February 25, 2009

Reports show little land use changes for ethanol

Two studies released this week address the land use issue surrounding corn-based ethanol.

One study reported that corn ethanol production of 15 billion gallons per year in 2015 (as in the Renewable Fuels Standard) is unlikely to result in the conversion of non-agricultural lands anywhere.

Instead, increasing crop yields and the corresponding increase in ethanol coproducts for feed use would erase the need to expand global cropland to meet corn-based ethanol requirements outlined in the RFS.

Thomas Darlington, who is with Air Improvement Resource Inc., wrote the report and noted that land use changes would be considerably smaller than other studies have estimated – and he takes the time to explain in the report errors of these other studies. In general, some earlier studies ignored yield improvements and expanded coproduct production (like distillers grains). Click here (.pdf) for the full report.

It is amazing how many researchers still “forget” to count the distillers grains that also come from the ethanol plant!

Darlington also noted that if U.S. corn exports are constant (or increasing, like they did last year), even with growing demand for ethanol, then international land use changes should NOT be assigned to corn ethanol.

In other words, if the U.S. continues corn exports as it always has, then it is not appropriate to say corn ethanol will result in deforestation, etc., in other parts of the world.

This is important because some are trying to argue that corn ethanol results in as much or more greenhouse gas emissions as regular old gasoline. To achieve that conclusion, however, people figure if one acre of corn in the U.S. goes to ethanol than an acre in a rain forest somewhere must be burned and plowed for crop production.

Some of these folks - a couple of environmentalists even - believe it is better to use more oil and gasoline than ethanol (click here and here). Crazy, I know. Kind of makes you question their true motives.

And don't forget this good study from the University of Nebraska.

Second, a study from the University of Illinois found that a modern ethanol plant does not meaningfully change farmland use, neither the amount of land farmed nor the mix of crops planted. The study's findings are in contrast to “theories” that increased production of corn ethanol results in the conversion of unused farmland into corn production.

Rod Weinzierl, executive director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, who sponsored the study, said the research demonstrates that the often cited link between new ethanol plants and the conversion of non agricultural land to corn is highly questionable. “Corn ethanol is not a central driver in the conversion of non-corn farmland to corn production,” he said.

Farmers had land to convert to corn production and didn’t. Instead, increased demand was met by production improvements.

The study examined the area around an ethanol plan in Rochelle, Illinois. It looked at relevant farming data - including satellite imagery and farmer surveys - one year prior to the plant opening through to two years after.

For more, click here.

February 24, 2009

UL okay with E15 in existing pumps after all

After being out most of last week, it is only fair to follow up on this Feb. 11 post that questioned Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and what it seemed like at the time was a bias against biofuels.

UL has restated its position and announced that using ethanol blends up to E15 in gasoline pumps already on the market (listed to UL 87) may be a-okay. It does this by supporting "Authorities Having Jurisdiction" (AHJs) who may decide to allow these dispensers to pump fuel blends that contain a maximum ethanol content of 15 percent.

AHJs are the local regulatory and approval entities that make the final determination of the acceptance of fuel dispensing devices.

"UL determined that there is no significant incremental risk of damage between E10 and fuels with a maximum of 15 percent ethanol. This conclusion was reached after careful examination of the effects of varying levels of ethanol on components," said John Drengenberg, Consumer Affairs Manager for UL.

February 23, 2009

Pizza Hut to stop ads that mention HFCS

Pizza Hut has agreed - via a faxed letter - to cease its anti-corn advertising campaign that implied high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was not "natural" or "honest." Its decision comes after corn growers in Nebraska and Iowa contacted the restaurant chain's corporate headquarters in Texas and sent letters to Pizza Hut managers across the two corn states.

For more on the subject, check out this post.

Leadership of the Nebraska Corn Board and Nebraska Corn Growers Association told Pizza Hut managers that HFCS is made from corn that is raised by honest, hard working producers across Nebraska and the nation. It is the very same corn used to feed the beef, pork, poultry and dairy industries that the restaurants rely on to provide safe and wholesome ingredients for its pizzas and other products.

