January 27, 2016

Family Farms Do Exist, Lots of Them

Ask most people across the United States what is happening to family farms, and they're likely to say that few of them exist anymore. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The 2012 Census of Agriculture shows that 96 percent of corn farms in the United States are family-owned operations. What is a family farm? According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a family farm is any farm where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator--including through blood, marriage or adoption.

Hubert Harner, director of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)--a division of USDA--said, "What we found is that family-owned businesses, while very diverse, are at the core of the United States agriculture industry." They are at the core of Nebraska's economy--and have been for generations. Many multi-generational family farms in Nebraska are using innovation, technology, research and talent to grow more with less--and ensure that their family farms stay productive and sustainable for future generations. One major crop that is grown here in Nebraska is corn. The eight types of corn grown in the state are: yellow dent corn, white corn, popcorn, blue corn, sweet corn, high-amylose corn, red corn, and ornamental corn. Yellow dent corn (field corn), the leading type of corn grown in Nebraska, is grown on a total of 8,936,885 acres and is primarily used for ethanol production and livestock feed. The "dent" appears in the corn kernels as the ear dries down for harvest. Overall, a total of 9,216,657 corn acres are planted in Nebraska each year.

January 25, 2016

The Amount of Pesticides Farmers Use is Not a "Latte"

Sometimes the word "pesticide" can be kind of scary and we don't really know what that means for the crops grown right here in Nebraska.

The reality is that the amount of weed killer that a farmer would use in an acre (about the size of a football field) is about the size of a latte.  That's really "not a latte"! Find out what else North Dakota farmer and CommonGround volunteer Sarah Wilson, can surprise you with about pesticide use on the farm in this video.

Since farming and food go hand in hand, enjoy this recipe from one of our favorites, The Pioneer Woman.

Skillet Lasagna

2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jar, 24-oz marinara sauce
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup grated fresh mozzerella
12 oz cooked bow-tie pasta (farfalle), cooked to al dente
8 basil leaves, chopped (or about 2 tbsp dried basil)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the beef with garlic until completely browned; drain fat.
Pour in the marinara sauce.
Add Italian seasoning and S&P to taste.
Stir, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the sour cream and stir until combined.
Add mozzarella and cooked pasta; stir until well combined.
Serve hot with chopped basil on top.

CommonGround is a national movement of farm women who want to share information about farming and the food we grow. Consumers in the cities and suburbs are more disconnected from farm life than ever before, and that disconnect has led to misconceptions about modern farming and the people behind it. We’re a group of Nebraska farm women working to help dispel myths and built trust in farm families again. We want to answer questions and share facts as well as our personal stories of farm life. Please join us in finding our CommonGround.

January 20, 2016

A Consumer Favorite: Corn Oil


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, Corn Oil. Corn oil is a consumer favorite and an extremely beneficial ingredient to the food industry.  By removing free fatty acids and phospholipids from crude corn oil, the oil refining process gives corn oil qualities consumers value most:
  •          Excellent frying quality
  •          Exceptional resistance to smoking or discoloration.

There’s no doubt that corn oil is highly regarded by consumers for its functionality, exceptional flavor, great prices, and health benefits. It is a concentrated source of energy, is very digestible, provides essential fatty acids and Vitamin E, and is a rich source of polyunsaturated fatty acids. To look into these further, below is a quick description of some key health benefits corn oil provides:

Corn oil is an effective component in lowering blood cholesterol levels, as it offers high levels of polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats lower blood cholesterol levels, while saturated fats are approximately twice as powerful in raising cholesterol levels as polyunsaturated fats are in lowering them. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged the unsaturated fat benefits of corn oil in reducing the risk of heart disease.

Blood Pressure:
Numerous human studies show that diets enriched in polyunsaturated fatty acids can significantly lower elevated blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure. Corn oil was used in many of these studies. Corn oil diets have shown blood pressure lowering of about 12% in men and 5% in women who had elevated blood pressure.

Essential Fatty Acids:
Corn oil is a rich source of linoleic acid, which is one of two essential acids necessary for growth and good skin and hair quality. Linoleic acid is labeled "essential" because it cannot be synthesized by the body and must be supplied in the diet.

Corn oil is also recognized as an excellent source of tocopherols. Tocopherols function as antioxidants and provide a good source of Vitamin E. The antioxidant activity of tocopherols are important in health terms; and also in terms of quality of the product as it helps retard development of rancidity.

