December 29, 2015

Fourth-Generation Indianola Farmer a Pioneer in No-Till Practices

It wasn't that long ago that farmers prepared their fields for planting by tilling the soil repeatedly and creating a pristine seed bed, much like preparing a backyard garden. Today, reduced tillage--including no tillage at all--is considered a best management practice in an effort to preserve soil moisture, reduce erosion and improve soil health. Leaving stalks, corncobs and leaves in the field--known as "residue"--is an important strategy in sustainable farming.

Paul Schaffert, an Indianola, Nebraska, family corn farmer, converted to no-till practices several years ago. In fact, he was named "No-Till Farmer of the Year"--in 1977! Southwest Nebraska typically has high temperatures and little rainfall during the summer growing season, "It's like going out into your garden and putting mulch or straw on top of your tomato plants--and that's what we're doing. We're basically mulching. We're leaving those old stalks and stubble out there to capture moisture for the following crop," Schaffert said. "Now when we get a hard rain in a short period of time, it stays in the field instead of running off, creating ditches and breaking out terraces," he said. Leaving residue in the field is especially critical in the winter. "The more residue we have, the more potential we have of catching one or two snows during the winter--and that can be equal to three to four inches of moisture that stays in the soil," he said. "I think we're picking up a 20 to 25 bushel yield increase with that residue in place."

"Another advantage of residue management is that it will lower the soil temperature in the hot summer months by 10 to 15 degrees. By keeping it cooler, the plant has a better chance of producing a good crop for you," Shaffert added. Schaffert says that one indicator that his soil is getting healthier is an increase in the earthworm population. "By not tilling the soil, we're not destroying their home," he said. "Earthworms create pockets and channels in the soil that allow moisture to percolate into the soil and stay there. Where you have earthworms, you're going to have good till in the soil--good, good, soil."

December 28, 2015

2015 Nebraska Corn Kernels Blog Spotlight

As this year comes to a close, we want to thank our Nebraska Corn Kernels readers for your continued support. We write for you and appreciate feedback and conversations from what we put together. Now is your time to read the most popular posts if you missed them!

Looking at this year in review, here are the Top 12 posts of 2015 - the best of each month.

January - Where's the....pork??
February - Ag Champions contest announced for Nebraska FFA chapters
March - Nebraska Corn Board Presents Awards of Recognition and Achievement
April - World Land Prices
May - 2015 Nebraska Corn Interns Announced
June - Large farms are good for the environment. True or False?
July - Nebraska Farm Family Featured in Exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
August - Time to celebrate or not?
September - Winners of Inaugural Ag Champions Contest Announced
October - Subway’s decision to give in to food-fear marketing
November - 5 Year-End Tax Planning Tips for Farmers
December - Scott Spohn Helps Put the Corn in Corn Flakes

Happy New Year bountiful blessings and harvests to you in 2016!

December 23, 2015

Feed Products Made From Corn


There’s no doubt that corn is one of the world’s most a-maize-ing crops!  It has so many uses that benefit people all around the world.  Over the next few weeks, we will feature a new blog series called, “For the Love of Corn”, where we will look at the six different high-value corn product categories and how they are used.

This week, we will take a look at the high-value corn product category, Feed Products or Co-Products. Corn is a very versatile grain – and when processed in ethanol plants, “wet” mills or “dry” mills, its components can be made into many kinds of feed ingredients for livestock, which the corn and livestock industry call “co-products.” These refined corn feed products provide protein, fiber, minerals and vitamins to feed the cattle, fish, hogs, and poultry that enrich our diets.

Ethanol plants are located across Nebraska, creating a good local market for corn. The plants take that corn and pull out the starch, which is distilled into ethanol for fuel. Some ethanol plants also remove the feed-grade corn oil from the kernel, selling it separately to be used as livestock feed, while others pull out the corn germ, creating corn germ meal. The remainder of the kernel, plus the leftovers from the distilling process, are then mixed together into what is known as distiller’s grains.