Growers also clarified that HFCS is indeed a natural ingredient - it doesn't contain anything artificial or synthetic, as noted by FDA last year.

Podcast: Biofuels are a global solution for everyone

In this Podcast, Randy Uhrmacher, past president of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, talks about a recent study tour a group of corn growers took to Brazil and Argentina. Early in the trip, the group learned about Brazil's focus on biofuels - and how officials there believe biofuels are a global solution that everyone can participate in.

For more on the trip, be sure to check out this blog.

February 18, 2009

Modern production systems may be better for birds

New research conducted by the National Veterinary Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, reported that hens housed in modern cage systems are at a lesser risk of mortality, cannibalism and disease than hens housed in free-range and cage-free systems.

The study was conducted to identify causes for the increased deaths seen in flocks transitioning from modern cage housing to alternatives ahead of the European Union's 2012 ban of cage production.

This study may be a surprise to some folks - after all, people are led to believe that these other production systems are better for the birds. Turns out, they may just make people feel warm and fuzzy. But warm and fuzzy doesn't necessarily feed people or provide the best care for the animals in question.

The study noted that bacterial diseases, viral diseases, parasitic diseases and cannibalism accounted for the increase in deaths of hens housed in free-range and cage-free systems. Researchers note that the study could have implications outside of Sweden given the housing systems used in the study are similar to those used throughout Europe and the United States.

The United Egg Producers put out a press release on the study. Click here to view.

"The results of the study are not surprising," said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers. "The modern housing systems we use in the U.S. today are a result of decades of best farming practices and based on research designed to benefit the health and wellbeing of the hens as well as ensure the highest levels of food safety."

The sentence in bold is important and one often ignored by animal rights groups who believe food animals should be treated like pets (or people). There is a reason many animals are housed in doors. There is a reason sows farrow in crates. And on and on.

Check out this post and this podcast.

February 16, 2009

Podcast: Reducing corn's environmental footprint

In this Podcast, Brian Nedrow of Geneva, a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, discusses a study that provides some very positive numbers and demonstrates that corn growers are making progress toward reducing their environmental footprint.

Nedrow notes that between 1987 and 2007:
  • The amount of land needed to produce 1 bushel of corn has decreased 37 percent.
  • Soil loss above a tolerable level per bushel of corn has decreased 69 percent.
  • Irrigation use per bushel has decreased 27 percent.
  • The energy used to produce a bushel or unit of corn has decreased 37 percent.
  • Corn production has seen a 30 percent decrease in emissions per bushel.

February 13, 2009

Attacks on ethanol continue

The band of misfit environmental activists associated with the Grocery Gang tried to make some noise again this week - bashing corn-based ethanol for a host of reasons that reasonable folks have already realized are bogus.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) noted that it was just another attempt to prevent the ethanol industry from decreasing the United States’ dependence on foreign oil. NCGA noted that there are many environmental benefits from corn ethanol and that corn farmers continue to be good stewards of the environment.

"These environmental groups are stirring up fear for the American public at a time when Americans are already struggling due to the faltering world economy, job losses and high costs of food brought on by some food companies' record profits and greed," said NCGA president Bob Dickey. (Follow the link for more, including info on the environmental performance of corn growers and ethanol.)

Also see some good comments from the Renewable Fuels Association.

According to the Domesic Fuel blog, the groups held a press conference and urged the government to stop promoting renewable fuels like ethanol and said they would rather increase the use of imported oil. During the conference, Clean Air Task Force spokesman Jonathan Lewis told a reporter that "burning gasoline is better than increasing the production of corn ethanol."

Visit Domestic Fuel to have a listen.

Of course, as always with groups like this, their claims are based on loose facts and they don’t offer any real solutions. Just making noise in an attempt to drum up donations.

These are the same enviros who don't like biotechnology and other production technologies, either. They like to live in the past and complain about a future that only exists in their mind.

