July 31, 2009

Top three retailers sell about 46 percent of groceries

Almost as interesting as the fact that the top three food retailers held about 46 percent of the business in 2008 is that 7-Eleven is just outside the top 10 at #11.

For the full Supermarket News list, click here.

In either case, the annual Supermarket News list of food retailers gives an inside peak into where folks are buying their groceries.

In total, 75 largest food retailers and wholesalers in the U.S. and Canada combined to reach $893.1 billion in revenues in 2008, up 7.6 percent over 2007.

The 10 largest companies on the list accounted for $613.2 billion in sales, or about 68.7 percent of the total volume on the list.

The top three accounted for $435.2 billion in sales - nearly 46% of the market. Walmart, of course, led the way, with 28.9 percent of all sales. That's a whopping $258.5 billion.

Video: The Cob Squad on farming and technology

The Cob Squad is back with another video.

This time, the Squad tackles technology - how it has changed our everyday lives. From a phone call to entertainment to our jobs. They make the point that technology is okay in agriculture, too. In fact, it is necessary.

Be sure to visit their YouTube channel (link above) to view all of the Squad's videos. (More are in the works!)

Check it out:

Good reads: Omnivore’s Delusion and Farmers Can Feed the World

These are two must reads for a Friday. In fact, it may be a good idea to print and file them. Or save them in that documents folder on your computer.

First up is The Omnivore’s Delusion: Against the Agri-intellectuals, written by Blake Hurst, a farmer in Missouri.

Hurst, of course, takes on Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and a critic of modern food production.

In addition to peeling back a few of the half-truths Pollan tosses about so haphazardly, Hurst tackles issues surrounding "industrial" farming with common sense and experience.

Here is Hurst's conclusion, but please take time to read the entire piece:

The distance between the farmer and what he grows has certainly increased, but, believe me, if we weren't closely connected, we wouldn't still be farming. It's important to our critics that they emphasize this alienation, because they have to ignore the "industrial" farmer's experience and knowledge to say the things they do about farming.

But farmers have reasons for their actions, and society should listen to them as we embark upon this reappraisal of our agricultural system. I use chemicals and diesel fuel to accomplish the tasks my grandfather used to do with sweat, and I use a computer instead of a lined notebook and a pencil, but I'm still farming the same land he did 80 years ago, and the fund of knowledge that our family has accumulated about our small part of Missouri is valuable. And everything I know and I have learned tells me this: we have to farm "industrially" to feed the world, and by using those "industrial" tools sensibly, we can accomplish that task and leave my grandchildren a prosperous and productive farm, while protecting the land, water, and air around us.

The second piece that is very well worth reading is written by Dr. Norman Borlaug: Farmers Can Feed the World - Better seeds and fertilizers, not romantic myths, will let them do it.

Borlaug, who turned 95 this year (see this post), outlines the importance of technology and the need for continued investment in agriculture globally - just as he has done for decades.

Here is his conclusion:

Of history, one thing is certain: Civilization as we know it could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply. Likewise, the civilization that our children, grandchildren and future generations come to know will not evolve without accelerating the pace of investment and innovation in agriculture production.

July 29, 2009

Podcast: Farmers need to step up and defend agriculture

In this Podcast, Kelly Brunkhorst of the Nebraska Corn Board, says farmers need to stand up to organizations and individuals who attempt to twist opinions into fact -- and in the process paint farmers, agriculture and food production as some sort of a villain.

Nebraska Corn Kernel podcasts are also available iTunes! Click here to subscribe.

July 28, 2009

Johanns asks for honesty on cap-and-trade

Twice in the last week, Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns (R.) has had his thoughts on the climate change bill, aka "cap-and-trade", published in newspapers.

Today, his piece, Be honest with U.S. farmers about cap-and-trade, appears in the Des Moines Register.

Last week, his piece, Energy bill scary for ag industry, appeared in the Omaha World Herald.

In the two pieces, Johanns asks some important questions, makes a few good points and generally questions some of the Administration's estimates as to what cap-and-trade will cost farmers, rural communities and consumers.

Here are a few lines from the Register piece:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's essay about cap-and-trade sure makes the proposal sound good, but unfortunately the costs are real while the benefits for farmers and ranchers are theoretical. ...

