December 30, 2011

In victory for ethanol, low carbon fuel standards ruled unconstitutional

The California Air Resources Board made a few changes to its low carbon fuel standard this month -- finally recognizing that some of the dirtiest oil on the planet, such as oil from tar sands, should perhaps not be considered on par with other oil sources.

This was an important change because the ARB the rules as they were essentially said tar sands oil was "cleaner" (had a lower carbon score) than renewable ethanol. Absurd anyway you look at it.

In fact, the ARB has mostly ignored any carbon intensity in oil -- instead only focusing on the carbon intensity of biofuels, including a shaky (at best) theory on land use change put out there by an "environmental" lawyer. Certainly that was a bit carbonated, which is why so many had a problem with it (see links below), and why ethanol groups filed a lawsuit in 2009.

(Of course Big Oil wasn't a fan of ARB's change, but that isn't a surprise since the original rules gave oil a free pass.)

Yet the whole thing may be moot because the lawsuit – filed December 24, 2009 – was answered yesterday by a judge in a Federal District Court in Fresno, California. His conclusion: California's low carbon fuel standard is unconstitutional and in violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In a joint statement, Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen and Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said: "The state of California overreached in creating its low carbon fuel standard by making it unconstitutionally punitive for farmers and ethanol producers outside of the state’s border. With this ruling, it is our hope that the California regulators will come back to the table to work on a thoughtful, fair, and ultimately achievable strategy for improving our environment by incenting the growth and evolution of American renewable fuels."

RFA and Growth Energy filed the lawsuit and asserted that the California low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) violated the Commerce Clause by seeking to regulate farming and ethanol production practices in other states. They said the Commerce Clause specifically forbids state laws that discriminate against out-of-state goods and that regulate out-of-state conduct.

The court found that the LCFS discriminates against out-of-state corn-derived ethanol and impermissibly regulates extraterritorial conduct. As a result, the court issued an injunction. The judge also ruled that the ARB failed to establish that there are no alternative methods to advance its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming.

The ARB can, of course appeal.

Related pieces/history:

December 29, 2011

Podcast: Allowing the use of ‘corn sugar’ on labels makes sense

In this podcast, Elgin Bergt, a farmer from Schuyler and member of the Nebraska Corn Grower Association, talks about a petition before the Food and Drug Administration that is seeking approval to allow an alternative name – corn sugar – to be used by food companies instead of the term "high fructose corn syrup."

The FDA has yet to rule but Bergt said makes sense to allow the name change because the term corn sugar more accurately describes what the ingredient actually is – a sugar made from corn. He said ingredient names on food labels should be clear and reflect it in no uncertain terms.

"I don’t believe you can get much clearer than the term corn sugar," he said, "and the name change would help consumers to better and more easily identify all added sugars in the foods they buy."

In a letter to FDA, both Nebraska Senators said they support the name change, and so do many other individuals and even editorial boards in Nebraska.

For more, click on the icon above and check out these two recent posts:

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

December 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday | After harvest


Howells-Clarkson (5)

During corn harvest, the stalks, husks and cobs are spit out of the combine. After harvest, what is left on the field, called residue, plays an important role for the environment and health of the soil. Read more here:

EPA announces final numbers for 2012 RFS


Recently, the EPA announced the 2012 RFS2 numbers for renewable fuels. By 2022, the annual renewable fuel target is 36 billion gallons as set in the RFS2. To reach this goal, each year the EPA calculates a percentage standard of renewable fuels that must be sold.

The table below compares the volumes and percentages for 2011 and for 2012 EPA numbers.EPA numbers

When comparing the 2011 and 2012 numbers, renewable fuels volumes will increase approximately 1.25 billion gallons for 2012, and we can expect a 1.22% increase of all fuel used to be a renewable fuel in 2012.

The amount of cellulosic biofuel will increase over 2 million gallons in 2012 compared to 2011. There are a couple cellulosic ethanol plants in the Midwest that should begin production in 2012.

Also, slight increases in biomass-based biodiesel and advanced biofuel volumes in 2012 compared to 2011 are shown.

These standards, set by the EPA, for 2012 ensure that a minimum volume of renewable fuel is sold as required by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

For more information, visit the EPA website here.

December 26, 2011

Nebraska enters second winter with La Nina conditions


Flooded corn field west of Ashland, Nebraska.  Photo by Craig Chandler / University CommunicationsDrovers CattleNetwork reported last week that Nebraska is entering its second straight winter with La Nina conditions in the Equatorial Pacific, but the Nebraska state climatologist said that won't necessarily mean the same kind of winter in 2012.

With the redevelopment of La Nina conditions this fall, there was considerable discussion among climatologists as to whether 2011 winter trends would return in force during this upcoming winter, said Al Dutcher, Nebraska state climatologist.

So far the answer is no, he said.

"In layman terms, the current La Nina is rated as a weak to moderate event, compared to last year's rating of exceptionally strong," he said.

Essentially, the upper air lows moving across Texas are robbing the northward transport of moisture into the northern Plains, he said. As a result, the upper Plains trough moisture patterns are dependent on Pacific Ocean moisture instead of the Gulf of Mexico.

"Unfortunately, this Pacific moisture is intercepted by the northern Rockies and Cascades before it reaches the northern plains," Dutcher said. "During the past 30 to 45 days, more moisture has fallen across portions of south central Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, and north central through northeast than fell in the previous 12 month period.

"Nebraska has been caught dead center between these two pieces of energy," Dutcher said.