February 12, 2009

Use of biotech crops expands around the world

On a global basis, 13.3 million farmers in a record 25 countries planted 309 million acres of biotech crops last year, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). That was the sixth largest growth spurt in the 13 years ISAAA has been reporting such data.

The number of new adoptors also grew: An additional 1.3 million farmers around the world planted 26.4 million new acres of biotech crops in three new countries in 2008, according to the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops 2008, which ISAAA released yesterday.

In a news release, ISAAA said it is important to note that biotech farming began in the African nations of Egypt and Burkina Faso. Africa is considered the "final frontier" for biotech crops as it has perhaps the greatest need and most to gain. In 2008, Egypt planted 1800 acres of Bt corn and Burkina Faso planted 21,000 acres of Bt cotton. They join South Africa, which since 1998 has benefited from biotech cotton, corn and soybeans.

"Future growth prospects are encouraging," said Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA and author of the report. "The positive experiences in these new regional footholds in south, north and west Africa will help lead the way for neighboring countries to learn by example. Additionally, political leaders globally are increasingly viewing biotech enhanced crops as a key part of the solution to critical social issues of food security and sustainability."

It would appear that high commodity prices encouraged some folks to finally look at technology as part of the solution to meeting global demand.

The sustainability factor is something more people need to consider. Using technology to produce more with less is a good thing - that is sustainability in action.

ISAAA made some good points:
  • Biotech crops contribute to increased food availability and affordability, increasing production by 141 million metric tons from 1996 to 2007.
  • Biotech crops help conserve biodiversity by saving land.
  • 106 million additional acres of land would have been required to create the production gain of 141 million tonnes generated by biotech crops.
  • With 70 percent of the world’s poorest dependent on agriculture and with income as low as $1 a day, biotech crops can also contribute to economic sustainability and alleviation of poverty.
  • Biotech crops have substantially reduced agriculture’s environmental footprint by reducing pesticides, saving on fossil fuel use and decreasing carbon dioxide emissions and soil loss.
  • The environmental benefits associated with biotech crops have also helped reduce greenhouse gases. In 2007 alone, carbon dioxide savings were 14.2 billion kg, equivalent to removing 6.3 million cars from the road.
For more, be sure to check out the executive report.

Setting the record straight with Pizza Hut

Corn growers from at least two states have sent letters to Pizza Hut corporate folks in Texas in response to the company's latest series of commercials for its "natural" pizza.

In the ads, the company makes a point to say is uses "no high fructose corn syrup" in the sauce for these "natural" pizzas. It claims these are "honest" pizzas, yackety, yack, yack.

Unfortunately, Pizza Hut is not being honest with its customers or with the folks in agriculture who work hard to supply its chain of restaurants. The fact is high fructose corn syrup is a natural ingredient - it doesn't contain anything artificial or synthetic - as noted by FDA last year. It is no different than honey or table sugar.

Obviously the suits at Pizza Hut are attempting to set themselves apart in the marketplace - but they shouldn't do it by continuing one of the myths surrounding a product made from corn. That just leads to more confusion and gives people more courage to bash a useful product.

Did you know that HFCS is added to tomato sauce to help balance acidity levels, inhibit spoilage and prevent browning?

To help get the message across, the Nebraska Corn Growers Association and Nebraska Corn Board sent letters to all Pizza Hut managers in the state - to let them know the truth and to ask them to contact corporate and let them know their customers in the Midwest don't appreciate their tactics.

They told managers that corn syrup is made from corn that is raised by honest, hard working producers across Nebraska and the nation. It is the very same corn used to feed the beef, pork, poultry and dairy industries that the restaurants rely on to provide safe and wholesome ingredients for its pizzas.

February 11, 2009

An anti-ethanol bias at Underwriters Laboratory?

This is a post to refer you to another blog post that was very well done.

It comes from the American Fuels blog and addresses the American Coalition for Ethanol's concern that Underwriters Laboratory is perhaps biased against ethanol. This issue has been picked up in a few publications as a potential stumbling block to a more rapid adoption of higher ethanol blends.

