March 31, 2010

Nebraska farmers looking at 9.2 million acres of corn

Farmers in Nebraska intend to plant some 9.2 million acres of corn this year, about 1 percent more than the 9.15 million they planted last year and 4.5 percent more than the 8.8 million planted in 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its Prospective Plantings report released this morning.

“If realized, acres planted to corn will be the largest since 9.4 million were planted in 2007 – and that was the most corn acres planted in Nebraska since 1936,” Kelly Brunkhorst, the Nebraska Corn Board’s director of research, said in this news release.

Nationally, USDA said, corn farmers intend to plant 88.8 million acres, which is up 3 percent from last year’s 86.5 million. It’s also about 3 percent more than 2008’s plantings of 86.0 million acres.

Below is a chart from USDA that shows recent corn and soy acres (2010 is today's estimate). (Click for a larger image.)

Grain Stocks
In its Grain Stocks report, USDA said corn stocks were pretty high, with some 7.7 billion bushels of corn being stored in all positions across the United States as of March 1. That’s up 11 percent from last year.

In Nebraska, there are 906.4 million bushels in storage, which is up 12 percent from a year ago. Brunkhorst said 379.4 million are stored off-farm, an 18 percent increase, and another 560 million bushels are stored on-farm, an 8 percent increase.

“There is a lot of corn still in Nebraska and across the country, plenty to satisfy the demands for feed, fuel, food and fiber,” Brunkhorst said. “Over the last year farmers continued to demonstrate that with today’s technology and know-how, and their hard work, they can produce a very large crop, even with the challenges of the long harvest we’ve seen in the past year.”

The chart below, provided by Brunkhorst, shows historical corn stocks in Nebraska. Note that corn stocks in all positions are the highest in Nebraska since 1989. (Click for a larger image.)

March 30, 2010

Adding value to corn worldwide -- through beef and pork!

Nebraska corn farmers add value to their corn and corn co-products through exports – but not just corn exported as raw corn or distillers grains as raw distillers grains. There is more value (a lot more!) when that corn and corn co-products are fed to livestock and converted to meat. This is the value-added product that Nebraska farmers create, and when beef and pork are exported, the meat may go overseas but the value stays here.

Farmers have the ability to do this through the partnership of the Nebraska Corn Board and the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), an organization that develops export markets and promotions for red meat products.

Nebraska ranks number one in commercial red meat production in the U.S. (more than 7 billion pounds), number two in cattle on feed (2.5 million head and cattle slaughter at more than 7 million head), and number six hog slaughter (nearly 7.95 million head), according to 2008 USDA/NASS data.

Taking a look more specifically into the pork and beef industries in Nebraska:
  • The equivalent of 6,000 Nebraska hogs are exported each day, which is 22.5 percent of total production in the U.S. With that, more than 90,000 bushels of corn are indirectly exported through Nebraska hogs each day.
  • The equivalent of 2,300 Nebraska cattle are exported each day, which is 10 percent of U.S. production. Therefore, more than 130,000 bushels of corn are exported through Nebraska cattle each day.
Exports also bring value to Nebraska beef and pork production. In 2009, the estimated returns to the Nebraska red meat industry were more than $866 million! That breaks down to $66.5 million in pork export premiums and $800 million in beef export premiums. If just raw corn was exported instead of being fed to livestock, it would have generated only $297 million.

USMEF promotes U.S. raised meat, but it also has a special program to market Nebraska corn specifically to Korean consumers through corn-fed beef. Korea is the sixth largest market for U.S. beef, and in June 2009, Nebraska corn checkoff dollars assisted with a U.S. beef BBQ promotion with E-Mart in Seoul, Korea. Samples of U.S. beef were handed out to more than 7,000 Korea consumers. Sales increased 96 percent during the promotion and U.S. beef share of sales increased from 26.4 percent to 39.3 percent during the weekend long event.