... According to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, "U.S. action alone will not impact world CO2 levels." This means that our competitors in Brazil, China, and India will produce without increased costs and regulation, while our producers will be shackled with both for no discernible environmental gain.

And from OWH:

And if you think this across-the-board increase in costs affects only farmers and ranchers, think again. If you’re reading this column with a side of eggs and a glass of juice, it affects you. If you’ve just grilled a nice steak or hamburger, it affects you.

Here's a podcast from the Nebraska Corn Growers Association - explaining why they did not support the House version of the climate change bill.

July 27, 2009

NCGA highlights Jagels' efforts on water efficiency

Nebraska farmer Mark Jagels has worked with the University of Nebraska to better understand his corn crop's water needs for a number of years. What he's learned has reduced how much water he uses - saving both water and fuel.

Jagels is one of the farmers featured in the "Farmer Stories" section of the Corn Farmers Coalition website - and was highlighted by the National Corn Growers Association on Friday. Click here to view.

“Now we know more about when we need to irrigate and how much water the crop really requires,” Jagels said. “Since we’ve been using this technology, we’ve been able to eliminate one or two irrigation cycles per year — and that means significant savings of both fuel and water, without adversely affecting yield."

Jagels, a member of the Nebraska Corn Board, has also takes advantage of precision agriculture technology - combining soil sampling and nutrient applications to use fertilizer more precisely and efficiently.

July 24, 2009

Corn growers support Ethanol Night at the Races

Nebraska corn farmers are partnering with the Junction Motor Speedway to promote Ethanol Night at the Races during Junction Motor Speedway’s 4th Annual O’Reilly POWRi Cornhusker Midget Challenge to be held Tuesday, July 28th and Wednesday, July 29th.

Hamilton, York and Blue River corn grower associations, along with the Nebraska Corn Grower Association (NeCGA), are combining their efforts to be the title sponsor and promote corn ethanol during the two-day Cornhusker Challenge.

“The Cornhusker Challenge draws a lot of fans to central Nebraska, to the heart of the nation’s corn industry, so it is a perfect place for farmers to help get out positive messages about corn ethanol,” Brandon Hunnicutt, a member of the Hamilton County Corn Growers Association and president of NeCGA, said in a news release.

Rick Gruber of the York County Corn Growers Association said it is a tremendous opportunity for Nebraska’s corn industry to be part of the two-day motor sport event and promote the positives of ethanol during Ethanol Night at the Races.

The Cornhusker Challenge brings the nation’s best equipment and drivers to Junction Motor Speedway - as drivers vie for the twin “Cornhusker Crystal & Chrome” trophies.

July 23, 2009

Brazilian farmers expanding use of biotech crops

Although biotech crops may cost Brazilian farmers a bit more for seed - 40 cents a pound - the $60 they save in chemical costs and higher yields more than make up the difference, according to an article from by DTN reporter Kieran Gartlan today.

You can find the article here.
Be sure to read through to the end. There's a good quote there.

The article quotes a farmer in west Parana state saying that genetically modified corn "is here to stay."

Gartlan wrote that Brazil's Biotechnology Information Council, said that around 30 percent of the country's second crop corn, planted in February and March, was of biotech varieties, well above the 19 percent that was expected. Estimates are that 50 percent of the crop will be biotech when planting begins in again September.

It appears a shortage of seed may have been the limiting factor for the second crop.

The technology may help raise Brazil's average corn yield, which is currently around 60 bushels per acre. Yields average 100 bushels/acre in Argentina and more than 150 bushels in the U.S.

A technical director at a cooperative in Parana estimated that yields could jump 15 or 20 percent as the adoption of biotech corn increases over the next few years.

Gartlan said Brazil currently produces about to 60 million metric tons of corn a year and exports about 10 mmt of that. A 15 percent increase in yields take production close to 70 mmt and allow exports to double to more than 20 mmt a year.

In other words, biotech corn will allow farmers can grow more corn on the same or less amount of land. A scenario that can be repeated in other parts of the world. How will that impact land use - especially as it relates to ethanol?

July 22, 2009

Articles on ethanol, energy bill

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) have articles of interest appearing in newspapers this week.

First up is Grassley, who wrote "Ethanol was green before green was cool" for The Hill. It appeared in yesterday's edition.

