January 29, 2009

A-FAN launches video series on new website, YouTube

The Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (A-FAN) has released a series of internet-based videos on its new website to give viewers a chance to see modern livestock operations up close and personal in a way that most people never experience. The videos are also available on the group's new YouTube channel, which you can find here.

The videos cover a range of topics, including how farmers care for animals, how they protect the environment and steps they take to support their local communities.

"We believe it’s extremely important in this day and age that Nebraskans and others around the country have a true picture of how their food is produced and a chance to get to know the people that are producing it for them. These videos give people a chance to hear directly from Nebraska farmers who work everyday to provide the food and fiber that keeps Nebraska and America going," said Roger Berry, A-FAN Field Director, in a news release. "It's a chance for Nebraskans to get to know real Nebraska farm families."

The videos highlight livestock farmers involved in the Prairieland Dairy near Firth, Nebraska, and Ranchland Pork, LLC, near Osceola, Nebraska.

A-FAN produced these videos - and is working on more - to help reconnect the public with agriculture. This critical, as that connection that has been lost as fewer and fewer people live and work on a farm or have any direct ties to farming.

Here's a sample. Be sure to visit A-FAN's new website to see the rest.

January 28, 2009

Blender pump online in Grand Island

A blender pump - which offers regular gas plus the ethanol blends E10, E20, E30 and E85 - is now in operation in Grand Island. It is the first blender pump in the state, according to this article from the Grand Island Independent.

You can find the blender pump at Bosselman's Pump & Pantry at Allen Drive and 13th Street (map).

"This store is our first attempt at a 'Going Green' concept," Chuck Bosselman, president of Bosselman Inc., told the newspaper. "We offer an expanded selection of ethanol products, which are cleaner burning and more environmentally friendly."

What allowed the company to put in a blender pump was its two underground storage tanks. One holds regular gas and the other holds 100 percent ethanol. The blender pump then blends the two based on what the customer selects.

Similar pumps have been used for several years in South Dakota, but they can also be found in Minnesota and Kansas.

It will be interesting to see how this concept develops over time. Will blender pumps become the new standard as ethanol production expands? It seems that something like that would have to happen - after all, when we begin reaching the upper reaches of the Renewable Fuels Standard, we'll be replacing a whole lot of regular gas with ethanol. By 2020, we're looking at more than 20 percent of our total fuel usage coming from ethanol.

Many are already looking at raising the standard E10 to a higher level - E12? E15 or all the way to E20?

For a map of all E85 stations in Nebraska, click here. It was put together by the Nebraska Corn Board.

January 27, 2009

Podcast: Corn growers more than met demand in 2008

In this Podcast, Larry Mussack of Decatur talks about corn production over the last year - and how producers came through with the second-largest crop in history. Average yields were also the second-highest in history - despite all the weather problems during the spring and fall. Mussack is a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association.

January 25, 2009

Ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions, oil use

The Nebraska Corn Board has distributed a news release about a study released by the University of Nebraska that shows advances in corn and ethanol production over the years have significantly improved the biofuel’s environmental performance and energy balance.

"It is just tremendous to have this peer-reviewed report back up what corn growers have been saying for some time. When examining ethanol production it is important to look at modern production practices for both growing corn and producing ethanol. You simply can’t look backwards," said Kelly Brunkhorst, ag program manager for the Nebraska Corn Board.

The report, available here for free and published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, shows that corn ethanol directly emits an average of 51 percent less greenhouse gas than gasoline. That is as much as three times the reduction reported in earlier research. The publication is one of the top peer-reviewed journals for research on lifecycle analysis.

"Moreover, if the goal is to reduce dependence on imported oil, we estimate that the typical corn-ethanol system produces 13 gallons of ethanol for every gallon of petroleum-based fuel used in the production life cycle for corn ethanol," said Ken Cassman, director of the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research and one of the report’s authors.

