Corn Commentary

Celebrating Amaizing Maize

A new exhibit slated to open in September at the Indiana State Museum will tell the “amaizing” story of corn, “the most productive domesticated plant and the greatest plant breeding achievement of all time.”
“Amazing Maize: The Science, History and Culture of Corn,” opening September 24, “will take visitors on a journey through the centuries, beginning with corn’s unlikely origins in a small-eared bushy plant called teosinte. Visitors will trace the global spread of the crop following Christopher Columbus’ travels, including its social impact in Africa and Europe. Then they will return to the shores of America to explore the push to improve productivity and the rise of hybrid corn. The final stop on the journey will highlight the modern technology used to improve and grow this most important crop.”
Divided into six sections, “Amazing Maize”will be full of videos and interactive pieces that will appeal to kids and adults alike. Visitors can test a specialty corn-based starch that keeps products dry, or try their hand at a wooden corn pounder that requires more than a little muscle. They can sit on a 1900s-era “corn gospel train” and listen to the nation’s first agronomy professor, P.G. Holden, reveal his secrets for increasing corn yields. Fast forward to the modern day and visitors can check out the latest in production technology from the seat of a Case IH combine simulator.

“Indiana corn farmers are excited to see the Indiana State Museum tell the story of a crop that has been so integral to not only our rural communities, but our state as a whole,” said Jane Ade Stevens, executive director of Indiana Corn Marketing Council, local presenting sponsor of Amazing Maize.
Those who visit “Amazing Maize”will never think of a field of corn as “ordinary” again. Instead, they will see the plant for what it truly is: the result of an extraordinary story about humankind and its ingenuity.

The exhibit will cover 5,000 square feet and run for a year at the museum, with plans in the works for a smaller exhibit that will travel nationally. Sounds like something everyone should see.

Busted! Argonne Scientist Counters Ethanol Myths

With all of the misinformation about ethanol flying around, some consumers have become confused about who they can and cannot trust as a source of information.  Why not go straight to the experts?  An Argonne National Laboratory Transportation Technology R&D Center Mechanical Engineer has decided to clear the air and let everyone in on what scientists already know – ethanol is an excellent alternative fuel option.

Addressing fallacies about food prices, water use and greenhouse gas emissions, Forrest Jehlik shows clearly how the many misconceptions that plague ethanol have no scientific basis.  Backed by Argonne’s laudable reputation for scientific excellence, his statements provide the direct, clear facts.

Noting that the 900,000 barrels of ethanol the U.S. produces per day is equal to our Nigerian oil imports and “within striking distance of the amount we import from Venezuela or Saudi Arabia,” Jehlik gives strong reasons to reexamine our view of ethanol itself and of the policies and regulations aimed at this amazing industry.


When Sugar Isn’t So Sweet

The battle of the sweeteners rages on as the Western Sugar Cooperative sues the Corn Refiners Association and corn processors to stop use of the words “corn sugar” in place of the more traditional “high fructose corn syrup.”  Despite arguments that they want to protect consumers from false advertising, the reasons behind the suit are anything but sweet.

Even the notable foodie and nutritionist Marion Nestle agrees, the biochemical difference between sugars made from corn, beets or cane is insignificant. In a recent article, Nestle goes so far as to state that “your body cannot tell them apart.”

If corn sugar is biochemically the same as other sugars and reacts the same way in a human body, why is the Western Sugar Cooperative crying foul?  They want to maintain the marketing advantage that anti-HFCS campaigns have built over the past decade.

By scaring consumers into the mistaken belief that HFCS somehow magically metabolizes differently than other almost biochemically identical sweeteners, sugar has gained an advantage.  Now, many familiar products boast that they are not made with HFCS.  Should consumers become aware of the fact that the amount (not the type) of sweetener in their food causes weight gain, they would most probably opt for the more affordable option: Corn sugar.

Vote with your pocketbook this weekend.  Whether shopping for groceries or picking up a special treat for mom, don’t be fooled into picking a product just because it doesn’t contain corn sugar.  Be smarter than the anti-HFCS marketers expect and buy affordable, delicious foods without unfounded fear – even top nutritionists know that it is okay.


Make Your Voice Heard: GMO Provides Safe, Healthy Food for the World

Even as media reports bemoan rising food prices, foodie elitists don’t get the picture.  An ongoing poll on seems to shows that many people still do not understand that GMO crops allow farmers to grow enough food to feed the world’s growing population in an affordable manner.