In it, Grassley talks about indirect land use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are a good few lines:

The EPA’s models conclude that international land use changes contribute more in greenhouse gases than the entire direct emissions of ethanol production and use — from growing the crop, the production of ethanol at the refinery, to the tailpipe emissions when it’s burned.

This conclusion is ludicrous.

A lot of scientists would agree (see this and this, for starters).

In his piece in the Omaha World Herald, "Energy bill scary for ag industry", Johanns discusses climate legislation under debate in D.C. - aka "cap and trade". It appears in today's edition.

Here are a few lines:

The bill’s proponents assert that cap-and-trade would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by raising carbon-based energy costs. This much was confirmed nearly verbatim in a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Yet that train of thought is incomplete.

Let me finish it: Those rising energy costs would come back down hard on Nebraska consumers. Every study I’ve seen indicates that agricultural producers — who consume large amounts of energy — would be hit hardest.

July 21, 2009

Podcast: Climate change legislation a bad bill for farmers

In this Podcast, Jim Hultman of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, provides some thoughts on the climate change legislation being discussed and debated in Washington, D.C. He notes that despite some changes, the House version of the bill is still bad for farmers.

Nebraska Corn Kernel podcasts are also available iTunes! Click here to subscribe.

Interesting reads today...

Here is information on a few interesting things I read today:

Farm Progress executive editor Dan Crummett had an interesting blog post - talking in part about the livestock industry's thoughts on ethanol subsidies.

Here's a quote:

Even when ethanol first began to hit the news, the "non-subsidized" beef industry was on record against anything that would boost the price of corn -- funny, how subsidized corn isn't a "subsidy" to the beef industry when it's fed as feed, but it is when it's fed through fuel injectors!

For the full post, click here. It's a quick read.

DTN's Russ Quinn reports that fertilizer prices continue to spiral downwards:

The fertilizer prices tracked by DTN continued on their downward path during the second week of July. Leading the way the lower was UAN28, which is down 23 percent from the previous month. DAP and UAN32 are both down 16 percent and anhydrous is down 13 percent.

He reports that at some point fertilizer prices will stop falling - and then both retailers and farmers will have to decide whether it is time to purchase some product.

For the full report, click here.

July 20, 2009

Nebraska corn crop progressing well

USDA said today said 53 percent of Nebraska’s corn crop was silking as of July 19. That is 12 points ahead of last year’s crop but 7 points behind the five-year average.

Timely rains have come to many parts of the state and a break from extremely hot conditions should help pollination along nicely.

Add to that the fact that 82 percent of the state’s corn crop remains in good to excellent condition and it is easy to understand why Nebraska farmers are fairly optimistic about this year’s crop potential. For more details about the crop, check out this week's Crop Progress Update from the Nebraska Corn Board.

USDA said 71 percent of the nation’s corn crop was in good to excellent condition as of July 19, unchanged from last week but better than last year's 65 percent at this time. The late planting in some states, however, has only 31 percent of the crop in the silking stage - the same as last year and 23 points behind the five-year average.

For the full USDA crop progress report, click here.

This week's photos came to the Nebraska Corn Board from the Chase County FFA Chapter. The top one shows distant rain rolling across the countryside, while the bottom one shows corn silking.

Using fear to sell movies (and food)

Food Inc. was contrived by people who believe that the food system in this country is broken. They have a hammer-esqe view of how food gets to the grocery store, so everything to them appears to be a nail that needs pounding. They play loose with the facts and complain that nobody in the food industry would talk.

Yet why would you go on camera with someone who already has their mind made up - that what you are doing is bad for those who eat, the environment and so on. But by not going on camera, it allowed the filmmakers to play up the idea that food companies have something to hide.

It’s a classic way to contrive a false controversy and reinforce their message that food no up to their “standard” is scary, bad for you and made by people who want to keep it all a secret.

People who spend a lot of time complaining and misrepresenting facts about the modern food miracle generally do so with full bellies. Others have found that scaring people about the food they eat is a great way to increase sales of their books and movies, or to promote and sell their own food products.

They also use it to their political advantage.

U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., NY) sponsored a showing of Food Inc. on Capitol Hill. Her spokesperson noted that, “The screening will show people just how bad the food industry is and, with luck, be a wake-up call for staffers and Members [of Congress] - and the public.

