February 28, 2014

Farmers make grain bin safety a priority


gbswlogoThis week, the ag industry put a focus on grain handling safety with the marking of Grain Bin Safety Week.

We want to promote safety awareness because working in and around grain bins can be very dangerous. Flowing grain can completely engulf a worker in seconds.

Horizontally crusted grain is like a bridge and can collapse and immediately bury farmers walking across the top of it. The collapse of crusted grain on the side of a bin is like an avalanche that can break bones or bury workers.

People can suffocate with only 12 inches of grain covering them because the weight of the grain prevents movement. (View the the Nebraska Corn Board’s 2011 “CornsTALK” newsletter which featured still-relevant information about grain entrapment, including the types of engulfment and contributing factors.)

We want to encourage farmers to be diligent and train their family members and workers on the hazards of working in and around grain bins and discuss what to do should an accident occur.

The National Corn Growers Association has produced a video (watch here) on the subject in conjunction with the National Grain and Feed Foundation (related to the National Grain & Feed Association) that talks about the hazards of flowing and lodged grain. It also discusses how an engulfment can impact a family and farm operation.

The industry has even more reason to celebrate and create safety awareness this year as the Department of Labor's (DOL) decision to withdraw enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) small farm grain bin guidance. While OSHA's concern with grain bin safety was appreciated, improving farm safety is a collaborative, cooperative process that was not helped by OSHA's enforcement under the just-rescinded 2011 guidance document that was not consistent with the law.

This is important to Nebraska as recently, a Nebraska farmer with one non-family employee was assessed a fine of over $130-thousand dollars by OSHA

Bob Stallman, AFBF President, noted the issue had generated a good deal of concern both on the farm and in Congress, "Farm Bureau appreciates the efforts on this issue by the House Education and Workforce Committee, including Worker Protections Subcommittee Chairman Tim Walberg (R-Mich). We also commend Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) for coordinating bipartisan letters drawing attention to this important issue. We encourage DOL to reach out to farm groups to help develop additional farm safety programs. Preventative measures would better serve OSHA's and the farm community's shared goal of farm safety."

AFBF and Nebraska Farm Bureau are encouraging farmers to contact Senator Mike Johanns and Congressman Adrian Smith and thank them for their efforts in encouraging the DOL to withdraw enforcement of OSHA regulations on farm grain facilities.

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) is honoring Grain Bin Safety Week this year by echoing the importance of grain bin safety, and reminding its members of the organization’s training materials and upcoming safety seminar.

Each year, NGFA teams up with state grain associations and offers regional safety seminars. The next one is slated March 26 in Fargo, N.D., and is sponsored by NGFA, North Dakota Grain Dealers Association, Minnesota Grain and Feed Association, and South Dakota Grain and Feed Association. The seminar provides the tools needed by successful operations to comply with federal and state regulations. It will include an update on the status of several OSHA regulatory issues, an overview of key Grain Handling Standard components, NGFA guidance documents, and the revised OSHA Hazard
Communication Standard.

For further information, see the seminar schedule of events and registration form.

February 27, 2014

What consumers say…


Recent consumer research from The Center for Food Integrity found three key perceptions about the food system in the United States:

  1. Consumers believe industrial processes are inherently impersonal. People cannot relate to them.
  2. Consumers believe that anything produced at a large scale has a greater opportunity for error—and thanks to the incredible efficiency in our food distribution system, the impact of error is faster and greater.
  3. Consumers believe that larger entities will put profit ahead of public interest—and put their obligation to shareholders ahead of responsibility to consumers.

“It’s very clear that consumers want to trust their food system, but they find it more difficult to trust a ‘company’ than a ‘person’,” said Alan Tiemann of Seward, a farmer-director on the Nebraska Corn Board. “That’s why it is increasingly important for all of us in agriculture to take the personal responsibility to meet consumers, listen to what’s on their minds and do what we must to answer their questions and earn their trust and confidence.”


February 25, 2014

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: A GMO story

Dr. David Holding, Assistant Professor Plant Molecular Genetics, Research in his laboratory focuses on understanding endosperm hardening during maturation and its relationship to protein quality in maize. 2010 photo for Center for Plant Science Innovation shoot. Photo by Craig Chandler / University CommunicationsBefore genetic modification, the alkaloid levels in that tomato on your BLT could have killed you. And instead of corn on the cob, you’d be eating a handful of birdseed.

