April 30, 2010

Farm groups talk atrazine at EPA hearing

Atrazine was again front and center in Washington, D.C., this week when farm groups traveled there to add their support for very effective and well-studied herbicide. Three individuals testified before the third in a series of hearings being held by EPA to re-review the herbicide.

Which, of course, begs the question, how many re-reviews do you need? Junk science and false statements shouldn't trigger a response from federal agencies.

Some of those testifying were Jere White, who chairs the Triazine Network and is director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association and Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association; Laura Knoth, the executive director of the Kentucky Corn Growers Association; and Richard Fawcett, of Fawcett Consulting, who shared his expertise in weed science and critical yield gains atrazine provides farmers.

Noting that atrazine has been more extensively studied than any other crop protection product and has continually been awarded a clean bill of health, White commented that growers often ask him, “When is enough enough?”

In 2006, after an extensive 12-year review EPA concluded that the triazine herbicides, including atrazine, pose “no harm” to the general population, including women and infants. It wasn’t until “the New York Times and Huffington Post supplied their version of ‘peer review’ of an NRDC report to certain political appointees at EPA,” said White, that EPA hastily convened the re-review.

White questioned whether this extraordinary break with standard EPA procedures violates standards, and highlighted the enormous burden of material the independent scientists have been asked to digest in a relatively short period of time due to the compressed schedule. White noted that the typical number of studies submitted for review number around 15, EPA "has generously provided you with 123.”

Given that scientific bodies around the world have determined that atrazine is safe to use, and extensive monitoring shows that levels in raw and finished water are steadily declining, White questioned the need for this EPA’s “politically driven second guessing.”

Knoth outlined the profoundly beneficial effects of atrazine to the environment, especially as a result of conservation tillage. By 2008, Knoth noted, “atrazine was applied to 60 percent of conservation tillage and no-till corn acres.” Without such effective weed control, the result would be a massive increase in erosion, “estimated to be more than 300 billion pounds annually.”

Fawcett emphasized the critical importance of atrazine to farmers’ bottom line. Analysis of data from two different decades starting in the 80s and in the 90s, showed a very similar – and impressive – boost in yields in both eras. Average yield gains with atrazine from 1986 to 2005 in university field trials were 5.7 bushels per acre compared to alternative herbicides.

For more, click here.

Podcast: Fear mongers are wrong about ethanol, and there's proof

In this podcast, Steve Ebke, a farmer from Daykin and a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, looks back two years ago this month when "news and magazine articles, bloggers and full-time fear mongers proclaimed that corn ethanol was ruining civilization."

The arguments made by those fear mongers and half-truth tellers was bogus then -- and is now for those who continue down that short-sighted path. Ebke reminds us that there was more corn in storage this month than at any time since the late 1980s -- and that there is more corn being stored just on farms than what the entire ethanol industry will use this year!

In fact, Ebke noted, there is more corn in storage on farmers and grain elevators now than was harvested in 1989.

The words of paid fear mongers aren't worth much, he concludes.

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

April 29, 2010

President Obama talks ethanol, rural development

"There shouldn’t be any doubt that renewable, homegrown fuels are a key part of our strategy for a clean-energy future -- a future of new industries, new jobs in towns like Macon, and new independence," President Obama said yesterday at a corn ethanol plant in Macon, Missouri.

There shouldn't be any doubt about the importance of corn in the ethanol picture, either. After all, that was a front loader full of corn to the side of the President as he spoke in a room that normally holds the corn ethanol co-product distillers grains, a great livestock feed. (Photo from AgWired's Flickr page.)

Talk about making a point!

Hopefully folks were paying attention, especially those who are considering supporting the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC). VEETC is important to continue to grow ethanol demand and prepare for even more biofuels in the future. It's also helps to support jobs.

Following the stop at the ethanol plant, Obama visited a local farmer who delivers corn to the plant and raises beef cattle. Another strong point!

Obama could have visited a hundred other places to talk about biofuels. But he didn't.

Instead, he signaled that ethanol - including corn ethanol - is a critical component of this country's renewable fuel future. Without it, we wouldn't even be talking about renewable fuels today on such a grand scale.

A video of the President's speech is below, courtesy of ZimmComm's YouTube channel and Corn Commentary.

April 26, 2010

Crop update: 23% of Nebraska corn is in the ground

Good planting progress was made in Nebraska and across the country over the past week.