Distillers grains are an excellent feed ingredient for livestock – especially cattle – and can be sold dried or “wet” (a mash-like consistency). Dried distillers grains can be stored and shipped around the world, while wet distillers grains are typically used within a short period of time.

In the milling industry, starch is separated from the rest of the kernel (the protein and fiber). The starch component can be left as corn starch, distilled or converted to several kinds of sweeteners, but the other components are used for livestock feed.

The protein portion of starch is typically a golden-colored feed ingredient known as corn gluten meal. Corn gluten meal supplies vitamins, minerals, and energy in poultry feeds; pet food processors value it for its high digestibility and low residue.

The remaining fiber can be combined with with condensed distillery solubles (what’s left over after distilling the starch) to produce corn gluten feed. Corn gluten feed can be dried, made into pellets or sold “wet” (mash-like) for livestock feed—providing a high quality protein and fiber source.

In some cases, the condensed fermented corn extractives, known as steepwater, are marketed for use in liquid feeds. Steepwater is a liquid protein supplement for cattle and is also used as a binder in feed pellets.

December 22, 2015

Foster Farms Bowl - A Connection Beyond the Gridiron

 By Kelly Brunkhorst, Executive Director

When I heard that the Nebraska CORNhuskers would be facing off against the UCLA Bruins in the Foster Farms Bowl, I could not help but be struck by the partnership that already exists between the corn farmers in Nebraska and Foster Farms, a poultry company based in Livingston, California.  Foster Farms is an important customer for the corn grown right here in Nebraska. 

Annually, Nebraska exports 205 million bushels of corn to California for operations such as Foster Farms. Outside of Nebraska's in-state customers of livestock and ethanol, California has become a leading export destination, turning Nebraska corn into value-added poultry, meat and dairy products.

Nebraska corn farmers, through their checkoff, have come to appreciate the demand generated from California's dairy, beef, poultry, and ethanol operations by hosting customer meetings in California and in Nebraska. These meetings have established a better understanding of the demand potential for Nebraska corn along with the challenges of operating in California.   As a function of our checkoff activities, we have worked with contacts in California to help facilitate some of these meetings.    

So as we celebrate Christmas, with thoughts of the following day’s bowl game in our heads, let us not forget the importance beyond the field of play, in this case, the field of corn and increased markets for Nebraska’s number one agriculture commodity. 

Best of luck to the Nebraska CORNhuskers, GO BIG RED!

December 21, 2015

'Un-cool"; COOL law is repealed by Congress

With bipartisan support, Congress passed the $1.15 trillion Omnibus Appropriations Bill on Friday, which funds much of the government through fiscal year 2016. Included in this bill was the long-disputed country of origin labeling (COOL) law for beef and pork which was repealed.

Repeal of the law as it applies to U.S. labels for beef and pork has been a growing topic in livestock circles for several years, coming to a head this month when the World Trade Organization sanctioned $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports by Canada and Mexico.

Colin Woodall, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) vice president of government affairs, said COOL had noble beginnings with the idea that consumers would pay more for products labeled as products of the U.S. But unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Instead COOL has plagued the beef industry with significant costs and caused problems on Capitol Hill and with trading partners, he said.

The long-running dispute between the U.S. and its two largest trading partners resulted in four WTO rulings against the U.S. — found to be in violation of trade obligations by COOL’s discrimination against cattle and hogs imported from Canada and cattle from Mexico.

NCBA calls the COOL repeal a “significant victory for America’s cattle producers.”

“COOL has plagued our industry for many years now, costing us millions and driving us to the brink of retaliation from two of our largest trading partners,” NCBA President Philip Ellis said in a press release following passage of the spending bill. "Cattle producers have had to bear the cost of this failed program for far too long.”

Pork producers also welcome the repeal.

America’s pork producers are grateful that lawmakers recognized the economic harm producers faced from retaliation, National Pork Producers Council President Ron Prestage said in a press release.

“I know tariffs on U.S. pork would have been devastating to me and other pork producers,” he said.

Pork producers are currently losing money on each hog marketed, and those losses would have been exacerbated significantly under retaliation from Canada and Mexico, NPPC contends.