If the southern plains low begins to lift northeastward before the northern plains trough arrives, enough moisture moves northward to produce rain and/or snow. If the northern Plains trough wins out, then a dry and cold pattern materializes and the southern plains moisture gets shunted east of Nebraska, he said.

What does this mean for corn farmers?

The two competing forces of energy eventually merge east into a strong upper air trough east of Nebraska, which results in heavy moisture events for the eastern Corn Belt.

"As long as this pattern continues, areas of southwest through east central Nebraska will likely have the best opportunity to receive normal to above normal moisture," Dutcher said.

Read more about the La Nina conditions, here.

December 23, 2011

Podcast: Re-rating crop insurance premiums is a good move

In this podcast, Tom Nathan, a farmer from Meadow Grove and member of the Nebraska Corn Grower Association, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency decision to re-rate crop insurance premiums for corn for the 2012 crop year was a positive move by the agency.

"This was a big announcement because it is an issue that corn farmers and their membership associations, like the Nebraska Corn Growers and National Corn Growers, have emphasized to USDA for a number of years," Nathan said.

Crop insurance is supposed to be a roughly 1 to 1 ratio. In other words for every dollar paid in, one dollar is paid out. For corn farmers, though, that has not been the case for a number of years, as farmers were paying in more in premiums than what was being paid out in benefits.

Nathan said RMA was dropping rates 7 percent for corn farmers and 9 percent for soybean farmers.

RMA said it was improving the formulation of its rate-making methodology to establish a more fair premium rate for farmers. The methodology is based on findings from an independent study and peer review process. "We are pleased farmers will not face a widening gap between losses paid to corn farmers and premiums charged to growers for coverage," Nathan said.

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

Nebraskans Shouldn’t Surprise Anyone - by Curt Tomasevicz

As I compete in my 8th year of bobsledding, I think that it’s time that I address some of the bullying that I’ve experienced along the way. (Of course, I am speaking half-heartedly because I know all the jokes are done in fun).

It’s a lose/lose situation for me. When I am at home with friends and family, I hear all the jokes that go along with four guys wearing spandex. Everyone has a “Cool Runnings” reference and I’ve heard them all. When I’m with the bobsled team, I am teased about my flat-land, bobsled-less, farm community background. I am referred to as corn-fed and people ask how old I was before I actually saw a bobsled or even a hill bigger than a bump on the ground. They always ask how I even got into bobsledding with the sport’s lack of popularity in Nebraska (as with almost all winter Olympic sports). As I answer them, I am more surprised by their question than they are by my answer.

Nebraskans can accomplish anything. In the past year, I’ve found and met an enormous variety of people that have their roots in Corn Country with some atypical occupations. Most people would claim that many of our most popular celebrities are our great sports stars who get their start at the University of Nebraska.

But even outside of the athletic world, Nebraska has a lot to offer. Last year, I had the privilege of meeting Clayton Anderson, an astronaut from Ashland who has spent almost six months in space. Hearing his stories about traveling 17,500 mph make a bobsled seem as exciting as a walk down the street.

Teresa Scanlan was named Miss America last spring stating that her “All-American roots” are first nature to a Nebraskan. She grew up in Gering, NE and is proud of her life there (even if there isn’t as much corn production as the rest of the state).

Commander Mike Fisher is the head of the USS Nebraska nuclear submarine. Mike uses the Nebraskan way of life to keep his naval troops motivated, working hard, and humble.

Dan Whitney, probably better known as Larry the Cable Guy, hails from the small town of Pawnee City along the Missouri River. As his job requires a huge level of creativity, it’s evident that Larry’s background has an influence on his routine's jokes.

I could continue with a thousand successful Heartlanders who use their talents all over the country and the world. There are authors and scientists, even actors and rock stars. And their stories never seem to completely surprise us. I may still be harassed by my friends about calling a sled my work office, but when I’m asked by other bobsledders about the chances of another Olympic gold medalist coming from Nebraska, I say with confidence that no one should be surprised what the 1.7 million people in the state can do.

December 22, 2011

Data shows Nebraska farmers are growing more on less


Cropland Decreases as Ethanol Production Increases

Sumner-Eddyville-Miller FFA Chapter (1)In the recent USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) report, data show U.S. land used for cropland decreased 34 million acres in a five year period from 2002-2007. This is the lowest since land usage data began collection in 1945. The data also showed that grassland pasture and range land in the U.S. increase by 27 million acres during this same time period, nearly offsetting the decrease in cropland.

In the U.S., land used for urban areas nearly quadrupled since 1945 although the population growth only doubled during this same time period. In addition, U.S. special-use land areas (rural transportation, national and state parks, wilderness and wildlife areas, farmsteads and farm roads increase by 6% from 2002-2007.

What does this data mean? Farmers are growing more crops on less land. They continue to meet the demands for feed, fuel, and fiber while using less cropland. This year in Nebraska, corn farmers produced the second largest crop on record producing 1.52 billion bushels of corn on 9.8 million acres with a yield of 160 bushels per acre.

Nebraska ranks #2 in ethanol production and #3 in corn production. Currently, Nebraska produces about 2 billion gallons of ethanol a year. From the time period of 2002-2007, ethanol production in Nebraska increased 73% to 1.3 billion gallons from 350 million gallons. During this same time period, total cropland in Nebraska decreased 1.15 million acres in Nebraska. When comparing total cropland and ethanol production during this 5-year period, ethanol growth in Nebraska did not lead to expansion of cropland. This data, again, supports the statement that farmers are growing more on less.