Genetic management and selective breeding have been used for centuries (Gregor Mendel and Luther Burbank, anyone?). Today, we’re just doing it better.

As farmers and ranchers work to meet the daunting challenge of feeding an exploding global population, they continue to grow more with less – less water, less land, less fertilizer and pesticides, and less impact on the environment.

Currently, genetically modified (GM) crops—also referred to as “biotechnology”—are an important part of a farmer’s portfolio. But they are not an end-all solution.

“The research we do is not an either-or proposition; it’s a continuum,” said Dr. Sally A. Mackenzie, the Ralph and Alice Raikes Professor in the department of agronomy and horticulture in biological sciences at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. “We’re not able to predict what biotechnology will give us. It’s a tool in an increasingly robust toolbox.”

Genetic modification

Dr. Mackenzie says that genetic modification simply refers to human intervention to create a different genetic combination to create a desired outcome.

“We’re using transgenes to create gene combinations that result in diversity and enhanced performance. The outcomes rely on the genes themselves and how they are expressed within the plants.” This same concept is being used in animal research and in human health research for cancer and other diseases
Researchers are focused on helping plants overcome stresses, challenges and inhibitors that keep them from achieving their full genetic potential. Epigenetics is one emerging technology that involves temporarily adding a transgene to a plant and then removing it—while leaving the effects of that transgene intact within the plant. This can lead to more vigorous plants, more biomass and more production.

“With epigenetics, what you eat is not transgenic, but transgene technologies were used to affect the performance of the plant,” Dr. Mackenzie said.

“There has not been a single documented case of a food allergy or human health situation due to crop biotechnology.”

Researchers are also looking at the microbes the plants live with, which dramatically impact the way a plant uses water and nitrogen, and interacts with pathogens. This approach doesn’t change the genetic complexion of the plant, but instead strives to better understand and manage the environment around the plant to optimize its performance.

“GM foods unsafe” is a scare tactic.

 Corn field and center pivot irrigation in south central Nebraska. July, 2010. Photo by Craig Chandler / University CommunicationsDr. Mackenzie says that assertions that GM foods are unsafe is a distortion of the truth— and in many cases, is a scare tactic used by special interest groups to gain financial support and media attention. “There has not been a single documented case of a food allergy or human health situation due to crop biotechnology,” Dr. Mackenzie added. “It has never been unsafe or unhealthful. When we see distortions of the truth, the first place we should look is at who is benefitting from this misinformation.”

When asked about concerns about insects and weeds becoming resistant to GM crops, she asserts that this concern cannot be placed at the doorstep of biotechnology.

“There is nothing about GM technology that causes weeds to become tolerant to herbicides, just as there is nothing inherent in our medical system that makes us more resistant to antibiotics,” she said. “Just as any doctor needs to be responsible in prescribing medications, farmers need to be careful stewards of their crops—regardless if they are growing GM or non-GM varieties.”

Dr. Mackenzie said that genetics have long been part of agriculture. For example, the original corn was much like birdseed—and the alkaloid levels in the original tomato would be fatal to humans. Ruby red grapefruit is sweeter because gamma radiation was used to mutate the genes to express themselves in that manner.

This is what feeds us.

“Carrots, wheat, corn—Mother Nature never meant for us to eat any of them. Plants resist being eaten,” Dr. Mackenzie said. “All the crops we eat are essentially manmade through conventional breeding. This is what feeds us. Today we’re more precise and we can better manage change thanks to advancements in knowledge and technology.”

“Transgene plants will be part of our future; they must be, “ Dr. Mackenzie said. “Our problems are so challenging, so daunting that we don’t have the luxury to depend on alternatives that are less sustainable or less productive.

“If we’re going to meet global food demand over the next 30 years, we need to pull out all the stops. This is our generation’s equivalent of the putting a man on the moon.”

View Dr. Mackenzie’s presentation as part of the UNL Heuermann Lecture Series.

