Corn Commentary

Corn Crop Continues to Look Great

Despite heavy rains and some brutal summer heat, the corn crop nationwide looks great.

illinois corn summer 2010According to the latest USDA report out this week, 72 percent of the crop is rated good to excellent, with a few more percentage points moving over to the excellent side. On the progress side, 84 percent of the crop is silking - compared to 70 percent average and 52 percent last year, and 17 percent is in the dough stage already, which is 10 points ahead of this time last year and a few points ahead of normal.

Only two of the major corn production states - Colorado and South Dakota - have not yet reached the halfway point in silking, according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey. “If you’re looking for problems with the corn, you’ll have to go to the fringes of the corn belt, well outside the major production zone,” he said. “In North Carolina, where it’s been very hot and dry, for example - 38 percent of the crop rated very poor to poor.”

The good-looking corn pictured here is growing near Bloomington - a photo taken recently by Tricia Braid-Terry of the Illinois Corn Growers’ staff. The good-looking young man in the the photo is her son, Ian. Thanks, Tricia!

MO Corn Growers Help Feed Hungry

Hungry families in the Kansas City region got a sweet donation of fresh produce from Missouri corn growers last week.

Members of the Missouri Corn Growers Association (MCGA), Malta Bend FFA and Mid-Missouri Energy, a farmer-owned ethanol plant, donated 3,366 pounds of sweet corn for Missouri families in need. The fresh produce was delivered to Harvesters Community Food Network in Kansas City, Missouri to help feed hungry families in the region.

“While sweet corn isn’t something we normally plant in these fields, we realize there are people in our community and in the city facing tough times,” said Billy Thiel, MCGA board member and corn grower from Marshall, Mo. “This sweet corn is one way Missouri corn growers can show that we care about our neighbors and that we are committed to feeding and fueling a growing population.”

In the top photo, Karen Haren, president and CEO of Harvesters (center), accepts the donation of sweet corn from MCGA board members Mike Moreland and Billy Thiel, and members of the Malta Bend FFA Chapter. The food bank estimates today’s donation will provide nearly 2,600 meals to help combat hunger in the region. (Click on the photos for a bigger view)

During a presentation at the ethanol plant, which provided land for the sweet corn plot, Mid-Missouri Energy President Ryland Utlaut (and former National Corn Growers Association president) thanked the Malta Bend FFA Chapter for their help in harvesting the crop. Congressman Ike Skelton and State Representative Joe Aull (pictured at left) also applauded Missouri Corn, the Malta Bend FFA and MME for the donation. The event helped to educate the media and the general public about the importance of corn and ethanol to the Missouri economy, and the difference between sweet corn and field corn grown in the state.

The donated fresh produce will be distributed through Harvesters vast network, resulting in nearly 2,600 meals for hungry families. Serving a 26-county area of northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas, Harvesters provides food and related household products to more than 620 not-for-profit agencies including emergency food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

Read more about the project and see more photos here.

Ethanol Enemies Post Ugly Comments

A post on the Illinois Corn Growers blog Corn Corps this week generated a slew of comments about ethanol that are as ugly as the pictures of oil-covered pelicans in the Gulf.

The Corn Corps post was about a story in “The Ethanol Monitor” (not available online) by editor Tom Waterman that listed the top 10 enemies of ethanol, as follows:

#10: Business Week/Ed Wallace (Bloomberg)
#8: “Big Oil”
#7: Grocery Manufacturers Association
#6: David Pimentel
#5: Robert Rapier
#4: Tim Searchinger
#3: Wall Street Journal (editorial board)
#2: California Air Resources Board
#1: Time Magazine (Michael Grunwald)

Robert Bryce of OilPrice found the post and did a story about it, where he seemed a little ticked off that he didn’t make the list. As a result of that story, a couple dozen ethanol-haters posted mostly anonymous comments bashing the alternative domestically-produced fuel.

