Corn Commentary

Japanese Journalists Visit Nebraska Corn Country

A team of journalists from Japan were in Nebraska last week, hosted by the Nebraska Corn Board as part of a U.S. Grains Council trade mission. For some, it was the first time they ever saw corn growing in fields. The group visited Darr Feedlot in Cozad, a corn farm in Seward, the Monsanto Water Utilization Learning Center in Gothenberg, Advanced BioEnergy in Fairmont, Bunge Milling in Crete and the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

Alan Tiemann, chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board, hosted the team on his farm near Lincoln. “They got to see cattle on feed, where distillers grains and corn are fed, and then an ethanol plant where distillers grains is produced,” said Tiemann, pictured here in the blue shirt showing two members of the team a combine. “The new water learning center impressed the team. They found it very educational and it gave them a chance to see a number of seed technologies at one time. The milling operation and stop at the university added to the foundation of U.S. agriculture we provided for the group.”

“Team members were impressed by the high quality of Nebraska corn and the farmers’ use of agronomics and biotechnology to produce an abundant crop more efficiently,” said Tommy Hamamoto, the U.S. Grains Council’s director in Japan, who accompanied the group. “Journalists on the tour have a better understanding as to how U.S. corn is produced and used, which will help them better explain the U.S. grain system in fact-based news articles back home.”

Read more about the visit on the Nebraska corn growers blog.

Bringing Hope to Africa

Earlier this month, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a visit to Nairobi, Kenya where they met with agricultural officials and visited the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).

“We must help Africa produce enough food to feed its people and create economic opportunities for this continent,” Vilsack said during the appearance. “We can provide seed technologies, explain the appropriate use of fertilization, share techniques to manage land effectively, create a strong post-harvest infrastructure – so many things that could help farmers increase their income.”

USDA has partnered with KARI to prevent and control animal and pest diseases and improve food security, and develop and apply products and emerging technologies, “to cultivate hardier crops that can feed more people and thrive in harsher conditions, disease-resistant cassava plants, sweet potatoes enriched with Vitamin A to prevent blindness, maize that can flourish in times of drought.”

In her remarks, Secretary Clinton stressed the importance of agriculture to the world. “We are convinced that investing in agriculture is one of the most high-impact cost-effective strategies available for reducing poverty and saving and improving lives,” she said. “Oftentimes people think, well, if you’re modern, you don’t do agriculture anymore. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. If you don’t do agriculture, you don’t eat.”

Amen to that. Modern agricultural production is key to reducing global poverty. Our system of food production in the United States can and should be replicated. Instead of going backward, as some are advocating in this country, we can and should continue to move forward to wipe out hunger once and for all.

Ag Economist on Indirect Land Use

The International Federation of Agricultural Journalists Congress/Ag Media Summit in Fort Worth this week featured a “Great Debate” between retired Kansas State ag economist Barry Flinchbaugh and former Texas congressman Charlie Stenholm. Their topics were ag policy and trade but some of the focus was on the new cap and trade legislation, climate change and indirect land use.

During an interview after the debate, Flinchbaugh expanded on his comments about the issue climate change and renewable fuels.

“Front and center is renewable fuels and climate change and you can’t separate the two. And the question is global warming a hoax is a stupid question because the political system worldwide has decided that its for real and things are going to happen,” said Flinchbaugh. “The Supreme Court gave the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. So to pretend we can whip this, we being agriculture is ridiculous. We can’t whip this and we need to get inside the tent and help make the decisions.”

Listen to joint interview with Flinchbaugh conducted by Domestic Fuel reporter Joanna Schroeder and Kansas Ag Network reporter Greg Akagi.

Life Without Oil A Noble Goal

logo_oxy_full_smJust saw one of best arguments ever made against our continuing dependence on petroleum and better yet, it came from a global oil giant, Occidental Petroleum.

The commercial, now posted on You Tube, shows a gentleman and his dog reacting as many of the products in their home that contain petroleum disappear. Everything from the TV remote, to his easy chair and eventually the shingles on his home mysteriously go “poof” as evidence of how much we depend on petroleum.

I am sure some marketing/ad agency guru persuaded Occidental this cute concept was a good idea. However, in the decade of $4 gasoline not everyone views the commercial that way. For those concerned about our reliance on imported oil for more than 60% of our needs, this looks somewhat like a clarion call. All I could think while watching this is maybe we can still avoid the images portrayed in the spot by taking aggressive steps to reduce this petro dependence.

Maybe they didn’t get the memo that virtually everything we make from petroleum can be made from agricultural products like corn. Carpeting, ethanol, film and plastic resins are being made today. Combine this knowledge with the growing production capacity of corn producers and I think Occidental may have let the genie out of the bottle.

Life Without Oil sounds like a goal to me.

Missouri Corn Grower at the United Nations

Missouri corn grower Rob Korff recently had the opportunity to tell United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon about the important strides American farmers have made to produce more abundant, affordable food.

Korff, who is vice chairman of the Missouri Corn Growers and chairman of the National Corn Growers Association Biotechnology Working Group, took part in a United Nations food security meeting and discussion on June 12 in St. Louis.

“Beginning with a description of my family’s farming operation, I explained how technology has made corn production more efficient and stabilized yields,” said Korff. “Technology has reduced the amount of herbicides and pesticides needed, requiring less energy per bushel produced, thus reducing our carbon footprint.”

Korff shared facts and figures about how advances in precision farming and biotechnology have helped U.S. farmers produce more food on less acreage and stressed that it can help other countries do the same. “I believe biotech has been fully tested and is safe for consumption. It is allowing farmers to produce a more secure, abundant and affordable food supply,” he said. “As education and awareness spread, technology, and more specifically, biotechnology will be the answer to feeding our rapidly expanding world population.”