February 24, 2014

After the EPA comments. What’s next?


blenderpump_3We are now in a holding pattern from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hear about next steps concerning their proposed ruling to cut-back on the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

The corn-industry had big push last month to send comments and letters to the EPA. In remarks submitted to the EPA, supporters of the RFS have chided the agency’s decision to cut the blending requirements. They point to ethanol’s role in boosting the agricultural economy and promoting financial growth through the creation of jobs, tax revenue and other benefits. Many worry lowering the federal mandate could harm that growth.

“The bottom line is that this proposal would have a devastating ripple effect on investment in ethanol plants, their production and the jobs they support — as well as the surrounding communities,” Dave Glasnapp, an investor in an ethanol plant in Gowrie, Iowa, said in a comment to the EPA according to an interview on Brownfield.

Soliciting public comment on a government proposal is a normal step in the regulatory process. After the comment period closes, the EPA reads those remarks and considers whether to make changes to its proposal before issuing a final rule.

Overwhelming number of comments

rfs lettersThe large number and the tone of the comments on this proposal illustrate what’s at stake: billions of dollars and a clearer picture of the future of renewable fuels use in the United States. From Nebraska, over 6,000 total number of comments were submitted to the EPA. The over 212,000 number reflects actual comments submitted in both opposition and to keep the proposed ruling.  The bulk letters Nebraska Corn Board sent were counted as one until the EPA counts and reads each comment.

EPA is obligated to read each comment that was submitted before the comment period ended.  Comments received after the comment period will be noted but do not have to be read and taken into consideration of their final ruling. 

A change to the Renewable Fuel Standard would alter the blending requirements for renewable fuels including corn ethanol. In the past, the EPA largely followed the annual level requirements put in place by Congress, helping to drive new markets and spur demand for the renewable fuel. The proposed reduction — a move even some in the oil industry have called substantive — would shift the process to one that sets the requirements based on expected market demand.

So now that the comment period is closed, what’s next?

The EPA is on their own timeframe.  We are hoping they make a ruling by this summer on the 2014 requirements, and at the same time, release the 2015 requirements. 

The proposal by the EPA, which oversees the country’s Renewable Fuel Standard, would cut the fuel requirement in 2014 to 15.2 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels, 3 billion gallons less than Congress required in a 2007 law.

It would mark the first-ever drop in the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires refiners to blend ever-increasing amounts of biofuels into the nation’s gasoline supply through 2022.

Next steps if their proposal is passed?

“That is a good question,” said Kim Clark, director of biofuels for the Nebraska Corn Board. “We, the corn-ethanol industry, are expecting the EPA to overturn their proposed numbers and not make any changes to the requirements.”

February 21, 2014

Olympian Curt Tomasevicz for Nebraska Corn– Golden Triangle


DSC_0198We are two weeks into the 2014 Winter Olympics and we are excited to watch our Nebraska Corn spokesman and Men’s Bobsled Olympian, Curt Tomasevicz compete this weekend in the four-man bobsled event.

Curt help out the Corn Board with some special commercials that will air during the Olympics.

As a Nebraskan, Curt understand the importance of agriculture in our state.

How nearly one in three jobs in Nebraska is connected to agriculture.

How farming and ranching support our communities, our schools and our entire economy.

And how our unique Golden Triangle of corn, cattle and ethanol puts Nebraska in a great position to compete on a global stage—and win.

Click here to watch all three!

Predicament at the Pump


Mike and Diane Karr family for Nebraska Corn Board.  September 13, 2013. Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communications*By Diane Karr, CommonGround volunteer and farmer from Blue Hill, Nebraska

When I fuel up my vehicle, I use an ethanol blend without any second thoughts. But what if I wasn’t a farmer?

There are two main schools of thought right now on ethanol. While ethanol industry promotes it, the petroleum industry promotes fear of it.

A reduction in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has been proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and some members of Congress. The RFS is legislation that sets targets for blending ethanol with gasoline. The EPA is proposing a reduction of 1.4 billion gallons.

On one hand, the ethanol industry points out that the RFS decreases our dependency on foreign oil, that ethanol is a cleaner choice for the environment, and that the RFS provides strong economic support for the cities and farms in the Midwest.