December 17, 2015

Soils Help to Combat and Adapt to Climate Change


2015 International Year of Soils

Healthy soils provide the largest store of terrestrial carbon. When managed sustainably, soils can play an important role in climate change mitigation by storing carbon (carbon sequestration) and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Conversely, if soils are managed poorly or cultivated through unsustainable agricultural practices, soil carbon can be released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, which can contribute to climate change. The steady conversion of grassland and forestland to cropland and grazing lands over the past several centuries has resulted in historic losses of soil carbon worldwide. However, by restoring degraded soils and adopting soil conservation practices, there is major potential to decrease the emission of greenhouse gases from agriculture, enhance carbon sequestration and build resilience to climate change.

The carbon cycle is the exchange of carbon (in various forms) between the atmosphere, ocean, terrestrial biosphere and geological deposits. Most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from biological reactions that take place in the soil. Carbon sequestration occurs when carbon from the atmosphere is absorbed and stored in the soil. This is an important function because the more carbon that is stored in the soil, the less carbon dioxide there will be in the atmosphere contributing to climate change.

Climate change represents a serious threat to global food security, not least because of its effects on soils. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns can have a great impact on the organic matter and processes that take place in our soils, as well as the plants and crops that grow from them. In order to meet the related challenges of global food security and climate change, agriculture and land management practices must undergo fundamental transformations. Improved agriculture and soil management practices that increase soil organic carbon, such as afro-ecology, organic farming, conservation agriculture and agroforestry, bring multiple benefits. They produce fertile soils that are rich in organic matter (carbon), keep soil surfaces vegetated, require fewer chemical inputs, and promote crop rotations and biodiversity. These soils are also less susceptible to erosion and desertification, and will maintain vital ecosystem services such as the hydrological and nutrient cycles, which are essential to maintaining and increasing food production. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) also promotes a unified approach, know as Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA), to develop the technical, policy and investment conditions that support its member countries in achieving food security under climate change. CSA practices sustainability increase productivity and resilience to climate change (adaptation), while reducing and removing greenhouse gases whenever possible (mitigation).

December 14, 2015

Do you want to build a snowman? Game Day Chili recipe.

By Joan Ruskamp, CommonGround volunteer 

We recently got hit by the fourth snow event in two weeks and I just had to take advantage of the wet snow by building a snowman.    I don’t remember the last time I made a snowman because when it snows here my time is spent moving the snow out of the way.    My husband is especially sensitive to songs like “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”  and “Let it snow” because snow means more work. 

When we get a snow event there are several jobs that have to be done.  First the roads must be cleared so that the feedtruck and vehicles can get around.   The next job is getting the bunks clean.  We have a very nice piece of equipment that makes this job much easier than when we had to scoop them all with a shovel.  The bunk blower works well unless you get really wet snow.  Really wet snow usually melts or it has to be scooped.

After the cattle are fed and cared for we get to work removing the snow or piling the snow that is in their pens.   The snow eventually gets hauled out so that the pens can stay dry.  When we get wet snow we keep the cement areas cleaned off and put some type of bedding material down so they have a dry place to lie down.

I have always been amazed at how quickly cattle adjust to weather changes.  They seem to adjust the quickest to cold weather.  Cattle are often seen running around in the snow, kicking up their heels and playing like children.   My favorite sight to see is when they are laying down soaking up the warm sun on a cold day.

One of our favorite meals to enjoy on a cold day is chili soup.  I have a recipe that has gone over very well with our family and when used at large gatherings.  Here is my recipe: 

chili supper pic

Game Day Chili 

2-pounds ground beef
1-46 ounce can tomato juice
1-27 ounce can Bush’s Chili Beans
1-tablespoon chili powder
1-tablespoon onion flakes

Brown the ground beef with onion flakes. Turn crock pot on high and pour in tomato juice and beans.  Drain hamburger and add to crock pot. Sprinkle chili powder on top and stir mixture.  Leave on high for 1 hour or low for several hours. Toppings that go well are shredded cheddar cheese with crackers or corn chips.  It is a tradition in our community to serve cinnamon rolls with chili soup.