They are especially fond of calling ethanol a “hoax” - defined as a “deliberate attempt to deceive or trick people into believing or accepting something which the hoaxer (the person or group creating the hoax) knows is false.” I guess that makes Henry Ford the original “hoaxer” then, since he designed the famed Model T Ford to run on alcohol and called it “the fuel of the future.” It could have been, were it not for a growing supply of cheaper petroleum from oil field discoveries and the political power of the oil industry at the time. The ethanol bashers complain about the tax-payer incentives for ethanol, which are in the millions - compared to billions for the petroleum industry.

What really bothers me about the anti-ethanol crusaders is that they offer no other alternative to help us lessen our dependence on oil - either imported from unfriendly countries or our own reserves which are now polluting the Gulf of Mexico. While corn ethanol can only offset about 15 percent of our liquid fuel demand in this country, that is still significant. The production and use of 10.6 billion gallons of ethanol in 2009 reduced demand for imported oil by 364 million barrels, at a savings of $21.3 billion. Corn ethanol is also building the infrastructure and demand for the next generation of ethanol that can reduce our dependence on oil even more.

Instead of ugly comments, offer some constructive alternatives so we can get off the oil and on the road to energy independence.

Indy 500 Winner Thanks Iowa Corn Farmers

2010 Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti is looking forward to a possible third win out of four races at the 4th annual Iowa Corn Indy 250, presented by Pioneer, on June 20 in Newton, Iowa.

Dario won the very first Iowa Corn Indy in 2007, when the series first started using 100 percent ethanol, and again last year. He says Indy’s transition to ethanol was a winner. “It was a big deal for us when we first switched over to ethanol,” he said during an Indy racing press conference Monday. “We’ve had tremendous success as a series with ethanol and had a really seamless transition. It’s just been a real win-win situation for the IndyCar Series.”

Being Scottish and Italian, Dario has no preference between American grown corn ethanol and Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, which fuels all the races in the series except the Iowa Corn 250. “The corn farmers have done a great job,” Dario said. “We thank the farmers, the corn growers, for their support of our series and what they have done with ethanol.”

Dario is hoping to take home another one of the fuel-pump design Iowa Corn 250 trophies. “It’s a very unusual trophy and it really stands out in my office,” he said.

The Iowa Corn Indy 250 is presented by Pioneer, with support from the Iowa Corn Promotion Board and the Iowa Corn Grower’s Association.

You can download (mp3) or just listen to Dario’s comments about ethanol here:

Free Groceries for Learning About MO Farmers

Two Missouri consumers won free groceries for a year this week just for taking the time to learn more about farmers in the state.

Over the past three months, some 93,000 Missourians went to to register for $5000 worth of groceries by watching a video about a Missouri farmer and answering some trivia questions based on it. The promotion was sponsored 14 agricultural groups and agribusiness organizations in the state, including the Missouri Corn Growers.

This week, Missouri farmers and industry representatives presented each of the winners with their gift cards for $5,000 in free groceries. One presentation was made at a Schnuck’s grocery store and one on a Missouri beef cattle operation. “It was a very worthwhile cause to put a face on agriculture and let the urban consumers know what we do on a daily basis and how we go about producing their food supply,” said Missouri Corn Merchandising Council board member Rob Korff, one of the farmers featured in the promotion. “As farmers, we work hard to provide safe, affordable, nutritious food and we want to help answer any questions.”

But it’s not over yet. Show-Me State farmers are now launching a second sweepstakes where Missourians have the opportunity to win the “Ultimate At-Home Tailgate Party.” In this new sweepstakes, residents can enter for a chance to win a prize package that includes a flat screen television, a BBQ grill and approximately $750 in grocery gift cards.

Like the Corn Crib in Illinois, this is a great promotion - but it’s a shame that agriculture groups have to spend so much of their time and resources these days simply to educate people about where their food comes from. Shouldn’t they learn that in school?

Corn Farmers Coalition Showcases Facts About Family Farmers

If you haven’t already tuned into the new level of activism in agriculture, especially regarding misinformation on our largest industry, then you won’t find better evidence of this evolving cultural phenomenon than the Corn Farmers Coalition.

