garden seeds and repot indoor plants (check); make summer camp plans for my ‘tween (working on it); and time for critics to dust off their finger-pointing stories that blame farmers for Spring flooding.

Wish I was kidding about that last bit. But, it seems no matter what devastating weather hits Iowa, farmers get the blame for the fall-out when the snow melts and finds its way downstream. Do all farmers practice conservation? No, but the overwhelming majority do, and the ‘blame game’ ignores all these herculean efforts to protect the watershed:

* USDA’s National Resources Inventory report shows soil erosion in the U.S. has been reduced by 43 percent.

* Seven major conservation practices used on Iowa farms are estimated to remove as much as 28 percent of the nitrate, 38 percent of the total nitrogen, and up to 58 percent of the phosphorus that otherwise would be present, according to the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development’s “Conservation Practices in Iowa: Historical Investments, Water Quality and Gaps” report.

* Those conservation efforts include having almost 15.2 million acres in conservation tillage (where plant stubble is left on the land after harvest, to prevent erosion) and more than two thousand miles of grassy buffer strips along waterways. (more…)

Top Scientists and Petroleum Operatives See a Future for Bio-Products

If you’ve sort of forgotten about domestic ethanol as an alternative to imported gasoline, be assured that Tom Stephens hasn’t.

Stephens, who was in Orlando recently to speak at the National Ethanol Conference, is vice chairman of global product operations for General Motors. He knows as well as anybody that our gasoline supply won’t last forever, and we’re long past the point where we should be concentrating our efforts on weaning the U.S. from our dependence on oil. GM has lived by that philosophy and has been the automotive leader in offering up flexible fuel vehicles that run on gasoline, E85 or any gasoline-ethanol combo in between.

Despite all their efforts, those by NCGA and many others, there are only 7.5 million E85 capable FFV’s in operation today and 2,000 stations offering up the corn-based, eco-friendly fuel. Surely nothing to sneeze at but given our voracious appetite for gasoline in the U.S. we have plenty of room for improvement.

With that sobering assessment, let’s take a look at some signs of what the future might hold.  The U.S. Department Energy projections say ethanol production is on the rise and we will make 800,000 barrels a day in 2010, up from 700,000 last year. Another 50,000 barrels a day will be added in 2011. The trend seems to document the buzz in the industry that ethanol makers are recovering from the sluggish economic conditions that have plagued every industry.

 That’s a good thing considering the ethanol industry added $53 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product and $16 billion in U.S. household income last year even as the ethanol industry struggled. (more…)

Government Earns 400% ROI on Ethanol Blender’s Credit

Recently, a nation starved for domestic energy supplies and sources, has managed to lose its way in the deep dark forest of the unknown that is the speculative science of indirect land use change. In typical American fashion – or at least this seems to be the new norm – we have missed the point, evaded the crux of the issue and been distracted by ne’re-do-wells with questionable motives.

So in the name of refocusing the energy debate, I offer up the bold statement that ethanol fuel is a slam dunk when it comes to offering a real solution. First, it is here today, not on a drawing board or in a lab and it helps us achieve many of our critical goals such as providing jobs, making us less dependent on foreign oil from often hostile sources, and it pollutes less than gasoline during its manufacture and use. And as a bonus, with biofuels like ethanol we also get a product that is renewable. Anything that directs our focus away from these fundamental truths should be looked at with a skeptical eye.

There appears to be some evidence that rational thinking is not dead and more and more people are beginning to understand the fallacies and foibles of the concept of indirect land use. Historical trends indicate that increased U.S. ethanol demand has not been a significant driver of land use change. Increased crop productivity (growing more on the same amount of land) has primarily provided the growth in production necessary to meet heightened demand. But if history has shown us one thing it is that critics of ethanol will not go gently into that good night.

The next issue can already be seen on the horizon and it can be seen clearly because it is not a “new” criticism. It is called the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC). This is the incentive put in place to encourage gasoline marketers to blend 10% ethanol in a gallon of gasoline. It is the carrot that got the entrenched oil industry to rethink their century old product mix and make it better. (more…)

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