December 30, 2008

'Journey of the Corn' featuring Tiemann's is online now

The episode of America's Heartland featuring Alan and Lori Tiemann from Seward is available online. Click here for the episode's home page - and be sure to check out the behind the scenes video and photos. You can watch the entire episode or individual components - and read summaries from each segment.

America's Heartland is a television program that focuses on America's farmers and ranchers and how they bring food, fuel and fiber to the world.

Earlier this year, the Tiemann's took a trip to Taiwan and China to film parts of the episode "Journey of the Corn". It focuses on foreign markets for corn, distillers grains and PLA, the corn-based material made in Blair that is used in everything from plasticware to clothing. One stop included a visit to a 7-Eleven (yes...the quick shop!), where the Slurpee cups are made from PLA - from Nebraska corn. (Stores in Taiwan will sell upwards of 160,000 Slurpees - in their biodegradable cups - a day!)

The film crew also spent time in Seward this summer - visiting the Tiemann's farm near Seward and also at Lori’s off-farm job at a local bank. Alan is a member of the Nebraska Corn Board.

The photo of the Tiemann's above was taken at a research dairy farm in China.

December 29, 2008

Corn groups present annual awards

The Nebraska Corn Growers Association and Nebraska Corn Board presented several annual awards at the recent Nebraska Ag Classic.

The Nebraska Corn Growers presented its annual Golden Ear award to Don McCabe (pictured), editor of Nebraska Farmer. The Golden Ear Award is presented by NeCGA to recognize and appreciate an individual’s contribution to agriculture. McCabe is a northeast Nebraska native, where he grew up on a diversified crops and livestock farm. He spent four years in the US Navy before studying journalism at the University of Nebraska. After graduating in 1975, he went to work for the York News-Times, and in 1977 he joined the Nebraska Farmer as associate editor.

In the 31 years since, McCabe has covered an incredible number of events, conducted countless interviews and traveled Nebraska from corner to corner many times. In 1988, he was named managing editor of the Nebraska Farmer and in 2003 he was named editor. He has been recognized by his peers and many agriculture organizations for his efforts, and in 2007 he was named to the Nebraska Hall of Agricultural Achievement.

The Nebraska Corn Board presented awards to three Nebraskans during the Nebraska Ag Classic. These include:
  • Greg Ibach, of Sumner, who received the annual Ag Achievement Award. Ibach, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, was recognized for his ag industry leadership, and his continual support of the Nebraska Corn Board’s mission and activities. The Ag Achievement Award is given annually to an individual who demonstrates vision, commitment and a deep understanding of the value of agriculture and the corn checkoff to the state of Nebraska.
  • Ken Rahjes, network coordinator on KRVN, received the Nebraska Corn Board's annual Media Award. Rahjes can be heard nearly every weekday on KRVN, KTIC and KNEB.
  • Phil High, a farmer in the Bertrand area, received the Nebraska Corn Board's annual Ethanol Award. High has been an advocate and promoter of ethanol for many years. His efforts led to the development of AmeriFuels/Renewable Fuels Technology LLC, a company that develops and promotes usage of stationary irrigation motors that run on pure ethanol and works to market and deliver the ethanol needed for the engines.
The Nebraska Corn Board also presented awards during the recent Nebraska Cattlemen’s Convention:
  • The 2007-2008 Livestock Industry Award was presented to Michael Kelsey, executive vice-president of the Nebraska Cattlemen. Kelsey worked to represent Nebraska cattle producers and also to bring the various commodity organization closer together. He was also instrumental in helping organize the first of its kind, joint Washington, DC, lobbying efforts by the Nebraska Corn Board and Nebraska Cattlemen.
  • Craid Uden, manager of Darr Feedlot at Cozad, was presented the 2008-2009 Livestock Industry award. Uden has taken a 4,000 head feedlot and helped transform it into a 45,000 head operation. He's also a propoant of distillers grains (see this post).
The Corn Board's Livestock Industry Award is given annually to recognize an individual’s work in leadership on behalf of the Nebraska’s livestock industries, including market development, promotion and research.

December 26, 2008

Podcast: Food animals are not pets - and that's okay

In this Podcast, Mark Jagels of the Nebraska Corn Board summarizes a couple of presentations made in Nebraska recently by Wes Jamison. Jamison is an expert in the animal welfare and animal rights movements.

Jagels noted that Jamison believes that for animal agriculture to be successful in the future, we need to help consumers manage their conflicting emotions that come from wanting one animal at the center of their plate and another as the center of their life – as their pet. Jamison believes we need to lead with a moral argument - that the work we do in raising food animals is morally right.

For a related post, which includes links to more details and reports, click here.

December 24, 2008

Modern agriculture: No longer a '57 Chevy

Lori Potter of the Kearney Hub wrote a good piece on Charlie Arnot's presentation to the Nebraska Ag Classic last week. Arnot (pictured) is chief executive officer of the Center for Food Integrity. He also heads up CMA Consulting.

The article includes some nuggets on a consumer survey that focuses on food costs, food safety issues and the overall confidence in the U.S. food system. Arnot also addressed activists activities towards animal production and modern farming.

Here are a few lines from Lori's article, which you can view in full here.

Agriculture has changed dramatically in the past 50 years, with new technologies; consolidation in production, processing and retailing; and closer ties between links in the food chain. However, people in agriculture have failed to keep consumers informed of and confident in modern methods to grow and process food.

Arnot said many consumers still want "farm" to mean a barn, a few cows and a tilted silo.

"Comparing modern farming with that image is like comparing today’s automobile to a '57 Chevy." He said it's a beautiful car, but has no power steering, power brakes, air conditioning or emission controls, and gets poor gas mileage. "I don’t want to drive a ’57 Chevy."

...And we
shouldn't expect agriculture producers to do so, either.

For a related post, click here.

December 23, 2008

Growers pleased with decision on ACRE

Beginning this spring, farmers can sign up for the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program - a program that was urged by corn growers to be included in the 2008 farm bill.

ACRE provides a new, optional risk management tool for farmers. It delivers payments to producers facing losses in crop revenue caused by adverse weather conditions and declining prices. In return, program participants accept a reduction in Loan Deficiency Program rates and a decrease of 20 percent in direct payments.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced some of the details about the ACRE program late last week - and corn grower organizations are generally supportive of the decisions USDA made.

A key decision was that USDA will use market prices for 2007 and 2008 as the average price for the 2009 crop. There was some discussion that the average price would be based off 2006 and 2007. The average price in 2006 (at $3.04) is currently below what is expected for 2008 (a USDA estimated range of $3.65-4.35). The average price in 2007 was $4.20.

Corn growers believed the 2006 price would be too low based on current crop prices and trends and that it made more sense to base ACRE off the most current crop years. USDA agreed.

For more information, check out USDA’s announcement or this article by Dan Looker of Successful Farming.

National Corn Growers Association president Bob Dickey said NCGA was pleased with the announcement. "This is a very important piece of the 2008 farm bill to NCGA members, especially during a time of uncertainty and volatile commodity markets," he said. Dickey, of Laurel, Nebraska, is also a member of the Nebraska Corn Board.

"Since enactment of the legislation, NCGA has worked closely with USDA on the 2008 farm bill," he said. "On behalf of our nation's corn growers, I would like to extend our gratitude to Secretary Schafer and the employees at USDA for their thorough consideration of our members' views and concerns regarding ACRE. We are pleased with the outcome of the ACRE program and look forward to the implementation of the other farm bill programs."