"Ethanol plants today don’t use near the amount of energy they did in the past. Many are also located in close proximity to livestock operations, which allows ethanol plants to reduce energy use even more by transporting wet distillers grains shorter distances than drying the corn co-product and shipping it further," Brunkhorst said.

As for corn production, crop genetics and agronomic management practices increase yields and the amount of corn produced versus the amount of fertilizer used. "Many more farmers today have also adopted conservation tillage practices that significantly reduce diesel fuel use by reducing the number of passes farmers make across the field each year," he said. "That too, is an important consideration when examining the efficiency of corn production and greenhouse gas reductions."

Some highlights of this study were initially highlighted by Cassman here.

January 22, 2009

University report slams corn ethanol myths

Here are some important conclusions from a peer-reviewed study released today by the University of Nebraska:
  • The ethanol industry is producing a fuel that is 48 to 59 percent lower in direct-effect lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than gasoline. That's two to three times the reduction reported in earlier studies that did not take into account recent advances in corn-ethanol production.
  • The net energy ratio is 1.5-1.8 to 1. That means that for every unit of energy it takes to make ethanol, 1.5 to 1.8 units of energy are produced as ethanol. (These numbers were 1.2 to 1 in earlier studies.)
  • Between 10 and 19 gallons of ethanol are produced for every gallon of petroleum used in the entire corn-ethanol production life cycle. Talk about a great way to reduce our dependence on imported oil!
The full University of Nebraska study has been published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology. (Click here to download the article for free.)

This is a tremendous peer-reviewed effort that quantifies the impact of improvements throughout the corn to ethanol production process, including crop production, biorefinery operations and co-product use. In other words, it uses modern data - not estimates from days gone by.

"Critics claim that corn ethanol has only a small net energy yield and little potential for direct reductions in GHG emissions compared to use of gasoline," said Ken Cassman, a University agronomist who was part of the research team. "This is the first peer-reviewed study to document that these claims are not correct."

Modern ethanol plants are simply more efficient and have less GHG emissions through the use of improved technologies. Many are also located near cattle feeding or dairy operations, which allows efficient use of the co-product distillers grains as cattle feed - eliminating transport and drying (drying can use up to 30 percent of total energy in the ethanol plant).

Another big change is simply how the crop is grown. Corn growers utilize improved crop and soil management, and have access to better hybrids that help them expand yield averages without increasing fertilizer or energy inputs. Conservation tillage, for example, reduces diesel fuel use and tractor trips, reducing GHG emissions during the production process.

For a university news release on the subject, click here.

January 21, 2009

Podcast: Big Food continues to bash corn, ethanol

In this Podcast, Steve Wiese of Wilber talks about how Big Food continues to bash corn and ethanol. Wiese is a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association.

Distillers grains a good supplement for stocker cattle

Dr. Dale A. Blasi of Kansas State University recently spent a few minutes doing a Q/A with Cattlenetwork.com to talk about distillers grains and grazing stocker cattle.

You can find the full interview here.

Several good points are made, including the following:

Dr. Dale, let's look at the value of DDGS as a forage supplement to grazing stocker cattle. As forage quality changes throughout the grazing season, can DDGS continue to add anything to the mix?

A: "Yes, the results of several grass-based trials conducted at Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas indicate that DDGS provides the necessary protein, energy and minerals to promote consistent increases in daily gain and final body weights. Nebraska researchers recently conducted a meta-analysis of several grazing trials involving a variety of grass types, cattle sizes and grazing duration and concluded that supplementing DDGS to cattle grazing pasture linearly increased final body weight (P<0.01).

An interesting aspect of these research results is the conservative estimate of 0.76 pound reduced forage intake per pound of DDGS dry matter supplemented. For example, assuming 16 pounds of dry-matter intake for control cattle, the savings would be 24 percent of grass with supplementation of 5 pounds of dry matter from DDGS. Said another way, there is more standing grass left at the end of a grazing season which allows the operator to stock heavier and effectively reduce grazing costs per given land area or safely achieve grazing performance targets in light of unpredictable forage growing conditions.”

