ORGANIC ROMANCE – COURTESY OF WAG’N TALES

This post shamelessly stolen from Wag’n Tales, who we think does an excellent job of putting the organic vs conventional farming debate into focus.  Every farmer is needed.  Every farmer does a good job.  And we need to take the guilt out of food purchasing decisions.

To buy or not to buy organic? That is the question.

But why does it have to be?

I thought about this question alot, while preparing this post. In fact, most of my posts are written in a very short amount of time, usually 10 minutes or less. Sometimes it’s as if the words were already there, I just needed to type them out. But not today.

As a farmer, I am proud of almost every aspect of agriculture. I truly value the organic movement, because anything we can do to continue to provide food is important. We NEED every farmer, every type, every size, to continue providing food for our world.

Over the weekend, a slideshow by WebMD was brought to my attention. At first, I was kind of excited about it…hoping it was going to put to rest some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding conventional and organic foods. But it didn’t. In fact, it went a step or two further than most articles. And I feel the need to set some “facts” straight.

1) It was stated in the slide show, that fruit and vegetables such as apples and peaches should be bought organic whenever possible, to reduce the exposure risks of pesticides.  The site said, “If you can’t afford to buy organic apples, scrubbing their skins under running water can help reduce pesticide residues, too.”

Well, to tell you the truth people, no matter where you get your apples, you should ALWAYS wash them. Period. The same is true for organic, just as it is conventionally grown fruit and veggies.

2) Directly quoted from WebMD, “According to the Organic Trade Association, livestock on an organic farm cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones unnecessarily — a common practice in conventional agriculture. Some experts think using antibiotics this way may contribute to the rise of superbugs. And although the risk to humans isn’t clear, added hormones do show up in supermarket beef.”

Let me shed some light on what happens on our farm (since I can’t speak for everyone, but know that most follow the same type of protocol). We give antibiotics only when necessary, such as when an animal is showing sign of being sick. We would never consider giving all of our animals antibiotics on a set schedule for many reasons, including: a) cost, b) time and feasibility and c) we need those antibiotics to work when we truly need them. To say that most conventional ranchers use antibiotics unneccessarily is simply not true.

And on the hormone subject…let me break down the actual facts for you:

4 oz. beef from steer given hormones: 1.6 nanograms of estrogen

4 oz. beef from untreated steer: 1.2 nanograms of estrogen

4 oz. beef from non-pregnant heifer: 1.5 nanograms of estrogen

4 oz. raw cabbage: 2700 ng estrogen

4 oz. raw peas: 454 ng estrogen.

3 oz. soy oil: 168,000 nanograms of estrogen

3.5 oz. of soy protein concentrate: 102,000 nanograms of estrogen.

3 oz. of milk from cow given rBST: 11 nanograms of estrogen

3 oz. of milk from untreated (non-BST) cow: 11 nanograms of estrogen

Data from Foodstuffs Foodlink

Hmmm…so those extra hormones are a problem, but raw peas have 400% more estrogen in them. Perhaps we need to lay off the peas? I’m kidding, of course. That would be obsurd. Right?

3) This one I found funny. Broccoli. Yep, you should grow your own organic broccoli. Have any of you grown broccoli? I have no problem with growing your own food, even broccoli. I just appreciate the ability to choose not to. I don’t like the extra protein.

Mmmm…worms.

Well, those are just a few of the examples in the slide show…there are 29 slides to go through, all with varying degrees of ridiculousness. What’s funny to me is that it wraps it all up with this advice, “One thing the experts agree on: Regardless of whether you choose locally grown, organic, or conventional foods, the important thing is to eat plenty of produce. The health benefits of such a diet far outweigh any potential risks from pesticide exposure.” Oh, so the first 28 slides are supposed to make you terrified of all food not organic, and the last one says, “Eh, the risks aren’t that great, just eat.” Whew. I was worried for a minute.

Let’s cut to the chase. When it comes down to it: eat. Eat what you want, eat sensibly and get it from whatever source you have available. Supermarket, farmer’s market, online…just eat. If you have the desire and time to grow your own, do it. If you have the desire and time to shop farmer’s markets, do it. If you are a busy person with limited time and whatever is at the one-stop-shop is what you can grab, do it.