In Nebraska, USDA said 23 percent of the crop was planted as of yesterday, which is up from 5 percent last week. It is also head of the five-year average of 15 percent planted, although the figure is 1 point behind last year's 24 percent planted at this point.

Nationally, USDA said half of this year's acres were planted. This is up from 19 percent planted last week, 20 percent last year and 22 percent for the five-year average.

Mother Nature has been considerably more friendly toward planting this year! In fact, many of the major corn-producing states have passed the half-way point in planting, including Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Indiana.

While many Nebraska farmers had to shut down for a few days following rain late last week, planters are moving in several parts of the state again today. Since a majority of the state’s corn crop is typically planted between April 25 and May 20, there is plenty of time for the crop to get in the ground.

As for emergence, USDA said 1 percent of Nebraska's corn has emerged from the soil, while nationally this figure stands at 7 percent. A year ago no Nebraska corn had emerged, while nationally only 2 percent had. The five-year average is 5 percent emerged by this date.

April 23, 2010

Podcast: Farmers have first-hand understanding of Earth Day

In this podcast, Greg Whitmore, a farmer from Shelby and a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, talks about Earth Day -- and how farmers have made a difference. Who else works so closely with the Earth?

Whitmore also highlights some of the renewable products made from corn, including PLA and ethanol. He notes that farmers have a great story to tell, from what they do on the farm to produce more with less to what can be produced with those products. He concludes by noting that farmers have celebrated Earth Day every day for centuries.

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

April 22, 2010

Corn-based PLA turning up in more places

Corn-basd PLA -- polylactic acid -- is clean, green and renewable, and it replaces petroleum-based alternatives. Since PLA is produced from corn at a plant in Blair, Nebraska, it's nice to feature it here from time to time.

Today being Earth Day, it makes sense to feature it again, even though PLA cups were featured yesterday and those snack chip bags a couple of weeks ago. Oh, heck. Just click here for all the PLA posts. (One of my favorites is "Your corn is calling.")

Today's PLA product came as a surprise during a recent trip to the grocery store. We needed some margarine. And there, before my eyes, was Fleischmann's margarine with a tamper band made from EarthFirst PLA. This wasn't hidden or just saying "made with PLA" -- it proudly proclaimed "made from corn."

Sure, there were lots of margarine brands on the shelf.

But can you guess which one found it's way into my basket?

We're seeing PLA turn up in more and more places -- and that's just the beginning of things that can be made from corn and other ag products to replace those currently made from petroleum.

April 21, 2010

Compostable cups make their way to Nebraska FFA chapters

When FFA chapters from across Nebraska gathered in Lincoln for their convention a couple of weeks ago, many had the opportunity to pick up a case or two of compostable cups courtesy of the Nebraska Corn Board.

The Nebraska Corn Board produced and donated the cups (more than 18,000 in total!) to most FFA chapters in the state, who can then use them for their own annual meetings.

The compostable cups are, of course, made of PLA, or polylactic acid. PLA is produced from corn at a plant in Blair, Nebraska. (Have you seen an ad for compostable snack chip bags? Those are made of PLA, too. Click here!)

This was the first time the board donated PLA cups to the chapters, but it is a great way to reach out to the next generation -- and to their parents and farmers who are involved in FFA.

April 20, 2010

Recognition of Earth Day should include farmers

The 40th anniversary of Earth Day occurs this week – on Thursday to be exact.

While it is a day that was started to inspire awareness and a better appreciation of the environment, it should include the contributions made by farmers every year, the Nebraska Corn Board said in a news release.

“There are a great number of people who should be recognized for their efforts, and farmers should rank right up there with them,” said Alan Tiemann, a farmer from Seward who is chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board. “Farmers have worked with soil and water since the first seed was planted in the ground, and every year we work to become more efficient and produce more corn for feed, food, fuel and fiber on every acre we plant.”

Back when Earth Day was started in 1970, Nebraska farmers harvested well below 100 bushels of corn per acre. Over the last three years, however, farmers in the state have averaged more than 160 bushels per acre. Many farmers averaged well above 200 bushels.

“This increase in productivity allows us to produce more corn with less water, less fertilizer and less energy,” Tiemann said. “The ability to produce more with less has also allowed farmers to help develop new markets for corn, including those that allow corn products to replace similar products made from oil.”

Ethanol, which replaces petroleum-based gasoline, is one example, and corn-based PLA, which replaces petroleum-based plastics and fabrics, is another. The Nebraska Corn Board noted that both are cleaner and greener and come from agriculture.