A large part of developing these export markets is regaining trust with consumers who believe U.S. meat is unsafe due to BSE and H1N1 “swine” flu. Social media has greatly helped in spreading the positive messages of U.S. meat in foreign countries, as videos and blogs have captured a large audience of meat consumers in these areas and are having a positive impact.

The working relationship with USMEF and the Nebraska Corn Board have increased export opportunities for Nebraska products, and not only allows for increased profitability through increased sales, but allows countries like Korea, Japan, China, Russia and more, to experience the great taste of U.S. raised, corn-fed beef and pork!

Other Nebraska Corn Kernels posts about USMEF:
Corn checkoff in the news
Cattlemen, corn farmers put face on ag in South Korea
Nebraska farmers on the ground in Japan, Korea
Nebraska pork brings value, nutrition to dinner tables around the world
Three of Korea's major retailers begin selling U.S. beef

March 29, 2010

Careers in Agriculture Important to Nebraska

Thinking back to when I was gearing up to head to college some years ago, I knew I wanted to be involved in agriculture. But I really didn't know the huge career field I was choosing by first deciding to be in ag!

According to the American Farm Bureau’s Educating about Agriculture web site, agriculture generates around 22 million jobs in the U.S., and most are located off of farms. In fact, fewer than 2 million Americans are actively engaged in farming. Today's farmers are efficient enough to produce 16 percent of the world's food supply, freeing the rest of us to pursue other occupations and career paths.

Careers in agriculture range from food science to animal nutrition to financial analysis to agronomy to chemistry to communications to engineers to tourism – and the list goes on and on! Food scientists and engineers will be in the greatest demand in the agricultural job market in the upcoming years, according to a Purdue-USDA study. Marketing and sales positions will comprise the next largest group of job openings.

Our state’s very own College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) at the University of Nebraska prides themselves in that ninety-six percent of CASNR graduates receive a job offer within six months of graduation. They can guarantee this for every student if they follow the Ensuring Your Future program. This program allows students to take full advantage of academic programs, faculty advisers, services and opportunities that the College and University provide. It also emphasizes the importance of academics, involvement and experience in their personal and professional development.

Below is a list of resources for finding a career in agriculture. By sharing this information about careers in agriculture with youth you know, we can help educate and encourage students to find their career in the ag industry.

Resources for Finding a Career in Agriculture
The National FFA Organization has a career search which offers general job information, career information, educational requirements, suggested high school/collegiate courses, skills required, job availability and locations, and working conditions: FFA Career Explorer

The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at UNL offers 28 academic degrees programs and two pre-professional programs, from Agribusiness to Professional Golf Management. Check out the list here: Academic Programs.

A resource listing sources of information for careers in: Agribusiness Management, Agricultural and Natural Resources Communications, Building Construction Management, Agriscience, Resource Development and Management, Parks, Recreations, and Tourism Resources, Packaging, Horticulture, Forestry, Food Science, and Fisheries/Wildlife: Educational Resources - Careers in Ag

A list of powerpoint presentations on numerous ag careers, along with detailed definitions: Ag Education - Careers in Agriculture

A resource to explore careers in Agriculture, Aquaculture and Forestry with the following links to job descriptions, which include information such as daily activities, skill requirements, salary and training required. Agriculture Career Guide

March 25, 2010

Distillers grains component may have prospects medical arena

As part of its annual look into corn and distillers grains-related research at the University of Nebraska, the Nebraska Corn Board got a look at the medical opportunities for zein – a protein that is only found in corn.

Zein nanospheres (about 0.001 the thickness of a human hair) are hollow and may be an ideal carrier to deliver cancer-fighting drugs and nutrients to tissues and organs within the human body, according to University of Nebraska researcher Yiqi Yang. The particles are so tiny they can go to the brain and other organs much easier than other medical options, Yang told the Lincoln Journal-Star.