Like others with something to sell, the spokesperson put the words “bad” and “food” in the same sentence for a reason - to try and scare people into believing her sour look at things. What it does, though, is paint all of agriculture and food production negatively, and that’s not right.

Slaughter is also behind efforts to restrict the use of antibiotics in animal production. For a great commentary on her efforts check out this blog post on Brownfield by Steve Kopperud.

There is no one best way to grow corn, soybeans or wheat, or to raise hogs, cattle or chickens. Organic, conventional or whatever - all have important roles in our food supply and all are produced by farmers who work hard to do the best job possible. And, by the way, all farmers work to be sustainable - from financial, social and environmental points of view.

Farmers who raise livestock and poultry for Chipolte do a great job and meet the qualifications of the burrito chain, just as do farmers whose products end up at the grocery store or other restaurants. (Also see this post: When a burrito loses its integrity.)

It’s all about serving the market you want to serve and being as good as possible at it.

What it’s not about is fear mongering and truth stretching.

On that, note, here’s an interesting column from the U.K. - "Organic tastes good, but better for us? No." It gives us permission to eat the 50 cent carrots at the grocery store and not feel guilty.

It is unfortunate that fear mongers make some people feel guilty for buying healthy, affordable foods.

When a burrito loses its integrity

When Chipotle decided to back Food Inc. by offering free showings in select markets across the country, company founder Steve Ells likely knew there’d be a few complaints.

Perhaps, though, he had hoped his run-in with those who support farm workers in Florida would have gone away.

They didn’t.

In fact, they’ve become more vocal - pointing out the “Chipocrisy” of restaurant chain’s efforts for animals - but turn the other cheek attitude toward farm workers.

Chipotle has been targeted by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) for not backing efforts to pay workers in Florida’s tomato fields a better wage and ensuring those workers operate under reasonable conditions.

As CIW noted on its website, Chipotle’s move to back Food Inc. was “a nice little targeted advertising coup for the company, really, when you consider the less precise and more pricey option of network commercial time.

Interestingly enough, the Food Inc. duo Eric Schlosser and Robert Kenner signed a letter just last month to Ells that, among other things, said, “Yet for us, naturally raised meat – important as it is – does not trump decently treated human beings.”

And now they’re partners. More Chipocrisy! Perhaps it’s easy to look the other way in exchange for money and free publicity.

For more details, check out this blog post on Corn Commentary and a post in The Nation.

Want more Chipocrisy? Click here.

July 17, 2009

How will Walmart's sustainability index rate food?

When Walmart released plans for developing its sustainability index for every product it sells, I couldn't help but think of milk.

Why milk?

Well, a little over year ago, Walmart took a giant leap backwards in sustainability when it said it would no longer allow technology to be used in dairy cows that supply its store brand milk. The result of that decision is that it will take more cows consuming more feed and water and producing more manure to produce the same quantity (and quality!) of milk.

A dairy farmer I spoke two said he had to add cows to keep total farm production levels on target. That cost him more money on the feed and manure management side. It made his operation less efficient, increased his environmental foot print and made him less sustainable overall.

The technology, of course, is recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST).

Just the mention of rbST drives some people's blood pressure up - either because they know the benefits of the technology and are frustrated by those who don't, or because they believe one of the many myths surrounding rbST. (Such myths are often promoted and repeated by people with something to sell - like books or movies. The realty is milk is milk - organic, conventional or whatever - it all has he same good nutrition. Just the prices are different.)

One farmer told Walmart that the use of rbST in 1 million cows would:
  • Save 6.6 billion gallons of water every year
  • Reduce the amount of animal feed needed by over 3 billion pounds per year
  • Decrease the land area required for raising cows and growing feed by over 417 square miles
  • Save more than 5.5 million gallons of gas and diesel fuel every year
  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions by 30,000 metric tons per year
  • Reduce the manure generated by approximately 3.6 million tons every year
So by removing rbST from the cows supplying Walmart, dairy farmers get to produce the same amount of milk with more inputs.

That's exactly the opposite of what Walmart is driving towards with its sustainability index.