December 22, 2008

Several 300+ bushels per acre in corn yield contest


The National Corn Growers Association has announced the winners for its annual corn yield contest. One Nebraskan made the list - a grower from Louisville, NE, who had a yield of 288.6893 bushels per acre on a no till/strip till non-irrigated plot.

NCGA said corn growers "shattered yield records" this year - despite assorted weather problems, including a late start. There were 6,725 entries in this year's contest, a new record and double the entries in 2006 - and several entrants scored yields of more than double the estimated national average (that's more than double 153.8 bu/acre).

According to NCGA, the 24 national winners in eight production categories had verified yields averaging more than 310 bushels per acre. In this year’s contest, 19 entrants harvested yields of 300 bushels or more per acre.

While there is no overall winner in the contest due to the variety of growing climates and methods, NCGA said national winners with the first, second and third highest yields in each of the eight production categories ranged from 368.2742 to 284.5849 bushels per acre.

For the full report - and a list of winners, click here.

December 19, 2008

Podcast: We can’t go backwards on ethanol policy

In this Podcast, the Nebraska Corn Growers Association's Lynn Chrisp discusses the importance of the current Renewable Fuels Standard. He reminds us about the 1970s, when we last made an effort to launch a biofuels sector. Corn growers and others learned many lessons from those efforts - the RFS ensures that we can't go backwards on our efforts to expand the use of renewable fuels like ethanol. In other words, the RFS keeps us from being lulled into inaction again.

December 18, 2008

Pork sets record for monthly export value

U.S. pork exports continued at an incredible pace in October, the U.S. Meat Export Federation has announced. Despite the global economic downturn, October pork exports posted a record for monthly export value, while the total monthly volume was the third-largest on record - that equates to a 46 percent volume increase over exports from October of 2007 and a 55.5 percent increase in value.

There has been talk of meat exports slowing, but obviously that didn’t happen for pork, at least not yet. Certainly that is good news for pork producers!

Beef exports were also positive, although the figure was smaller than the summer months. (Maybe more beef in Korea will help over the next few months?)

Here are some of the details, from USMEF’s announcement:

Pork and pork variety meat exports in October totaled 192,940 metric tons (425.4 million pounds) valued at $487 million - a new record for monthly export value. Export volume increased 18 percent over the previous month and trails only May and June of 2008 for most pork exported in a single month. For January through October, exports were up 67 percent to 1.7 million metric tons (3.8 billion pounds), with value surpassing $4.1 billion.

The story for U.S. beef also remains positive. Although smaller than the summer peak, beef plus beef variety meat exports were relatively strong in October, exceeding October 2007 volume levels by 16 percent. U.S. beef and variety meat exports for the month reached 89,205 metric tons (196.7 million pounds) valued at $348.3 million, exceeding year-ago export value totals by 31.4 percent. January through October beef exports, including variety meat, increased 31 percent to 840,121 metric tons (1.8 billion pounds), with value surpassing $3.1 billion, an increase of 43 percent.

December 17, 2008

OPEC wants cash: Says 'at least' $80 oil is its target

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is going to ring in the New Year by cutting oil output some 2.2 million barrels a day next month. Guess the cartel's members got spoiled by the $100+ per barrel price they enjoyed for a good chunk of the year.

OPEC has announced cuts before. Back in September, remember, the cartel decided to cut production in an attempt to keep oil at $100. OPEC was really in a panic by October, when prices fell below $70 for the first time in 14 months. Oil is now close to $40, and folks are getting change back from a $20 when filling up the car. Big Oil doesn't like that!

From one of today's reports: Oil prices have fallen rapidly in recent months due to "the repercussions of the financial crisis," said OPEC's President Chakib Khelil. "We are in a very deteriorating environment," he said.

All told, the new cuts will bring oil production down a total of 4.2 million barrels per day from September.

OPEC's goal, according to Khelil is to have oil "at least" in the $70-80 range. If that doesn't happen, more cuts will come. Here's his quote from the CNN article: "If you are not surprised [by the cuts], then we have to do something about it," he said.

Should the global economy begin to improve, oil demand may increase...and combined with OPEC's cutbacks, prices could take a serious jump (oil is down today, despite the cartel's announcement). Certainly nobody believes we've seen the last of $100 oil. This is why we can't falter on the goal to increase renewable fuels in this country - from ethanol to biodiesel. Stopping what we started now would be disastrous...we'd be back to zero when the bulls begin to run in the oil markets again - or worse. (Remember?)

December 16, 2008

Op ed: Debunking myths of corn, ethanol

David Gibson, executive director of the Texas Corn Producers Board, wrote an op ed that discusses the corn, ethanol and food prices "discussion" that took up a chunk of the last year. To view the commentary, click here.

Gibson, whose group helped put together, made many good points - including that food prices went up with oil/energy costs but have not come down as these costs dropped. He also noted that the Grocery Gang's campaign to place the blame for its price increases on corn and ethanol was simply off base.

Here is his conclusion:

There is no way that our country can achieve its goal of energy independence without increasing ethanol production. The low price being paid for corn is bad news for farmers, some of whom will not be able to cover their production costs. But it proves we have enough corn for food and for ethanol to reduce foreign oil imports. Now we just have to wait for the big food manufacturers to give consumers a break at the grocery checkout line instead of pocketing larger profits.

Interestingly enough, a new set of consumer price figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics came out this week. It noted that food prices increased 0.2 percent in November - the smallest increase this year. (Gas dropped another 29.5 percent in November.) The report noted that the index for meat, poultry, fish and eggs turned down in November - for the first time since February - falling 0.7 percent.

December 15, 2008

Ag productivity gains key to past, present, future

This ERS report contains some pretty interesting facts about the growing efficiency of U.S. agriculture. It takes into account more than just measures of productivity growth (improved yields) or output per worker (labor productivity). Instead, it uses ERS's productivity indexes to identify the separate roles of changes in input use and productivity-improving developments in technology that drive growth in ag output.

It calls this "total factor productivity" (TFP) - or the difference between the growth in ag output and growth in inputs. A chart from the report is below. It shows a dramatic rise in output while inputs have remained flat.

The opening paragraph of the ERS report notes (emphasis added):

U.S. agriculture relies almost entirely on productivity growth, primarily from innovation and changes in technology, to raise output. Total production nearly tripled between 1948 and 2004, while land in agriculture fell by one-quarter and labor declined by three-quarters. Because of high productivity growth, agricultural commodity prices rose at less than half the rate of economy-wide prices over those 56 years.

That says a lot, doesn’t it? After all, there is no more land now than in the ‘40s, and it is a safe bet there won’t be more land in the future, either.

The ERS report also led to a very good piece by Morton Sosland over at Food Business News (they also publish Milling and Baking News and Meat and Poultry). You can find that article here.

Sosland concludes his article with this (emphasis added):

On balance, the ERS declares, "There can be little doubt that productivity growth has been the engine of economic growth in post-World War II agriculture." The same may be said about the food industry whose growth obviously has been fueled by the ability of agriculture to keep pace with expanding demand. All too often the food industry neglects this long-term perspective where its outlook is tied so closely to the ability of American agriculture to innovate and to embrace promising technology. This depends on uninterrupted investing in research aimed quite specifically at finding the technology and the innovations that will promise continued amazing growth in the output of American agriculture.

