May 25, 2016

Gov. Ricketts Highlights Benefits of Biofuels During Renewable Fuels Month

On Thursday, May 19, Governor Pete Ricketts highlighted Renewable Fuels Month in Nebraska and the importance of biofuels to Nebraska by kicking off a unique ethanol promotion at Sapp Brothers in Omaha.  The Governor previously designated May as Renewable Fuels Month in Nebraska by signing a proclamation.

“With renewable fuels, we’re not only adding value to the crops we grow, but also expanding America’s domestic fuel supply while creating quality jobs all across our state,” Governor Ricketts said.  “Renewable fuels have a positive influence on our economic landscape in Nebraska.  By filling up with biofuels, you support Nebraska’s farm families and generate as much as $3 million in tax revenue for our rural communities.”

Nebraska’s economic prosperity is closely tied to agriculture, the state’s number one industry.  Nebraska ranks second national for ethanol production, which consumed 43 percent of the state’s corn crop in 2014 according to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

Both American Ethanol and soy biodiesel are clean-burning, renewable fuels made from homegrown Nebraska commodities.  These fuels and co-products greatly contribute to Nebraska’s economic vitality and make an impact across the entire country.  More than 1,500 people in rural Nebraska and more than 850,000 people nationwide are employed in the renewable fuels industry, according to a 2014 economic impact study released by Fuels America.

In addition to financial benefits, biodiesel and American Ethanol also provide many environmental and consumer benefits.  According to the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, some 70 percent of harmful air pollution is attributable to mobile sources such as passenger vehicles, trucks, buses, and construction equipment.  Biodiesel reduces hydrocarbon emissions by 67 percent.  Similarly, American Ethanol is a non-toxic, clean-burning fuel that dramatically reduces the level of toxics added to gasoline, including proven and suspected carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, and xylene.

"When it comes to air quality, renewable biofuels such as American Ethanol and biodiesel burn cleaner and help make our air healthier,” Governor Ricketts noted.  “Renewable Fuels Month is a great way to bring awareness to the wide range of benefits biofuels provide.  Nebraska-produced biofuels are cost-effective, American-made, renewable, and better for our environment.”

In recognition of Renewable Fuels Month, Nebraska’s corn and soybean farmers announced they would give drivers in the Omaha metro cause to celebrate.  Renewable biofuels were offered at a steep discount from 4-7 p.m. at Sapp Bros. located at I-80 Exit 440 in Nebraska.

More photos of Renewable Fuels Month celebrations can be found here.

May 24, 2016

Corn Planted at 90% - Equal to Last Year


Photo Courtesy of Imperial FFA Chapter
For the week ending May 22, 2016, dry conditions allowed producers to get back into fields and resume spring planting activities, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Rain was experienced late in the week with an inch or more common in central and north central counties. Temperatures averaged two to six degrees below normal. Corn planting was winding up with producers focused on soybean acres. There were 5.1 days suitable for fieldwork. Topsoil moisture supplies rated 0 percent very short, 3 short, 81 adequate, and 16 surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 0 percent very short, 3 short, 85 adequate, and 12 surplus.

Crop Progress: Corn planted was at 90 percent, equal to last year, and near the five-year average of 93. Emerged was at 51 percent, behind 68 last year and 62 average.

Data for this news release were provided at the county level by USDA Farm Service Agency and UNL Extension Service.

Access the National publication for Crop Progress and Condition tables HERE
Access the High Plains Region Climate Center for Temperature and Precipitation Maps HERE
Access the U.S. Drought Monitor HERE

May 17, 2016

May Proclaimed as Renewable Fuels Month in Nebraska

Biofuels Improve Economic Activity, Environment and Human Health Across the State

Ethanol and soy biodiesel have become major markets for Nebraska corn and soybeans—and are providing significant economic, environmental and consumer benefits. In recognition of the importance of renewable biofuels to the state, Governor Pete Ricketts has proclaimed May as Renewable Fuels Month in Nebraska. 

Nebraska is the nation’s second largest ethanol producer, home to 25 ethanol plants with the capacity of more than two billion gallons of production. These plants, which employ more than 1,300 people, process more than 700 million bushels of corn a year into clean-burning ethanol as well as distillers grains, a high protein feed ingredient for livestock. Some Nebraska ethanol plants also produce carbon dioxide for bottling and food processing as well as corn oil for human food consumption.