“In the future there will be many more products made from corn and other agriculture crops that will replace those that are oil-based,” Tiemann said.

While farmers are beginning to make their biggest investment for the year – to plant more than 9 million acres across the state – Tiemann said his goal, as it is every year, is to raise a crop better than in the past. “Each year we have a better understanding and become more efficient,” he said. “It’s what we as farmers do and have always done. It’s why every day is Earth Day for a farmer.”

April 19, 2010

Crop Update: 5 percent of Nebraska corn is planted

While it may be hard to believe that the last 2009 Crop Update was posted just three months ago (click here for harvest in the snow), planting is well underway across the Nebraska and the country.

In Nebraska, USDA said 5 percent of the crop was planted as of yesterday, which is 2 points ahead of last year at this time and 1 point ahead of the five-year average (2005-09). With mostly dry conditions across the state today, farmers are moving quickly to plant as many acres as possible before rain chances increase later this week.

Nationally, USDA said 19 percent of this year's crop was planted -- up from 5 percent last year and 9 percent for the five-year average. It's also a big jump from last week when 3 percent was planted.

Notable states include:
  • Illinois at 34 percent planted (up from 1 percent last week and 1 percent last year at this time),
  • Iowa at 19 percent planted (up from 1 percent last week and 5 percent last year),
  • Missouri at 40 percent planted (up from 9 percent last week and 7 percent last year), and
  • Minnesota at 13 percent planted (up from 1 percent last year and 0 - none - last year).
Mother Nature has allowed farmers across the Corn Belt to get off to a much better start this year!

Nebraska farmers know water-use efficiency

Water is the theme in the upcoming issue of the Nebraska Corn Board’s CornsTalk periodical newsletter. The many stories highlight the increased efficiency that farmers gain by adopting deficit irrigation on corn, conservation practices, and/or different methods of water application. All of these stories highlight technologies and practices that producers continue to adopt or utilize in their farming operations to increase water efficiency.

But another common theme that relates to efficiency in water use, not included in the CornsTalk, is discussion about what corn genetics have done over the many decades.

Whether it be increased fertilizer efficiency, nitrogen fixation or drought tolerance, millions of dollars are spent annually by biotech companies looking for the next big breakthrough. Specifically, in discussion about increasing water use efficiency, farmers continue to look at drought tolerance as this next advancement similar to what Bt or herbicide-tolerant corn did not long ago.

But those in Nebraska can argue that we are already on our way. A map that was released by the University of Nebraska shows the percent of normal precipitation from 2000 – 2009. This map shows areas that were above normal on precipitation.

However, the majority of Nebraska – especially as you look at the main, non-irrigated corn counties, such as Cass, Otoe, Cumming or Lancaster – were at or below normal in precipitation in this time period.
Now, compare this to non-irrigated yields during this same time frame and you will see that yields jumped 77 percent. That’s right, non-irrigated yields went from averaging 84 bushels per acre to 149!
With the information in the upcoming CornsTalk publication, along with the above analysis, farmers continue to prove they are increasing their efficiency and maximizing yields per unit of input.

Just goes to show farmers are Sustaining Innovation!

April 12, 2010

Ethanol: Independent, Clean, Renewable, Peace, Sensible, Economic

A series of TV ads touting ethanol began airing today across four news channels - Fox, CNN, HLN and MSNBC.

The ads from Growth Energy, which had a news conference in DC this morning to talk about ethanol and the messages conveyed in the ads. Meetings about the messages are also happening around the country, including Nebraska.

In DC, Tom Buis, Growth Energy's CEO, said, "For too long, we have allowed our opponents to define who we are. That ends today."

According to the ethanol organization, the six-month, $2.5 million national TV campaign is a first for the industry. More than half the spots will air during primetime.

"This ad campaign is designed to reach beyond the Beltway to communicate those facts about ethanol to the broader American public – people who until now have only heard one side of the story," said (Ret.) Gen. Wesley K. Clark, Growth Energy co-chairman.

Each of the six, 15-second spots focuses on a particular message about ethanol: Independent, Clean, Renewable, Peace, Sensible and Economic.

I've embedded two here, but to see the others, click here.

This video is about energy independence:

This spot is on the economics of ethanol:

April 9, 2010

Podcast: Blend Your Own Ethanol program offers incentives for installing blender pumps

In this podcast, Randy Klein of the Nebraska Corn Board discusses the Blend Your Own Ethanol program, which the Nebraska Corn Board is supporting. As part of the campaign, the Corn Board is offering a $5000 grant to the first 10 stations that install a blender pump.