As American Fuels notes:

The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) has made a couple of moves in the last few years that seem to support such a claim. On October 5, 2006 they suspended certification of E85 dispenser even though no safety issues had been reported.

After studying the problem for about a year they issued new requirements on October 16, 2007 for E85 dispensers and began accepting applications for approval. To date no E85 dispenser has received approval. One can only wonder how the lack of UL certified dispensers has slowed the spread of E85 refueling locations but it is fairly well known that Walmart was considering adding pumps at their 300 plus gas stations before certification was pulled.

Check out the full post here.

February 9, 2009

A dozen counties now labeled livestock friendly

Nebraska's Deuel County has been named the latest Livestock Friendly county in the state.

That brings the total Livestock Friendly counties in the state to an even dozen: Deuel County joins Adams, Box Butte, Dawes, Garden, Hitchcock, Keith, Lincoln, Morrill, Sheridan, Wayne and Webster counties as being designated as Livestock Friendly.

"The Livestock Friendly program recognizes the positive economic impact the livestock industry has on communities across our state. Our livestock producers represent 57 percent of agricultural receipts in Nebraska, so we know the important impact of this industry on the ability of Nebraska’s economy to grow," Lt. Governor Rick Sheehy said in an announcement.

Sheehy and Nebraska Department of Agriculture assistant director Ginger Langemeier presented the Livestock Friendly designation to commissioner Clint Bailey, chairman of the Deuel County Commission.

February 8, 2009

Are grocery stores gearing up for a fight?

An interesting article appeared in Business Week recently - click here to have a read.

In the article, grocery retailers talk about fighting back against high food prices. They feel that prices forced upon them from companies like Kraft have not fallen as they should. They are tired of being on the front line of complaints.

The chart is from the article.

Here are the first two paragraphs:

A year ago, when the cost of commodities such as wheat, oil, and corn was soaring, grocers grudgingly accepted price increases from Kellogg, General Mills, H.J. Heinz, and other food manufacturers. The strange thing is, those price tags never came back down, even when commodity prices collapsed in the fourth quarter of 2008. As a result, grocers have little cheer to offer their shoppers at a time of deepening economic gloom. "The prices don't seem to go down as fast as they go up," says Jeffrey Noddle, CEO of Minneapolis-based Supervalu, one of the nation's leading grocers.

Now, the grocers are demanding action. On Jan. 7, Noddle told analysts to expect a "battleground" over the next six months as he pressures manufacturers to adjust their prices. And if they refuse? "In almost every category," notes Noddle, "you have other vendors to look to."

February 7, 2009

Ag outlook, management conferences scheduled

University of Nebraska Extension has scheduled a series of agricultural outlook and management conferences across the state this month.

With the economic uncertainty and volatility in agricultural markets, the conferences provide a timely opportunity for producers and agribusinesses to analyze production and management strategies for heading into the 2009 growing season.

Here are the dates and locations, but for details on the Cornhusker Economics and Management Conference, click here.
  • Feb. 18 - Kearney
  • Feb. 19 - Ogallala
  • Feb. 20 - Scottsbluff
  • Feb. 23 - Nebraska City
  • Feb. 24 - Columbus
Each session is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

February 6, 2009

Podcast: Growers continue focus on adding value to corn

In this Podcast, Dennis Gengenbach, a grower from Smithfield and a member of the Nebraska Corn Board, said the Nebraska Corn Board recently had to discuss and submit its number one priority for the organization to other corn states and the National Corn Growers Association.

"To be honest, it was simple. Our focus has and will continue to be on adding value to Nebraska corn in Nebraska through our primary demand markets of livestock and ethanol," he said.

Ethanol: It's right here, right now

We posted a couple of videos by the Renewable Fuels Association back in September. They focused on "Faces" and "Places", spotlighting some of the people and towns that are producing our renewable fuels. In that case, Herford, Texas.