NE Ethanol Production

The graph below shows the land use changes in Nebraska from 1945-2007.

NE Major Land Uses

In the USDA ERS report, grassland, land for forest usage, special usage of land and land in urban areas increased from 2002-2007. This is also reflected in the land use change in Nebraska during the same time period. As reported in the USDA report, the decrease in land usage for cropland nearly offsets the increase in land used for pasture and range grassland.

NE Change in Land Uses

Grains Council Corn Mission | Vietnam


By Kelly Brunkhorst, Director of Research for the Nebraska Corn Board

Read Part 1: Grains Council Corn Mission | Japan, here.
Read Part 2: Grains Council Corn Mission | China, here.

Vietnam to me is the wild card. They are price conscious buyers that are importing grains from many countries and with them being part of the ASEAN countries, they have FTAs with many suppliers. Currently they are importing feed wheat to fill in some of their corn needs. While in Vietnam, we meet with a trading firm (operated by a 28 year old), the ATO, feed manufacturer, and a swine operation.

Vietnam has a great desire to be self sufficient in meat protein for their country. This leads to great possibilities of grain exports into their market. In many of the meetings we heard about the expansion and profitability in the livestock sectors and with expansion in the 15-17% range.

One issue that we did have substantial discussion on at one meeting was in regards to fumigation and the requirement from the Vietnam government on the use of methyl bromide. We talked about the phase out of the use of this product and is something that needs to probably be followed up on.


The Trans Pacific Partnership was also raised in Vietnam with their concerns of lower priced meat imports competing with their domestic production. Swine is an expanding sector as is the aquaculture area.

Overall, Eastern and Southeastern Asia countries provide both a mature market in Japan, with a young and expanding market in China and Vietnam. Those countries that we visited with, including our stop in Korea, have concerns about the ability for China to significantly change the flow of corn. This has yet to be seen to a significant extent, but seems that the possibility is there.

Find more pictures on the online Flickr photo album, here.

December 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Cornhusker


Cast in bronze in 2001 from a 1941 plaster maquette.

If you're in Nebraska, you may think this piece is somewhere located somewhere in the Cornhusker state – but it isn't!

It is on display in the Anderson Sculpture Garden at Iowa State University in Ames. Well-known artist Christian Petersen created the original plaster maquette. Many of Petersen's artworks depict rural life.

A description of the Cornhusker noted that the inspiration came to Petersen on a bright October fall day near Nevada, Iowa, where spectators at a corn-husking contest watched Marion Link move rhythmically up and down the rows to win the contest, carry him on to the state championship and runner-up in the national competition.

The description said he is shown just as he looked that afternoon, shearing cob of stalk and husk off cob, then tossing the yellow ears off the sideboard and into the wagon in "a symphony of percussion."

December 20, 2011

Grains Council Corn Mission | China


By Kelly Brunkhorst, Director of Research for the Nebraska Corn Board

Read Part 1: Grains Council Corn Mission | Japan, here.

Due to a snowstorm, we were delayed out of Japan and spent an afternoon in Korea. This also caused us to cancel out on a day of meetings in China. In China, we met with the ATO office, a trading company and a swine operation.

Personally, China is this expanding country that raising a lot of questions. Since everything is so protected, production and stocks wise, you just wait. In meetings with the General Consulate and the ATO office, they described the potential ag imports into China as “immense”. This is due to a greatly and expanding middle class that is seeing meat consumption increase, along with spending. The city of Guangzhou is alone adding 20,000 cars per month to an all ready crowded transportation infrastructure.

But China is the type of country that just does what it needs to be ready. They are expanding ports for imports, buying farm land and investing in port export infrastructure and transportation infrastructure in foreign countries. The Consulate General said ‘beware’ as China is looking at the US next.

DSCF1696China is also expanding the livestock operations which also seemed to be profitable. They are importing swine and dairy genetics from various countries including the US. In regards to corn, the US is filling the market but China is working out quarantine issues with other countries to expand the possibilities. This is also the first market where we heard that they are importing US alfalfa and being used not only in the dairy sector, but also pelleted and used in aquaculture.

China is also looking at free trade agreements with Japan and Korea, but they seemed to be just in the infancy stage.

China is a relationship country and one were you need to establish a great relationships with the buyers and end users.

Find more pictures on the online Flickr photo album, here.

December 19, 2011

Grains Council Corn Mission | Japan


By Kelly Brunkhorst, Director of Research for the Nebraska Corn Board

DSCF1455I recently traveled with the U.S. Grains Council on the 2011 Corn Mission to Japan, China and Vietnam, which also included a stop in Korea. This blog will be one of three in a series about the mission, starting with Japan.

Over the nearly two weeks of the mission, we traveled approximately 20,000 miles, spent approximately 60 hours in an airplane or airport and saw four different countries.

Japan is a very formal country that has been a solid customer of US corn for a long time. We met with various trade associations representing the feed trade, starch and sweeteners and feed manufactures. We also had meetings with the ATO office, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Zennoh. We had tours with Kushiro Silo (port facility), Tokachi Factory (feed manufacturer) and Oono Farm (beef cattle operation). These took place either in Tokyo or on the northern island of Hokkaido.

There seemed to be a common theme with the associations. First was the concern of future corn supply. They have begun to import from the Black Sea area, but still want the US to be a reliable supplier. It was great to have producers visit with them first hand about their outlook on yields and production. Secondly, the issue of protein came up constantly and took us all by surprise. We nearly apologized after the third meeting and they let us know that they have been bringing this issue up for over a year now. The third issue was around some anti-ethanol sentiment that utilized some of the same anti-ethanol statements we hear in the States. Last, the issue surrounding the 2009 corn quality is still brought up.

