March 3, 2015

Major Markets for US Ethanol Exports

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Kim Clark, director of biofuels development for the Nebraska Corn Board, submits this post from the recent U.S. Grains Council meeting in Costa Rica:

Recently I attended my first U.S. Grains Council (USGC) meeting as a member of an action team.  Honestly, this was only my second USGC meeting that I have attended since being on staff with the Nebraska Corn Board and I was a bit nervous not knowing what to expect.

The first meeting I attended was in July in Omaha, Nebraska where they announced they would be forming an Ethanol Action Team to review our current ethanol export markets and look at areas to expand ethanol exports.  I was very interested right away in serving on the action team and a couple months later was appointed to serve on the USGC Ethanol Action Team. 

Our first in-person meeting was at this USGC meeting in Costa Rica. The A-team is composed of 22 ethanol plants, corn staff and executives, and ethanol financial groups.  As a first time A-team member on any action team and the first time meeting as an Ethanol Action Team, the agenda was all the information I was armed with.

Let me back up a bit.  Prior to our first in-person meeting, there had been a lot of work done by a steering committee comprised of Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy, USGC, and United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agriculture Services evaluating foreign markets to expand US ethanol exports. This steering committee has been visiting with key officials in select foreign markets and learning about mandates, hurdles for ethanol imports into those markets, and environmental issues related to low fuel quality for the past year. The USGC Ethanol Action Team was formed to review these evaluations and other potential foreign markets with the goal to expand US ethanol exports worldwide.

We closed a large gap from where the USGC ethanol A-team started discussions in Costa Rica to where we wrapped up our discussions.  In the end, we evaluated key foreign markets for ethanol imports using the following criteria:
  • Current ethanol imports
  • Potential ethanol imports
  • Key changes needed to increase ethanol imports
  • The strategy of the US Grains Council
  • Potential for success
  • Priority ranking
After a couple hours of evaluating each potential foreign market, the Ethanol A-team voted these countries as the major markets for US ethanol imports.  The highest priority is Canada, followed by Japan, Mexico, Philippines, European Union, Colombia, and China.  These recommendations will then be sent to the steering committee. 

There is some work that needs to be done to expand US ethanol export markets, but with a unified effort between the USGC Ethanol Action Team and steering committee, we are sure to expand US ethanol exports.

February 25, 2015

U.S. cattle inventory up slightly from last year

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89.9 million head of cattle and calves in the U.S. That's up 1 percent from 2014.

As of January 1, the semiannual cattle report published by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reported that this is the first increase in U.S. herd inventory since 2007.

Other key findings in the report were:

1cattle inventory
To obtain an accurate measurement of the current state of the U.S. cattle industry, NASS surveyed more than 38,200 operators across the nation during the first half of January. NASS interviewers collected the data by mail, telephone, internet, and through face-to-face personal interviews. NASS asked all participating producers to report their cattle inventories as of January 1, 2015.

February 23, 2015

"Take a Second for Safety" is the Message During Grain Bin Safety Week

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Record Number of Grain Entrapment Deaths in 2014

With on-farm grain storage on the rise—and a record number of grain engulfment deaths across the nation last year—agricultural leaders in Nebraska are placing special emphasis on grain handling safety during Grain Bin Safety Week, February 22-28, 2015. In observance of the week, the Nebraska Corn Board and Nebraska Corn Growers Association are encouraging farmers, grain elevators and other grain handlers to slow down — and take a second for safety while working with grain.

“We feel it is increasingly important to promote grain bin safety awareness and remind all grain handlers of the hazards of working around grain,” said Larry Mussack, farmer from Decatur and president of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association. “With just one misstep or just a moment of distraction, you could find yourself or someone you know in a grain entrapment emergency.”

National statistics show that farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in America. Over the past 50 years, more than 900 cases of grain engulfment have been reported—and the fatality rate is 62 percent. With a 10-inch auger, it takes just 25 seconds for a 6-foot person to be completely buried in grain.

Now in its second year, Grain Bin Safety Week is an annual observance dedicated to increasing the awareness of grain bin safety on farms and commercial grain-handling facilities. The goal of this event is to educate the agricultural community on safe work practices and procedures to help reduce the number of preventable injuries and deaths associated with grain handling and storage.

Here are a few grain bin safety tips to keep in mind when you are working with stored grain:

  • Use inspection holes or grain level markers to understand what's happening inside the bin. Use a pole from outside the bin to break up grain bridges.
  • You should enter a grain bin only if absolutely necessary. If you must get into the bin, use a body harness secured to the outside of the bin. Have at least two people watching over you as you enter and work inside the bin.
  • Use hand signals to communicate—and make sure everyone you're working with knows what those signals are.