Biodiesel production, which uses soybeans as a primary feedstock, is on the rise in Nebraska. A biodiesel plant in Beatrice is expected to begin commercial operation in 2016 with the capacity to produce 50 million gallons, requiring more than 33 million bushels of soybeans.

“Renewable biofuels have absolutely transformed the economic landscape in Nebraska,” said Ron Pavelka, a farmer from Glenvil and chairman of the Nebraska Soybean Board. “The additional demand for Nebraska commodities created by renewable fuels production has created a new market for farmers, generated significant investment and tax revenue in rural communities, and created good paying jobs in areas of the state that really need them.” 

“The growth of renewable biofuels has helped reduce our nation’s dependence on imported petroleum, reduced prices at the pump and provided greater choice for consumers,” said David Merrell, a farmer from St. Edward and chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board. “But perhaps the most important benefit of these fuels is their dramatically positive impact on the environment and on human health.”

For example, biodiesel reduces hydrocarbon emissions by 67 percent and reduces lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by 86 percent compared to its petroleum based counterpart. The 2.1 billion gallons of biodiesel used in 2015 reduced the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by 18.2 million metric tons, the equivalent of removing 3.8 million cars from the road or planting 466 million trees.

Ethanol is a non-toxic, clean-burning fuel that dramatically reduces the level of toxics added to gasoline to increase octane, including proven and suspected carcinogens such as benzene, toluene and xylene. “Since these toxics do not completely combust in the engine, they enter the atmosphere through exhaust emissions and are directly connected to cancer, heart disease and asthma in humans,” Merrell added. “The more ethanol we add to gasoline, the lower the levels of these harmful toxics in the air we breathe.”

According to the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, some 70 percent of harmful air pollution is attributable to mobile sources such as passenger vehicles, trucks, buses and construction equipment. “When consumers choose renewable biofuels at the pump, they are not only saving money and supporting a homegrown fuel, they are also making the choice for a better environment and cleaner, healthier air for their families,” Pavelka said.

Corn Planted at 74%, 30% Emerged

Photo Courtesy of Heartland FFA Chapter

For the week ending May 15, 2016, rain amounts of one to two inches were common across the eastern half of the state during the first half of the week, with heavier amounts in east central counties, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Hail accompanied the rain in portions of the State. Planting progress was limited in eastern counties as producers waited for soils to dry. Temperatures averaged two to six degrees below normal. Producers continued to move cows and calves to pasture.

There were 3.9 days suitable for fieldwork. Topsoil moisture supplies rated 0 percent very short, 2 short, 80 adequate, and 18 surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 0 percent very short, 3 short, 86 adequate, and 11 surplus.

Field Crops Report: Corn planted was at 74 percent, behind 82 last year and the five-year average of 81. Emerged was at 30 percent, behind 47 last year and 35 average.

Data for this news release were provided at the county level by USDA Farm Service Agency and UNL Extension Service.
Access the National publication for Crop Progress and Condition tables HERE.
Access the High Plains Region Climate Center for Temperature and Precipitation Maps HERE.
Access the U.S. Drought Monitor HERE.

May 13, 2016

The Voice: agriculture-style

Any “The Voice” fans out there?

Photo from
The Voice is a two-time Emmy Award-winning vocal competition show in its 10th season on NBC. In this show, celebrity judges - Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Pharrell Williams and Adam Levine - choose the contestants they feel would fit best on their team then coach them throughout the season with a series of battle rounds, knockouts, live playoffs and the finals. To get on a celebrity judge’s team initially, the contestant must have a “blind audition” where the judges cannot see the person singing, only judging on their voice.

This “blind audition” reminds me how people often identify with farmers and ranchers.

On the show, the judges can’t see who is making the sound until they choose to turn around. Much like that with food production today, food-eaters don’t know much about where their food comes from unless they “choose” to know.

Sure, they hear about certain production practices from their neighbor or fellow MOPS mom or maybe a relative. But until they really choose to know and look up the facts for themselves, they are just in a blind audition.

Farmer and ranchers are just as much involved in the “blind” part of this. Part of it is our fault. For a long time, we didn’t do a good job of sharing about what we were doing or how we were doing it. It’s our own business, right?