This incentive is in addition to federal incentives that reimburse via a tax credit half of the cost to install a blender pump or e85 pump, up to $50,000. Grants from other ethanol organizations may also be available.

Blender pumps allow retailers to sell e10, mid-level blends like e20 and e30 and e85 from the same pump and same tank of ethanol. All of these blends are allowed in Nebraska and across the country – although blends beyond e10 are only targeted towards flex fuel vehicles.

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

April 8, 2010

Not extending ethanol tax credit would cost Nebraska nearly 14,000 jobs

Nebraska would lose more than 13,700 jobs should the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) not be renewed before it expires in December, the Nebraska Corn Board said in a news release yesterday. The release was response to a study released by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

VEETC provides oil refiners and fuel blenders a 45-cent per gallon tax credit on each gallon of ethanol they blend with gasoline. The credit provides an important economic incentive to invest in equipment to blend and use ethanol, which in turn supports growth and advancements in the sector, the Nebraska Corn Board said.

“VEETC is an important component of our renewable fuels program, and now is certainly not the time to stunt the growth of biofuels or shock rural communities with significant job losses,” said Jon Holzfaster, a director of the Nebraska Corn Board and chair of the National Corn Growers Association ethanol committee. Holzfaster is a corn and cattle producer from Paxton.

The study, conducted for RFA by ENTRIX, an economic consulting firm, concluded that not renewing VEETC would cost the United States more than 112,000 jobs because as much as 37 percent of the ethanol industry would shut down. Since Nebraska is the second largest ethanol producing state, more than 12 percent of those jobs would be lost in and around mostly rural Nebraska communities that support an ethanol facility.

Some job losses would come from those directly involved in ethanol production, while other job losses would be caused by a reduction of dollars spent by ethanol producers – dollars that would normally flow throughout all sectors of the economy.

“There is legislation in front of Congress right now that will extend VEETC beyond December 31, when it is set to expire. It is important that Congress act on this legislation to keep renewable fuels on track,” he said.

In Nebraska, 20 ethanol plants are located in the third Congressional district, more than any other district in the U.S., and another four are located in the first district. “Those who support ethanol and rural economic development need to make sure their representatives understand the importance of VEETC,” Holzfaster said. “We’ll need their support to ensure it is renewed as quickly as possible.”

On a national scale, the research shows that not renewing VEETC would eliminate some $2.7 billion in state and local tax revenues and another $2.4 billion in federal tax revenue, reduce household income by $4.2 billion and reduce the gross domestic product by $16.9 billion, further eroding the economic output of the U.S. manufacturing sector.

April 7, 2010

Podcast: Bill on trade with Cuba a reminder of importance of grain exports

In this podcast, Joel High, a farmer from Bertrand and a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, discusses the importance of developing markets for corn, particularly when it comes to global trade. He also highlights a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would increase opportunities to trade food and ag products with Cuba.

Also - did you know that NeCGA redesigned its website? Check it out!

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

Agvocacy at its best; AgChat Foundation

Nebraska farmers, and farmers around the United States and Canada are getting more involved with agriculture advocacy – online!

The weekly AgChat Twitter conversation was started for farmers and consumers alike as an open forum to answer questions about agriculture and food production. This new form of social media for those in agriculture has helped energize and inspire many farmers to engage online to agvocate for their industry using social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook.

Agriculture advocate and public speaker, Michele Payn-Knoper started AgChat one year ago, and this venue has led into a great resource for both farmers and foodies. Now it is bigger than ever.

This week, the AgChat Foundation was announced via Twitter as a way to connect people on both sides of the food plate.

This farmer led group “is designed to empower more farmers to leverage social media as a tool to tell agriculture’s story. The Foundation will educate and equip farmers and ranchers with the skill set needed to effectively engage on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, Linkedin and other social media services. It will give them knowledge to unlock new tools to effectively tell their story. Research shows that social media is a growing opportunity for farmers to have a stronger voice in educating people about the business of growing food, fuel, feed and fiber.”

The Foundation will host a Board of Directors and an Advisory Board, both farmer led. Nebraskans Zach Hunnicutt, farmer from Giltner, and Brent Pohlman, Midwest Labs in Omaha, will be serving on the Advisory Board for the Foundation. To see the list of Board of Directors and Advisory Board, see this Agwired.com post.

Please read more about the AgChat Foundation and check out the Fan Page on Facebook.