These safety tips and more will be emphasized not only during Grain Bin Safety Week, but throughout the year by the Nebraska Corn organizations.  A record high yield, combined with an upward trend in on-farm grain storage capacity has experts projecting an even larger number of grain engulfment accidents in 2015.

“Now, more than ever, it is important to take the extra second and follow the safety rules when it comes to working with grain stored in bins,” said Kelly Brunkhorst, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board. “With on-farm safety being a continued effort at Nebraska Corn, we want both farmers and emergency responders to understand how to avoid grain bin accidents—and how to help someone who does end up in trouble in a grain bin. There is no better time than the present to work together as an agricultural community and help prevent these tragic accidents from occurring.”

February 18, 2015

Seasons of Farming - Winter

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What do corn farmers do in the winter? Most people probably have asked or thought this as it's obvious crops are neither planted or harvested in the cold, winter months.

But that doesn't mean farmers aren't doing anything.

First, farmers have to keep their machinery in great shape, so they work on cleaning and repairs, from combines to tractors to semis, farmers try to do as much preventative maintenance as possible to ensure their busy season goes uninterrupted. The more our equipment is repaired during the winter, the less work to be done in the growing season, where finding time for preventative maintenance and repairs is almost impossible.

Hauling grain is next on the list. In years like the last couple with record crops and large volumes to move, crops were stored on-the-farm in bins, bags, and even on large piles on the ground while some grain was hauled to the local elevator. Farmers try to market their grain to their advantage, so that may mean storing as much as they can on-farm and moving it throughout the following winter and summer, and for some growers, even longer than that. Hauling grain can be a real project during the winter months, with cold, snow, and winds wreaking havoc on moving highway semi trucks around on back roads and in and out of bin yards.

It's also a time to keep up with paperwork and business planning. Winter is the time to crunch numbers; determining the profit (or loss) from the previous year, and compiling a budget for next year’s crop to decide which crops to grow and in what amount. Part of this planning is spent on booking and purchasing inputs. Once they have an idea of what crops to grow, many farmers pre-purchase and book the inputs they need, such as seed, fertilizer, and some chemicals.

They also take time for meeting with others in the industry. For many farmers, winter is "Meeting Season". This is typically when agricultural organizations hold their annual meetings. For farmers, meetings are the place to learn new agronomic, marketing and business trends, upcoming and innovative farming techniques, latest equipment, agricultural policy updates, media training and agvocacy messaging, community involvement, and professional development. Especially for organization and farm policy meetings, it's important for farmers to stay engaged to make sure that policies being decided on are good for them and their farm.

One such upcoming meeting that is important to famers from all across the U.S. is the Commodity Classic, Feb 26-28. It is America's largest farmer-led, farmer-focused convention and trade show held this year in Phoenix, AZ.

Many corn farmers also have livestock. Breaking ice out of water tanks, adding straw bedding, feeding hay, transporting to new barns/pastures and the start of calving means 24/7 care which keeps farmers very busy in the winter.

Last but certainly not least on corn farmer's mind in the winter is marketing. For the farm to stay in business, this is the most important job of the winter and ties together the other winter tasks.  The more accurate their budget is, the better they know what price to sell at to achieve a profit. They also need to know what their cash flow needs are to ensure they can sell grain at the right times to get the bills paid. Furthermore, they have to be able to actually get the grain moved to get their contracts filled, so keeping an eye on trucking capabilities is vital as well. Finally, after all these needs are met, they try to sell grain at the right times to capture a good price.

As you can see, winter is definitely not a "slow" time of the year for farmers!


February 13, 2015

Top 5 highest paying careers in 2015...is agriculture one of them?

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A recent article in USAToday.com shared that as more and more people are earning college degrees, not just "any" degree will suffice.

People are starting to see that if they're going to invest all of that hard-earned money, not to mention time and energy, into obtaining a degree, it should be into one that will likely lead to ample job opportunities and higher earnings power. The Census Bureau reports that a bachelor's degree holder typically earns $2.4 million over his or her lifetime. Some degrees, like those in education, typically result in lower lifetime earnings than this benchmark. Other degrees, however, generally allow graduates to earn more than this lifetime benchmark.

Using Census data, coupled with an employer survey analysis by the National Association of Colleges and Employers(NACE), we've made a list of college majors that will likely lead to the highest earnings for 2015 grads. The list starts with: 1. Engineering, 2. Computer Science, 3. Math and Sciences, 4. Business and.....

5. Agriculture and natural resources

The 2015 projected average starting salary is $51,220 where the average lifetime earnings is $2.6 million.

These grads can earn much more than the average grad, raking in an average starting salary of over $51,000. Again, those who work their way up to management positions generally earn the highest earnings over a lifetime — around $800,000 more than the typical college grad.