Much more info is available from the Nebraska Corn Board - through its series of distillers grains manuals. For example, there is one on storing wet distillers grains. Plus there's the Utilization of Corn Co-Products in the Dairy Industry and an updated Utilization of Corn Co-Products in the Beef Industry. All are available here.

January 20, 2009

One city's goal: 90 percent alternative fuel vehicles

The city of Boulder, Colorado, has a plan, according to this article, that will result in nine out of 10 vehicles in the city's fleet running on some type of alternative fuel within a few years.

That's a pretty big change and a big push. What makes it possible is that more vehicles, including trucks, are being made that can use alternative fuels - like E85, the 85 percent ethanol/15 percent gasoline blend. That makes ethanol a big part of the city's plan.

Despite all the bashing of ethanol in the past year, the city's analysis points to the obvious: Ethanol is cleaner than the pure-petroleum alternative and it's infrastructure already exists.

That sounds like a bit of common sense in what can sometimes be crazy soundbites of half-truths.

Are there any city fleets in Nebraska converting to alternative fuels? Should there be, considering how much ethanol and biodiesel is produced locally?

Get up to speed at technology conference

The Nebraska Agricultural Technologies Association Conference is next week (Jan. 28-29) at the Midtown Holiday Inn in Grand Island. Click the link above for details.

The conference includes a number of interesting and relevant topics: From YouTube to the new generation of cell phones and smart phones, from aerial imagery and GIS to smart soil sampling and electronic "eyes" to ID weeds, from groundwater and surface water interaction to crop canopy sensors.

Plus there's a trade show and farm program decision making workshops

Brandon Hunnicutt, president of the Nebraska Corn Growers, is also president of this group.

January 15, 2009

Cheap oil sends Chavez begging

Okay, maybe Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez isn't begging, but the fact he's looking for money from western oil companies (after kicking them all in the teeth when he nationalized the country's oil production) is certainly interesting.

He needs cash to stay in power - and he knows it.

Check out all the details in this article from the New York Times.

Here's a paragraph from the article:

But the shift also shows how the global financial crisis is hampering Mr. Chávez’s ideological agenda and demanding his pragmatic side. At stake are no less than Venezuela’s economic stability and the sustainability of his rule. With oil prices so low, the longstanding problems plaguing Petróleos de Venezuela, the national oil company that helps keep the country afloat, have become much harder to ignore.

January 14, 2009

Corn growers on the ground in South America

A group of Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska corn growers are on the ground in South America this week and next. They are part of a study tour focusing on Brazil and Argentina - covering everything from corn production to biofuels to environmental issues to regulatory policy.

A lot of good info will come from the study tour - the schedule is packed with meetings and tours. Yesterday, for example, the group met (for five hours) with representatives of Brazil's Ministry of Mines and Energy, the federal agency that oversees the nation's biofuels program. Also in the meeting were representatives from Petrobras, the private/public company that is leading the way in Brazil's biofuels industry.

We've started a blog to report what the group is learning, seeing, experiencing and more.

Click here to visit the blog - and be sure to subscribe. Like this blog, you can subscribe to a daily email update or to the RSS feed (for MyYahoo, iGoogle, etc, or a newsreader).

January 13, 2009

Ethanol outlooks and reports...

Instead of regurgitating several ethanol-focused reports, a list with links is below. Lots of good info if you follow the links.

From the Domestic Fuel blog:
A diverse coalition of 34 business, agriculture and environmental groups is asking Congressional leaders to support an economic recovery package that provides strong funding for agriculture-based, clean energy development programs.

From the GoodFuels blog:
Stimulating economic growth, increasing blend limits and finalizing the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions issue are the three major priorities for the ethanol industry in 2009, according to the chairman of the Renewable Fuels Association.

Another from the GoodFuels blog:
The Renewable Fuels Association held a press conference via teleconference this morning regarding the current state and future of the domestic ethanol industry. (FULL audio report if you follow the link.)