Photo from
Right, but it is also the food-eater’s business. They want to know about their food – who raised it, where it came from, what was put on it, how it was processed. They don’t want to come in blindly and just assume it is safe. And unfortunately, some groups in agriculture try to pit one form of production over another – which really confuses the food-eater.

So – let’s come together and make it easy for the food-eater to choose to learn more about modern food production. Here’s how we can learn from The Voice and use a few of their tactics:

  • Blind Auditions: sometimes food-eaters haven’t heard both sides of the story. They are coming in blind to a situation where they know little about an issue involving modern food production, yet they feel passionate because of who told them about it. Explain to them where you are coming from and how you know what you know. While face-to-face conversations are ideal, social media is a great place for this. You can get personal while sharing on blogs, Facebook, Instagram, videos, Twitter, etc., but it also allows for one-on-one conversations and questions. (see our blog series, Social Soil, about how to use these social media tools!)
  • Battle Rounds: conversations around food can get heated. It’s a very personal issue that EVERYONE is affected by. Try not to get into a debate with someone, but simply give them the educated-information for them to make their own choice.
  • Knockouts: you know you’ve knocked it out of the park when you’ve been able to open up someone’s perspective towards modern agriculture so they can see why you do what you do, and become a champion for you. To help achieve this knockout, make sure you are prepared with personal stories about your farm and ranch. Hitting that emotional string is a powerful and relatable one.
  • Live Playoffs: get in front of a live audience. Many civic groups, schools, moms groups and more need speakers for their events. So speak up and volunteer to share about what you do to raise food. You’ll be surprised at how rewarding it is.
  • The Finals: our end goal in advocating for agriculture is to share what we do and why we do it so that we are known for what we do – not what others say we do (or don’t do). This needs to be a part of every food-producers business plan. You won’t have a business if you sit around and wait for someone else to share your story. The truth is, it is already being shared and not by the right people. Keep the sustainability of your farm or ranch in mind with this issue: step up, get out and share your story.

May 11, 2016

Commodity Classic 2016 Discussions

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2016 Commodity Classic in New Orleans, Louisiana. Commodity Classic is an annual convention and trade show that is farmer-led and farmer-focused. It provides farmers with an opportunity to learn about the latest improvements in agriculture, meet with industry leaders, attend educational sessions, and network with other farmers and agribusinesses from across the nation. While I was at this convention, I was also able to attend Corn Congress and listen to the discussions and presentations that were held there. There were two important discussions that I took away from this convention: the growing importance of sustainability in agriculture, and the need for innovation in order to feed our growing population.

I think that the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) spoke very well on these two important topics, that are so important to agriculture. Their vision is, "to sustainably feed and fuel a growing world." They stated that they are working within their organization to develop new programs that meet today's needs, and are also building new tools to communicate and coordinate better across the agricultural industry. In order to meet the demands of the growing population, NCGA is working with its value chain partners to create a competitive market demand for 19 billion bushels of corn through stable annual growth by 2025. They will do this by increasing ethanol use, developing three new uses for corn, promoting corn based food demand, increasing livestock exports, improving the quality of livestock feed, and several others. One important goal of NCGA will be to enhance customer and consumer trust over the upcoming years. They will accomplish this by creating new partnerships, telling the story of American corn farmers sustainability, engaging more members in advocacy, and several others. Overall, I believe that NCGA is on the path to success in regards to addressing the importance of sustainability in agriculture, and the need for innovation in order to feed the growing world.

May 10, 2016

Corn Planted at 53 Percent


For the week ending May 8, 2016, dry conditions prevailed allowing producers to get back into fields after midweek, however widespread rainfall was reported late in the week, shutting down activities, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.  Rainfall accumulations of one or more inches were common in the Panhandle, central and southeastern counties.  Temperatures were near normal.  Standing water in low lying areas made portions of fields inaccessible.  There were 3.8 days suitable for fieldwork.  Topsoil moisture supplies rated 1 percent very short, 3 short, 81 adequate, and 15 surplus.  Subsoil moisture supplies rated 0 percent very short, 5 short, 87 adequate, and 8 surplus.

Corn planted was at 53 percent, behind 71 last year and the five-year average of 59.  Emerged was at 15 percent, behind 24 last year, but equal to average.