This shows the amplitude that agriculture is continuing to make in our society and work culture.  We are seeing the challenges before us to raise more food and resources for our growing population. And agribusiness will pay a pretty penny for a well-educated employee.

Looks like they are putting their money where their mouth is. Now we need more students to enroll in agricultural degrees - start sharing with your friends, children, neighbor's children, and family about ALL of the jobs in agriculture. It's not just plows and cows, folks. Engineering, food science, communications, economics, business, etc. are all facets in agricultural that could lead to some great jobs!

February 11, 2015

Ag Champions contest announced for Nebraska FFA chapters

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LINCOLN, NEBRASKA – Championing for a cause is as important to Olympian Curt Tomasevicz as preparing for a bobsled race.  But this cause is agriculture. The Nebraska Corn Board (NCB) and Nebraska FFA, with the help of Curt Tomasevicz, spokesman for NCB, are partnering on a new program and contest for Nebraska FFA students called “Ag Champions”.

studio1The purpose of the Ag Champions program is to build up FFA students to become “agvocates” (agricultural advocates) in their communities and amongst their peers. The program will provide a toolbox of resources and a contest to allow FFA chapters to submit a plan which would earn the top three winning chapters grants, based off of the budget in their agvocacy proposal. The Grand Champion winning chapter will earn the opportunity for Tomasevicz to be involved with their program.

“Through this project, we want to engage FFA members by developing a lasting impact through direct community involvement, as well as encouraging grassroots agvocacy,” said Anita Wollenburg, interim Nebraska FFA state advisor. “Through this plan, FFA chapters will determine an issue in their community, the audience they want to reach and expand on an agvocacy plan of defending agriculture along with education and communication.”

While this contest only provides three winning grants, the goal of the Ag Champions program is to create agvocates in the state’s communities and help put a realistic plan in place that can be used by the FFA chapters and students in any situation.

“As issues affecting agriculture appear too often, we are encouraging local FFA chapters to have a plan in place to defend their industry, while also putting agriculture on the offense,” said Kelly Brunkhorst, NCB executive director. “Education is key to important issues and could dispel many issues that arise when the foundation and basic understanding of an issue is in place.”

Tomasevicz is helping to spread the message about the Ag Champions program with a shout-out to FFA students on his YouTube channel, see his video below. All Nebraska FFA chapters will be receiving information about the contest details from the Nebraska State FFA Officers on their chapter visits, but more information can be obtained on www.NebraskaCorn.org.

Deadline for the Ag Champions plans to be submitted to NCB is May 15, 2015.


February 10, 2015

Podcast: Flex Fuels provide options at the pump

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 In this podcast, Dennis Gengenbach, director on the Nebraska Corn Board and farmer from Smithfield, Nebraska, shares about the choices consumers have at the pump. When you drive a flex fuel vehicle - as one in seven Nebraskans do - you have the choice to use flex fuels with ethanol at the pump and will not be held hostage by the oil company monopoly. You can fuel up with E85 when the price is right or you can choose E10, E15 or E30 when it makes sense to do so. In addition to these choices at the pump, flex fuels with ethanol also provide huge health benefits for our nation as they help reduce toxic particles in exhaust that have been linked to many serious respiratory diseases. To learn about the health benefits of ethanol, be sure to watch the new movie PUMP, which is now available for download on iTunes.

Now, click here to listen to the podcast.

Podcasts are also available on iTunes! Click here to subscribe.

February 2, 2015

Food trends & maps....where is our food grown?

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Could you identify the food you eat just by where it's grown?

Today, there is a fun quiz on the Washington Post Web site. I just may give one answer away....

...which you should get anyway, right?

Click here to take your quiz.

This has me thinking about how our consumer friends would do on this quiz and where our 2015 food trends are going which influences consumers.

An intriguing trend on the Better Homes & Gardens blog was "grocery store changes".  Day-of delivery services offered by mega retailers have quieted grocery stores. But while online shoppers click their way through aisles, superstores are finding ways to lure them back in -- with dine-in restaurants, food demonstrations, and wine tastings. Grocery stores might just be the next hangout by the end of 2015. This is great news for CommonGround and other ag groups who like to talk to consumers in-store.

According to BBC Good Food's Top 2015 Trends, all kinds of burgers are going to be trending. Duck, lobster, pork belly, scallops and squid burgers are just a few to name that could compete with the ever-popular beef burger. But beef producers shouldn't be too worried because the value of ground beef is increasing. It's the economical, delicious and convenient choice for consumers, where we're seeing more demand for high-value and variety meats overseas.

What do you see as Food Trends for this year? And share with us how you did on your quiz!

January 28, 2015

A rocky or joyous road ahead in the ag economy?

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Nebraska has always boasted that the State’s economy is strong because of agriculture. And it’s true.

