Corn Commentary

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.

On Feast, Famine and Farm Bills…

Farming on any scale much larger than a backyard garden - even a big garden for that matter - is a business and as such it must turn a profit at the end of the day to survive, if not prosper. It doesn’t matter if you are growing corn or tomatoes. This may seem like clear logic, but in truth most urbanites don’t understand the complexities of how food is grown, processed, packaged, and transported to their door.

In our society we will spend ludicrous sums on money on things like cars, cell phones, or even a cup of trendy coffee, yet we continue to demand access to all the bounty Mother Nature has to offer at discount prices.

It is a modern miracle that the largest consumptive offenders on the planet – Americans – also have the cheapest food supply on terra firma. We spend less than 10% of our disposable income on actual food items compared to other developed nations that spend as much as 15% to 50% of what they earn to put food on the table.

There are numerous factors that make this access to cheap and abundant food possible including a wildly productive agricultural core that produces key crops like wheat, corn, and soybeans. These staple crops provide the very foundation of the “real” food pyramid. These are crops that we have learned to grow fairly predictably on a large scale even when Mother Nature hits us with challenging weather. In the worst-case scenario when weather, insects or disease reduces the size of these crops we have a certain amount in reserve.

However, with a growing emphasis on more fruits and vegetable in our diet, there are also those calling for more and more taxpayers dollars to shift from existing farm programs to encourage and expand farmers markets and produce production. Striking a reasonable balance won’t be easy but it will be critical.

While many produce items have a shelf life of weeks or months at best, corn, soybeans and wheat can be transported more readily and stored for years.  The authors of the original farm bill understood this and chose to put their emphasis and limited budget into programs that help growers of these keystone crops make it through tough times.

Times have changed and the farm bill is antiquated in many ways, but the importance of these key crops has not waned. The farm bill in the U.S. is not a perfect piece of legislation, few are that have become this big and cumbersome.

But today’s “farm bill” is a misnomer since the lion’s share of the expenditures go to social programs like women, infant and children, school lunches, food stamps and even forestry. Yet critics like to cultivate the illusion that it all goes to farmers.

As we continue to analyze and discuss these consumer support programs – yes, it is a consumer program that helps guarantees you the aforementioned cheap food over the long haul – it is important we do a little homework before making wholesale changes.

In the interim keep this in mind; if we stopped growing green beans or carrots tomorrow the world would not end. But if we see big reductions in crops like corn, soybeans or wheat the loss of essential oils, protein and other precious calories would change the food universe as you know it. Likely wouldn’t do our economy or our balance of trade much good either.

Corn Grower Leaders in Missouri

Corn growers all over the country are preparing for the 2010 Commodity Classic next week in Anaheim where important policy issues facing farmers and ranchers will be discussed.

Members of the Missouri Corn Growers Association got in the mood this week by holding their annual meeting in Jefferson City and going to talk with state lawmakers about the importance of keeping agriculture in the hands of farmers. National Corn Growers Association president Darrin Ihnen (right) was guest speaker at the Missouri luncheon. With him pictured is Mike Geske, former president of the Missouri Corn Growers now serving on the 15-member National Corn Board.

I interviewed both Darrin and Mike about some of the issues important to growers right now and topping the list is the threat posed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which is in the process of working up a petition drive in Missouri directed at dog breeders - lumping them all in the unsavory category of “puppy mills” - kind of like they lump all of agriculture under “factory farming.” Mike says that is why all agriculture groups in the state are working to keep legislators informed about how food is produced and the importance of the industry to Missouri. “We feel that once they get past the dog breeders they are going to be headed for commercial agriculture,” he told me.

Darrin says the threat posed to animal agriculture in individual states by groups like HSUS ultimately impacts all of agriculture across the country. “It’s very important that we help defend them,” Darrin says. “We can’t be separated when it comes to agriculture. We need to work together.”

This is just one of many important policy issues that corn growers will discuss at Classic next week, the annual meeting that also includes soybean, wheat and sorghum producers. Others include the indirect land use issue, climate legislation, increasing the ethanol blend rate and extending the blender’s tax credit for ethanol.

Listen to back to back interviews with Darrin and Mike here:

Ethanol Supporters Should Be Outraged Over IEA Sleight Of Hand

big oil, business week coverApparently, last week’s International Energy Agency (IEA) numbers regarding future oil supplies were fudged to protect the innocent or at least our frail economic recovery. According to a whistleblower who whispered in the ear of The Guardian, the world is much closer to running out of oil that we think.

 So, what is to be gained or lost by such skullduggery? Stockbrokers, bankers and oil investors jumping out of windows…sure, but what is the downside? (Insert sarcasm here).

 The comments in the UK’s respected Guardian stated that the IEA has inflated its 2009 report of oil reserves for fear that the truth would shock world markets into a reactionary panic. IEA is alleged to have put its role as an industry watchdog in the kennel for the time being to fend off a potential buying panic…even at the risk of being exposed for overplaying supplies and chances for finding increased reserves.

  On face value this might seem to be based on at least a modicum of twisted logic, but what are the ramifications for world governments who govern, plan and even invest based on IEA’s data? Consider that they also develop their own energy policies based on such essential information.

According to the Guardian’s high-level IEA source, estimates of global oil production growing from its current level of 83 million barrels per day to 105 million barrels per day are as bogus as the Tooth Fairy. The source said many IEA officials believe even 90 million barrels per day is unreachable, but the agency will not lower its forecast because it fears panic could spread through financial markets.