Big equipment sales are way up

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers - made up of all those companies that make farm equipment and more - released its December and 2008 annual sales figures today.

Data show that sales of small tractors and the like fell last year - would that be sales to "ranchettes" or "ruralpolitans"? If so, the annual drop shouldn't be a surprise - that sector would have been squeezed early on by everything from gas prices to a slowing economy and more.

Meanwhile, demand for "farm size" equipment - higher horsepower tractors and combines - soared and has kept many of these companies very busy - with sales not just in the U.S. but all over the world. When crops are in demand, so are a lot of other items, like this kind of equipment. That means a lot of economic activity, taxes, job growth, etc., from manufacturers - many of which have plants in rural or smaller communities.

Here's AEM's data:
December YTD - December Inventory
2008 2007 %Chg 2008 2007 %Chg 2008
2WD Farm Tractors
< 40 HP 5,103 6,926 -26.3 98,976 115,935 -14.6 56,853
40 < 100 HP 4,978 6,459 -22.9 67,885 78,137 -13.1 33,177
100+ HP 2,650 2,663 -0.5 26,291 20,875 25.9 6,507
Total 2WD Farm
Tractors 12,731 16,048 -20.7 193,152 214,947 -10.1 96,537
4WD Farm Tractors 386 365 5.8 4,431 3,657 21.2 693
Total Farm
Tractors 13,117 16,413 -20.1 197,583 218,604 -9.6 97,230
Combines 942 910 3.5 8,460 7,104 19.1 729

Disclaimer from AEM: These data are, in part, estimates that are subject to revisions when final detail data becomes available. Because of the seasonal nature of the industry, comparisons of monthly data from one period to another should be done with extreme caution. These data represent most, but not all, of the manufacturers in each product category being sold at retail in the fifty states and District of Columbia.

January 12, 2009

Sustainability and corn production

A report released today at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting contains some great facts on sustainability and corn production (plus wheat, cotton and soy production). As the National Corn Grower’s noted, the report shows that corn has seen these changes from 1987 to 2007:
  • The amount of land needed to produce one bushel has decreased 37 percent.
  • Soil loss above a tolerable level per bushel of corn has decreased by 69 percent.
  • Irrigation use per bushel has decreased 27 percent.
  • The energy used to produce a bushel or unit of corn has decreased by 37 percent.
  • Corn production has seen a 30 percent decrease in emissions per bushel.
This first-of-its-kind report creates a framework for measuring agriculture sustainability. Developed to inform long-term continuous improvements in agriculture production, the initial findings indicate crop production is already making progress toward reducing its environmental footprint. The Environmental Resource Indicators report was released Field to Market, the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.

Field to Market is a diverse alliance that represents many links in the food chain, including grower organizations, agribusinesses, food companies and conservation organizations. The report evaluated national-scale metrics over the past two decades for land use, water use, energy use, soil loss and climate impact in corn, soy, cotton and wheat production. In 2007, these crops comprised nearly 70 percent of the 305 million acres of U.S. cropland.

"Several trends are emerging. Importantly, production agriculture has become increasingly efficient, relying on fewer inputs to produce more," said Michael Reuter, director of conservation programs for the central U.S. region of The Nature Conservancy, a member of the Keystone Alliance.

The initial index shows that soil-loss efficiency trends have improved 30-70 percent for the four crops evaluated. Energy use per unit of output is down 40-60 percent. Irrigated water use per unit of output has decreased 20-50 percent while carbon emissions per unit of output have dropped by about a third.

"Increasingly we’re hearing from our consumers who want to make sustainable food and fiber choices," said John Wolf, vice president of ingredients, commodities and risk management at Kellogg Company. "It's important consumers understand the progress already being made while recognizing that bringing the entire supply chain together is critical to continue making advances from the farm fields to the supermarket shelves."

For a copy of the full report, click here.