The combination in the agricultural production complex involves crop and livestock production, agriculture-related manufacturing, agriculture-related transportation and wholesaling, agriculture-related research and education and agri-tourism. The jobs directly and indirectly involved in these production systems are great and have been growing in the past few years.

However, what does the agricultural economy look like for 2015?

In the latest long-term forecast released by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska is depicted as a haven of steady growth in an uncertain world. Though the national economy likely will fluctuate, most Nebraskans can expect modest but steady economic growth during the next three years, economic forecasters say.

However, the state's grain farmers likely will see declining income as the agriculture sector rebalances from a record $8.4 billion income in 2013. Farm income dropped more than 36 percent in 2014, to about $5.3 billion, and is expected to continue to decline another 7 percent in 2015, leveling off at about $4.8 billion to $4.9 billion in 2016 and 2017.

On the other side, livestock producers recently have benefited from lower feed costs and record prices for their animals because of shortages caused by drought. Lower livestock prices will contribute to a 7 percent decline in farm income in 2015, thought the sector should stabilize at about $5 billion annual income in 2016 and 2017.

The state as a whole is predicted to add more than 32,000 jobs through 2017 -- a 1.1 percent annual increase. Many of the new jobs will come in the construction industry, with the forecasters predicting an upswing in new home construction, commercial construction and road construction – which do affect agriculture.

Nonfarm income is expected to grow by an average annual rate of about 3.9 percent, nearly double the rate of inflation. Recovery will be less robust in Nebraska, in part because declining farm income will limit rural job growth, but also because the state's small population creates less need and capacity for quick job growth. (Remember, Nebraska is one of the 10 states with ridiculously low unemployment.)

So where do you see Nebraska’s ag economy headed? Will it be a rocky road for grain farmers as prices remain low and supply high? Where will new markets lead us?

This is just one of the goals of the Nebraska Corn Board. We are committed to serving our industry in market development, research, education and promotion. We see the challenges that Nebraska corn farmers face. And we want to build more markets and expand on current ones to create more demand for our high quality corn and co-products. Learn more about what we are doing at NebraskaCorn.org.

January 22, 2015

Nebraska Farmers Examine Export Markets in South America

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LINCOLN, NEBRASKA. – Corn Board member and district two representative, John Greer from Edgar, Nebraska recently had the unique opportunity to experience a global market in South America from both the eyes of a customer and competitor. 

Greer was a member of the U.S. Grains Council’s (USGC) Grain Export Mission (GEM) that travelled to South America to observe local conditions, learn about trade opportunities and constraints and also meet with foreign customers eager for insight into U.S. production and export systems.   Greer and his group visited Colombia and Brazil while another GEM group visited Argentina and Mexico.  

“Traveling to South America was an exceptional opportunity to see the global market place at work”, said Greer. “After spending some time with buyers and end-users in Colombia, we were pleased to hear that the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement has created significant market opportunities for U.S. corn and corn co-products.” 

Colombia is the second largest corn importer in the Latin American region and a country in which the United States traditionally captured more than 80 percent of the market, though there had been erosion in U.S. market share due to unfavorable tariff treatment.

This year, Colombian buyers returned to purchasing U.S. corn, driven by price and advantages from the implementation of the free trade agreement.  In fact, the country exceeded its tariff rate quota (TRQ) in June but still continued to purchase U.S. corn.

Greer’s team also visited Brazil, a critical competitor for U.S agricultural exports but a market that faces many challenges with infrastructure. Understanding the current reality and the future prospects of Brazil’s agricultural production is vital for U.S. farmers as they continue to export their commodities into the global marketplace.

“Colombia and Brazil are emerging economies that have remarkable global potential,” said Greer. “As they continue to work to overcome their security and infrastructure problems, I predict their grain and livestock industries will develop into even greater market prospects for American exports.”

At the completion of the mission, the two GEM groups met with USGC leadership and staff in Panama to debrief about their experience. Alan Tiemann, farmer from Seward, NE and at-large director on the NCB and vice chairman of the USGC, led many discussions with the GEM participants during their time in Panama. The participants concluded their mission with a tour of the Panama Canal, which gave them an opportunity to see first-hand the progress of the Panama Canal’s expansion project.

“The purpose of the GEM is for participants to gain a clearer understanding of the challenges, opportunities and competition we face in the international marketplace, said Tiemann. “The opportunity for American producers to personally communicate and establish relationships with these key end-users and buyers is an essential piece to our global success. With 95 percent of the world’s population living outside our borders, global awareness and connections are increasingly vital for everyone involved in agriculture.”

16003903746_91f6cf7c12_oJohn Greer and Alan Tiemann group photo: John Greer, (first on left) and Alan Tiemann (second from the right) with members of the USGC GEM to South America.