Podcast: Good line-up for NeCGA annual meeting, Ag Classic

In this Podcast, Scott Merritt, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, talks about the organization's annual meeting - which is tomorrow - plus all the good speakers scheduled for this week's Nebraska Ag Classic.

December 11, 2008

USDA predicts big jump in corn ending stocks

Corn production did not change in today’s U.S. Department of Agriculture reports: USDA still estimates a national yield of 153.8 bushels per acre and a total crop size of 12.02 billion bushels.

Yet ending stocks for the 2008-09 marketing year jumped 350 million bushels to 1.47 billion. That’s a pretty big change (+31 percent from November's 1.12 billion).

So what changed?

Well, feed use increased 50 million bushels - but that was overshadowed by the decrease in corn use for ethanol (lowered 300 million bushels to 3.7 billion) and corn for exports (lowered 100 million bushels to 1.8 billion).

USDA reduced corn for ethanol for a couple of reasons. Oil and gas prices were very high last year so fuel blenders had a big incentive to include ethanol in all the gas they could, as ethanol was cheaper by comparison. Now that oil/gas prices have fallen (quite dramatically), that "dollars and cents" incentive to blend beyond what the Renewable Fuels Standard requires has lessened. Add to that delayed plant openings, temporary shut downs and the like and it is clear corn use for ethanol would shrink.

USDA also lowered corn for exports due to "strong competition" from larger foreign grain supplies and the slow pace of exports to date. A lot of grain was produced globally in the past year in response to higher prices, and demand is soft due to economic concerns. In fact, USDA projected world corn ending stocks for 2008-09 at 123.8 million metric tons - up from November’s estimate of 110.12 million tons.

All of the data, and lower prices of late, led USDA to lower the range for the average farm price of corn to $3.65-4.35. This is down from $4.00-4.80 in November and $5-6 in other words, the average estimated value of the crop has dropped $18 billion since September. The average of the price range for this year - $4 - is also lower than last year's $4.20 average. This, too, is a fairly dramatic change from where we were six months ago. Incredible, actually.

For the full supply/demand report, click here.

December 10, 2008

Nebraska Ag Classic set for next week

The Nebraska Ag Classic kicks off next week, with some annual meetings beginning Monday (Dec. 15); the LEAD alumni dinner is that same night. If you haven’t made plans to attend be sure to visit the meeting website for more info. Lots of good information and speakers will be on hand, plus a trade show with more than 35 exhibitors.

Like in years past, the Ag Classic takes place at the Holiday Inn in Kearney.

The annual meeting of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association is Tuesday (Dec. 16). It runs from 8 to 11:30 am. Rick Tollman, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association, will be on hand for a keynote address during the annual meeting. All interested persons are invited to attend.

The Nebraska Corn Board will hold its annual listening session that same day – from 2 to 4 pm. This is a time for corn growers to come and talk about the Nebraska Corn Board’s activities and interact with board members and staff.

The theme of this year’s Ag Classic is The Challenge of Change, and certainly there have been a lot of changes in agriculture over the last year!

Opening the conference right after lunch on the 16th is Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity. He’s an expert in animal rights groups and their motives and will help producers learn how to deal with this important issue.

Other speakers on Tuesday include Brad Lubben, who will provide information on the new ACRE Program, and Dr. Weldon Sleight, who will discuss some of the things happening to our rural communities, including economic development.

On Wednesday (Dec. 17), a second round of informative speakers are on the agenda, including Mike Krueger, founder and president of The Money Farm, and Jim Wiesemeyer, of Informa Economics’ Washington, D.C. office.

For the full program, click here.

The Ag Classic is sponsored by these groups:

Views on pets transfer to food animals

Wes Jamison spoke at the Nebraska Farm Bureau meeting this week. He has been studying animal welfare and the animal welfare/animal rights movement for years, and does not always say what livestock producers want to hear. Yet he is a supporter of the industry and wants it to be successful.

Jamison reports that it is clear attitudes toward food animals have fundamentally changed. We're a nation of pet lovers who see animals not as commodities but as companions.

A post-speech report is available form the Kearney Hub – click here. The Omaha World Herald also did a piece, which is here. Brownfield did an interview, which you can listen to here. Earlier this year he spoke to the Nebraska Ag Relations Council, which included an article on Jamison in its fall 2008 newsletter, which you can download here.

Here is a quote:

When people are willing to spend $7,000 so an aging dachshund can have back surgery, the message that changing livestock housing systems will add two cents to cost-per-pound doesn’t cut it.

And another:

What you don’t want to do is buy into the animal rightists' strategy of getting producers to accept small incremental changes in production practices. They’ll increase your costs inch by inch until you lose efficiencies and go out of business.

Jamison said he believes that livestock producers can win the debate over animal care, despite the success of Prop 2 in California. He said animal agriculture needs to let consumers know that it is okay to have pets, and that it is also okay to have food animals - with one animal as the center of their life and another as the center of their plate. He said we need to tell people that animal consumption is both good and right, and that it is nothing to be ashamed about.

Read the articles and listen to the interview. This is an important issue everyone in agriculture needs to grasp.

December 9, 2008

Journal clears the air on high fructose corn syrup

The latest edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition includes a supplement that reviews high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It concludes that there is no scientific support for the hypothesis that HFCS is linked to obesity in the U.S. or globally any more or less than other sweeteners.

It’s a case of mistaken identity, as the Corn Refiners Association noted in a news release. The USA Today did a good piece, too. Find it here.

CRA pointed out that the report was produced following a symposium that brought together scientific leaders on the topic from a number of backgrounds, including former HFCS critics.

According to Victor Fulgoni, symposium chair, in his summary of the presented papers, "Thus, we now have a clearer picture about HFCS; namely, metabolic responses are similar to sucrose as would be expected from the composition of these two sweeteners."

Audrae Erickson, president of CRA, said many have confused pure "fructose" with "high fructose corn syrup." Yet HFCS never contains just fructose – it contains fructose in a combination with glucose – a combination that is similar to ordinary sugar and honey.

Erickson said some studies that have examined pure fructose - often at abnormally high levels - have been "inappropriately applied" to HFCS. Obviously, this has significant consumer confusion. It’s the stuff urban legends are made of, but in this case, the legend hurts a useful corn product.

Here are some of the conclusions from the report:
  • High fructose corn syrup contains the same sugars compositionally as other fructose/glucose-based sweeteners like sucrose (or table sugar), honey or fruit juice concentrates.
  • Fructose-glucose sweeteners are metabolized through the same pathways regardless of their dietary source.
  • There are no known substantial metabolic or nutritional differences between high fructose corn syrup and sucrose. Both have a composition of approximately equal parts fructose and glucose.
  • High fructose corn syrup and sucrose offer equivalent sweetness and both contain 4 calories per gram.
  • From 1970-2005, caloric intake in the United States increased by 24%. This was not due to a disproportionate increase in added sugars (including HFCS), but rather an overall increase in calories from all food sources including fats and all other nutrient groups.
  • Per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup has declined in the United States in recent years, but obesity rates continue to rise.
  • High fructose corn syrup accounts for about one-half of sweetener use in the United States but only 8% worldwide, yet obesity rates are climbing in countries that use little or no high fructose corn syrup. Sugar remains the predominant global sweetener.
For more, check out these links: or

Check out these previous posts:

December 8, 2008

Jenkins: Ethanol most successful alternative energy project ever

Jim Jenkins, chair of the Nebraska Ethanol Board, spent some time with Brownfield over the weekend to discuss ethanol, food prices, ethanol subsidies and more.