On the other hand, the petroleum industry tells consumers that ethanol damages engines, raising corn is destructive to the environment, and agricultural subsidies hurt the poor. However, when we read between the lines, vehicles with improved fuel efficiency have led to decreased demand for gasoline. This has left the petroleum industry wanting to increase its market share and bottom line by reducing ethanol blend targets. If you are holding a petroleum company in your investment portfolio, this benefits you. It’s ironic that oil interests express concern for the poor while they boast record profits and unapologetically stick it to consumers at the pump!

All mudslinging aside, here’s what I know as a farmer:

  • We’ve used ethanol for over twenty years in our pickup trucks and personal vehicles without any engine problems. None of our mechanics has ever advised against using ethanol blends.
  • Corn production on our farm is not destructive or unsustainable. Most of the farmers I know practice similar methods to care for the land and water. (I’ll let you make up your own mind as to what kind of impact you think the petroleum industry has on the environment - such as 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.)
  • 80% of the Farm Bill funds food stamps and nutrition. The remainder supports crop insurance, conservation, subsidies, and other programs. The main intent of agricultural subsidies is to provide economic stability in times of extreme weather or market risk. Connecting subsidies to the plight of the poor is questionable at best.
  • Veterans groups are pro-ethanol.

As a corn farmer, I’m biased. However, we also raise soybeans, wheat, grain sorghum, alfalfa and cattle.  Although corn prices spiked in recent years, it’s when production is high and prices are low that the ethanol industry lends important stability to the market.

I truly predict that a reduction in the RFS would have a negative influence on the economy in the Midwest, which could ultimately impact other sectors of the economy nationwide which have been experiencing a somewhat shaky recovery. When the farm economy is weak, it deals a severe blow to all of rural America. During the 1980s Farm Crisis, we didn’t just lose farmers. We also lost small town businesses and population which eventually triggered a wave of school consolidations. When farmers can’t replace and update equipment, it affects manufacturing sector. The ripple effect reaches all consumers eventually. Ethanol production is a homegrown American industry that benefits our economy with thousands of jobs beyond just farmers. While domestic petroleum is considerable, there’s no denying that there are foreign firms who want you to use less ethanol.

Until I’m convinced otherwise, a little ethanol at the pump never hurt anybody; but letting petroleum interests determine our opinion of it could be painful to us all in the long run.

*You can read Diane’s blogs, and other posts from farm women across Nebraska at CommonGroundNebraska.com!

February 17, 2014

February Corn Spotlight: Insulation

February is traditionally a month of variable weather in the Midwest, and so far that trend has held true this year. This month alone we have gone from being bundled up with our snow boots on, to wearing only a coat in the matter of a week. If it wasn't for the help of insulation our houses would be experiencing the same temperature swings.

In times of extreme weather people often look to their furnace or air conditioner to provide them with comfort and even though these two units play a big part in keeping us comfortable we often forget about the importance of our insulation. Without insulation we would have nothing to keep that energy in. Traditionally insulation has been comprised of foam and fiberglass. However, new technology is proving that corn stalks that are pressed can be used as an effective form of insulation that is considered to be a "green" energy source. Many tests are currently being done on corn insulation to see if it indeed would suffice as a source of insulation. So far, some of the corn insulation assessed properties (ex. density, fire resistance, and durability) show adequacy of this product for building applications, such as a thermal insulation product, a ceiling coating, or a lightweight partition wall.

Corn insulation has also won awards for being a renewable, clean, insulation source. The only problem is not many people know about this product. Grants are being developed that are to be used to promote corn insulation and to draw awareness to its environmental benefits.

So the next time you are putting up that new barn, or remodeling that room you always wanted changed, consider using corn insulation as a cleaner alternative.

February 14, 2014

Love for Pork Burns Strong in U.S.