Data for this news release were provided at the county level by USDA Farm Service Agency and UNL Extension Service

Access the National publication for Crop Progress and Condition tables HERE. Access the High Plains Region Climate Center for Temperature and Precipitation Maps HERE. Access the U.S. Drought Monitor HERE

May 5, 2016

USMEF, USFRA, and USGC Discussions at Commodity Classic

As the current Nebraska Corn Board intern, I was able to attend Commodity Classic 2016 in New Orleans. While there, I spent some time at the trade show, engaging in conversations with several different agribusinesses. I stopped by the following three booths: United States Meat Export Federation (USMEF), United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), and the United States Grains Council (USGC). I had really great, informative conversations with each of these three agricultural groups.

At the USMEF booth, I learned that their mission is, "to increase the value and profitability of the U.S. beef, pork and lamb industries by enhancing demand for their products in export markets through a dynamic partnership of all stakeholders." This past year they were able to set a new record for global pork exports, which increased by about 5 percent from last year. This was largely driven by demand in China, Mexico and South Korea. After speaking with a representative of USMEF, I was informed that one of their main focuses this year has been producer education, which will continue being a priority into the upcoming years. Being present at Commodity Classic helped USMEF reach these producers from all over the nation.

I also spoke with employees of USFRA. Their main goal is to communicate all aspects of agriculture with consumers who might have questions about how today's food is grown and raised. The vision of USFRA is to build trust and confidence in today's agricultural practices. Specifically, they have been working to build the bridge between farmers and consumers. This year, they have focused on farmers thanking consumers and have trained farmers to be comfortable talking to consumers about any concerns or questions they may have.

Finally, I spoke with representatives of USGC. Their goal at Commodity Classic was to entertain all attendees, but doing so in a way that would show the importance of agricultural trade. Their mission is to develop markets, enable trade, and improve lives. I learned that one of their main priorities is to help people understand the global picture of crops, including prices and profitability. Being present at Commodity Classic allowed USGC to create new partnerships by building valued, long-lasting relationships with farmers, agricultural leaders, policymakers and administrators.

May 4, 2016

High Octane Fueling the Future

Knock, Knock!
Who’s there?

In 2012, the Obama Administration set groundbreaking standards to increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 MPG for cars and light-duty trucks by model year 2025. 

Although the auto industry has made many design innovations during the years, it will take a better fuel to meet this lofty goal. That better fuel contains ethanol.

Engine efficiency is how much of the energy in the fuel is converted to “useful work.” In a vehicle “useful work” is measured as MPG (miles per gallon). Gasoline engines in vehicles are typically 25-30% efficient, which means that only 25% of the energy contained in the fuel is used to move the car down the road. Diesel engines are 40-50% efficient, much higher than gasoline engines.

The main reason for the increased efficiency is that diesel engines run on a much higher compression ratio or a higher pressure. Higher compression means greater engine efficiency. Gasoline engines cannot be operated at higher compression, because the fuel prematurely combusts under high engine pressure causing “engine knock,” which greatly decreases engine efficiency and can be harmful to the engine.

Reducing engine knock is all about octane – and what’s added to our fuel to get it. But what’s octane?

Octane is a measure of the ignition quality of gasoline. The higher the octane number the less susceptible the fuel is to knocking. Knocking occurs when the fuel prematurely burns in the engine’s combustion chamber due to compression, instead of being ignited by the spark as the engine is designed. The higher the octane number, the more compression the fuel can withstand before igniting.

These numbers at the fuel pump represent the octane number. You can see that E85 (85% ethanol) has an octane of 105. Traditionally, denatured ethanol from an ethanol plant usually has a 113 octane number.
A recent report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory noted high-octane ethanol blends containing 20-40% ethanol are being “extensively studied” as fuels that would enable the design of engines that get better performance and fuel economy and produce fewer emissions.

Ethanol is a non-toxic, cleaner-burning octane booster that combusts more completely in the engine. Higher blends of ethanol dilute the level of toxic additives in our fuel, which helps reduce pollution.

It’s important that flex fuel infrastructure is available now to supply higher blends of ethanol for flex fuel vehicle drivers and new high-compression engine vehicles hitting the market.