He noted that ethanol is one of the most successful alternative energy projects ever launched - and has taken a 6 percent market share away from oil. That's keeping jobs and money in the U.S. He also reported that Nebraska has a $3 billion ethanol business - and is one of the best economic engines rural America has ever seen.

Although a shakeout and reorganization is and will continue happening within the ethanol industry, Jenkins said some producers are currently in the black - and that a vast majority of plants will make it through. (He makes a few predictions near the end of the report.)

To listen to the report, click here.

Ethanol good for America

The headline for this post is borrowed from a commentary written by Gerald "Jerry" Krueger, a retired educator, coach, commercial pilot and farmer. He penned a good article for the Aberdeen News.

You can read the article by clicking here.

Here's a sample:

Well, it's happening again. The attackers of alternative fuels are raising their ugly heads, many want the subsidy abolished for alternative fuels, including ethanol.

Ethanol is good for America, period. There's no debating it.

So why must these so called food/economics experts rant against the subsidy for ethanol, which can help us in our journey to be less dependent on foreign oil - oil that is controlled by people who hate America?

December 7, 2008

Corn data everywhere - but stuff you can use right here

Have you ever searched around looking for something that should be simple to find - yet can't?

Say you're wondering about Nebraska's average corn price over the last decade - or in 1975-76 (it was $2.50 back then).

Or perhaps you're looking for historic Nebraska corn yields - or total production. Or maybe even corn supply/demand numbers over the last 10 years.

Those facts - and more - are available right now thanks to a new page on the Nebraska Corn Board's website. Just click here to see.

Data are gleaned from trusted sources and will be updated regularly.

Here's a list of what's there now:
  • Nebraska Carryout and Average Farm Price
  • Nebraska Corn Supply - Demand
  • Nebraska Planted - Harvested Acres
  • Nebraska Production and Yield
  • Nebraska Production, Usage and Export
  • Nebraska Total Supply
Check it out - and maybe bookmark it - it's a great and handy reference.

Podcast: Anti-ethanol group misses the mark (again)

In this Podcast, Elgin Bergt of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association reports that the latest anti-ethanol efforts by the Grocery Gang and its surrogates doesn't stand up to common sense. He reminds us that replacing biofuels like ethanol with more oil isn't the answer.

December 5, 2008

Podcast: Still waiting for lower food prices

In this Podcast, Carl Sousek of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association talks about how lower corn prices have not led to lower food prices, despite claims earlier this year that the two were closely connected.

December 3, 2008

Three of Korea's major retailers begin selling U.S. beef

Nebraska and U.S. cattle producers had something extra to be thankful for last week: Three of South Korea’s major retailers resumed sales of U.S. beef on Thanksgiving Day.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation made the announcement that E-Mart, Home Plus and Lotte Mart had resumed sales of U.S. beef on November 27 - Thanksgiving Day. The retail chains issued a joint press release announcing the decision and explaining that it is due in part to the slow economy and daily financial difficulties facing Koreans.

The companies said that their sales of U.S. beef will provide value and convenience, as well as help stabilize consumer prices. They added that there is no longer any reason for them not to carry price-competitive U.S. beef.

To help encourage sales, USMEF is providing promotional support to all the chains and believes initial sales at these three major retailers will prompt sales at other retail outlets. Combined, the three retailers have nearly 300 outlets.

USMEF president and CEO Philip Seng noted that although U.S. beef export numbers have been strong since shipments resumed in late July, sales in Korea have been limited to small outlets due to reluctance by major retailers and foodservice operations to sell U.S. beef.

Once the third-largest market for U.S. beef, Korea imported about $816 million in beef and beef variety meats in 2003 - the last year the market was fully open. At the time, this represented about 21 percent of the worldwide value of all U.S. beef exports.

For more, click here. For audio reports, click here.

New distillers grains resource published

The Midwest Agribusiness Trade Research and Information Center at Iowa State University has published a 260-page book on using distillers grains, which are produced by corn-based ethanol plants as a feed ingredient for livestock and poultry.

The book, Using Distillers Grains in the U.S. and International Livestock and Poultry Industries, is available free online by clicking here.

The book was edited by three economic professors at Iowa State - Bruce Babcock, Dermot Hayes and John Lawrence - but contains important contributions by a number of animal scientists, including several from the University of Nebraska.

Chapters cover nutrition and live animal performance of beef cattle, dairy cattle, swine and poultry when fed distillers grains or DDGS. Storage, shelf life and transportation issues are included, as are new technologies on the horizon and challenges remaining in the use of distillers grains. Two chapters discuss the trade value of U.S. distiller grains in small and large international markets.

With economists at the helm, of course there is a chapter on ingredient value and cost. It includes an online calculator program.

Similar information is provided by the Nebraska Corn Board in its collection of corn co-product manuals. For a post on the Storage of Wet Corn Co-Products publication, click here. For copies of that, as well as the Utilization of Corn Co-Products in the Dairy Industry and the Utilization of Corn Co-Products in the Beef Industry, click here. All are a tremendous resource.

December 2, 2008

Podcast: We need to explain how we raise animals and why

In this Podcast, Nebraska Corn Board member Curt Friesen talks about the importance of educating consumers about modern livestock production, which has become even more critical with the passage of Prop 2 in California.

November 30, 2008

Presentation covers topics of interst to corn growers

Nebraska Corn Board member Curt Friesen gave a presentation to the York County Corn Growers annual banquet recently - and it was written up in the York News-Times.

He addressed everything from ethanol to livestock to food prices to Prop 2.

Check out the article here.

High fructose corn syrup gets 'bad rap'

In this article, dietitian Brooke Douglas reports that high fructose corn syrup is simply a sweetener with a bad rap.

Here are a few lines:

Actually, most people don't realize that HFCS is composed of the same sugars found in table sugar and honey -- fructose and glucose -- in virtually the exact same ratios.

What HFCS does not do for us is make us fat! If consumption of HFCS has increased, then so have all other food categories. Obesity is becoming a more global problem each day, yet high-fructose corn syrup is used very little -- or not at all -- in many countries where obesity rates are rising.

For more information on HFCS - click here and here. That second link takes you to a post on the efforts by the Corn Refiners Association - who are working hard to spread the facts about HFCS.

November 24, 2008

Corn harvest in home stretch

A week of mostly dry weather allowed Nebraska corn producers to move from 67 percent of acres harvested a week ago to 82 percent complete as of yesterday (November 23), the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today.

Although that is a sizable and important increase, corn producers are still behind a year ago, when 99 percent of the crop was in the bin, and the five-year average of 96 percent completed. Nevertheless, piles of corn are a common site at many grain elevators, who are working feverishly to dry corn and move it into all available indoor storage - but expect to see corn piles long after harvest is complete. That's another sign of a good crop.

Nationally, 89 percent of the crop is in the bin, compared to 97 percent on average.

For details, check out USDA's report by clicking here.

For more information on Nebraska's crop, click on the Nebraska Corn Board's Crop Progress Update by going here.

November 21, 2008

OPEC afraid of losing its credibility amid lower prices

Chakib Khelil, president of the oil cartel OPEC and the Algerian oil minister, is afraid of OPEC "losing our credibility" if the cartel decides to cut oil production (again), but then finds out that members ignored the last agreement to cut production.

