Corn Commentary

If the Corn Fact Doesn’t Fit, Those Still Reading Should Quit

In a world where it can be hard to cut through the media morass, Bloomberg Businessweek made it even more difficult to get to the heart of the GMO-labeling issue with an article on the differing political stances taken by Ben and Jerry’s and their parent company, Unilever. Noting the opinion of food activists who already openly take sides without consulting with market or industry analysts, the diatribe draws heavily on self-interested opinion to conclude Unilever faces financial repercussions for taking this course of action. The logic makes about as much sense as calling Chubby Hubby health food.

Ignoring the more studied statements of an actual analysts, who suggests Unilever would not want to risk potential PR-backlash should it shush the ice cream icons, the journalist pushes the prophecies Marion Nestle. While certainly a well-credentialed professor of nutrition and public health, her expertise in the realm of market realities does not engender the type of trust which the story’s author so willingly provides – and expects reader to also bestow.

In addition to the lose logic, an infographic on the benefits of biotech crops accompanies the stories. While one might also call it confusing at best, the picture tutorial draws some curious conclusions about corn. At first, it seems to imply GMO-varieties improved the yield of the average U.S. acre to 26 bushels of corn between 2001 and 2010. As anyone who follows agricultural statistics would automatically know, this does not hold even an iota of truth as the average yield per acre in 2010 published by USDA was 158.2. Upon further examination, the increase in average yield over that period does not even come out to 26 bushels as the 2001 data details an average acre yielded 138.2 bushels of corn. Thus, the infographic clearly demonstrates only the lack of informed data contained in the article it accompanies.

Everyone is entitled to have their own point of view but, if one seeks credibility, said point of view should be well informed. If Ben and Jerry’s wishes to adhere to a costly and confusing patchwork of state-level labels, so be it. As there is no guarantee of what each actually will mean in terms of standards or how it will appear on the product, it can choose to chase the next hip idea without reasoning how it might impact cost and logistics without offering additional actual information. Unilever, while allowing a wayward child to learn a lesson for itself, has the right to look at the potential impacts of disjointed, confusing regulations and come to another logical stance. That does make sense.

What does not make sense is the portrayal of the GMO-labeling free-for-all as some sort of greater moral battle. Food labels should be based upon factual, scientific information relevant to the health of consumers. Yet, as Bloomberg Businessweek could not get even the basic facts right, it makes sense that logic could not come from misinformation and misplaced credence.

Coldplay, Cartoons and the Clowns Over at Chipotle

For years now, musicians and actors have taken time out from patting themselves on the back during awards ceremonies to advance politicized causes.  The mega-produced shows, which take a public willingness to indulge the already pampered in self-congratulation all the way to the bank, now serve as a platform for entertainers to remind us that they are thoughtful, culturally-aware types.  Seemingly, it wasn’t enough for them to be richer and more attractive.  Now, they have to prove an intellectual and moral superiority by raising a ruckus on the hot issue of the day.

At the Grammy Awards this year, Chipotle cashed in on this trend releasing a two-minute commercial decrying the evil of modern animal agriculture.  Willie Nelson, long known to be a fan of a different type of farmer, strummed and sang to a Coldplay tune as cartoon images of a farmer and sweet little cartoon piggies drifted across the screen.

Personal repulsion to the insufferably self-aggrandizing, overly-produced, pseudo-intellectual impersonation of actual pain that underlies Coldplay’s music aside, the commercial plays upon the tendency of people to project what they want onto what they see.

Without a word, the ad strums along with melancholy nostalgia.  The pictures show that many animals now, yes, live in barns.  The sweet little cartoon pigs are shown actually locked behind a jail cell door like criminals. The farmer debates medicating himself, as shown through a thought bubble with a pill inside, or releasing his pigs back into pastures and blue sky with chickens running about too.

Luckily, it isn’t an actual depiction of how tender piglets might fare in a cold Iowa winter or how chickens do interact when left to their own devices.  Instead, it is the same sort of wishy-washy, rose-tinted vision that most people would like to be true, despite the many difficulties with the realities of such a situation. If you are already projecting an actual message for Chipotle, it isn’t a stretch to willfully block out the fiction underpinning the situation.

Instead of buying into the portrayal of agriculture in the commercial, Nebraska farmers and ranchers fought back by showing the amazing story of the livestock industry in a commercial of their own.  With solid information presented by actual human beings, the ad stands in stark contrast to Chipotle’s.  Unlike its counterpart it offers a forthright message too – Farming is ethical. Learn about it and become a fan.