It makes me wonder how it will judge other foods - will 'organic' apples be rated better than 'conventional'? What about cereal? What about meats? Will the use of technology be considered a negative for foods on Walmart's shelves?

July 15, 2009

Less than a week remains to comment on ethanol waiver

The deadline to submit comments in support of increasing the ethanol blend rate from 10 percent ethanol (e10) to up to 15 percent is coming up quickly: The last day to submit comments is next Monday, July 20.

In a news release, the Nebraska Corn Board said it is encouraging those who have not yet submitted comments to do so by clicking on the e15 icon at www.NebraskaCorn.org.

The Nebraska Corn Board is also encouraging farmers who may have already submitted comments to submit additional comments that share their positive experiences with ethanol and small engines.

The Nebraska Corn Board's Randy Klein said many farmers own boats, all terrain vehicles and other equipment that use small engines and have experienced no problems with ethanol blended gasoline. “There is no performance or other concerns about ethanol-blended fuels in these kinds of engines,” he said. “Ethanol has been used for years in small engines all across Nebraska and the United States. It isn’t anything new.”

He also pointed out that the request before the Environmental Protection Agency is to allow up to 15 percent blends – not to mandate it at all pumps.

“There has been some confusion there as those against the waiver don’t always make it clear. The ruling does not prevent the sale of regular unleaded (no ethanol fuel) and 10 percent blends; they will be available just as they are today,” Klein said.

The Nebraska Corn Board said nearly 5,000 Nebraska farmers returned yellow postcards as part of its original campaign to submit comments to the EPA. Many more submitted comments electronically.

July 14, 2009

Biofuels are a long-term renewable solution

The headline of this post comes from a headline in a commentary by Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) that appeared on Politico.

In the commentary, Thune covers two problems with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which expanded the Renewable Fuels Standard and significantly increased the market for biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel.

Problem one: The definition of renewable biomass

Thune: Although wood waste from private and federal forestland has the potential to supply millions of gallons of cellulosic ethanol, the 2007 Energy Bill excludes cellulosic ethanol produced from wood waste recovered from federal forests and most private forestland. Wood waste built up in our national forests poses a significant fire danger, and increased cellulosic ethanol production would give our nation a way to protect our forests while at the same time generating renewable energy.

Problem two: Theories of indirect land use.

Thune: Study after study shows that ethanol and biodiesel produce much less carbon than gasoline and conventional diesel, and their environmental benefit is a major factor in their success thus far. ... I find it unacceptable that after several years of crafting a national energy policy that promotes renewable fuels, the greatest threats to the renewable fuels industry are arbitrary and misguided government regulations. The United States will not achieve energy independence if Congress both promotes renewable fuels and enacts laws that limit the future growth of our biofuels industry.

Thune concluded by noting that it is important for Congress and the administration to remember that biofuels "present an established, viable alternative to imported oil. Biofuels create jobs, expand markets for farmers and lower greenhouse gas emissions."

He also said Congress and the Administration "can take minor steps to clear the way for major developments in the biofuels industry, and it is time to do so."

Brazil, land use and ethanol

Ethanol is the No. 1 renewable energy source in Brazil - and has made gasoline an "alternative fuel" in the country, according to Joel Velasco of UNICA, the Brazilian sugarcane industry association.

(See also: Gasoline no longer the primary fuel for light vehicles in Brazil from Biofuels Digest)

Valesco spent some time yesterday with the National Corn Growers Association in Washington, D.C. - read more details here.

He said more data and detailed analysis are needed to calculate land use changes - and that the collection of data is really just getting underway.

Follow the link above for more details, but here are a few bullet points:
  • A 2 percent shift in pasture lands would allow Brazil to double ethanol production.
  • Brazil’s food production has doubled in the last 10 years because of yield gains, while the volume of sugar cane for ethanol production has grown 130 percent.
  • 92 percent of new cars sold in Brazil thus far in 2009 are flexible fuel vehicles and 80% of the time drivers choose ethanol.

July 13, 2009

Conference coming up on land use change, ethanol

With a lot of questions surrounding corn-based ethanol, land use change and climate change, the National Corn Growers Association has organized a conference to throw it all on the table and give attendees an opportunity discuss the issues in depth.

The conference will be Aug. 25-26 in St. Louis, Mo. Early registration runs through Aug. 4 - click here for more info. (Or go to www.ncga.com.)