U.S. corn: Yields second-highest ever, stocks jump again

In its reports this morning, the U.S. Department of Agriculture bumped yields by a tenth of a bushel to 153.9 bushels per acre and increased harvested acres by 400,000 to 78.6 million. The result is a bigger crop: 12.101 billion bushels. That’s an increase from 12.02 billion in December.

The yield estimate is 3.2 bushels more than last year (when 13.074 billion bushels was harvested on 86.5 million acres) and 4.8 bushels more than 2006-07 (when 10.531 billion bushels was produced on 70.6 million acres).

Besides raising the supply figure, USDA lowered estimates for corn demand. It dropped another 100 million bushels off corn use for ethanol, making that figure 3.6 billion bushels. It also cut food/seed/industrial use by 135 million bushels and corn exports 50 million.

That bumps ending stocks to a healthy 1.79 billion bushels. That’s 670 million more than November's estimate and 316 million more than December's. It's also 166 million more than last year and 486 million more than two years ago.

The average price estimate was dropped a dime on each end of the range to $3.55-4.25 for the 2008-09 marketing year. Last year’s average price was set at $4.20, and two years ago was $3.04.

On ethanol: USDA said an increase in the value of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) indicates ethanol demand has slowed, and we already know production is down. RINs are used in lieu of ethanol to meet mandated use levels, essentially allowing last year’s "extra" use of ethanol to be carried into this year. Should most RINs be used up this year, corn for ethanol may bump up considerably again next year. If gas prices move up - say bumbing $3 this spring - ethanol production and demand could jump more quickly.

On yields: This year's average yield is the second-largest on record. Would you have guessed that in April or May? Or even June?

Nebraska's totals: Harvested acres in Nebraska came in at 8.55 million. An average yield of 163 bushels per acre pushed the state's total production to 1.394 billion bushels. A year ago, growers saw an average yield of 160 bushels per acre and a total production figure of 1.472 billion.

Global: USDA pushed 2008-09 global corn ending stocks to 136 million metric tons. This is up from December's estimate of 123.8 mmt and November's 110.1 mmt. Ending stocks in 2007-08 were 128.2 mmt, while 2006-07 global ending stocks stood at 108.9 mmt.

For USDA's supply and demand report, click here.
For its annual crop production report, click here.

January 9, 2009

Hunnicutt: Getting involved to get things done

At the Nebraska Corn Growers annual meeting in December, members elected Brandon Hunnicutt of Giltner as president and Carl Sousek of Prague as vice president.

Robert Pore of the Grand Island Independent recently did a feature on Hunnicutt. The article says Hunnicutt is "tech savvy". He does subscribe to this blog via email...so maybe we can convince him to guest write a post or two this year on technology and agriculture or whatever else is on his mind. (What do you say, Brandon?)

A few lines from the article are below - the quotes are from Hunnicutt - but click here to check out the full article. Good stuff.

"It’s a very good and worthwhile organization," he said. "When you see what’s going on around you, you feel like you need to get involved, whether it’s regulatory issues or the political process."

He said being a farmer not only means tending to your crops, but also tending to the industry in which you’re involved.

"No matter what small community you live in, there are always those who sit and gripe at the coffee shop or at the bar," Hunnicutt said. "You can gripe all you want, but if you don’t get involved, you can’t get things done."

Podcast: Wrap-up of NeCGA's annual meeting

In this Podcast, Jim Hultman of Sutton gives a report on the Nebraska Corn Growers annual meeting, which was held in December. He covers the group's new leadership, annual awards and NeCGA's position on funding water obligations.

January 7, 2009

Using energy as a weapon continues

Yes, gas prices are below $2. Heck, in the last few weeks some people have filled up for less than $1.50 a gallon.

But that doesn't mean things can't change overnight.

Just look at Europe - parts of which are dependent on natural gas from Russia. The Ukraine and Russia disagree about pricing and the Ukraine gets cut off. Then for a while all of Europe gets cut off from 20 percent of its natural gas sources, creating shortages from France to Turkey. Businesses shut down, economies are hurt and politicians point fingers.