Valentine's Day is almost here and a new consumer tracking study finds Americans have an enduring love for pork. Key research findings released by the Pork Checkoff show more U.S. consumers rate their enjoyment of pork higher than in previous studies. Those participating in the Pork Checkoff study were asked to rate
pork cuts on a 10-point scale - resulting in a demonstrated increase in the volume of consumers ranking pork as an eight or higher. Other than price - the study shows the top three drivers of meat purchases for consumers are quality, appearance and convenience. According to the tracking study - the checkoff's consumer target has grown to 43-percent of U.S. households - up from 36-percent in May of 2013. The checkoff points out the consumer target was just 27-percent of U.S. households in 2010. The growth is attributed to people rating pork cuts higher and their confidence in cooking great meat. The study also found that a majority of all fresh pork eaten - 84-percent at-home and 80-percent away-from-home - is consumed by a Pork Checkoff target consumer. The total percent of pork eaten by this target consumer grew significantly since the Pork Be inspired® campaign was introduced in 2011. Pork Checkoff Domestic Marketing Committee Chair David Newman says the checkoff believes the campaign is making a distinct difference in the marketplace and how American consumers view and buy pork.

The results of the tracking study are reinforced by the Pork Checkoff's key measure of domestic marketing - real per capita consumer pork expenditures. Using USDA data - consumer pork expenditures measure both the volume and value of pork sold in the United States. Data through December 2013 showed per capita pork expenditures grew by 5.6-percent from 2012 to 2013

February 12, 2014

A new Farm Bill…finally.


The agriculture industry has been waiting for years. Literally. For the day a new Farm Bill – or the Agriculture Act of 2014, is signed into law. 

After several years of deliberations, multiple extensions, and countless hours of work, President Obama is signed the Agriculture Act of 2014 at Senate Ag Chair Debbie Stabenow’s alma mater, Michigan State University.

According to Brownfield news, Chairman Lucas says this has been a long time coming.  “I’ve told my committee members I feel much better now that it’s passed the House, it’s passed the Senate, and the President has signaled he’ll sign it,” he says.  “When you consider how much effort it took to get here and when you consider how difficult this process has been, I’m not sure I will sleep with both eyes closed until the dry ink copy of the bill gets to the National Archives for filing.”

Ahead of the bill’s signing, President Obama said the Agriculture Act of 2014 is a sign that Republicans and Democrats can come together in Washington and work together. “With this bill we break the cycle of short-sided, crisis driven partisan decision-making and actually get this stuff done,” he says.  “It’s a good sign.  And that’s the way you should expect Washington to work.”

Farm Bill. Jobs Bill. Conservation Bill. Food Bill.

Despite its name, the President reminds us the Farm Bill doesn’t just help farmers. “Secretary Vilsack calls it a jobs bill,” he says.  “An innovation bill.  An infrastructure bill.  A research bill. A conservation bill. It’s like a Swiss Army Knife.”

Now that the Farm Bill has been signed, it’s up to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to implement the programs.

To do that, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack says teams for each Farm Bill title have been put in place.

“We’ve asked those teams to identify the rules, regulations and guidelines that have to be adopted because of new or different modifications to existing programs,” said Vilsack.

The Secretary says another group will be responsible for prioritizing what needs to be done first.

“For example, it’s fairly obvious to me that we have to have the disaster assistance for livestock operators restored as quickly as possible because these folks have been waiting for a couple of years,” the Secretary said. “There’s a new dairy program, there’s obviously a revenue protection program, there are slight changes to crop insurance, and those things are obviously priorities.”

Listen to the audio interview with Vilsack from Brownfield, here.

February 11, 2014

Olympian Curt Tomasevicz for Nebraska Corn–Ethanol


DSC_0095The 2014 Winter Olympics has been going strong for a few days. In Nebraska, we are especially proud of our Nebraska Corn spokesman and Men’s Bobsled Olympian, Curt Tomasevicz.

Curt help out the Corn Board with some special commercials that will air during the Olympics.

Everyone knows that ethanol has been good for Nebraska corn farmers.

But it's actually been good for all of us.

We've created jobs and reduced our dependence on imported oil.

We've made the air cleaner—and kept fuel prices in check.

Our rural communities are stronger—and young people are coming back to live in them.

Supporting ethanol isn't just about farmers. It's about every Nebraskan and every American.

Watch for more commercials on the blog or click here to watch all three!

February 10, 2014

Bridging the gap in feed vs. food debate


In the video posted here, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) uses information from its Issue Paper, Animal Feed vs. Human Food: Challenges and Opportunities in Sustaining Animal Agriculture Toward 2050, to educate consumers disconnected from the food they eat.