Meet Us in St. Louie

World Ag ForumRepresentatives of agribusiness in St. Louis pitched the importance of the Show Me state and the Bio Belt at the 2009 World Ag Congress Tuesday.

Novus International, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the American Soybean Association (ASA), and the University of Missouri were among those touting Missouri’s unique agribusiness climate and characteristics. NCGA Director of Biotechnology and Economic Analysis Nathan Fields said they were proud to call St. Louis home, which gives them a grassroots perspective.

World Ag Forum Nathan FieldsI talked with Nathan about the World Ag Congress and how the corn growers are working on the missions of sustainability and feeding the world. “We feel that U.S. corn production is a model system for the world,” he said. “We we have the greatest efficiency in production and we think that we have a lot of information that we can impart internationally to promote the technology that we use to increase productivity.”

You can listen to my interview with Nathan here:

Transition to a Global Biofuels Economy

Farm Foundation Transition To A Bioeconomy ConferenceFarm Foundation hosted another segment in their “Transition To A Bio Economy” conference series last week in Washington DC, focusing this time on “Global Trade and Policy Issues.” There were a number of very interesting presentations made at the conference, but here is just a sampling that provided commentary relevant to corn.

Seth Meyer with the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) discussed how biofuels policies are affecting commodity prices, trade and exports. “I think the last couple of years of proved that there are a lot of moving parts here, there are a lot of other things affecting export volume,” Meyer says. “It’s important to put biofuels policies in context.”

He noted that it’s difficult to predict the future for biofuels policy and how it might impact producers. “Things are very much in flux,” said Meyers. “There’s potentially a lot of policy risk for producers.”

Chuck Zimmerman interviewed Seth at the conference:

Another interesting presentation at the conference had to do with the impact of biofuels policy on global poverty.

Tom Hertel of Purdue University says they conducted an international study of 16 developing countries and the impact of biofuels production on the poverty level and found that “it’s a very complex issue” because higher food prices may have a greater or lesser impact depending on whether the poverty is located in more urban or rural areas. Since more poor live in rural areas, when agricultural prices are higher, they can actually benefit from higher returns.

You can listen to an interview with Tom here:

More coverage from the Farm Foundation conference can be found here on

Take the 30 Year Challenge

The challenge of feeding a growing global population may require some radical new thinking outside the traditional agricultural box.

That’s why the Farm Foundation has organized a competition looking for “innovative and promising public policy options to address the challenges agriculture may face in providing food, feed, fiber and fuel over the next 30 years.” The best ideas will win cash prizes totaling $20,000, thanks to the support of a number of organizations, including the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

NCGA President Bob Dickey said they felt it was important to be a part of this project. “Our country and the international community face a number of opportunities and challenges in the years ahead, and we believe there are ways we can help address these by producing more corn for food and energy,” said Dickey.

The competition is open to anyone with an interest in the public policy issues outlined in the Foundation’s report, “The 30-Year Challenge: Agriculture’s Strategic Role in Feeding and Fueling a Growing World.” That report identifies six major areas of challenges with a role in agriculture’s ability to provide food, feed, fiber and fuel to a growing world: global financial markets and recession; global food security; global energy security; climate change; competition for natural resources; and global economic development.

So, get your thinking cap on and come up with some creative new ideas on how to feed the world. Entry deadline is June 1, 2009. Rules and details can be found on-line here.

Allah and Ethanol

The idea that ethanol could be a sin under Muslim law is getting lots of attention in the blogosphere.

Recently, a prominent Muslim scholar in Saudi Arabia warned that using alcohol-based biofuels in cars could be a sin.

The warning was issued by Sheikh Mohamed Al-Najimi, a member of the Saudi Islamic Jurisprudence Academy, based on the Islamic directive that prohibits “all kinds of dealings with alcohol including buying, selling, carrying, serving, drinking, and manufacturing.” Saudi and Muslim youth studying abroad would be violating Muslim law if they used biofuel, since it “is basically made up of alcohol,” he said.

Najimi reportedly stressed that this warning was not an official fatwa, or religious edict, just his personal opinion and “needs to be studied by the relevant religious bodies.”

Green Car Reports got lots of comments on this story from others who refuted the concept, some of which are very interesting - like the comment from a Pakistani “motorhead” who said, “It’s quite convenient that a Saudi cleric should opine against the use of a substitute for Saudi petroleum.” How convenient, indeed.

Christian Science Monitor’s Bright Green Blog made a great point. Ironically, it was Muslim chemists who introduced distillation to the West. The process of distilling pure ethanol from wine was perfected by 8th- and 9th-century Persian chemists, who used it to create perfumes and eyeliner. Their writings were translated by European scholars in the 12th century, and the process was used to make potable spirits. The word “alcohol” is itself of Arabic origin.

The original story was reported by the Al Arabiya News Channel on February 20.

Feeding and Fueling the World

World Food Prize Ed SchaferThe answer to feeding a growing world population lies with building on the success of the American farmer, according to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, who addressed the World Food Prize breakfast last week in Des Moines.

“Our focus should be on sharing our technology, equipment and know-how, processes and procedures to help farmers all over the world boost the productivity of their land,” Schafer said. “Just in the last 15 years, our corn yields have increased from an average of 100 bushels per acre to 150 bushels per acre, a 50 percent increase in yield in 15 years.”

“Gains of this kind have allowed the United States producers to meet the rising demand for food and feed and fuel, while maintaining record level exports and strong food aid donations,” Schafer added.

Listen to Schafer’s comments regarding productivity here:

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