What Khelil may fail to realize is neither he nor OPEC were credible to begin with.

Khelil, if you recall, is the individual who said that "the intrusion of bioethanol on the market" is responsible for 40 percent of the increase in oil prices back when oil prices were sky high. (Click here.) Yes, he's that guy.

OPEC said in September it was going to cut production - because oil was getting too close to $100 per barell. Nervous that September's cuts didn't work (or didn't actually happen), OPEC was in panic by October, when it held an emergency meeting to cut production again. Oil was $70 then.

Guess what? Oil is now around $50.

Below is a good line from an AP article, which you can check out here. It's the same article that quotes Khelil being nervous about the cartel's credibility. No joke.

If the cartel's earlier complaints about low prices elicited few tears in much of the world, the latest drop is even less likely to merit a sniffle.

November 20, 2008

Videos take peak inside hog, dairy barns

The Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (A-FAN) has launched a new website - and with it comes some great new audio and video segments.

The videos take a peak inside Prairieland Dairy near Firth and a hog facility near Osceola. Both are owned and operated by farm families and both opened their doors to consumers in the past year.

Three dairy videos include interview segments with "city folk" who came to see how a modern dairy operates and to teach their kids where their food comes from. Lots of good stuff here, including how modern dairy farms benefit multiple families who live and and are involved in the local community. One video also talks about the dairy's environmental initiatives and recycling plan.

Two hog videos cover a bit of hog production and family life - and the opportunity that animal agriculture brings to farm families and the economic benefits for rural communities. The operator of this farm is the fifth generation here in Nebraska, and his family lives in the same house his parents lived in when they first got married.

When you check out the videos by clicking here, also note the audio files on the left side of the page. There are a lot of good interviews there.

The image above is of Kevin Peterson, the owner/operator of the hog facility featured in the videos.

November 19, 2008

Schafer: Anti-ethanol crowd has 'no credibility'

The Corn Commentary blog today has a post that features Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, who spoke at and spent a few minutes with the media after the Cellulosic Ethanol Summit today.

According to the blog, Schafer said the group that held a press conference yesterday calling for an end to ethanol subsidies "stood up there with no credibility whatsoever," when they claimed that it will take 18-24 months for the lower commodity prices to bring food prices back down.

"I just think that they are totally off base," Schafer said. "They are trying to justify the increased cost and increased profits that they’re making at the expense of another industry and that’s just not appropriate."

For the rest of the info - and an audio interview with Schafer - click here.

How much oil does ethanol replace?

Dr. Bruce Dale, a distinguished professor at Michigan State University, had an interesting post on the Huffington Post yesterday. Check it out here.

In his post, Dale notes that from a national security perspective, the most relevant question involving ethanol is, "How much oil does ethanol replace?"

Here is his answer:

The answer might surprise you. Very little oil - mostly diesel fuel for planting, tilling and harvesting crops - is required to produce ethanol. A recent publication in the journal Science shows that only about 0.04 MJ (mega joule, a measure of energy content) of petroleum is required to produce one MJ of ethanol. That is a 25:1 advantage in favor of ethanol production. Because ethanol has less energy per gallon than gasoline, we get more than 30 gallons of ethanol for every gallon of oil we "invest" to make the ethanol, versus eight-tenths of a gallon of gasoline per gallon of oil. When ethanol is used as E85 fuel in a flex-fuel vehicle, we are effectively getting around 800 miles per gallon of oil consumed.

Thus, overall domestic fuel supplies are stretched far into the future when we take our own oil and use it to produce ethanol from our domestic agricultural and forest materials. Ethanol from corn and the much larger amounts of grassoline that are on the way are the only near-term petroleum alternatives we have that significantly enhance national security by replacing lots and lots of oil.

November 18, 2008

Anti-ethanol group falls flat

The Grocery Gang is having a rough time of it. Even their own leading-question survey doesn't much support its misguided argument that corn-based ethanol should to go away, which it believes would miraculously lower food prices. (Note to self: Corn prices have dropped by more than half; yet food prices are still high. So what gives?)

In fact, in its latest news release, the group said corn ethanol was responsible for only 0.55 percent of the expected 5.5 percent increase in food prices this year.

Okay okay…they actually said corn ethanol was responsible for 10 percent of food price inflation - but they're hoping people can't do the math and discover that 10 percent of the expected 5.5 percent food inflation for 2008 (USDA/ERS) equals only 0.55. They want people to hear "10 percent", not the truth.

So if your box of Ding Dongs went up a dime, they argue, corn ethanol is responsible for a penny of that increase. That's their argument! That's it! A good question is: What's responsible for the other 90 percent of the increase – the other 9 cents I'm paying for my Ding Dongs? (This and/or this?)

Back to the survey - After baiting participants with that misleading information, the Grocery Gang still couldn't get a majority of folks to back away from renewable ethanol. Maybe people saw the holes in their argument. Like this hole or this hole or this hole or this hole or this hole or this hole or this hole or this hole or this hole.

The Gang talks a lot about eliminating "subsidies" (unless those subsidies ensure them a perpetually cheap source of grain). And of course they don't talk about the 90 years of subsidies taxpayers have given the oil industry. (Totaling more than $160 billion, according to this anti-subsidy for anything group. Remember that $700 billion bailout that passed in October? It renewed some oil company subsidies. That is how pervasive it is.)

The Gang and Big Food must prefer oil, which is strange since there were environmental groups at the podium - environmental groups that also mislead and twist facts.

What is really mind boggling is that these environmental activists don't want corn ethanol because they don't want corn period. What would that do to modern animal agriculture?

Ethanol generates $50 billion in tax revenues

Since 1978, the ethanol industry has generated more than $50 billion in tax revenues - $33.4 billion for the federal government and nearly $17 billion for state and local governments, according to an analyst with LECG LLC. (Figures are in 2008 dollars.)

A Nebraska Corn Board news release noted that LECG's John Urbanchuk reported that ethanol reduced America's tab for imported oil by $97.5 billion since 1978 and reduced farm program payments by more than $3 billion annually since 2006. By his math, that that brings the total return on investment for each dollar expended in the form of a federal tax incentive for ethanol use to nearly 5 to 1.

Don Hutchens, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board, said the numbers "aren't surprising" and that an analysis of the impact of ethanol production in Nebraska shows similar returns.

In 2006, Nebraska had 12 operating ethanol plants that generated more than $18 million in tax revenues, added more than $1.3 billion in economic output to the state and contributed nearly $100 million in household income, which translates to $40 million in retail spending. Ethanol production in the state has doubled since then.

Hutchens also addressed critics that continue arguing corn should be cheaper - noting that corn prices have fallen by more than half from their highs this summer and may actually be below the cost of production for some corn growers.

Here's his quote: Arguing that we should reduce ethanol production and increase our dependence on foreign oil just so some food companies can have even bigger profits doesn't make sense. One would think these companies would push for alternatives to oil, helping to keep their own energy costs low, because we've all seen what can happen when there's no competition in the energy sector. These groups simply continue to distort the facts and, honestly, their attempts to dump renewable fuels for more oil didn't make sense six months ago and doesn’t make sense now, either.