If we have indeed entered the “Peak Oil Zone” (that strange and unfamiliar place where we actually feel the pressure to get real about “energy policy” not oil policy) then it is time to fess up like an alcoholic at an AA meeting. “Hi my name is Joe Consumer and I have a petroleum problem.” (more…)

New Fiscal Year, New Activism, New Commitment For NCGA

If you need a break from reading all the negative headlines, or hearing about all the things that are wrong with our society, our economy and even our very lifestyle…you came to the right place. This blog will provide nothing but positive and uplifting information for you today if you are a corn farmer.

At a time when membership in all kinds of organizations is declining, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and affiliated states are proud to offer some good, in fact very good news.  We will enter October with a new all-time high membership total of 36,378.

The real significance of this accomplishment for growers is what this trend reflects. It most likely reflects some of the concerns growers have about the serious issues facing agriculture today, but it also is sign of optimism that NCGA is in the fight, getting their hands dirty, and making a difference.

For many organizations Oct. 1, marks the beginning of a new fiscal year so it seems like a good time to take stock of the proactive approach being employed by NCGA.  Here is a peek at what NCGA’s farmers leaders are tackling just this week: (more…)

Senators Concerned About Secretary’s Comments

Eight Republican Senators sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today “urging him to refrain from using rhetoric that unfairly attacks the farmers and ranchers who form the foundation of America’s rural economy.” Earlier this month, Reuters reported comments from the Secretary indicating that the Obama administration’s plan to redirect subsidy payments for large farmers into nutrition programs is a choice between 30 million children or 90,000 farmers.

In the letter, Ranking Republican Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and the other senators told Vilsack that “Congress can reauthorize the school nutrition programs, provide adequate funding to meet the urgent needs of our children, while at the same time maintain the support promised in the 2008 farm bill to U.S. production agriculture.” They added the USDA has “responsibility for a wide variety of interests and should be able to advocate for one without vilifying another.”

Vilsack’s comments also came up last week when the board of the National Corn Growers Association met with him in Washington to discuss a number of issues.

“We let the secretary know that we hoped in the future the department would not pit one set of stakeholders against another,” said NCGA Chairman Ron Litterer. “We all need to work together.”

NCGA President Bob Dickey said they appreciated the opportunity to sit down with the Secretary. “It was a productive meeting that included some frank talk and ended with a strong commitment by the secretary and the board to work together in the future,” said Dickey.

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.

Ethanol, Locks and Dams Top Corn Grower Agenda

Corn growers set their agenda for the year at last week’s Commodity Classic, with ethanol and locks and dams at the top of the list.

Rob Elliott, president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, says ethanol is important to keep corn demand strong. Some of the priorities in that area include higher blend levels, increasing infrastructure and getting more FFVs on the road.

Regarding the locks and dams issue, Elliott says Midwest corn growers continue to work on getting Congress to fund improving the infrastructure on the inland waterways. “The lock and dams were built in the ’30s. They are aging and decaying and we’ve seen what a lock failure can do with Hurricanes Rita and Katrina,” said Elliott. “WRDA has passed, the authorization to do the improvements has happened, the missing link is the money to do the work.”

Elliott says they were disappointed that the funding was not included in the stimulus bill, “but we’ll spend time in the next couple months prior to the next appropriations bill and maybe get some money squeezed out to get things started.”

Corn growers will be going to Washington DC in the next few weeks to talk with their lawmakers about these issues and others that will be important not just for themselves, but for future farming generations - like Rob’s little granddaughter Delaney pictured here with him.

Listen to an interview with Rob here, conducted by Domestic Fuel reporter Joanna Schroeder:

If you’d like to see photos from this year’s Commodity Classic please feel free to visit our: 2009 Commodity Classic Photo Album

Corn Farmers Coalition Debuts

Corn farmers from ten major corn producing states have formed a new coalition to educate policymakers in Washington.

Corn Farmers CoalitionThe Corn Farmers Coalition made its debut today, launching a new Web site, an advertising campaign and a statistical abstract on America’s biggest crop.

“Washington needs to know that corn farmers are using some of the most advanced technologies on the planet to do more with less — to grow more corn using fewer resources every year,” said Mark K. Lambert, Director of the Corn Farmers Coalition. “American corn farmers, the majority of them small business people, are among the most productive in the world.”

The coalition is an alliance of the National Corn Growers Association and 10 state corn associations representing tens of thousands of dues-paying farmers. The states involved in the effort are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The coalition plans to meet with reporters, think tanks and members of Congress to talk about what’s ahead: how U.S. farmers, using the latest technologies, will continue to grow enough corn in an environmentally friendly way to meet all our needs; the prospects for making the farm bill more responsive to the market; and the future of renewable fuels, a vital issue for our economy and national security and a key issue for the new administration.

Concern Over Proposed Obama Budget

The first Obama budget announced today would end direct payments for farms with large sales and incomes that receive a disproportionate amount of the payments, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaking at USDA’s Annual Ag Outlook Forum. According to Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, the president is “proposing to phase out those payments over time for farms with revenue of more than $500,000 a year.”

bob dickeyWith that announcement coming out as the 2009 Commodity Classic was getting underway, it was the first question that came up during a press conference with National Corn Growers Association president Bob Dickey, a grower from Nebraska, who says they are very concerned about that statement but they need to examine the proposal closer.

“I can tell you that we will take a strong stand to defend out corn producers,” Dickey said. “We do have policy on that and we will defend our policy.”

The budget would also support the implementation of a 250-thousand dollar commodity program payment limit and reduce crop insurance subsidies.

On the plus side, Obama’s 3.55 trillion dollar budget for fiscal year 2010 would provide over 20-billion dollars in loans and grants to support and expand rural development activities and make investments to double the nation’s renewable energy capacity.

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