Ethanol is truly the fuel of the future.

This post was submitted by the Nebraska Ethanol Board. The Nebraska Corn Board and Nebraska Ethanol Board continue to work together to establish procedures and processes necessary to the manufacturing and marketing of ethanol fuel. 

April 25, 2016

Facing the Facts about GMO

As farmers, we see the value and usefulness of biotechnology. Biotech is the farmer term for what food eaters know as GMOs.

The misfortune around biotechnology/genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) is that food eaters are unsure of what GMOs really are and farmers don’t always know how to talk about it. The seed companies are great at explaining the science, but food eaters really don’t want to hear it from them.

Growing more with less

For farmers, biotechnology is a useful tool in their toolbox of resources for growing more food sustainably. To them, that means using fewer pesticides and fertilizer, and fewer times across the field meaning less fuel. It also lets them grow crops that may be resistant to pesky pests that have damaged their crops in the past.

“As a farmer, I see biotechnology as huge investment into growing enough food for a growing world with fewer resources,” says Jay Reiners, a farmer near Juniata, Neb., who serves on the NCGA Trade Policy & Biotech Action Team and is a director on the NeCGA Board. “From drought resistance to disease resistance to insect resistance, we can grow more corn, soybeans or other food sources in a more sustainable way.”

As farmers, they see the usefulness of GMOs, but how can it be better explained to food eaters?

Jay Reiners, photo from
“I think the reason biotech is misunderstood is because as an industry we haven't explained what biotech is good enough from the beginning,” says Reiners. “We assumed that the public wouldn't have a problem with it because the government said it was safe. Now we are on the defense against false information.”

This challenge hasn’t resolved overnight, but farmers and farmer-driven movements are aiming to do a better job at directly conversing with food eaters through programs that get them in front of food eaters – not an easy task when you think about it. Some farmers have direct access to their customers at farmers markets. But commodity farmers who don’t directly market their grain through farmer’s market, don’t have the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with their customers.

So programs like CommonGround, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) and more have been started from the ground up (meaning started by farmers) to help give farmers and ranchers alike an opportunity to be in front of the public.

Women to women

CommonGround is a movement of farm and ranch women who volunteer their time to share about where food comes from and how it is raised. It was started in 2009 (Nebraska was one of the pilot states!) and has now grown to 19 states and growing + over 180 volunteers! These women involved volunteer their time and the CommonGround program (funded by farmer checkoffs) helps setup opportunities for them to be in front of food eaters – like dietitian conferences, grocery-store conversations, media opportunities, food meetings, moms groups, etc.

They are moving the needle as real, credible women who are relatable to the women food purchasers, which by the way, women are the majority of people who buy food for and make health-wise decisions for their families. So it makes sense to have women farmers and ranchers, who also buy food for their families, sharing what it is that they do raising food and why they do it.

“With programs like CommonGround, we are able to help change public opinion one at a time in a personal way from a first-hand account where their food comes from,” says Reiners.

Farmers and ranchers are food eaters, too

USFRA is an organization involving more than 90 farmer and rancher-led organization and agricultural partners representing virtually all aspects of agriculture. They work together to engage in dialogue with consumers who have questions about how today’s food is grown and raised. USFRA is committed to continuous improvement and supporting U.S. farmers’ and ranchers’ efforts to increase confidence and trust in today’s agriculture. Similar to CommonGround, they want food eaters to see that farmers and ranchers are just like them – people who care about what we grow, raise and eat – and are relatable. One of their main programs is a Food Dialogues format that brings together food raiser, eaters and business together to share and solve issues we face today.

Another great resource for food eaters is It shares easy-to-understand messages about what GMOs are and why farmers use them. It allows for anybody to ask questions and they assure those questions are answered. They use peer-reviewed information and useful experts to answer the questions so they stay objective. Go check it out for yourself:

GMOs and biotechnology are not meant to be scary, secretive or subjective. They have been around for over 20 years and not one case of human illness has resulted. There are just a lot of unknowns, and we are farmers want to make sure food eaters understand why it is what we do and why we care. Let’s all come to the table to discuss GMOs and why they can be a sustainable part of our future!

Watch these videos about GMOs/Biotechnology from The Cob Squad!

VIDEO: Kernels of Truth–GMO Safety