As a public, we should applaud this effort.  Unlike the fast food giant, the farmers and ranchers of Nebraska trust that an informed public will see how amazing agriculture actually is today.  They stand behind their production practices and invite those outside of the industry to learn more.  They do not create a dream world with sappy music and emotionally evocative drawings.  They treat thinking adults as such rather than signing them a lullaby.

So become a fan.  Farmers work hard every day to produce a wide-variety of healthy, quality food options for us to enjoy.  So many in fact, that it would be easy to avoid Chipotle, demonstrating an unwillingness to accept their uninspired brainwashing, in favor of a those other options until they hit a less condescending note.

BTW: If you want to know about the actual Chipotle, the one that they obscure through this kind of advertising, check out past reporting from Corn Commentary here.

Straight Talk Straight from the Farm

People don’t trust traditional media the way that they did a decade ago.  Studies have reported time and time again that today people want to speak directly with the source.  CommonGround, a joint program between the National Corn Growers Association and the United Soybean Board, gives them just that opportunity.

By empowering farm women to tell their own stories of agriculture, CommonGround helps the connect the people who grow food with urban and suburban consumers interested in knowing more about what they feed their families.  Fostering open, honest communication, CommonGround shines a spotlight on the stories behind food production in America.

But why listen to a blog about it?  Farm broadcaster Pam Fretwell recently released a series of interviews with farmer, agvocate and CommonGround spokeswoman Dawn Caldwell.  Listen to Dawn talk about farming, her views on agriculture and her experience with this exciting program.


Ethanol Bashing is an Orchestrated High-Dollar Venture

 In yesterday’s blog I briefly discussed the phenomenon of editorials on an identical subject suddenly showing up in newspapers across the country almost like a flu epidemic had simultaneously hit newsrooms nationwide.

 The most recent attack on corn-based ethanol provides a great example of how these coordinated efforts are staged. The current outbreak, which began Sunday, hit the nation’s top tier opinion leaders on Sunday and Monday and began showing up in large regional daily newspapers like the Des Moines Register and the Columbus Dispatch the last two days. Many local papers can be expected to jump on the passing train by week’s end bringing yet another 6 day ethanol drubbing to an end.

 Editorials like this don’t happen in a vacuum, especially the main Op-ed pieces with no names attached because they represent the “official opinion” of the newspaper. In fact most editorial writers rarely leave the paper to venture into the real world to form their very articulate opinions.

 Most sit in their secluded offices each day and read others opinions, research the internet and read other papers trolling for ideas. However, most also hold court each day where the powerful and the influential come calling with their hat in their hand and try to persuade the editor to write a piece reflecting their position.

 If you happen to work at a large East Coast news outlet you have a tremendous amount of power because these folks generally start all news cycles and take the lead on deciding which issues get ink or airtime. Some people (yes, I know a few) make a good living professionally coaching CEOs in business and even government officials on how to best present and sell their message. Most have a news background and they use their contacts to grant attain access for others and grease the skids for their client.

 Why would someone go to such great lengths and even spend huge sums on Public Relations/Public Affairs companies to help them hone their talking points and put together professional information packets? Because if you hit a home run with someone like the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post, competing editors elsewhere will scramble to get something out as soon as possible and hope nobody notices they didn’t have it first. A sort of race begins. In this race it is ok to be second or even third but just like in the Olympics…nobody cares who got fourth place. (more…)

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.

Taking “King Corn” Propaganda Personally

Here’s two pieces of advice for young filmmakers who want to make the ground-breaking documentary attacking a popular industry:

  1. Make sure no relative has connections to the industry you target.
  2. More important: Should a relative have such a connection, and you ignore the above advice, make sure this relative also isn’t a journalist.

Such is the problem now facing poor Curt Ellis, whose sister married the brother of a Marshall, Mo. newspaper columnist.

Marcia Gorrell writes poignantly about life on the farm for the Marshall, Mo., Democrat-News. And her brother’s wife’s brother not only called field corn “crap” because he was stupid enough to try and taste it like it was corn on the cob, but made a movie about it and is out pushing it. In her most recent column, she writes:

“It hurts — alot. It hurts because we take pride in what we do. We are proud of the fact that Americans pay less than of their take-home pay for food than any other country. We don’t think our food supply is “too cheap.” We work hard to make that happen.”

 Gorrell goes on from here, and talks about how the mainstream media, many of whom have never worked a field in their lives, fell out of their chairs and on their knees with praise for “King Corn,” eating up every falsehood like it was buttered popcorn.

For a real writer with farmland roots, it was indeed painful for Gorrell to see. And I’m sure that at the next family gathering, it will come up (As it has in the past — she’s already sent Ellis a five-page letter critiquing the movie). But something tells me the more they promote their film, the more they will hear about it from farmers and family who know better.