Learn more about the health benefits of corn oil by clicking here.

Corn oil has made an impact in the food industry.  It has replaced a significant amount of saturated fats in numerous food products and is a top choice for trans-fat reduction. In addition to snack food applications, corn oil is also an effective component in reducing trans-fats in restaurant settings.

Want to learn more about corn oil and how it’s made?  Click here.

January 13, 2016

Cumming Family Farm Spans 122 Years in St. Edward

Brian Cumming is a fourth-generation farmer near St. Edward, Nebraska. The farm has been in the family for 122 years. After getting a degree in Ag Business from a community college, he returned to the farm. "It's in my blood," he said. "It's the only way I know how to live and work." Cumming's 79-year-old father still comes to the farm every day to help when he can and to offer advice and insight. "Dad has been mentoring me from early on," Brian said. "I began attending agronomy meetings when I was 10 years old and he let me start running the planter at a very early age. He told me I needed my own crop to have something for my cows to graze on in the winter." In the 1950's, the Cummings operated one of the largest feedlots in Nebraska. "My grandfather loved feeding cattle and was still buying cattle two days before he passed away," Brian said. Today, they still manage a cow-calf herd comprised of some 200 head, which provides diversity for the entire operation to help mitigate risk.

He tells the story of his aunt Janet who returned to the farm to live with her father--Brian's grandfather--to help him as he aged. While raised on a farm, his aunt had spent most of her life in Omaha. When Aunt Janet saw the cattle being loaded in the truck and headed to market, she turned to Brian and said, "You must be sad about this. These animals are like your pets." "I told her that actually I had worked two years with those cattle to get them to this point--and now I was finally going to get paid for that work," Brian said. "That helped her understand that we're raising and caring for these animals as a business and to provide a healthy, nutritious protein supply." While raising cattle comes with its share of challenges, Brian says it has significant rewards. "Watching a little calf get up on its feet for the first time and take off across the pasture is a great feeling," he said. Brian and his wife Vanessa have six children and one grandchild. His hope is that the farm stays in the family for future generations--and he's doing his part to ensure the sustainability of his operation. "We're using more no-till practices to maintain and build organic matter in the soil and preserve moisture," he said. "We're also using cover crops, which are grazed by our livestock while improving soil health."

January 11, 2016

Transparency Builds Trust

It’s simple: If you increase transparency, you will increase trust.

A new report from The Center for Food Integrity’s (CFI) proved this in when it comes to consumer trust in food. In CFI's latest research, A Clear View of Transparency and How it Builds Consumer Trust, provides proof that transparency builds trust and identifies the most effective practices for building consumer trust.

“Transparency works,” said Charlie Arnot, CFI CEO in a news release. “We have statistical data to show that increasing transparency in farming, food production and processing will increase consumer trust.”

This year’s research is the culmination of three years of work on the concept of increasing food system transparency. Consumers have been asking for greater transparency and there have been varying attempts to define it. CFI’s research not only defines it, but now provides a clear path to achieve it and address the growing skepticism about food.

An online survey of 2,000 people explored which attributes are most important to consumers when it comes to trust-building transparency – policies, practices, performance or verification.

The 2015 research focused on areas that are important to consumers:

  • Impact of Food on Health 
  • Food Safety
  • Impact on the Environment
  • Human/Labor Rights
  • Treatment of Animals Raised for Food
  • Business Ethics in Food Production

The report highlights the 2015 consumer trust research and some best practices that the food system can use as a guide for increasing transparency. The study also reveals who the public holds most responsible for demonstrating transparency, specific areas where they expect transparency, and precisely where consumers want to access information that is most important to them.
Discover more about what CFI is doing and how this research can help farmers reach consumers at FoodIntegrity.org and BestFoodFacts.org

January 6, 2016

The Many Uses of Corn Starch


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, Corn Starch.

When you think of cornstarch, you probably think of the ingredient that comes out of the pantry only when you’re cooking— that helps thicken soups, stocks and sauces. But that’s not all it’s good for. Indeed, Corn Starch is one of nature's major renewable resources and has a wide array of practical uses outside of the kitchen. As a mainstay of our food and industrial economy, many industries rely heavily on the corn industry—and corn starch—because of its consistent quality and superior performance. From pharmaceuticals to paper, people are often surprised by the number of basic consumer supplies that we use every day that are made from or use corn starch. Below is a description of a few of the most popular uses and applications for corn starch.