The nanospheres could possibly move into individual cells to deliver treatment and then simply degrade naturally in the body – synthetic alternatives have to be withdrawn. Zein is also naturally fluorescent, meaning doctors could conceivably detect and follow the nanospheres as they deliver their microscopic payload to the body. Synthetic options have to have fluorescence added, which changes their structure.

Zein can be found in corn kernels but it is more concentrated in distillers grains – a co-product of corn ethanol production that is fed to livestock and poultry. That concentrated form makes it easier and more cost effective to remove zein, a yellowish powder, from distillers grains.

Yang told the Journal-Star that should the research be successful, the demand for zein would not really impact the supply of distillers grains for animal feed. Instead, it would be a value-added option for a limited number of ethanol plants.

March 16, 2010

Celebrating Nebraska Agriculture

This week is National Ag Week, with National Ag Day being this Saturday, March 20, 2010. According to its web site,, National Ag Week is about recognizing - and celebrating - the contribution of agriculture in our everyday lives. The National Ag Day program encourages every American to:
  • Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
  • Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
  • Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
Yesterday, Governor Dave Heineman declared March 14-20 Nebraska Agriculture Week to coincide with National Ag Week. Throughout the day, he and several ag constituents, traveled across Nebraska to meet with producers and share the importance of agriculture in Nebraska.

The agriculture tour started in Kearney with an Ag Week coffee, followed by an Ag Week luncheon in West Point and ended with an Ag Week reception at Nebraska Corn Board member, Dave Nielsen’s farm north of Lincoln.
Dave with his family and Governor Heineman

Board Chair, Alan Tiemann, Senator Tom Carlson, and Board Member Curt Friesen were also at the Nielsen Farm

Check out for ag fun facts and information about National Ag Week!

March 12, 2010

Podcast: While RFS rules are better, land use change remains a concern

In this podcast, Curtis Rohrich, a farmer from Wood River and a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, examines the updated Renewable Fuels Standard regulations released by the Environmental Protection Agency. (See this post.)

He said while corn growers appreciate changes made in the final EPA rules - compared to the initial draft - farmers will continue to work to "remove the bad math" surrounding indirect land use change.

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

March 11, 2010

A sugar is a sugar, whether cane, corn or beet

Consumer questions over high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) have risen lately, as well as confusion of what HFCS really is. CBS Nightly News covered this topic and developed a well-balanced piece that defines the similarities of table sugar and HFCS. (Basically that sugar is sugar.)

The news report touches on how the controversy over HFCS and sugar is all hype.

“The food police - the ones who told us Chinese food and theatre popcorn were bad - would also be yelling about high-fructose corn syrup. But instead, they say the controversy is all hype."

"The evilness of high-fructose corn syrup has become an urban myth," said Michael Jacobson with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The video that went with the news article is below.

The Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has being doing its job defending HFCS and corn as well. Audrae Erickson, president of CRA, quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal article on sugar, “This is nothing more than a marketing gimmick," referring to packaged-food companies that switch ingredients from HFCS to sugar. “They’ve switched from one sugar to another.”

CRA also has a campaign out to defend corn with great message points that need to be shared with consumers:

HFCS is: 
  • A natural sweetener made from corn 
  • Handles by the body the same as sugar 
  • Has the same number of calories as sugar 
  • Is nutritionally the same as sugar 
  • Is fine in moderation
For more information about CRA and HFCS, go to

For more blog posts on HFCS:
You can't have Christmas without corn!
Journal clears the air on high-fructose corn syrup
Websites offer facts on high-fructose corn syrup
High-fructose corn syrup gets bad rap
Podcast: Ag myths abound the popular press and bad TV shows
HFCS: Spreading the truth about the sweet side of corn
Good report on HFCS
Podcast: Some facts about HFCS

March 10, 2010

Video: What does it mean to be a member of NeCGA?

That question was posed to several Nebraska Corn Growers Association members recently.

Their answers -- all good and important -- were recorded on video and uploaded to YouTube. You can check out the video at the NeCGA YouTube channel or click play below.