RFA has released a new 30-second ad that focuses ethanol's role in our nation’s economic, energy and environmental future. It's called "Right Here, Right Now".

Take a look:

February 4, 2009

Surprise! New jungles are popping up around the world

Here is an article that contains some interesting facts on rain forests and the like. Apparently there is a debate among environmentalists and others about the millions of acres "new forests" popping up around the world. Many of these new forests are not being counted or mapped by some environmentalists who have a stake in "saving the rain forest". Politics among the tree huggers.

Some people try to argue that corn-based ethanol results in land use changes - as in for every acre of corn grown for biofuels an acre of rain forest is cut down. Those arguments are simplistic at best. Or may just garbage. (Check out this post at the MidwestCornGrowers blog about their study tour to South America.)

Anyway, here are a few lines from the article...

About 38 million acres of original rain forest are being cut down every year, but in 2005, according to the most recent "State of the World’s Forests Report" by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, there were an estimated 2.1 billion acres of potential replacement forest growing in the tropics - an area almost as large as the United States. The new forest included secondary forest on former farmland and so-called degraded forest, land that has been partly logged or destroyed by natural disasters like fires and then left to nature. In Panama by the 1990s, the last decade for which data is available, the rain forest is being destroyed at a rate of 1.3 percent each year. The area of secondary forest is increasing by more than 4 percent yearly.

And here are a few reasons included in the article as to why areas are reverting...

New jobs tied to global industry, as well as improved transportation, are luring a rural population to fast-growing cities. Better farming techniques and access to seed and fertilizer mean that marginal lands are no longer farmed because it takes fewer farmers to feed a growing population.

Maybe if some people stopped pointing fingers all the time they would realize that today's high tech farms can feed and fuel the world - while taking care of the environment.

February 3, 2009

Dump crop residue in the ocean?

An article in today's New York Times - click here - suggests that in order to sequester CO2 we should be bailing up corn stalks, wheat straw and other crop residues, then hauling the bails to the ocean and giving them the heave-ho.

That would keep the plant matter from decomposing and "in effect, sequester atmospheric CO2 on a time scale of millennia."

Hmmm. If we're going to all the trouble to gather up that residue, wouldn't it make more sense to haul it to a cellulosic ethanol plant and turn it into a usable fuel? That way we could keep more oil in the ground instead of coming out our tailpipes. A two birds with one stone kind of thing.

Just a thought.

Anti-meat groups using climate change as argument

Groups who would prefer that we eat all veggies and no animal products continue efforts to push their agenda.

Let's Act Now has launched a nationwide "public service announcement" campaign "stressing the urgency of climate change and its connection to our food choices." In other words, don't eat meat because livestock production contributes to "runaway climate change".

The group likes to cite a United Nations study that says animal production produces more greenhouse gases than all global transportation combined. (Doesn't that sound just a tad bit wacko?) It also quotes Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who just happens to be a vegetarian. And on and on.

The organization's website is full of fluffy quotes and general garbage. Its public service announcement mixes images of livestock, food and meat with hurricanes and starving masses. Other pages on their site have an assortment of videos that assign human qualities to animals. (Apparently animals that are pets don't contribute to "global warming"?)

No single group is behind the site - it's a "collection" of organizations and people. The Human Society of the United States, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (an oxymoron if there ever was one) and some vegan groups are listed in different places, so who knows. (The website domain is registered to Zhihua Dong, a physicist with Columbia University in New York.)

Elsewhere, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is making its way to our nation's Capitol to argue that the time is right for reform. See this article and audio on Brownfield.

Here's a quote from HSUS's Wayne Pacelle: "And we really do hope, and I say it sincerely, that we can work with the agricultural community, to advance reforms that will benefit it, as well as benefiting animals and the interests that the Humane Society of United States Advances."

That could be the biggest lie ever reported in this blog. (Even bigger than this.) Pacelle doesn't want to work with animal agriculture. He wants to shut down animal agriculture.