The technical conference includes sessions on topics as land use change, nitrous oxide, new technologies and their effect on greenhouse gas emissions, domestic and international yields, satellite data and land conversion greenhouse gas emission factors, defining renewable biomass and distillers grains.

Recently confirmed presenters at the conference include Steven Del Grosso, Colorado State University; Dr. Bruce McCarl, Texas A&M; Nancy Harris, Winrock International; Keith Kline, Oakridge National Laboratory, and Ken Copenhaver, University of Illinois, Chicago.

Other speakers include: Dr. Bruce Dale of Michigan State University, Dr. Wally Tyner of Purdue University, Dr. Pat Westhoff of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute and Dr. Michael Wang of Argonne National Laboratory.

The conference cost of $250 includes refreshments, a cocktail reception and lunch. The meeting will take place at the Renaissance St. Louis Airport Hotel.

Larry Berger to head animal science department at University of Nebraska

Larry Berger, professor of animal science at the University of Illinois, has been named head of the Department of Animal Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

According to the news release from UNL, Berger will begin his new position Aug. 17, succeeding interim head Sheila Scheideler.

Berger, a northeast Kansas native, began his faculty career at Illinois after receiving his doctoral degree in ruminant nutrition from UNL in 1978. He has been at Illinois for 31 years, serving as professor since 1986.

Scheideler has been interim department head for two years, succeeding Don Beermann, who became director of the Institutional Animal Care Program in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development.

July 10, 2009

Podcast: Campaign highlights positive changes in farming

In this Podcast, Carl Sousek of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, talks about the Sustaining Innovation campaign. He notes that the campaign highlights all the positive changes in farming over the last decade or two - especially how farmers are producing more today with less -- less land, less chemicals and less fertilizer.

Nebraska Corn Kernel podcasts are also available iTunes! Click here to subscribe.

July 9, 2009

The Cob Squad debuts with video on ethanol fuel pumps

The Cob Squad - aka interns with the Nebraska Corn Board - have debuted their first YouTube video.

The short video provides a few details on how to use an ethanol blending fuel pump that offers regular, e10, e20, e30 and e85. The focus, of course, is on higher ethanol blends and their use in flex fuel vehicles (FFVs).

The video is below - but be sure to subscribe to TheCobSquad channel on YouTube, as several more videos are in the works.

July 6, 2009

Rye: Farmers need to tell their story

Clayton Rye - who writes for Successful Farming's Agriculture.com - has a great column about an uniformed radio talk show host and the opportunity to set things right missed by farmers.

Here are a few lines from "A Gallon of Ignorance", but be sure to read it all here:

I am wondering why a dairy producer did not call in to tell about today's situation. Are there so few dairy producers left or, since it was 6:00 AM, were they too busy with their morning's work to stop and call the radio show.

We food producers have a story to tell that is not reaching all the people who need to hear it. We cannot wait for someone else to tell it.

We members of the agriculture industry have our work cut out for us. There is a lot of ignorance in the public about how markets work and what is required to grow a bushel of grain, a pound of meat, or a gallon of milk. The gap between the grower and the consumer has widened and it will continue to do so.

Tassels dotting Nebraska fields

A Twitter post from @cornfedfarmer confirmed that corn tassels were out in Central Nebraska on the Fourth of July.

Has tassels by the Fourth of July become the new 'standard'? Replacing the old 'knee high' saying that seemed off 20 years ago?

In either case, the U.S. Department of Agriculture today reported that 84 percent of Nebraska's crop was in good to excellent condition. That's two points up from last week and equal to two weeks ago. A year ago the crop was rated as 72 percent good to excellent.

That only puts only 12 percent of this year's crop in the fair category and 4 percent as poor to very poor. Overall, it is a very good looking crop in Nebraska.

USDA said 6 percent of the crop was silking, a couple of points behind the five-year average but ahead of last year.

For more details on the state's crop, be sure to check out the Nebraska Corn Board's Crop Progress Update.

Nationally, 71 percent of the crop is rated good to excellent - down a point from last week but still 9 points ahead of last year. For the full USDA report, click here.

This week's photo comes to the Nebraska Corn Board from the Heartland FFA Chapter. Click on the image for a larger photo.