December 9, 2015

Corn Sweeteners are "Natural" Sugars


There’s no doubt that corn is one of the world’s most a-maize-ing crops!  It has so many uses that benefit people all around the world.  Over the next few weeks, we will feature a new blog series called, “For the Love of Corn”, where we will look at the six different high-value corn product categories and how they are used.

The first high-value corn product category we will look at is Corn Sweeteners! Corn Sweeteners are one of the most important refined corn products.  Last year, corn sweeteners supplied nearly 50 percent of the U.S. nutritive sweetener market. Corn sweeteners, like sugar and honey, are natural and meet the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) policy for use of the term “natural,” meaning that “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”

Although the FDA has not established a formal definition of the term "natural" for food ingredients, it is accepted that products derived from natural materials are considered natural. The FDA has concluded that "natural" flavors include those products derived from processes such as those used in corn refining. Therefore, corn sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is made from corn—a natural grain product—is consistent with the definition of natural.

High fructose corn syrup, like table sugar, is composed of fructose and glucose. HFCS comes in two compositions—HFCS-42 and HFCS-55. A simple comparison of the percentage of glucose and fructose reveals its striking similarities to table sugar. 
  • HFCS-42 = 42% fructose + 58% glucose
  • HFCS-55 = 55% fructose + 45% glucose
  • Table sugar = 50% fructose and 50% glucose
In fact, due to their similar structures, many health professionals agree that whether it’s sugar from corn or sugar from cane, your body can’t tell the difference—your body metabolizes both the same way.

High fructose corn syrup is one corn sweetener that gets a lot of buzz. It’s that sweet addition that makes your soda taste delicious and can be found in many other products in the grocery store. One of the greatest attributes of HFCS, is its ability to improve food quality—and U.S. food manufacturers have recognized this. HFCS has the ability to preserve and increase product quality while adding taste, texture and freshness. Here is a quick overview of some of the benefits it adds to our food:
  • Texture - Chewy cookies, snack bars and other baked goods derive their soft and moist texture from HFCS since it retains moisture and resists crystallization after baking.
  • Browning - HFCS is a reducing sugar that gives superior browning and flavor to baked goods such as breads, dinner rolls, cakes, cookies and breakfast cereals.
  • Stability - HFCS maintains the long-term quality of beverages and condiments by protecting them from variations due to storage temperature fluctuations or low product acidity.
  • Consistency - High fructose corn syrup has a lower freezing point, so frozen beverage concentrates can be poured straight from the freezer and are easier for consumers to thaw and mix with water.
  • Baking - The sugars in HFCS are quickly and easily fermented resulting in sweeter bread that is more economical to make than with table sugar.
Given all of that, it's not surprising that you see HFCS in a lot of the products you see on the supermarket shelves. And now the next time you see HFCS listed on the ingredient list of your favorite product, you’ll know why. Learn more about how much HFCS is in foods by clicking here.

December 7, 2015

What's 'Appening?! Great Ag Apps for Kids

The holidays are coming, the cold may be blowing in soon and kids will be out of school - so now is the time to get some kid-friendly agricultural apps on your mobile devices for your kids (and yourself!). We've compiled a list of great, educational and fun apps that are geared towards kids, but help people of all ages understand agriculture. They promote ag literacy as well as coordination, small motor and other learning skills for young children. (If you don't have kids, look at the bottom of this post for a link to some other great ag apps!)