Dr. Larry Berger, Department of Animal Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and professors from other universities, shares about meeting the need of feeding the growing population, and battles misconceptions presuming animal agriculture competes for human food supplies.

Dr. Jude Capper also talks about land that is suitable for food production. Obviously, we can grown corn well here in the “Cornhusker” State and Montana can raise cattle well because of the grassland. Not all land is suitable for any type of agriculture, therefore we can’t grow more food crops on land that it is not suitable for.

Dr. Berger says, "During the last century, many consumers lost touch with food production; they need facts to make wise choices."

Take time to watch this video and share with influencers you know in your community.

February 6, 2014

Olympian Curt Tomasevicz for Nebraska Corn–Gold Standard


CurtT_Suit_Straight (2)The 2014 Winter Olympics begin today! In Nebraska, we are especially proud of our Nebraska Corn spokesman and Men’s Bobsled Olympian, Curt Tomasevicz.

Curt help out the Corn Board with some special commercials that will air during the Olympics.

In Curt’s world, all of his training comes down to a few seconds racing down an icy track.

But Nebraska corn farmers are performing at the top of their game every day.

Using technology and talent to grow more with less.

Protecting the water, soil and wildlife.

Producing food, feed and fuel to meet worldwide demand.

In growing Nebraska's gold, they're setting the gold standard for sustaining innovation.

Watch for more commercials on the blog or click here to watch all three!

February 4, 2014

Solitude by Curt Tomasevicz

One of my favorite Olympic moments isn’t captured anywhere on video or in a picture. It isn’t the gold medal run down the track or even the flag raising ceremony. Of course, I’ll always remember the Star Spangled Banner being played as I watched Old Glory being raised in the air just a little bit higher than the Canadian and German flags. But my favorite memory took place just before that last run.

A bobsled race is set up so that the sleds go down the hill in reverse order of rank in the last heat. That means that the last place sled goes first and the team in the lead thus far will go last. During the first three of the four heats at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, my team had built nearly a half second lead over the second place team. That may not seem like much time, but in bobsled terms, that is a huge lead.

The warm up area for bobsled athletes is not that glamorous. We basically warm up in the parking lot behind the start house at the top of the track. Each athlete does a variety of dynamic movements and static stretching to get ready to be at their absolute best for the 5 second push. So as the second heat started and progressed, the warm up area became more and more deserted. And soon the only team still warming up, was the four guys from the USA.

We could hear the crowd cheering in the distance for the teams that were starting their final run. The crowd was getting louder and louder as the anticipation built for the final few sleds. But through the noise and the excitement, there was a certain calmness with our team. I remember as the Canadian team left the warm up area leaving just us, I looked at Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler, and Steve Holcomb. We didn’t have to say anything, but we had an unspoken feeling that we were about to make history. We controlled our nerves and excitement and kept a level head. But the anticipation was there.

It was one last quiet moment before chaos broke loose. It was team solitude. A few minutes after that, we crossed the finish line in first place and we were pulled and thrown in a million different directions. It was a storm of media, drug testing, and packing our luggage all before the medal ceremony. Things were never the same as they were in that last moment before our final heat.

Farmers sped a lot of time alone. It could be in the field, checking cattle, working on equipment. And although I love being a part of a team, I think those moments alone help make a better person.

Every spring, usually in April, I help a family friend on his farm. I usually help stock chop or disk depending on his crop rotation that year. I don’t usually have much more than about a full week to help. But during that week I typically put in ten hour days. It is a lot of time alone in a tractor with nothing but the radio for entertainment. And I have to admit that I really enjoy the time of solitude. It is my time after the busyness of the bobsled season and just before the strenuous workouts of the off-season. It gives me time to reflect and to prepare.
The view from my hours of farm solitude
It is rare that people believe me when I tell them that my week of farming in the spring helps me prepare for the bobsled season. But those quiet hours in thought remind me of my greatest Olympic memory. It’s the calm before the storm…

Help us wish Curt good luck in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi! Be sure to watch Curt and the USA Men's Bobsled team and follow updates on his Facebook page.