Speaking to a couple of family farmers recently they expressed their frustration at the misinformation, innuendo and outright fabrications that are being used to frame their chosen profession. As upset as they were, there was also a prevalent sense that there was nothing they could do to change things.

If you are frustrated and tired of all the attacks and negative news swirling around agriculture you have come to the right place. Read slowly, soak this up, and then if you are a corn farmer give yourself a big pat on the back.

Imagine 60,000 city people getting a positive message about farmers every day. As they go to and from work, go out for dinner, go to a movie, or just go about their life in general. Next imagine that most of these people are employed in jobs on or near Capitol Hill in Washington, DC…Congressmen, staffers, agency employees, lobbyists, environmental groups, and even media. That’s what is happening right now as you read this thanks to the efforts of farmers themselves.

In the attached photo of the Union Station Metro stop in Washington, DC you can see several of the ads that will be prevalent throughout June and July as part of CFC’s efforts.  From the highly trafficked Metro system, to Reagan National Airport, to the most widely read political publications like Politico and Congressional Quarterly. Throw in on-line advertising at the aforementioned publications,, National Public Radio, ads in the Washington Nationals baseball team programs, and a smattering of talk, sports, and contemporary radio and you begin to get a feel for the breadth and scope of this campaign. It is conservatively estimated the educational campaign will create more than 10 million positive impressions in the land of policy and regulation.

Equally as impressive is that CFC, and the $1 million in corn checkoff funds backing the campaign, comes straight from family farmers in Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and Michigan who believe we need to introduce a foundation of facts to the dialogue in Washington.

Ten messages based on USDA and EPA facts will be used in the campaign to show tech-savvy, innovative farmers are growing more corn every year - for food, animal feed, ethanol and exports - while using fewer resources and protecting the environment.

The coalition will meet with media, members of Congress, environmental groups and others to talk about what’s ahead: how U.S. farmers, using the latest technologies, will continue to expand yields and how this productivity can be a bright spot in an otherwise struggling economy.

We have a great story to tell so take heart.  You can make a difference and CFC offers clear evidence.

Corn Crib Opens in Illinois

Illinois’ corn farmers helped build a Field of Dreams in the Normal-Bloomington area.

Tuesday night was the inaugural home game for the Normal CornBelters, a new professional team for the region, playing at the all new Corn Crib ballpark, thanks in part to a multi-year partnership with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board (ICMB).

ICMB Chairman Jim Rapp of Princeton threw out one of the ceremonial opening pitches at the inaugural game. “This is a neat venue for the community of Bloomington-Normal, right here in the middle of the Corn Belt, great to have the CornBelters playing for us,” said Jim.

The corn growers got interested in the ballpark and team when a contest to name the team resulted in the winning “CornBelters.” Illinois Corn Executive Director Rod Weinzierl says it was a natural sponsorship opportunity and they came up with the name Corn Crib as kind of a play on words. “For us older folks, we all know what the corn crib is on the farm, but for the younger generation, crib means home. So, we thought it was a pretty neat name and it really points out the communications bridge that we’re trying to build with the general public and with the next generation about what corn is about and what farming is about.”

Listen to my interview with Rod here:

The entire ball park has a corn theme, from the Kernel Kitchen and Corn Crib Cafe, to Corny the Mascot, to the corn planted under the scoreboard. Additional agricultural sponsors for the park include Pioneer, Syngenta, the Illinois beef and pork producers and Prairie Farms from the dairy side. Pioneer provided the corn for the landscaping and it’s already making good progress.

Nearly 6,000 fans attended the opening home game against the Windy City Thunderbolts, and even though the Cornbelters lost 3-2, it was a good game and everyone had a great time. See more photos from the event, thanks to coverage by Agwired, in the photo album below.

Normal CornBelters Corn Crib Opener Photo Album

MN and WI Corn Growers Sponsor Ethanol Border Battle

The Minnesota and Wisconsin Corn Growers Associations teamed up last week to promote ethanol in a border battle last week between two fuel retailers on opposite sides of the St. Croix River. As part of the fun, Alice in Dairyland (aka Cheryl O’Brien), Wisconsin’s official agricultural ambassador, squared off with the University of Minnesota mascot Goldy Gopher to represent each state.