July 3, 2009

Podcast: Corn farmers launch Sustaining Innovation campaign

In this Podcast, Curt Friesen of the Nebraska Corn Board, talks about the launch of the Sustaining Innovation campaign - why it is important and some of the messages corn farmers in the state are emphasizing.

Nebraska Corn Kernel podcasts are also available iTunes! Click here to subscribe.

July 2, 2009

Twitter lands Nebraska farmer on CNN

Western Nebraska farmer Steve Tucker found himself live on CNN this morning talking about his use of Twitter - and about farming. He's Tykerman1 on Twitter.

Here's a link to the story on CNN.com. (Video is below.)

He appeared live on CNN via Skype (internet video/audio calls).

He made many good points about farming and agriculture - and noted that many folks don't know where their food comes from and Twitter and other social media tools are a great way to reach out and tell that story.

Plus, the technology gives him a way to have conversations all day long - with friends thousands of miles away.

He also noted that farmers are doing a lot more today with less.

Since his story appeared on CNN, Tucker's 'followers' on Twitter grew from about 470 to 830 - and it's still growing. (The nearest town has a population of less than 200!) (UPDATE: As of July 6, Tucker's followers had increased to 1,500!)

Here are a few lines from the article, featuring ag extension educator Andy Kleinschmidt of Ohio (akleinschmidt on Twitter):

The growth of smartphones on farms is important because many people don't think about where their food comes from, much less associate a specific farmer with that process, said Andy Kleinschmidt, a farmer and agricultural extension educator at Ohio State University.

"When you can put a name or personality with someone who's actually raising corn and soybeans or actually milking cows, that's the most important thing that's come about in my opinion," he said.

And here's the video featuring Tucker:

Other Nebraska farmers on Twitter include Debbie Borg (@iamafarmer2), Brandon Hunnicutt (@cornfedfarmer), Randy Uhrmacher (@Ruhrmacher), Zach Hunnicutt (@zjhunn) and Susan Littlefield (firefighter89).

Am I missing anyone? Let me know!

FYI - Twitter co-founder Biz Stone blogged about the CNN coverage here. Also, fyi, Evan Williams, another Twitter co-founder and current CEO, grew up on a farm in Nebraska.

July 1, 2009

Cattlemen, corn farmers put face on ag in South Korea

A delegation of corn and beef producers from Iowa and Nebraska wrapped up its Asian trade mission with a series of events in South Korea over the weekend. The mission was organized by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Like in Japan, the group had several meetings with retailers, distributors, cold storage operators and packer representatives. They also observed and participated in a retail beef sampling promotion at an E-Mart outlet in Bundang, a southern suburb of Seoul.

The delegation capped off its Korean itinerary at a large outdoor barbecue held by USMEF at E-Mart’s Wolgye outlet.

The event provided a great opportunity for U.S. farmers to put a face with their product and to interact directly with Korean consumers - promoting the safety and quality of U.S. beef. The barbecue, along with a similar promotion held the following day, attracted more than 7,000 customers and produced a significant jump in the store’s sales of U.S. chilled chuck eye roll, USMEF said in a news release.

The Nebraska Corn Board’s Alan Tiemann (right), a farmer from Sewerd, is shown in this photo serving up some great U.S. steak at the event with Iowa cattleman Kevin Carstensen. (Click for a larger image.)

"This trade mission been a great opportunity for Nebraska and Iowa corn and beef producers to work together to capitalize on one of our best assets – the high-quality, grain-fed beef that we export from the United States," said David Hamilton, a farmer from Thedford who represented the Nebraska Beef Council.

The neighboring markets of Japan and Korea both hold great potential for U.S. beef exports, and at one time they were the No. 1 and No. 3 beef export markets respectively.

"From a consumer acceptance and demand standpoint, I think the atmosphere in Japan is quite favorable if we can just get our governments to work together and give us better access," Hamilton said, referencing the 20-month cattle age limit on U.S. beef exported to Japan.

"But we have a totally different set of challenges in Korea," he said. "Here we have an ample supply, but the greatest challenge I see in Korea is the lack of consumer acceptance. There are still many misperceptions among Korean consumers that U.S. beef is not safe."

"Their impression is that we export different beef than we feed to our own families, which is obviously not the case," he said.