Farmers featured include David Merrell of St. Edward, Larry Musack of Decatur, Elgin Bergt of Schuyler and Brandon Hunnicutt of Giltner.

The farmers note that membership in NeCGA helps give them a voice -- and that membership is just as necessary for their operation as seed and fertilizer. Farmers have to be advocates for agriculture, and membership is another way to invest in that -- taking one voice and combining it with many to be heard.

To learn more about Nebraska Corn Growers, click here.

March 9, 2010

Sun Chips: There's a bit of Nebraska in that compostable bag

Have you seen the commercial of the Sun Chips bag breaking down in a compost pile before giving way to a green plant growing above? If so, you've witnessed a bit of Nebraska. (If not, click here, as Frito-Lay has the commercial online.)

How so?

Well, that 100 percent compostable snack-sized bag is made from PLA -- PLA that is produced from corn at the NatureWorks plant in Blair, Nebraska.

PLA stands for polylactic acid, a pretty versatile resin that can be used in everything from gift cards to coffee cups, from packaging to fabrics - and more. All in all, it's a pretty handy polymer that replaces non-renewable, petroleum-based products like polyethylene and polypropylene.

As Frito-Lay noted in materials about the new Sun Chips bag (click here - .pdf):

PLA is made from lactic acid. Lactic acid is made from dextrose by fermentation. Dextrose is made from starch and starch is made from carbon dioxide and water. Because it’s made with plants that grow annually instead of petroleum (which takes millions of years to form) the impact on greenhouse gases is much lower.

NatureWorks LLC has trademarked this material with the name Ingeo(TM), and this new biopolymer is the world’s first and only performance plastic made from 100% annually renewable resources. Corn-based Ingeo biopolymer offers the cost and performance necessary to compete with traditional petroleum–based materials in the packaging and serviceware markets. Frito–Lay has worked closely throughout the packaging supply chain to develop a way to use this material for our package.

The new 100 percent compostable Sun Chips bag are rolling out to stores across the country by the end of April (by Earth Day, as noted in the commercial that aired during the Super Bowl), although existing snack-size bags (10.5 oz) are already one-third PLA, the company said last year.

Early reviews of the bags have been very positive - although some folks say the bags are noisier than the old ones. As the Sun Chips noted in this Twitter post, though, a little noise is a fair trade off for a lot greener package.

For more on PLA:

March 8, 2010

Podcast: Leadership At Its Best helps develop activists for agriculture

In this podcast, David Merrell, a farmer from St. Edward and a member of the Nebraska Corn Board, discusses the the National Corn Growers Association's Leadership At Its Best program.

He noted that the program includes two training sessions - one in North Carolina and one in Washington, D.C. These programs, he said, help people become activists for agriculture and cover everything from media training to arranging and conducting meetings on Capitol Hill.

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

March 6, 2010

Tweeps use social media to connect at Commodity Classic 2010

The largest ever "tweet-up" was held at Commodity Classic this week for all those in agriculture who are using social media, like Twitter, to promote ag. The "tweet-up" was simply a meeting for those on twitter -- also known as a "tweep" -- to actually meet in person and connect with people who we all know in the twitterverse.

Many of the tweeps there already knew each other by their twitter handle (i.e. twitter name, such as @NECornBoard), so in introductions, we took time to learn each other's real names and what their role is in agriculture. There was also interesting discussion on how each tweep was using social media differently in their respective fields of agriculture.

(Photo tweeted by @agchick)

Nebraska was well represented by having the largest population of tweeps there! In no particular order (and if I missed someone I apologize!): @NeCGA, @MikeHowie, @SustainableGreg, @megamaru, @iamafarmer2, @cornfedfarmer@NebrNancy and @ag4front.

All week at Commodity Classic, Twitter-users used the hashtag, #Classic10, to link all of the information that was tweeted from the convention. Tweets from the Classic included: California’s Secretary of Ag, Kawamura’s address to corn and soybean delegates; U.S. Secretary of Ag, Tom Vilsack’s comments to producers; workshops about crop, fertilizer and financial management; and even fun facts and pictures from the trade show were tweeted and related using this insignia.