November 17, 2008

Nebraska corn: 67 percent harvested

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said today that 67 percent of Nebraska's crop was in the bin as of Oct. 16. A week ago we were looking at 58 percent complete - so progress was made, but rain slowed that progress quite a bit. Click here for the full report.

A year ago, Nebraska farmers had harvested 97 percent of their crop, and the five-year average is 96 percent complete. So there is still work to be done, and hopefully a dry week this week will allow harvest to speed ahead.

Nationally, 78 percent of the crop is harvested - compared to 71 percent last week and 97 percent a year ago. The five-year average is 94 percent.

USDA said 95 percent of the country's soybeans are in the bin, so a majority farmers that plant both crops will be focused solely on corn harvest until 100 percent of the crop is in.

November 14, 2008

Animal activism: What it means to livestock producers

Having met Steve Kopperud at assorted meetings, be assured that he is never shy about sharing his thoughts on issues important to agriculture. One of his main areas of interest over the last few years has been activist assaults on animal agriculture. He tells it like it is - straight up - and doesn't mince words. This is a critically important issue to all agriculture.

Kopperud is senior vice president of Washington, D.C.-based Policy Directions Inc. He also coordinates the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition and is the immediate past president of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, an organization dedicated to telling the American public the reality of modern livestock production.

In a recent Q/A with Cattlenetwork, Kopperud focuses his attention on animal activist groups.

Here's a few lines from the must-read Q/A:

California's Proposition 2 is a classic example. Proponents of that measure had no facts to support their demand that sow gestation stalls, veal stalls or egg layer cages were inhumane on their face because the overwhelming public testimony of vets and animal scientists showed just the opposite to be true. Instead, supporters ran TV ads that included video of downed animals and other emotional images of animal neglect and abuse, fully aware Proposition 2 would do nothing to solve these alleged problems. Why? Because emotion rules the day when it comes to human interaction with animals, no matter what the species or the animal’s ultimate fate. When you’ve got the attention of a politically overwhelmed constituency, you use images and emotion, not rhetoric. What thinking, feeling person condones any form of animal 'abuse?'

Find the full Q/A here. It's worth the few minutes it will take to read.

Here's a link to a video with Kopperud giving a presentation at a cattle meeting. He explains "What Animal Activist Success Means to the Beef Producers." Be warned - he tells a strong story. It's 34 minutes long.

November 13, 2008

Editorials address false claims on corn, ethanol

Here are two editorials published in different papers defending ethanol and corn. They make some good points and help set the record straight.

The first, in the Des Moines Register, is by Robert Brown of the Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University. He addresses some false points involving land use that were made in another commentary in the paper. This land use issue is of growing importance and worth paying attention to, especially since there is a lot of ways to exploit bad science to the detriment of corn producers. Check it out here.

The second was published in the Windsor Beacon (Colorado). In his commentary, Dan Sanders Jr., general manager of Front Range Energy jumps on the Grocery Gang and high food prices, again making some good points. Check it out here.

Podcast: Ethanol production getting much more efficient

In this Podcast, Randy Uhrmacher, president of the Nebraska Corn Growers, talks about how much more efficient ethanol production has gotten in the last five years.

The improvements are pretty dramatic!

November 12, 2008

Nebraska getting more livestock friendly

A report on Brownfield cites Roger Berry, field director for the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (A-FAN), as saying that the climate for livestock production in Nebraska is getting friendlier. Especially compared to some other states.

That's great news, because the livestock and poultry industries drive Nebraska's economy, and we all benefit when those industries are successful and farmers have an opportunity to expand their own livestock operation - or add a new one.

"We have more and more counties who are now taking a look at their zoning regulations and saying you know maybe we gone a little bit too far on our separation distances on what we have or the minimum number that you can have before you have the conditional use permit," Berry told Brownfield.

For the full article, click here.

FYI - Nebraska has 11 Livestock Friendly designated counties now.

Video: The truth about food prices

This video was posted on Growth Energy's website, and on YouTube. This is the group that was announced this week.

November 11, 2008

Group questions Grocery Gang, promotes biofuels

At the National Press Club today, a group of ethanol producers and supporters announced the launch of Growth Energy, a group of ethanol supporters "committed to the promise of agriculture and growing America's economy through cleaner, greener energy."

At the launch, the group fired across the bow of the Grocery Gang, asking why food prices continue to rise while corn prices have been cut in half. The Gang spent most of this year blaming ethanol for higher corn prices and, in turn, higher food prices.

Growth Energy also released a new policy brief and previewed "The Truth about Big Food" advertising campaign "to fight back against untruthful attacks by the food industry on ethanol." For copies of the brief and ad, plus a whole lot more, be sure to check out Growth Energy's website,

(The Grocery Gang has been smacked a couple other times recently. Check out this and this.)

Here are a couple paragraphs from the Growth Energy news release:

"Big Food and their Washington lobbyists have been trying to blame the rising cost of food on American ethanol producers and the cost of corn. Well, now that the price of corn has dropped more than 50 percent since the summer, we ask the Big Food industry to explain to the American people why food prices are still so high," said Jeff Broin, CEO of POET. "The lies the Big Food lobby has been spreading about clean, green biofuels have finally been exposed as an intellectually dishonest smear campaign. It's wrong and we're coming together to ask Big Food to give struggling Americans a break."


"We believe ethanol is America's best renewable fuel, reliable and affordable right now," said Wayne Hoovestol, CEO of Green Plains Renewable Energy, Inc. "American ethanol is high-tech, homegrown and on the verge of innovative breakthroughs that will make it even cleaner and greener for the long-term."

If you'd like to listen to the news conference, it's at the bottom of this post on the Domestic Fuel blog.

November 10, 2008

58 percent of Nebraska corn is in the bin

Nebraska's corn harvest jumped to 58 percent complete as of Nov. 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today. That's a big increase from last week's 35 percent complete, although harvest is still well behind the five-year average of 85 percent completed by now.

Some snow in western Nebraska did hamper harvest there, and rain moving across much of the state today will once again slow progress. Yields continue to be strong, however, with USDA estimating that Nebraska yields will be 161 bushels per acre this year.

For more information, be sure to check out the Nebraska Corn Board's Crop Progress Update.

Nationally, 71 percent of the crop is in the bin, compared to 88 percent on average.

Corn crop remains at 12.0 billion bushels

The U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its crop production numbers today - estimating the 2008-09 corn crop at 12.0 billion bushels, down a smidgen from last month's report, as yield prospects were reduced by 0.1 bushels per acre to 153.8. The figure is also marginally below analysts' estimates.

Although reduced marginally, that yield figure is still the second largest on record, and the crop itself also remains the second largest.

In Nebraska, USDA estimated the crop at 1.38 billion bushels with an average yield of 161 bushels per acre, essentially unchanged from last month. (Last year's crop was 1.47 billion bushels with a yield of 160.)

In its supply and demand report, USDA reduced export expectations 50 million bushels to 1.9 billion, left corn for ethanol use unchanged at 4.0 billion and corn for feed use unchanged at 5.3 billion. That leaves ending stocks at a healthy 1.12 billion, up a bit from last month.

USDA then cut a quarter off each end of the expected average farm price - reducing it to $4.00-4.80. When combined with last month's 80-cent cut, that means average prices have dropped $1.05 since September. With a 12.0 billion bushel crop, that equates to a $12.6 billion loss in value.

The image above is from a Nebraska corn grower and the Nebraska Corn Board.