  • GrowIt-app from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Do you know where hot dogs come from? Milk? Hamburgers? Eggs? Many will say the grocery store. This app gives students lessons on how agriculture produces the things they love to eat.
  • GrowItKnowIt A game about where our food comes from. 
  • Kernel Quest The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and AdFarm published the 2014 World of Corn Comic book Captain Cornelius: Corn Day Celebration, which celebrates corn and educates youngsters on corn’s important role in our everyday communities.
  • Fooducate With this app you can scan barcodes of food and then it tells you how healthy something is.
  • Agriculture Encyclopedia This app is full of “farm terms” and explains them to the viewer. It’s for all age groups to better understand modern farming practices.
  • Serious Quiz 1.0 This app asks trivia questions including agriculture questions!
  • iLiveMath Farm Fresh This app was awarded the best math education app of last year, this app teaches kids math while using farm references ex. 1 ear of corn + 3 ears of corn = 4 ears of corn, there are three different skill levels so it can be used at any age.
  • Old McDonald Had a Farm This app has a sing along to the “Old McDonald” song but it also has animal games probably would be geared toward younger students.
  • Bizzy Bear On the Farm Kids get to help Bizzy Bear pick apples, collect eggs, feed piglets and baby chicks, make the horse gallop, and navigate the tractor. It is designed for kindergarten and first graders.
  • Agriculture Glossary Agriculture is a science and are through supplying humans by raising the products of soil and the associated industries. The glossary is an easy to use application with comprehensive list of 1300+ terms related to agriculture.
  • FarmGenius Enter with FarmGenius into the world of agriculture precision by New Holland. Cultivate your fields, earn coins, and buy precision land management system that will increase speed and performance of your agriculture machinery. You can choose to farm Corn, wheat or grapes. 3 levels of difficulty. For upper elementary students.
  • Farmers Guardian Logo Quiz Combines everyday farming logos with some of the more challenging logos, How well do you know your farm logos?
  • Tractor Memo Enjoy the world’s first REAL tractor game for kids! Each hit is rewarded with a genuine tractor movie. Ages 2 to 12 years.
  • Farmorama Select your favorite tractor, based on true models and get ready for the big Farmorama tractor race. Easy to drive and challenging to win. As in the real world, correct speed is the key for success. Five different tracks will challenge you with steep hills, jumps, drive through barns, stones and mud holes. Pick fuel cans during your ride and get bonus points.
  • Preschool Games- Farm Animals by Photo Touch Photo Touch is an exciting educational game that helps your child rapidly learn words by sight, sound, and touch. The interface is so easy to use that even a 9 month old baby will delight in using this app.
  • Farm Up! HD The 1930s brought crisis to the agricultural state of Cloverfield. Beginning with a small enterprise, earn coins and keep developing your farm: grow various types of fruit and veggies, breed domestic animals, produce dairy and canned products, and even try extracting minerals, producing planks and supplying folks with all kinds of other materials. Do enough, and you will be able to help the neighboring cities too- numerous families are waiting for your help. Never mind how difficult things are now, times of abundance and good years lie ahead of you. 
  • Farm Animal Puzzles Farm animal puzzles is a great puzzle game for kids, aimed at ages 1-8. Has a total of 36 different farm puzzles.
  • Farming Simulator 2012 Discover a wide, agricultural scenery with fields, roads, your farm as well as a small village. Cultivate your fields with various three dimensional vehicles found in your generous fleet- modeled after original machines and vehicles by prestigious manufacturers. Take a seat at the wheel of authentic farm machines and start your own agricultural enterprise: plow and cultivate your fields, choose the seeds of your field crops out of three plants (corn, canola, and wheat) and fertilize them to accelerate their growth. Sell the harvest and invest it into new equipment.
Are you a farmer or rancher? Here is a great list of {10 pages!} of ag apps great for farmers and ranchers.

December 2, 2015

Farm Sector Profitability Expected To Weaken In 2015

The UDSA Economic Research Service recently published the 2015 Farm Sector Income Forecast report highlighting that both net cash and net farm income are forecast to decline for the second consecutive year after reaching recent highs in 2013. Net cash income is expected to fall by 27.7 percent in 2015, while the forecast 38.2-percent drop in net farm income would be the largest single-year decline since 1983 (in both nominal and inflation-adjusted terms).

Crop receipts are expected to decrease by 8.7 percent ($18.2 billion) in 2015, led by a forecast $8.6-billion decline in corn receipts, a $5.7-billion drop in soybean receipts, and a $2.7-billion drop in wheat receipts.

Livestock receipts could fall by 12.0 percent ($25.4 billion) in 2015, a reversal from the 43.8-percent increase in receipts over 2005-14 period.