Early this afternoon, over 77 percent of voters responded that they would prefer GMO foods be labeled.  While a request for information is not shocking, many of the comments posted are.  With cries to ban all GMO based upon false, misstated science and uninformed to fabricated anecdote, the wave of snobbish respondents demonstrates their lack of understanding.  Frankly, the comments show that they do not understand farming, the science behind food safety and show a genuine lack of concern for their fellow man who cannot afford to tool over to Whole Foods for organic kale every Sunday.

The poll is still open, so time is left to show that reasonable citizens support scientifically-proven, safe crops that help feed the growing population.  Simply click here and leave a comment showing that people in the know still have common sense and compassion.

This Super Bowl, We Can All Cheer for Our Nation’s Farmers

Fans across the country are getting ready to spend this Sunday rooting on the Packers or the Steelers with friends.  While they enjoy one of the biggest sporting events of the year, they will enjoy hoagie sandwiches, chili, pizza and maybe a beer.  It takes more than just players to make these annual Super Bowl celebrations possible, it takes farmers.

Listening to office banter or chatting with friends, party goers excitedly discuss the menu nearly as much as the matchup.  What do most of the perennial favorites have in common?  Corn.

From buffalo wings to beer, corn makes the game day feast possible.  Serving as both a livestock feed for the sausage and pepperoni on the pizza and as an additive that gives Miller Lite its refreshing taste, the foods we enjoy while celebrating depend upon the abundant, affordable corn crop our nation’s farmers provide every year.

So this year, take a second during the pregame show to think about what the hard work of U.S. corn growers does for you.  The nation may be divided on which team to back this Sunday, but everyone can cheer on America’s family farmers.  So give a cheer for the team that gives it 110 percent by remembering that U.S. agriculture is working hard for you.

Maybe even try a pre-game warm up by learning more about U.S. corn farmers by clicking here.

Corn, Livestock, Protein Connection Critical Knowledge

In this season of thankfulness and joy why not make sure that family farmers and ranchers make it on your Christmas list. They don’t want much; just a little appreciation for all they do to put clothes on your back, fuel in your car and food on your plate to nourish your body.

It all starts with knowledge because once the average American understands the business of farming better and has a better handle on how essential this industry of independent entrepreneurs is to us all then the thankfulness comes naturally.

And that’s what the National Corn Growers Association’s Holiday Viral Email campaign is about. The idea is to take one small part of agriculture and connect the dots. In this case the focus is on showing the important role corn and distillers grains from ethanol production to raising all kinds of livestock and related products and converting it to critical protein to keep us healthy and vital.

Attached to this blog is the second email in the series which showcases beef. The first message featured a turkey and went out the week of Thanksgiving. Chicken, pork and dairy are yet to come. You can view them all at the link above.

The idea of a viral email is simple; it starts with one person sending it to 10 people and asking them to send it to their friends, family, and business associates via email, facebook etc… This seemingly simple concept can result in thousands of people getting a positive message about our largest and most important industry.

I would appreciate your help in disseminating this to the widest possible audience. The entire image is clickable and goes to a backgrounder online related to the importance protein.

It’s easy…..just go to What Does Protein Do. At the bottom of the page you will find all of the images. Pick one and cut and paste it into an email along with a message asking your friends to pass it on. Come back each week between now and Christmas and send another one. The turkey is fair game again if you haven’t already sent it and you get bonus points for sending to non-Aggies.

Appreciate & Activate This Thanksgiving…and Thank a Farmer

This Thanksgiving as I sit down with family and friends to share a special meal I will do so with a strange cloud of pride and concern hanging over the festivities; pride because of the amazing productivity, innovation and hard work of America’s family farmers that make the meal - and our very existence - possible. And concern because about 15% of U.S. households — 17.4 million families — lacked enough money to feed themselves at some point last year, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

I don’t bring this up to give you guilt or make your turkey taste less succulent, but to perhaps make you more understanding of what a gift our efficient farms really are and to help us all be sufficiently thankful that share that bounty.

On the positive side the U.S. continues to have the safest, most affordable food in the world. A classic turkey feast with all the fixings for 10 people will cost $43.47 this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual price survey.  The total cost rose 56 cents, or about 1.3 percent, from last year’s $42.91 average. Both figures are lower than the cost from two years ago, when the meal cost $44.61.

Turkey, a Thanksgiving staple, came in at $17.66 this year, roughly 6 cents per pound cheaper than last year. Unbelievable compared to food costs in many other nations. And yet 6.8 million of American households — with as many as 1 million children — are having ongoing financial problems that force them to miss meals regularly.

The number of food insecure homes has tripled compared with 2006, before the recession brought double-digit unemployment. Sure the vast majority of Americans continue to worry more about their expanding waste line than where their next meal is coming from, but this perhaps makes the hunger situation even more tragic.