Japan is also the one country that we heard from on the mission that still imports a fair quantity of non-GMO (genetically modified) corn.

DSCF1566Within their livestock industries, they seemed to be profitable. The one beef operation was interesting. They were very transparent with the cost of production when making sales. The producers, both Holsteins and F1 crossed Holsteins and Waygu beef. This was a top-notch operation that sells the cattle under both a branded product and through slaughter facilities. Interesting that they feed the cattle out to around 1700 lbs and getting between $5000 - $7000 per head.

Japan is continuing to make improvements in their ports through an initiative to update them to handle the post Panamax vessels once the Panama Canal expansion is complete.

The last issue that was also brought up was the discussions of Japan entering into the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Everyone that we discussed this with were against it, although some thought there may be some advantages to them, but didn’t outweigh the concerns.

Japan, as does Vietnam, has a big concern on China becoming a big importer of corn and how it may shift the dynamics in the industry.

Find more pictures on the online Flickr photo album, here.

Factors that affect your fuel economy


By Kim Clark, Ag Program Manger for the Nebraska Corn Board

In my previous blog it was mentioned that when using E85 in your flex fuel vehicle, you may see up to a 25% reduction in fuel mileage compared to E0.

Several factors that affect the fuel mileage when using the same fuel type.

  • Road conditions: potholes, dry pavement versus wet
  • Weather conditions: Wind, rain, snow
  • Driver: each driver has their own driving style (acceleration and deceleration speed, driving speed, etc)
  • Rapid acceleration and braking
  • Short trips
  • City driving versus highway driving
  • Short trips versus longer trips
  • Cold weather: Your engine operates efficiently when it is warm
  • The amount of weight in the vehicle
  • Towing

These are only a few of the factors that will cause your vehicle’s fuel mileage to vary when using the same fuel type. There isn’t one of these factors that will cause fuel mileage to vary more than another. Each factor plays a role in fuel mileage reduction. There are ways you can drive more efficiently.

It needs to also be noted that ethanol blended fuels are more energy dense; therefore, when you are using ethanol fuel, your vehicle will get more horsepower. Additional horsepower may be useful in some driving conditions, when towing, driving up inclines, and more.

The bottom line is that fuel mileage varies when fueling with the same fuel type for several reasons and ethanol fuel provides additional horsepower. Now it is up to you, the consumer, to weigh the pros and cons and make the best fueling choice decision.

December 16, 2011

Ethanol fueling Nebraska’s economy, nation’s energy future

Our nation’s dangerous and expensive dependence on imported oil is at the root of many challenges such as national security, economic distress and environmental concerns, said David Nielsen, a farmer from Lincoln and member of the Nebraska Corn Board.

“On top of that, America spends more than $1 billion each and every day on imported oil,” Nielsen said. “That’s money headed out of this country that could be invested right here at home. We need a solution, and ethanol is playing an important role.”

Ethanol provides a domestic, renewable source of clean-burning fuel that provides a market for Nebraska corn, creates local jobs and generates millions in tax revenues.

Of course, ethanol plants aren’t using corn niblets to make ethanol.

More than 99 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. is field corn, not the sweet corn humans eat. Field corn is typically fed to livestock or transformed into ethanol and its co-products such as animal feed and food ingredients. “We’re not turning food into fuel,” Nielsen said. “We’re actually turning corn into fuel, feed and food.”

He explained that ethanol production uses only the starch in the corn kernel. The rest of the kernel, including fiber and protein, then becomes a high value livestock feed called distillers grains, which is widely used in livestock production.

Corn used to be fed in its raw form to livestock, and it still is in many cases.

Over time, however, livestock producers have increased the ratio of distillers grains in rations with significant positive results. “Distillers grains have become a preferred feed across the U.S.,” Nielsen said. “It helps create delicious red meat, poultry and dairy products enjoyed all over the world.”

December 14, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: 2011 Fall Harvest

Have you seen our 2011 fall harvest videos? If not, they are definitely worth watching! Step into the combine or tractor and hear what our corn farmers have to say about this year's corn crop and how technology has transformed the way they get their crops out of the field!

To see more of our videos about Nebraska corn farmers and the corn industry, make sure to visit our Youtube channel at The Cob Squad!

The economics of higher ethanol blends

By Kim Clark, Ag Program Manager for the Nebraska Corn Board

In my last blog, I talked about flex fuel vehicles (FFVs), how to determine if you own a FFV and the benefits of using ethanol blended fuel, but there are pros and cons to everything, including the use of ethanol.

Although you have increased horsepower when using ethanol blended fuel, fuel mileage may decrease as the amount of ethanol in your fuel increases. However, studies have shown the optimal ethanol blend to use before you begin losing fuel mileage is E30, a mixture of 30 percent ethanol and 70 percent gasoline. At this ratio, you maintain your fuel mileage but pay less at the pump. A win-win situation!

As the ethanol ratio increases above 30 percent, fuel mileage may decrease. The largest decrease in mileage is typically seen when using E85. Studies show about a 25-30 percent reduction in mileage with E85 compared to E0.

This is important to know when fueling your FFV. Traditionally, E85 has been priced well below E0 to take into account the difference in fuel mileage, and you are saving money at the pump when using E85. However, not all gas stations offer E85 or other mid-level ethanol blends. Our website has a list of stations that do offer ethanol blended fuels up to E85.