November 9, 2008

Podcast: Playing on emotions to eliminate meat

In this Podcast, Greg Whitmore, a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, talks about various groups that push their animal rights agenda as "animal welfare" - although most of these groups have goal to eliminate meat, milk and egg consumption altogether.

For a related post, click here.

November 7, 2008

Going back in time won't feed the world

It is not surprising that Prop 2 won in California - when you have millions of dollars and emotional half-truths on your side, how can you lose?

Many believe that Prop 2, when it comes into force in 2015, will essentially close California's egg industry, as it requires unrealistic animal care practices that, in some cases, could actually be worse for the animals in question. More than 30 of California's major newspapers, the state's governor and numerous business leaders opposed the measure, believing it will force egg production to Mexico and other states and cost Californians billions (in lost income and higher food prices). And, in the end, do nothing to improve the care and management of food animals.

Prop 2 was driven not by a grassroots effort but by folks with deep pockets who don't want us to eat milk, meat and eggs, and believe animals should be treated as equals to people.

Californians for Safe Food opposed Prop 2 and said the coalition supporting the measure "led an emotionally manipulative, dishonest and often deceptive campaign." Yet that's exactly what we expect from the Human Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary and the like.

Farmers care greatly for their animals and raise them in the most sound manner possible. Are there bad actors out there? Certainly (just like in all businesses) - and they will be found out and driven out.

We need to remember, though, that farm animals are are raised for food. Farmers with operations of all sizes and types know best how to care for their animals to provide a safe and abundant food supply, and no one farm style is the best. Some large farms are better managed and operated than small ones - and the reverse is true, too. The key is good management. With that, all livestock and poultry can be raised and cared for properly.

For more, check out this blog post, written by Michele Payn-Knoper. Also check out her other posts, especially this one. Also check out our previous post.

The success in California for the anti-meat folks only means their efforts will be accelerated in other states - as they hold up California as an example they believe the rest of us should follow. Don't be fooled by the warm and fuzzy (and false) stories. There's more behind it than meets the eye.

Farmers feed the nation - and the world - and can continue to do so in the most modern, scientifically sound manner possible. It's not the 1700s in the city - it shouldn't be on the farm, either. In fact, it can't be if we want to feed the current and growing population.

November 6, 2008

Demand for ethanol outpacing production

Thanks to the Renewable Fuels Association for pointing out this week that ethanol demand continues to outpace production.

The latest Energy Information Administration figures show that 647,000 barrels of ethanol were produced per day in August, up from 614,000 in July. Meanwhile, RFA calculated that demand in August was 661,000 barrels per day, which equates to about 10 billion gallons per year.

RFA said there was also a big increase in ethanol imports for August, which it attributed to importers looking to capitalize on the final days of a loophole in trade regulations. This "duty drawback" provision allowed for the import of ethanol and the export of another fuel, like jet fuel, to recapture the $0.54 tariff placed on foreign ethanol imports.

In either case, the growth in ethanol production in August came as corn prices continued their rapid (and unprecedented) decline, with prices now being about half of what they were in late June.

RFA also noted that: Such a dynamic further erodes the argument of livestock, poultry and food processing companies that have argued ethanol is responsible for the dramatic increase in food prices. It also calls into question the reports from groups such as the World Bank, the United Nations and others that US ethanol production is responsible for high corn prices.

On a separate note, it is important to point out that the bankruptcy filing of VeraSun does not equate to a failed ethanol policy or that all ethanol producers are in trouble. Like anyone who got sideways in the market and over extended, VeraSun is paying the price. However, several other ethanol producers are in quite good financial position - and, as RFA pointed out - continue to see strong demand for ethanol.

Yet even today there are headlines saying the new Administration plans to follow the current Administration's "failed policy" on ethanol. One reason cited is VeraSun ... but that all ethanol producers are "collapsing". Of course these kinds of articles are full of other poor information (like blaming food riots in Egypt on the United State's biofuels policy). And a whole lot more.

So yes, the battle wages on in spreading the truth. Help set the record straight! Encourage reporters of the story above (their email addresses are at the bottom of the article) to research the truth. Use facts, be courteous and ask good questions.

November 5, 2008

Senators push for higher ethanol blends

Sen. Ben Nelson (D, Neb.) is part of a bipartisan group of senators urging the U.S. Department of Energy to continue research that will open the door to allowing higher blends of ethanol at the gas pump, according to this article by Robert Pore in the Grand Island Independent.

The senators understand that, as corn-based ethanol production grows over the next few years, and cellulosic ethanol kicks in around 2015, standard E10 - or a 10 percent ethanol blend - won't cut it. E85, an 85 percent ethanol blend is an option, but only for flex-fuel vehicles - and E85 isn't yet widely available outside ethanol-producing states.

The senators are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to increase blends available for non-flex-fuel vehicles to either E15 or E20.

"Moving beyond 10 percent ethanol blends is essential to achieving this nation's goal of reducing our reliance on foreign oil and of fostering the growth of a robust, domestic renewable fuels industry," according to the senators' letter.

For more details from the article, click on the link above.

For info in mid level ethanol blends, and info blender pumps, click here to visit

November 4, 2008

'Political controversy no fun for farmers'

The headline of this post comes from a headline of a commentary published in a recent Iowa Farmer Today. It is written by Blake Hurst, who grows no-till corn and soybeans in a family operation in Missouri.

In the commentary, which you can read here, Hurst takes on Michael Pollan, who recently penned an advice letter to the next President in New York Times Magazine.

Here's a sample from Hurst:

Best known for his book "The Omnivore’s Dilemma," Pollan is a leading thinker about food. He’s famous, and influential, and gloriously wrong. The recent run-up in food prices should have caused a problem for agriculture’s critics because they’ve long argued cheap food is responsible for obesity and putting Third World farmers out of business.

The only answer is to return to Eden, when farmers used their backs instead of tractors and lived in loving harmony with Mother Nature. Now that food is no longer "cheap," at least according to the national media, you would assume the problem and the solution would have to change. But, nope, we’re still responsible for obesity and we still are ruining the lives of farmers across the seas, and Eden still beckons.

Be sure to check out the commentary - it's a good read.

November 3, 2008

Dry weather moves corn harvest ahead

Nebraska's corn crop jumped from 21 percent harvested as of Oct. 26 to 35 percent harvested as of Nov. 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported today. Nationally, harvest went from 39 to 55 percent completed.

Rapid progress came as dry, warm weather dominated the week, allowing soil and the crop to dry down and farmers to put in long days in the field.

Harvest is behind a year ago and the five-year average - but that is to be expected in a year where everything has been behind. (The five-year average is 74 percent of corn harvested by now for Nebraska, and 79 percent nationally.)

Anecdotal reports from the field still indicate that corn yields are "above expectations," so it should be interesting to see what USDA says next Monday when it updates it's crop production and supply/demand reports.

On the radio: Discussing corn and food prices

Brownfield's Ken Anderson had a conversation with the Nebraska Corn Board's Randy Klein today - discussing the dramatic price decline in commodity prices like corn and the lack of corresponding drop in food prices.

Klein noted that corn and other commodity prices never had much to do with the rise in food prices originally, like the Corn Board and others reported time and again, so it is not surprising that food prices haven't dropped, either.

A big factor in food higher prices was higher energy costs - and those have also come down some. That puts food companies, for the most part, in a pretty good spot.