Oil Refining & Mining
Corn starches, and dextrins (a roasted starch), are used in hundreds of adhesive applications, while some special types of starches are used in the search for oil as part of the "drilling mud," which cools down superheated oil drilling bits and is used to improve the efficiency of the ore separation processes. Corn-derived ascorbic acid will also be used in oil drilling fluids to protect against iron corrosion and prevent the formation of ferric oxide.

Super Market Staples:
Starch is literally found in thousands of supermarket staples, which are produced using both regular and specially modified starches. Many of today's instant and ready-to-eat foods are produced using starches which enable them to maintain the proper textural characteristics during freezing, thawing and heating.  

Household, Personal & Pharmaceuticals Items:
Starch can be found in a wide variety of household items such as batteries, matches, cleaners, and trash bags. Many personal and health care items have starch in their ingredients, including cosmetics, deodorant, hair-styling products, asprin, and cough drops. In many pharmaceuticals, starches are used to enhance drug delivery systems as binders, diluents, tableting agents and coating agents. They can also be ingredients for formulating intravenous injection solutions and clinical nutrition products.

Starch is one of the most important ingredients in paper. It gives paper its smooth feel, strength, brightness, ink adhesion abilities and erasability improvements. It is also very important in the making of recycled paper because of its bonding strength along with more efficient and cleaner manufacturing.

Super Absorbent:
Corn starch can be manipulated in a variety of ways to produce products that benefit the environment. Corn starch, combined with polymers, creates a super absorbent used in disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, bandages, and baby powders, and can be used to remove water from fuels and to clean up pesticide spills. 

Industrial Chemicals and Plastics:
Today, one of the most promising new markets for corn starches is as raw material for the production of industrial chemicals and plastics—which today, are made from petroleum feedstocks. As petroleum supplies dwindle, the importance of an abundant source of basic industrial chemicals takes on new proportions. Corn industry scientists are at work on new systems for producing industrial necessities from the versatile corn plant.

Learn more about Corn Starches here.

January 5, 2016

Social Soil: Social Media That Farmers Should Be Using In 2016

*Welcome to Social Soil - a series of social media posts for farmers. Whether you're a seasoned social media veteran or just trying to start, we want to help farmers with their "ag+advocacy" skills ("AGvocacy") so together we can promote Nebraska corn and agriculture.*

The experts from Social Examiner.com gave some great advice on what social media platforms and strategies to focus on this year. And we thought that farmers and ranchers - and anyone involved in agriculture - could benefit from a few of these ideas.

#1: Social Media Goes Private
Farmers like more privacy so this should appeal to them and get you more comfortable using social media as a way to communicate. Social media is going more private: private groups and messaging apps. Whether it’s on Facebook or LinkedIn, we’re already starting to see usage of private groups take hold and a surge in people creating them. Snapchat started this, but the shift to messaging apps (think Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Line, etc.) is going to force brands to get a lot more private and personal with their social media expenditure.

What does all of this mean? We are pushing ever closer to a new kind of social media: one that happens on these public and for-profit channels and networks, but one where the best (and possibly most valuable) content can only be seen by those who are granted permission to see it… or by a small group of people.

#3: Companies Adapt Social Strategies Around People 
SE experts say that 2016 will be the year where more companies implement adaptive social. Meaning, they are focusing efforts not just around marketing initiatives, but how they can engage with people.

This couldn't be more perfect for agriculture! We need to focus on how to reach people through social media to give them an emotional and real connection to how food is raised. This will result in more participation and ultimately a greater reach and more authentic trust for topics around food and farm.
Center for Food Integrity and AFBF connect with people using stories about real people raising real food.
#4: Visuals Customized By Platform Become Critical 
Visual marketing will continue to grow in 2016, making it absolutely necessary for brands to have a solid plan for visuals including multimedia such as long- and short-form video for YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, as well as graphics for blog content.

The same goes for farmers and ranchers. Now more than ever, sharing images of everyday life on the farm or ranch is critical to sharing our story and making a personal connection with consumers.
Instagram from Mark Jagels, Davenport, Neb., @mjagz62
See the whole list from SE experts here.