Ethanol fuel pricing we have seen at the pump in the last few years has included a fuel blenders tax credit of 45-cents per gallon of ethanol blended. The credit – VEETC, the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, is set to expire at the end of this year.

In the future, we may see the price of E85 and other mid-level ethanol fuels (like E20 or E30) priced similar to E0. Will it be beneficial to use ethanol blended fuel when prices are similar given the reduction in fuel mileage? The answer is, yes!

As mentioned previously, a reduction in fuel mileage isn’t noticed when using a mixture of 30 percent ethanol or less. You may see a reduction in mileage when using ethanol blended fuel greater than E30 and the price at the pump may not make it economical to use, but we need to make a conscious choice to utilize ethanol both to reduce our reliance on foreign petroleum and realize the benefits to the environment.

To determine if it is economical to use E85 or other midlevel ethanol blends, calculate your cost per mile. This is calculated as:

Cost per gallon of fuel x (the number of gallons used to fill your vehicle / number of miles drives)

While there may be times when using a higher ethanol blended fuel is not economical, we need to remember all the benefits of using ethanol blended fuel:
  1. You are using a Nebraska grown, renewable fuel.
  2. You are helping to reduce our dependence on imported oil.
  3. Ethanol promotes energy security and independence.
  4. Ethanol creates jobs right here in Nebraska.
  5. It produces energy from a natural resource.
  6. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  7. Ethanol provides flexibility and consumer choice.

December 13, 2011

Council corn mission told to expect strong Chinese demand

The Nebraska Corn Board’s Kelly Brunkhorst discusses
U.S. corn supply and demand with representatives while in
Japan as part of the U.S. Grains Council’s 2011 Corn Mission.
Tell your children to stay in agriculture because demand for U.S. farm products will continue. That was the overriding message members of the 2011 U.S. Grains Council’s Corn Leadership mission heard while visiting China, Japan and Vietnam earlier this month.

“Discussions with the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office in Guangzhou, China, led us to the conclusion that strong demand for a number of U.S. farm products will continue,” said Kelly Brunkhorst, director of research for the Nebraska Corn Board and a member of the Corn Mission, in a news release.

“In addition, the general consultant went on to describe United States agriculture trade opportunities with China as ‘immense,’” he said. “Such opportunities for trade provide a great outlook for U.S. farmers.”

During the 10-day mission to Southeast Asia, the group visited the southern China city of Guangzhou. Located in the Pearl River Basin on the South China Sea, Guangzhou is the largest feed manufacturing center in China. With a population estimated at nearly 15 million and average income of $16,800, its rapidly growing middle class consumes the most meat protein in China.

“China is very sensitive to food security issues and stability is job one for the government,” said Jorge Sanchez, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Trade Office in Guangzhou. “The government wants to keep farmland producing food and China has the ‘invisible boot’ that pushes farmers to produce, but the government also knows there never will be nearly enough land to meet demand and I don’t see yields growing or more farmers going into production.”

In the past, China supplied corn to other Southeast Asian countries but that changed in 2010 when the country became a net corn importer. For the coming marketing year, China is expected to import nearly 3 million metric tons of U.S. corn, making it the fastest growing, and second largest, U.S. corn customer. Sanchez said Chinese corn imports could grow to between 4 million and 10 million metric tons annually. However, policy and infrastructure issues pose potential threats to this business.

For example, inconsistent biotechnology policy and a lack of asynchronous approval for new U.S. biotech events is a potential issue U.S. corn growers are watching in China. Sanchez stressed the importance of relationship building on the issue to avert cargo rejections. His office is working through social media in China to proactively build consumer confidence in biotechnology.

Those on the mission also spent time in Japan and Vietnam, assessing corn markets first hand and meeting with grain buyers, end users and government officials.

While in Japan, the team met with officials at the Kushiro Port in Hokkaido. Port officials detailed plans to expand the port’s capacity to accommodate larger vessels. Kushiro is the largest port facility in the heart of Japan’s major dairy producing area.

“This construction ensures Japan will be able to take advantage of larger ships that will be able to move through the Panama Canal, which is being expanded,” Brunkhorst said. “It shows that our foreign buyers are investing in grain handling infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure in general.”

Brunkhorst said those they met with in Vietnam made it clear the country is working to be more self-sufficient in terms of meat protein. “They are expanding their livestock operations as a result,” he said, “and that provides opportunities for feed grains and related co-products.”

December 12, 2011

Can I flex fuel?

By Kim Clark, Ag Program Manager for the Nebraska Corn Board

As I began writing a blog about fuel prices at gas stations and how it affects flex fuel vehicle (FFV) owners, I decided that discussing FFVs is a more appropriate blog before talking about filling up your FFV at gas stations and the fuel price.

If you are one of the fortunate 117,000 flex fuel vehicle owners in Nebraska, you have a choice of the fuel you use in your vehicle. You can use any type of gasoline mixture from regular unleaded up to E85 (85 percent ethanol) and anything in between. Does this mean you have to stick to use the same type of fuel all the time? NO!!! That is why your vehicle is called flex fuel.

One time you can fill up with E85 and the next with E30 or E10, and your fuel tank doesn’t have to be empty, either. You have the flexibility to use whatever ethanol blended gasoline is available and fits your needs based on price and performance.