Klein closed by noting grocery manufacturers are doing "pretty well" - and taking advantage of the opportunity. (For more on that, click here.) He also expects that the Grocery Gang is not yet done with its attacks on ethanol.

To listen to the interview, click here.

November 1, 2008

Podcast: Avoiding more of the same

In this Podcast, Paxton corn grower Jon Holzfaster notes that without renewable energy, we'd be left with more of the same - more imported oil. Holzfaster is chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board, reminds us that ethanol was created, in part, to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

This notion is backed by Energy Information Administration figures released this week. In 2005, this country imported 60.3 percent of it's oil needs, but this began to fall in 2006 when the RFS kicked in and is at 56.4 percent today. Renewable biofuels like ethanol have helped make this happen.

October 31, 2008

Ocean freight rates lowest in five years


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's October 30 Grain Transportation Report (.pdf), ocean shipping rates for bulk grain have sunk to their lowest level in 5 years.

Driving the decline is the fear of a global economic downturn - as fears and uncertainties expressed themselves in the world markets, causing reduced demand for bulk shipments. Although not mentioned in the article, perhaps lower fuel surcharges are also reducing costs.

As of October 24, the cost of shipping grain from the Mississippi Gulf to Japan was $31 per metric ton, the lowest since June 2003. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $17, the lowest since November 2002.

The report's author said he expects that rates will remain low as long as the economic slump persists.

These lower costs - and current lower commodity prices - make it less expensive for countries to buy U.S. grain. A weak dollar helps, too. USDA expects corn exports to reach 1.95 billion bushels this marketing year - down from last year's 2.44 billion. It will be interesting to see if lower freight rates/commodity costs alter this picture.

Playing into foreign demand is global grain and oilseed production - figures that have rebounded this year after weather problems in some areas a year ago. Plus global growers had an improved financial incentive this year.

The result: Global wheat production for 2008-09 is projected to be a record 680.2 million tons, global rice production a record 433.2 million tons, global oilseed production 420.4 (up 7.4 percent) and global course grain production 1.1 billion tons (up 11 percent). These are all big numbers and for all but course grains, global ending stocks are expected to rise.

October 30, 2008

Grassley wants apology from Grocery Gang

Iowa Senator Charles Grassley sent a letter October 28 to the interim president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) - asking Mr. Molpus when he could expect GMA's member companies to "reduce food prices commensurate with lower input costs."

Grassley reminded the head of the Grocery Gang that GMA and its segregates blamed high corn prices for higher food prices for much of this year, yet now that corn prices are half what they were then, food prices have remained high. Click here for a FoodPriceTruth blog post that links to the letter.

Grassley said GMA did "everything it could" to make ethanol a scapegoat for the rise in commodity and food prices. "Subsequent events clearly prove that ethanol was not the primary driver of those corn prices," he wrote.

He also called out one of GMA's spokesmen, who has recently been quoted in a couple of papers continuing his ill-conceived mantra.

Grassley told DTN's Chris Clayton that an apology from GMA - or lower food prices - would be nice.

On Wednesday, almost on cue and providing Grassley with more ammunition, Kraft Foods reported that it's third-quarter net income of $1.4 billion was more than double last year's income - thanks to price increases and cost cuts.

October 29, 2008

Ethanol beats gas in environmental, economic profiles

At a news conference in Illinois Tuesday, the Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA) announced the results of two studies that conclude production of the biofuel ethanol leaves a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline and has substantial room for growth - without affecting corn supply to the food and feed sectors.

Rob Elliott, vice president of ICGA said the studies indicate that modern ethanol plants have a superior carbon footprint and net energy benefit when compared to gasoline refineries and provide "compelling data that ethanol production can grow substantially at no risk to food supplies."

The studies' authors were Ross Korves, economic policy analyst at ProExporter Network, and Dr. Steffen Mueller, principal research economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Energy Resources Center.

Mueller examined the global warming and land use impact of corn ethanol produced at the Illinois River Energy ethanol plant, a modern, natural gas fueled facility, on a full life-cycle basis. "We found conclusively that the global warming impact of the modern ethanol plant is 40 percent lower than gasoline. This is a sizable reduction from numbers currently being used by public agencies and in the public debate. The study also documents the significant net energy benefits of ethanol when compared to gasoline," he said.

For more information on this study, and to download it, click here.

The Korves study, broader in scope, analyzed the consequences of a technology-driven revolution that is occurring throughout America agriculture which would see average corn production increase from 155 bushels an acre today to 289 bushels over the next two decades. The study suggests that sufficient amounts of corn will be available to increase ethanol production from the current level of 7.1 billion gallons last year to 33 billion gallons by 2030 with current technology. The study also factors in increased future demand for corn from both export and livestock (feed) sectors.

Korves also looked at the environmental impact of ethanol production, predicting that the global warming impact of the average ethanol plant would decline dramatically through increased efficiencies in coming years. ICGA reported the reduction was significant enough that corn ethanol could be categorized as an advanced biofuel based on the performance requirements in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

For more information on this study, and to download it, click here.

October 28, 2008

Error lowers corn production estimate

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today corrected errors in two reports it issued October 10, lowering planted and harvested area for corn by 1.0 million acres.

This cut corn production from 12.2 billion bushels to 12.0 billion. While correcting this error, USDA lowered expected feed/residual use 50 million bushels to 5.3 billion, reduced corn exports 50 million bushels to 1.95 billion and lowered 2008-09 ending stocks to 1.09 billion, a drop of 66 million but still above the psychologically important 1 billion bushel mark.

USDA then raised the anticipated average farm price a nickel to $4.25-5.25/bu. (Most farmers would be happy with that right now.)

For the corrected crop production details, click here.
For the abbreviated and corrected supply/demand report, click here.

In addition to the 1.2 percent drop in corn acres, USDA reported 1.4 percent fewer planted acres for soybeans, 1.9 percent fewer acres planted acres for canola, 0.8 percent fewer planted acres for sunflowers and 0.7 percent fewer planted acres for dry edible beans. Sorghum planted acres, though, increased 2.5 percent.

Despite the change in acreage estimates, the 2008 corn crop is still on track to be the second largest on record, while the soybean crop will be the fourth largest. (For the lowdown on the original USDA estimates, click here.)

Meanwhile, a couple of analysts thought USDA may take the opportunity alter yield estimates - raising corn and lowering soybeans. While anecdotal talk from the field continues to support that notion, we'll have to wait for the next regular report, due out November 10, for that information.

October 27, 2008

21 percent of Nebraska corn is in the bin

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop production report today said 21 percent of Nebraska’s corn crop was harvested as of Oct. 26. This is up only 3 points from a week ago, as widespread rain kept farmers out of the field for much of the past seven days. A year ago, 58 percent of the crop was harvested, and the five-year average is 56 percent.

USDA said 87 percent of Nebraska’s crop was mature, compared to 100 percent a year ago and on average. A hard freeze across the state last night will certainly put an end to any further crop development. Still, early reports from the field indicate strong yields (better than expected?), but it will be interesting to see how the recent rain and wind will impact overall final harvest numbers.

A sunny and dry week is anticipated, so harvest numbers should jump by next week.

Nationally, 39 percent of the crop is harvested, compared to the average of 66 percent. Again, dry weather for the next week will allow a lot of corn to move from the field to grain elevator or bin, especially has more farmers wrap up soybean harvest, which is only about 5 points behind last year.