So there you have it…..a meager increase of 1.3% in the cost of an already affordable meal and yet it remains out of the reach of way to many Americans. My best advice is to recognize the problem while not being overwhelmed by it. A small effort to help by lots of people can result in astounding progress.

 Interestingly enough the aforementioned food producers are already acting as a model donating everything from corn to pork to eggs and even fresh produce to foodbanks from Missouri to Illinois to New Mexico…and it goes on and on.

 Yet another reason to thank a farmer!

New Way to Help Chickens Cross to the Other Side

Years ago I wrote a blog asking what “happy chicken” tastes like. It was in response to a small but growing number of people who preferred free range chicken. The theory being that it was more humane letting them roam and fend for themselves than living in a building or in a cage.

Funny thing is that chickens have a pretty strong menu avoidance mechanism. In much of farm country free range chickens are referred to as coyote hors d’oeuvres. Most are smart enough not to wander to far from people and they head for the chicken house before dark because of the aforementioned coyote and or fox. And truth is we can’t feed a hungry world with these old school methods.

In today’s New York Times William Neuman says, “shoppers in the supermarket today can buy chicken free of nearly everything but adjectives… free-range, cage-free, antibiotic-free, raised on vegetarian feed, organic, even air-chilled….coming soon stress free.”

The stress is eliminated by a new process that puts them to sleep with carbon dioxide prior to slaughter. My immediate reaction was to think of about three inappropriate jokes/references but then I read further to see that Temple Grandin, a renowned professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a prominent livestock expert,  helped design the system.

There are other experts who note most of the time people don’t want to think about where their food comes from or how the animal was killed which may in itself be a problem. In fact those opposed to animal agriculture use this as a tool to shackle and inhibit the industry. They show video footage of inhumane examples of animal treatment and slaughter that are not the norm.

The same experts argue to fight back in this image war we should show consumers a real farm, a real high-tech and modern slaughter facility. Research does show that this kind of exposure might make someone stop eating hamburgers or chicken but they get over it in a matter of days. Afterwards they get inoculated to future attempts to shock them by these animal rights groups.

This I do know; with few exceptions livestock from hogs to chickens are cared for well and humanely. Many live in climate controlled environments, they see a doctor/vet more than I do, and humane husbandry is the rule. This too I know; if our trend towards food with lots of adjectives describing it continues you will pay lots more for food.

Oxford “Leader” Should Apologize for Comments

Food prices did not go up much in 2010 and anticipated increases for the remainder of the year and next should also be about 1 percent, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Ephraim Leibtag, of ERS, says food prices should remain weak and fairly stable across the board even into 2011 when a food price increase of 2 to 3 percent is anticipated through next spring.  This is on a par with historical norms, he says, noting that modest inflation is actually a positive indicator of an improving economy.

The irony of the release of the USDA data and video was not missed by those in agriculture who were troubled by comments yesterday coming from what was billed as a global leadership conference.  Speaking in Naples, Florida Ian Goldin of Oxford University blamed corn prices and increased ethanol usage specifically for higher food prices.

Goldin, a former vice president of the World Bank, proved to be the loosest cannon on the conference’s  energy panel at what was billed as a global leadership conference. “Former” is the key word in his title here because it was a bogus World Bank report that set off the food vs. fuel media hysteria in 2008 that tried to finger corn and ethanol for higher consumer prices. 

World Bank later recanted saying that the report was mistaken and not properly fact-checked,  and it was soaring petroleum prices and wild speculation in the markets topping the list of food price drivers. Apparently Mr. Goldin missed the memo.

Given the rational and thorough debunking of the original World Bank report and their own weak but transparent apology it is bad form for this so called global leader” to continue to disseminate this drivel. It is unthinkable that he did so in such an irresponsible and incendiary manner blaming corn ethanol for causing “people to die of starvation.”

Growing Corn, Feeding Cattle and Producing Ethanol

We often hear about friction between the producers of corn and livestock over the growth in the production of ethanol. One Iowa farmer had an idea to diversify his operation and do both! Judging by the tour that the TATT Global Farmer to Farmer Roundtable participants received at his farm, Couser Cattle Company, he’s doing it very successfully.

Our host was Bill Couser. Bill conducted a fascinating presentation about his marriage of row crop farming (corn/soybeans), livestock production and ethanol production! You can see a portion of his explanation in the video below. He used a long table to display all the products he produces starting with an ear of corn and winding up with ethanol (2.81 gal/bushel of corn) as well as by-products like DDGS and ultimately fine quality beef. I loved his description about the whole food vs. fuel debate, “It’s rubbish!”

TATT Global Farmer To Farmer Roundtable Photo Album

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