Not all gas stations in Nebraska offer E85 or other mid-level ethanol blends. In fact, only about 50 gas stations offer these higher ethanol blends. Visit our website, to find retail stations that offer higher ethanol blended fuels.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, I don’t know if I have a flex fuel vehicle. You are not alone. On average, 70 percent of motorists don’t know they drive a flex fuel vehicle.

There are several ways to determine if you have a flex fuel vehicle and can use fuel blends up to E85. First, check your owner’s manual. You can also check the gas cap on your vehicle. If you have a yellow gas cap or it reads “E85”, then it is a FFV you can use any combination of fuel from regular gasoline up to E85.

There may also be an emblem on your vehicle that says flex fuel. Some images of fuel caps and emblems that you may see on your vehicle are shown to the right.

Still don’t know if drive a FFV? Ask your mechanic.

What are the benefits of driving a flex fuel vehicle and fueling with ethanol blended fuels? There are several.

First of all, you are using a homegrown renewable fuel grown by 26,000 Nebraska corn farmers. Second, by using ethanol blended fuel, you are helping to create jobs, promote the Nebraska economy, and provide revenue in the state. You are also helping to reduce our countries dependency on foreign oil. Finally, you are reducing greenhouse gas emissions so you are saving the environment.

There are many benefits to using ethanol blended fuel, but there is also one downfall that needs to be discussed. I will save that for the next blog about gas station prices and using ethanol blended fuels.

December 9, 2011

Podcast: USFRA videos airing on Discovery Channel feature Nebraska farmer

In this podcast, the Nebraska Corn Board's Kelsey Pope and farmer Shana Beattie provide some insight into videos created by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA),  in partnership with Discover Communications.

The videos involved farmers and consumers meeting around a table to talk openly. They began airing before Thanksgiving on Discovery’s networks, like the Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet. Shana Beattie, a farmer from Sumner, Nebraska, took part in the videos.

The videos were filmed on an almond farm in California. Several consumers around a table were there to ask questions of the farmers and ranchers. "Farmers included dairy, beef cattle, hog, eggs and fruit and vegetables," she said. "My role was to give the perspective of a grain farmer and as a mom."

Beattie, who is also a CommonGround volunteer, noted that while everything was filmed for TV, the conversations were real, and so were the questions. "We answered honestly and openly. In the portions I was involved in, the consumers at the table were moms," Beattie said. "They told me afterwards that they really had a different perspective of what we do after our conversation."

She said that was most rewarding and encourages others to speak up, too.

Check out the podcast for more — and watch an extended version of the video below. USFRA, if you recall, hosted the Food Dialogues in September, and you can find more videos and information there.

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

December 8, 2011

Blender’s credit set to expire

By Kim Clark, Ag Program Manager for the Nebraska Corn Board

The end of the year is quickly approaching along with Christmas and the end of VEETC (Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit), or the blender’s credit. This time last year, we didn’t know if VEETC was going to be extended another year, but it came down to the December 31 deadline and Congress extended VEETC for one more year, and now it will be expiring at the end of the year on December 31.

The blender’s credit or VEETC, is a $0.45 per gallon of ethanol credit for blending with gasoline. The credit began to give big oil companies an incentive to blend ethanol with gasoline. It is commonly misunderstood who receives the blender’s credit. It is NOT ethanol plants, but the companies that blend the ethanol with gasoline to be sold at gas stations where you fill up your vehicle.

In order to keep the prices down at the pump, this savings is reflected in the price when you fill up your vehicle. Hence, passed onto you – the consumer.

With VEETC expiring at the end of the year, what does this mean for the price of ethanol blended fuel at gas stations beginning in 2012?

Below are some charts that show the average prices at the pump in October this year in Nebraska. The first chart shows the average prices at gas stations with VEETC available while the second chart shows the average prices to be paid at the gas station without VEETC. These are the prices will more than likely be seen the beginning of 2012.

Chart 1: Average October prices at gas stations with VEETC
chart 1_VEETC

Chart 2: Average October prices at gas stations without VEETC
chart 2_VEETC
Now, if we really did see prices at the pump similar to the prices in Chart 2, ethanol blended fuels are still cheaper, but with the mileage loss when using E85, it isn’t economical to use E85 based on this price.

Fortunately, there are a few more factors that play into the prices consumers pay at the pump. One main factor is the price of oil and the price of gasoline. Based on these two factors and their future’s price for January 2012, the chart below (Chart 3) is an estimate of prices at gas stations based on the current futures market. These prices fluctuate daily so this is only an estimate.

Chart 3: An estimate of January gas station prices based on the price of oil and ethanol in the third week of November.
chart 3_VEETC

The prices in Chart 3 are based on the futures prices. These prices are comparable to the prices we saw in October because the ethanol futures are $0.46 per gallon lower than gasoline. Remember, this is only an estimate based on the current futures market.

Why was there such a sharp decrease in ethanol price compared to a couple months ago? The answer to the question is somewhat complicated, but in short, companies are blending ethanol with gasoline this year to take advantage of the blender’s credit and storing it to be used in 2012 leading to an additional supply of ethanol blended fuel with a low demand.

There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of cost savings, especially since the price is being reflected at gas stations. As I am writing this blog, the futures market for oil and ethanol are the main contributing factors to the price of ethanol blended fuel at gas stations, but other factors also play a role.

In the next blog, I will discuss how the price at the gas station affects consumer, specifically flex fuel vehicle owners.

Read other blogs about VEETC and the importance of ethanol in Nebraska:

December 7, 2011

Can Nebraska corn farmers continue to grow more with less?