It’s time we stop making parents feel guilty for what we eat and just relish in the fact that we can feed our children. And by that, I mean HEALTHY foods, not just fast food.

That all being said, I respect organic farmers and see a true need for their products. There isn’t a single method of agriculture that isn’t needed for our future. I have not one problem with their product. Not one.

Organic farmers: thank you for all you do and the food you provide.
Conventional farmers: thank you for all you do and the food you provide.
WebMD: quit making me scared of the people that feed me, they’re nice.

I know, because I am one.

Val Wagner
Wag’n Tales

DISTILLERS GRAINS WITH SOLUBLES: WHAT ARE THEY?!

Farmers, livestock feed, texas mission, ddgsDried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) have become a valuable part of agriculture.  A by-product of ethanol production, this product makes an excellent livestock feed and is transported by rail to various parts of the U.S. so that the livestock centers of the world can take advantage of it.  DDGS are also exported to other countries to feed livestock there.

coop, livestock feed, ethanol plant by productDDGS can be either dry or wet.  In the Midwest, it is very common for ethanol plants to dry their DDGS in a dryer.  This dry product stays fresh for a much longer time and is able to be transported across the country or world.  It is also cheaper to transport because ethanol plants are not shipping so much water weight.  The DDGS in the photo above are dried.

ethanol plant, by product, livestock feed, wet distillers grains

The Distillers Grains in this photo are wet.  Often, ethanol plants that are co-located with livestock farms don’t undergo the additional cost to dry their DDGS because they can be used nearly instantly by area livestock.  Also, with livestock close by, these WDGS don’t need to be transported great distances, thus the water weight does not matter.  The WDGS pictured here are produced in Texas and feed almost immediately to cattle.

One-third of the corn used in ethanol production returns to the market as livestock feed.  In fact, DDGS have replaced soybean meal as the second largest livestock feed component, second behind corn.

Want to learn more about DDGS?  Check out these links:

DDGS OVERTAKE #2 SPOT IN LIVESTOCK RATION FEEDSTOCK FROM SOYBEANS

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT DDGS FROM DIFFERENT IL ETHANOL PLANTS

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

THROUGH THE LENS OF A FARM GIRL

It’s Video Week on Corn Corps! We are bringing you one video every day this week that celebrates Illinois agriculture, corn production, and farm family life.

Today’s video comes to us from the new Facebook page Keeping it Real: Through the Lens of a Farm Girl.  As the creator of this page, Erin Ehnle hopes to provide a wide open door to the world of agriculture, as it happens right here in central Illinois. She’s a farm girl and photographer all rolled into one. As a result, her page combines the art of photography with the happenings around her agriculture-based community.

In her first video, she features Kristi, who is the 6th generation to live on her family’s farm!

I GOT YOU ETHANOL

It’s Video Week on Corn Corps! We are bringing you one video every day this week that celebrates Illinois agriculture, corn production, and farm family life.

Today’s video won first place in the IRFA’s 2nd Annual Fuel the Future high school renewable fuels video contest. Ames High School senior Sam Ennis produced and starred in this outstanding winning entry. As the first place winner of the contest, Sam earned a $1,000 grand prize and had his video featured at the 6th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit on January 24th. 

Congratulations Sam!

MY TAKE ON ETHANOL SUBSIDIES

It’s Video Week on Corn Corps! We are bringing you one video every day this week that celebrates Illinois agriculture, corn production, and farm family life.

Today’s video comes to us from the Facebook page Midwestern Perspective.  Chief video blogger, Thomas Marten, shares his views on the expiration of ethanol subsidies, potential of alternatives to corn-based ethanol, and a soapbox discussion on need for infrastructure investment and research. 

 You might remember Thomas from some guest posts he’s done right here on Corn Corps.  Here is a post he wrote that relates to this video.

FARMER’S TRIBUTE: SO GOD MADE A FARMER

Welcome to Video Week on Corn Corps! The Sundance Film Festival is in full swing and we thought what better way to celebrate than by bringing you one video every day this week that celebrates Illinois agriculture, corn production, and farm family life.