No, this isn't exactly like the gasoline shortages in the U.S. caused by the oil embargo of the 1970s, but it does demonstrate what can happen when one become so dependent on others for energy.

In the case of natural gas and Europe, Russia or the Ukraine (since Russia's pipelines go through Ukraine) could simply cut off Europe at will. Or a group of terrorists could destroy the pipeline. That's not much different than if Saudi Arabia or another important oil exporter decides to cut off the United States. Would we look back at $4 gas as cheap?

That's one of the reasons we have the Renewable Fuels Standard...to start us down a path to a more diversified fuel supply. Corn ethanol, cellolosic ethanol, biodiesel and more. It's all good.

January 6, 2009

Cups of corn in Indiana's Government Center

As of mid-December, Indiana public employees and visitors to the Government Center's cafeterias were eating and drinking out of corn-based plastic containers.

The company behind the products is Cereplast. It has a process to combine various plant starches (corn, wheat, potato and more) to make hybrid plastics that replace their petroleum-based counterparts. In Indiana, the biodegradable and compostable cold-drink cups and containers are being used in both the cafeterias of the Government Center.

(Some of the company's products include PLA, which is produced by Natureworks in Blair...so there's a chance some Nebraska corn has found its way to Indiana government cafeterias.)

According to the company, Indiana's "Greening the Government" program and the Indiana Corn Marketing Council worked together to get the initiative up and running.

"As more and more consumers and businesses look for economical ways to make positive environmental choices, demand for corn-based plastics like those from Cereplast will continue to increase," said David Gottbrath, chair of the Indiana Corn Marketing Council's New Uses Committee and a farmer from Pekin, Indiana. The Indiana Corn Marketing Council will be promoting the use of the new bioplastics (photo).

Greenware is another brand of cups (and more!) that also seems to be showing up in more places, including a coffee shop in Lincoln.

January 2, 2009

'10x15' effort aims to expand ag education

The Iowa Farmer Today published a good commentary recently that was written by , the chief operating officer for the National FFA Organization and National FFA Foundation.

In the article, he talks about the importance of agriculture education. Yet only about half of America’s 14,000 high schools offer any form of agricultural education. That leaves the other 50 percent "sublimely ignorant of what it takes to produce food and what role they might find for themselves."

Certainly many would agree with Loudenslager's assessment that we have allowed people in this country to become complacent, to simply take for granted the most abundant, safe and affordable food supply in the world. This complacency, he believes, has contributed to a lack of agricultural literacy - as in people literally do not know where their food comes from. It also means fewer students considering ag-based careers at the same time many folks are moving to retirement. Without a new workforce to replace them, where will our food come from?

Here are a few lines from his article:

It’s all too easy for the uninformed to have a negative perception of agricultural education. Some people consider the practice of educating students about production agriculture as a quaint but outdated fixture of rural life. If anything, though, the focus on the future is more prominent today than ever. The National FFA Organization enjoys a 31-year high in membership. There are more than 1 million students enrolled in agricultural education nationwide, which is, contrary to some viewpoints, real science and math education that can lead to a viable, lucrative and necessary career path.

FFA's official membership totals more than 507,000, which, as the most in 31 years. That's great news.

It is also interesting how many non-farm young people are involved in FFA today. Brownfield reported this fall that 27 percent of FFA members live in rural farm areas, 40 percent live in rural non-farm areas and 33 percent are in urban and suburban areas. That means 73 percent of members aren't on farms!

The focus is on creating new programs in communities not served by agricultural education and FFA, but also to strengthen the quality of existing programs.

Certainly this is a laudable goal...and one that is important for everyone involved in agriculture and food production. Increasing the number of young people who understand agriculture will lead to more young people choosing careers in agriculture. It also means they will better understand the food system in general, making them more knowledgeable adults and life-long consumers.