Nebraska farmers aren’t just growing record amounts of corn. They are doing so on fewer acres—using less water, less energy and less fertilizer and chemicals.

In fact, the average yield for the 2011 corn harvest was 160 bushels per acre—a 32-bushel increase from just nine years earlier. How can that happen? It’s a combination of new ideas, innovation and just plain working smarter. (It's sustaining innovation!)

One way to work smarter is conservation tillage. “You don’t see many farmers using plows any more,” said Alan Tiemann, a farmer from Seward and chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board. “New tillage practices focus on disturbing the soil as little as possible. That cuts back on the number of trips across the field—saving fuel and reducing soil compaction.”

It also leaves residue, such as cornstalks, in the field to conserve soil moisture, reduce soil erosion, provide nutrients and reduce irrigation and fertilizer requirements.

New hybrids and genetic advancements have also led to corn seeds that simply grow better under a wide variety of conditions. By continually combining the best of the best, seed geneticists are increasing the yield potential of the seeds. Additionally, these seeds carry traits that resist pests and disease—and that not only leads to increased yields, but also helps farmers cut back on the amount of chemicals they use.

Tiemann also noted that farmers are more efficient then ever when it comes to water usage. “Corn sweats, which is known as transpiration, and Nebraska farmers are working with University of Nebraska researchers to measure just how much moisture a corn crop loses during a hot spell,” he said.

Soil moisture monitoring also helps farmers understand the true amount of moisture available to their crops. By knowing more, some farmers have cut back on the water they use without seriously affecting yield. That saves both water and fuel.

A modern tractor cab is a technological marvel. GPS systems keep tractors on line to eliminate overlaps in planting and fertilizer application while satellite mapping ensures farmers apply just the right amount of fertilizers and chemicals in just the right place.

“This allows farmers to vary planting rates and fertilizer application rates based on soil maps, yield maps and other data that streams into on-board computers,” Tiemann said. “It’s just another way we can grow more corn more efficiently.”

December 5, 2011

CornsTalk reaches bigger, broader audience

The Nebraska Corn Board recently published its CornsTalk newsletter, although this version of the newsletter is different than previous versions of CornsTalk.

Instead of being mailed just to corn farmers in the state, this version of CornsTalk was inserted into dozens of weekly newspapers across Nebraska.

More than 250,000 copies were printed as part of the project, with a goal of reaching a bigger and broader audience, allowing more people to get a new look at corn production and agriculture as a whole within the state. From corn to ethanol to livestock! From Sustaining Innovation to FFVs.

You'll even find a photo of gold medalist Curt Tomasevicz in Japan while promoting Nebraska beef and NASCAR Nationwide driver Kenny Wallace at Husker Harvest Days.

You can download the November CornsTalk here.

December 2, 2011

The Importance of having Youth in Agriculture!


Agriculture has definitely been a big part of my life. I was fortunate to be able to grow up and work on my family’s farm operation located in central Nebraska. Because of this, I was able to learn how our food was produced and also learn the meaning of hard work. I learned that farming and ranching is no easy task and that it takes patience, passion, and dedication to do it every year. However, if I was not able to work on a farm at a young age, I would have never learned these things, and most importantly, I may not even have an interest in agriculture. Luckily, I did have that opportunity, just like many other youth who work on farms. Unfortunately, not everyone understands these lessons that can be learned from working on a farm or ranch.

Most of us have already heard that the Department of Labor (DOL) is looking at proposing new regulations that would prohibit youth from performing normal tasks on a farm or ranch. Those tasks being prohibited include working with livestock, operating equipment, and even operating certain power tools. These new regulations would even prohibit youth from working for other farmers, even if they are relatives. Youth would only be allowed to work for farms that are operated by their parents and are NOT incorporated farms. In today’s world, almost all family farms are incorporated because of certain incentives they receive. While I don’t disagree that safety for our youth who work on a farm or ranch is very important, I do disagree with the DOL on the fact that what they are imposing not only reduces job opportunities for youth in rural places, it also limits the life experiences they can gain from working on a farm or ranch. Our youth that work on farms and ranches are able to learn where their food comes from and also the true meaning of hard work. It also allows them to have a job at a young age. Most places don’t hire people under the age of sixteen; so the job opportunities for those under the age of sixteen are very limited. Fortunately, agriculture is a place for youth to work and as I mentioned before, a place where youth can earn money while gaining life experiences at the same time.

While we can sit here and say that youth need agriculture, we also need to remember that agriculture needs youth too! Every year, we find the average age of farmers and ranchers increasing, showing that many of our younger generations are not returning to the farms or ranches, and instead are pursuing other career opportunities outside the agriculture industry. By having youth work on farms and ranches we are able to train the people who will eventually be in charge of feeding our growing world population. Let us not forget that it is predicted by 2050 that our world population will reach 9 billion people! In order to feed this growing population, we are going to need younger generations to be involved in agriculture and if we start limiting their opportunities now, how will we ever be able to get them to return to this great industry in the future? There is no doubt that agriculture needs youth working in this industry, but at the same time we do need to make sure that our youth are working in the safest conditions. However, just from my experience from working on a farm at a young age, I never felt like I was put in unsafe conditions. I was working with livestock at a young age and started driving tractors on my own at the age of thirteen. Although I say “on my own”, I was still being supervised by my father, or if I was working for someone else, they made sure I was safe.