To view the conversations and notes from #Classic10, click here.

Want to see some pictures from Commodity Classic? View the Nebraska Corn Board’s Flickr photostream here, or AgWired’s photostream here.

Vilsack speaks to producers, Commodity Classic 2010

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, spoke to producers at the 2010 Commodity Classic yesterday. He started his presentation by voicing his admiration for producers and the important jobs they do, while admitting he was a little nervous to be in front of such a significant group!

To hear the podcast of Secretary Vilsack's speach, click here.

Afterwards, Secretary Vilsack was able to talk with producers on the trade show floor at the NCGA booth.

Look for more up-coming posts about Commodity Classic 2010!

March 5, 2010

Video: The Axis of Access revealed (caution: rated EX)

Fifty years ago - in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. - an ambitions plan was hatched that changed the world.

For more - watch the video:

March 2, 2010

If a reporter calls...don’t hang up!

In the agriculture world today of social media, new technology and reporters wanting to learn more, being prepared for a potential interview is crucial. If a reporter calls...don't hang up! This may give them the impression that we don't want them to know something about agriculture. An interview gives farmers and ranchers a voice for agriculture, the chance to tell our great story, and the ability to express food production as being transparent and open. However, an interview-gone-bad could give consumers a negative image of the food we produce and the way we farm.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a media training with the Nebraska Cattlemen as part of their Young Cattlemen Conference. The purpose of this media training was to prepare producers to be ready in the event that a radio, TV or newspaper reporter comes to the farm and wants to ask questions. They even put me on camera to see how I would do under pressure!

I learned some great tips and want to share them:

Before the interview:
  • Get to know the reporter
    • Read their previous stories. Do they tend to write positively or negatively towards agriculture?
  • Ask them what they’ll be interviewing you about
    • You don’t want to assume they’ll be asking you about your feeding practices when in the middle of the interview they bring up using growth promotants or E. Coli, topics you’re not prepared to answer.
    • Also, ask them their deadline. This can give you more or less time to think.  
  • Prepare message points.
    • Message points are what you want the audience to hear. Choose facts, examples, analogies and anecdotes that will support your story.
    • For example, if the reporter wants to interview you on production practices, answer his/her questions by always going back to the point that your family farm works and cares for your livestock, grows safe crops and are producing safe food for consumers.
  • Anticipate what questions the reporter may ask – easy or tough – and prepare answers ahead of time.
  • Never conduct an interview “on the fly.”
    • When a reporter calls and wants to do an interview over the phone, ask to call him/her right back, or set a time in which to conduct the interview.
  • Set a time limit for interviews and conduct them at a place on your operation that will look good on television (if for TV interviews).
The interview:
  • Remember, this is a chance to tell your story. Answer the reporter’s questions and move on to what message you’re there to portray.
  • Bridge to your messages with simple connecting phrases:
    • “Yes, but that’s only part of the story…”
    • “I’m not the best person to answer this question, but what I do know is…”
  • Flag reporters to key messages with attention-getting phrases:
    • “The bottom line is…”
    • “The most important thing is…”
  • Deliver messages followed by the key facts and example of your personal story.
  • Use language that a consumer understands.
    • Example: Instead of, “our operation” which makes some consumers think of a cow on a surgery table, say, "our family farm/ranch.”
  • Be yourself and show your pride and passion for agriculture and the safe food and products we produce for consumers.
It’s never too early to get prepared for an interview. Do you feel you could answer questions right now on irrigation and water use in Nebraska? Or the benefits of feeding corn co-products, such as distillers grains, to livestock? Or the use of high fructose corn syrup in foods?

Getting a handle on these topics will help prepare you for a future interview and will give agriculture the voice it needs here in Nebraska and across the country.