The promotional event on Thursday featured a rush-hour special where both stations sold E85 (85 percent ethanol fuel) at an 85 cents per gallon discount from 4-6 pm. The promotion was also supported by Holiday Companies, Erickson Oil, American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest and MN & WI Clean Air Choice Teams.

Bob Moffit with the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest reports that the Wisconsin station ultimately won the border battle, selling 589 gallons of E85 during the two-hour promotion, while the Minnesota station sold 447 gallons.

Thanks to Bob for the photo!

Illinois Blender Pump Offers Consumers Choices

ffv blender pumpFlex-fuel vehicle (FFV) drivers in central Illinois have more choices at the pump now thanks to a blender pump just installed in Sullivan, Illinois. The pump is the first of 20 planned in the state under a pilot program approved by the Illinois Department of Agriculture with support from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board.

During the official ribbon cutting ceremony, state officials and corn grower representatives addressed the success story of Illinois corn farmers and the Illinois ethanol industry partnering with petroleum marketers to increase consumer choice. “We’re excited to see this blender pump in Sullivan,” said Jim Rapp, Illinois Corn Marketing Board Chairman and a corn farmer from Princeton, IL. “Consumers deserve a choice and the opportunity to choose the fuel that best fits their needs and their pocketbook.”

leon corzinePast National Corn Growers Association president Leon Corzine, a grower from Assumption, Illinois, was one of the many who were at the promotion offering discount pricing on ethanol blended fuel and $10.00 E85 coupons for FFV owners.

E-K Petro Mart owner Jon England received a $20,000 grant for participating in the Blender Pump Incentive Pilot Program. Each two-sided pump offers both regular unleaded gas blended with 10 percent ethanol plus a flex-fuel option that dispenses E85, E50, or E30 for E85-capable FFVs by blending regular unleaded gasoline with E85 from a second tank. “It’s nice to have a choice,” England said. “Somebody can come in and pick the product that best suits their economic situation.”

Ag Boycotts Chipotle

Illinois corn growers are among many in the agriculture industry taking a stand against Chipotle for its support of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). As they point out in a post on “Corn Corps,” Chipotle is supporting HSUS efforts to regulate animal agriculture in Ohio:

Chipotle is a corporate sponsor for their effort. They are allowing ballots to be placed in their stores throughout Ohio to make it easier for unsuspecting patrons to vote in their favor, bringing us one step closer to ending animal agriculture in the United States.

There are now at least two Facebook pages calling for Chipotle to end its support of HSUS with about 1,000 fans each.

The question is - will it do any good? As agricultural journalist Trent Loos points out in a comment on one of the fan pages, “I do not want to dampen anyone’s spirits here but I will tell you I chased this rabbit two years ago. Owner Steve Ells agrees with HSUS rheotric and does not even eat meat himself. The best you are going to do is NOT go there and tell you friends and neighbors there are good alternatives.” To get an idea of where Ells stands, check out his testimony in support of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. There is a prominent link to this from the main page of the Chipotle website.

Chipotle wants to appeal to the market segment that wants organic food, promoting that fact on its own Facebook page. “That’s why we serve meats raised without antibiotics or added hormones. And it’s why we buy local and organic produce when we’re able. And why we prefer to work with small family farms that raise their animals responsibly and humanely.”

That’s fine, if that’s what they want to do and how they want to position themselves in the very competitive chain restaurant market. The problem is they believe that if Chipotle can do it, all restaurants can - and, more problematic, SHOULD. That’s where we draw the line, so it’s important for people who do not think that way and do not want to support the HSUS agenda to be aware of it. Yes, we should find some place else to get our burritos if we feel this restaurant chain is actively working against our industry - and we should inform others about it. But, it is doubtful we are going to change their minds if there is a market segment that responds positively to that agenda and will patronize them because of it.

So, boycott away - but changing their minds may be like trying to convince HSUS that cage-free chickens is a dumb idea.

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