As I mentioned in the opening, I gained many life experiences from working on a farm at a young age and also found the industry I want to be involved in. There is no doubt that agriculture provides many opportunities for youth, such as being able to make money at a young age while also gain experiences that can benefit them down the road. Most importantly, those that are young and work on a farm or ranch gain the true meaning of hard work, and that shows as they get older. Many employers not only in the agriculture industry, but other industries understand that youth with an agriculture background, whether growing up on a farm or working on farm, understand the true meaning of hard work. But, as I mentioned before, agriculture also needs youth so that we can insure that our industry will have the labor supply it needs to feed our growing population. So I ask this last, but important question for the Department of Labor: Why do we want to start limiting the opportunities available that our future generations have when it comes to finding jobs at young ages and gaining life experiences?

Although the comment period deadline has passed, I encourage you to still contact your U.S. Senator or Representative! We need to insure that agriculture continues to provide opportunities for youth so that way we can insure that agriculture has a bright future!

You can also learn more about these new regulations by visiting the National Corn Growers Association website!

Podcast: Supreme Court refuses to hear Renewable Fuels Standard challenge

In this podcast, Carl Sousek, a farmer from Prague and president of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, provides some thoughts on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to not hear a lawsuit challenging the Renewable Fuels Standard, or the RFS.

The lawsuit was filed against the RFS by oil refiners and another group who aims to serve Big Oil.

"We need to remember that the RFS was created by a piece of legislation aptly named the Energy Independence and Security Act," Sousek said. "That name means something because the intent of Congress was clear when it passed that piece of legislation — that domestically-produced biofuels like corn-based ethanol strengthen our national defense and support our economy."

He said the RFS is a key component if we hope to continue reducing our dependence on foreign oil and we must fight vigorously against any attempt to weaken it. In 2010, for example, ethanol plants produced 13 billion gallons of ethanol. That displaced the need for 445 million barrels of oil, saving the U.S. economy some $34 billion.

Sousek also talks about all the distillers grains ethanol plants produce. "Add that in and we’re talking about even more positives for Nebraska’s livestock industries who use this high-value and lower cost feed ingredient," he said. "It increases the economic benefit to Nebraska as a whole."

He concluded, "We need all biofuels, including corn ethanol, to achieve the goals of the RFS, so we can stay on the path of becoming more energy independent and secure."

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

December 1, 2011

Thanking consumers on CommonGround


DSC_0017The holiday season is a time to be thankful and CommonGround volunteers are thankful for the consumers who purchase the food that their families produce on their farms.  Tuesday night, Iowa and Nebraska CommonGround volunteers came together to “Thank Consumers” at Anthony’s Steakhouse in Omaha. 

The evening offered an opportunity for moms, dads, dieticians, bloggers and friends to openly discuss facts about farming and food with the women who are helping to produce it on their family farms.  They also had the opportunity to get their nutrition and food safety questions answered by Dr. Ruth MacDonald, Department Chair of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University. You can catch tweets from the event with the hashtag, #CommonGroundDinner.


Nutrition, food and how food is raised are hot topics right now, and the conversations that happened during dinner could have probably gone all night long.  The goal of CommonGround is to create conversations about food and farming. Between the volunteers and Dr. MacDonald, they were able to answer some great questions from everyone in attendance.


Iowa CommonGround posted some great videos of Dr. MacDonald’s response to questions like pesticide use in fruits and vegetables, hormones in our meat and the safety of GMO’s. Watch her video below or go to their YouTube page.

We are very thankful for all of the consumers that came to the event as well as CommonGround volunteers who took time out of their busy schedules to come and meet with consumers.  Farmers are truly thankful for the consumers who purchase our products at the grocery store.

We want to also thank Dr. MacDonald for taking time out of her schedule to come and answer some tough, yet pertinent questions from everyone who came to the event!

Read more about CommonGround Nebraska on their blog.

For fairness to farmers, consumers, let's switch to 'corn sugar' on labels

A piece with the title of this post on allowing "high fructose corn syrup" (HCFS) to be called "corn sugar" appeared in the Omaha World Herald yesterday. It was written by Carl Sousek, a farmer from Prague, Neb., and president of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association.

This is the second piece in Nebraska's two main dailies in the last week. If you recall, the Lincoln Journal Star took a stand on the issue on Thanksgiving.

Here are a few lines from Sousek, but you can check out the full piece here.
A petition now before the Food and Drug Administration seeks approval to allow the alternate name "corn sugar" for "high fructose corn syrup" as an option on food ingredient labels. The FDA has yet to rule, and it is by no means a sure thing that the FDA will approve the request.

Why the request for a name change? The truth is that the term "corn sugar" more accurately describes what this ingredient actually is — a sugar made from corn. Ingredient names on food labels should be clear and reflect in no uncertain terms what the ingredient is. And you can't get much clearer than "corn sugar." This alternate name would enable consumers to better identify added sugars in the foods they purchase and clear up lingering consumer confusion.

This is not a partisan issue. Both of Nebraska's U.S. senators, Ben Nelson and Mike Johanns, have argued that the name change is entirely appropriate, telling the FDA in a June 24 letter that " 'corn sugar' is a better alternate name for high fructose corn syrup. Consumers better understand its fructose level, calories and sweetness when the term 'corn sugar' is substituted for high fructose corn syrup."

Science also supports the change to "corn sugar." Comparing high fructose corn syrup to table sugar, the two ingredients contain almost equal parts of the two simple sugars — fructose and glucose. The American Dietetic Association stated that table sugar and high fructose corn syrup are nutritionally equivalent.