The reduction in crop and livestock receipts is largely driven by changes in price rather than changes in output.

Government payments are projected to rise 10.4 percent ($1.0 billion) to $10.8 billion in 2015.

Total production expenses are forecast to fall 2.3 percent, the first time since 2009 that they have fallen year over year. Energy inputs and feed are expected to have the largest declines. Expenses are forecast to increase for labor, interest, and property taxes.

After several years of steady improvement, farm financial risk indicators such as the debt-to-asset ratio are expected to rise in 2015, indicating increasing financial pressure on the sector. However, debt-to-asset and debt-to-equity ratios remain low relative to historical levels.

Declining farm sector assets resulting from a modest decline the in value of farmland, investments, and other financial assetsas well as higher debtare forecast to erode equity by 4.8 percent, the first drop since 2009.

After several years of steady improvement, farm financial risk indicators such as the debt-to-asset ratio are expected to rise in 2015, indicating greater financial pressure on the sector. However, the sector appears to have remained well insulated from solvency risk. printed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's response following the report.

December 1, 2015

Scott Spohn Helps Put the Corn in Corn Flakes

Scott Spohn sees breakfast cereal a little differently than most of us. While most of his fellow corn farmers in Nebraska are growing corn to feed ethanol plants and livestock, Spohn's top customer is the country's most famous name in breakfast cereal--Kellogg's. "Our corn is ending up in everything from Kellogg's Corn Flakes to Corn Pops to Frosted Flakes," Scott said. "It's a point of pride that what we grow is giving people a good start to their day--and it also carries a lot of responsibility." The fact is that most of the corn grown in Nebraska does not end up in human food products. The vast majority of Nebraska's corn crop is fed to livestock in Nebraska and outside the state--or transformed into ethanol. Distillers grains, a co-product of the ethanol process, is also a high-value livestock feed.

However, some Nebraska corn farmers grow "specialty" corn hybrids developed for a specific use. White corn is used in tortillas and corn chips. (Nebraska is also the nation's leading producer of popcorn.) Some corn hybrids have a higher starch content which makes them well suited for ethanol production. A fifth-generation farmer, Spohn has found a good market for his food grade yellow corn by becoming a preferred supplier to Kellogg's. Each year, Spohn meets with buyers from Kellogg's headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, when they visit his farm near Friend, Nebraska, to discuss which hybrids he will grow and to outline the management practices required to ensure integrity and quality--practices that are commonly used by corn farmers across the state. "Kellogg's wants corn hybrids with excellent milling characteristics so they can maintain consistency and quality in their food processing facilities," Scott said. "When corn is fed to livestock or used for ethanol production, it doesn't matter if it flakes or breaks. To a food processor such as Kellogg's, flaking and breaking are bad things."

Grain storage and handling is a critical step in the process since the food grade corn that Spohn grows cannot be mingled with other types of corn. He works directly with the Bunge grain facility in Crete, which keeps Spohn's corn segregated and handles shipments to Kellogg's plants across the U.S. Kellogg's needs corn all year long, not just when it's harvested in the fall. So Spohn has invested in on-farm storage to keep the Kellogg's corn distinct and separate from other corn he grows--and he delivers corn as needed to Bunge throughout the year. "Growing a specific type of corn with exacting standards and unique storage and shipping conditions adds to the workload and expense for us," Scott said. "At the same time, we are able to capture a premium price for that corn that adds value and revenue to our operation." Irrigation is a key factor in Spohn's ability to deliver on his promise to Kellogg's year after year. "Having water available for the crop regardless of weather conditions is huge," he said. "It also helps us manage that corn in ways that result in consistently high quality and reliable yields.

Scott Spohn is proud to be the fifth generation of his family to provide high quality corn for the marketplace. He's implementing practices on his family farm to sustain its value for future generations. "I want to see a sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth generation farmer in our family. This is something I want my kids and grandkids and great grandkids to do just like my grandpa and great grandpa did for me," he said. So the next time you pour yourself a bowl of your favorite corn-based Kellogg's cereal, it might be Scott Spohn's corn that makes your breakfast taste "GRRREAT!"