Today’s video comes to us from the Facebook page Agriculture Everyday

“The past few days there has been quite a bit of discussion on a Yahoo article about useless degrees, with agriculture topping it. It makes a few comments that I find somewhat degrading to the agriculture and farming lifestyle. Since most of the agriculture community has been upset and offended by that article, I felt the need to uplift farmers and remind them that agriculturalists are some of the strongest people I know. So please, watch the video below. Paul Harvey hit the nail right on the head in my opinion, and I am proud to say I grew up on a farm and I can attest to most of this video in some way or another.”

IL CORN VISITS OLMSTED

This week, the Illinois Corn Growers Association and Illinois Corn Marketing Board visited the Olmsted Lock and Dam.  Construction on this project began in 1996 and STILL CONTINUES TODAY!  In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers will go back to Congress for more money to finish this project as cost and time overruns mount.  If approved, the additional funded needed to finish Olmsted will guarantee that no new locks, dams or repairs can occur for the next ten years.

COLLEGE DEGREE IN AGRICUTURE IS HARDLY USELESS

Did you read this article?

Terence Loose says that Agriculture, Animal Science, and Horticulture are among the top five most useless degrees you can get.  And I would beg to differ.

Does this have something to do with the fact that I have an animal science degree and I also have an awesome job that I love and in which I excel?  Maybe.  Does this have something to do with the fact that I have lived my entire life in agriculture and I believe it has a very solid future?  Definitely.

But most importantly, let’s look at the facts that Mr. Loose fails to consider.

1. In the middle of an economic recession, agriculture is booming. 

While unemployment skyrockets, agricultural industries are doing well.

“For the record agriculture still is one of the few industries in which there is a positive balance of trade, with more exports than imports. For the 2012 fiscal year, outbound product values are $137 billion and inbound product values are $105 billion. In the USDA’s August Outlook for Agricultural Trade the main engines driving the positive trade balance include corn, livestock products, and horticultural products. Wheat exports are running into Black Sea competition, and general oilseed production has declined to the point there is insufficient quantities to remain a major export force.”  Farmgateblog.com

And there’s also this.  When the price of farmland goes up, it indicates that agriculture is doing well.  CBS has some recent commentary on this.

http://cnettv.cnet.com/av/video/cbsnews/atlantis2/cbsnews_player_embed.swf

I, for one, have never had to consider losing my job, being downsized, or not getting a cost of living raise for several years in a row like many of my counterparts in other industries.  Agriculture is a very secure industry for employees.

2. When everything else is gone, people will still need to eat.

There are a few occupations that I think of as indisposable.  As an example, I can’t imagine a world without teachers – I think our country and our society will always see a need to educate the population.  I can’t imagine a world without medical professionals because people will always get sick.  But even before either of those professions on the priority list are the person that grows our food and the people that sustain the industry behind him.

Can you envision a time when you will cease to be hungry?  I didn’t think so.

3. The population continues to increase and with it, the need for agricultural technology grows greater.

If we are really to consider the question of feeding millions more people without destroying the earth, we must study the genetic makeup of our crops to increase production per plant.  We must study the soils, making our plants more efficient to leave the soil composition intact.  We must study the food animals we raise, growing them more efficiently and minimizing death and illness.  We must study alternative crops, alternative best management practices, and alternative policies to maintain our food security.

And we need people to do that.

I can see that if you were a college graduate looking to work on the farm, jobs could be harder to find, as the number of farmers continues to dwindle.  But I hardly agree that a degree in agriculture is useless as careers within the industry are secure and greatly needed if Americans and others around the world still want to eat.

I trust that they do.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

ISU DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE CELEBRATES ITS 100TH ANNIVERSARY

The Department of Agriculture at Illinois State University has just celebrated its 100th birthday.   The instructors, students, technology and career opportunities have changed considerably over the last ten decades but the mission of the Department has not, and that is to prepare young people to succeed and become leaders in our nation’s most important industry, agriculture. 

In 1911, Erwin Madden was hired as the first professor of agriculture at Illinois State Normal University.   Professor Madden moved quickly to establish a University Farm and by 1914 farm buildings and a house for the farm manager had been constructed.  That farm was located at the north edge of campus where the current Ropp Agriculture Building is located. The fields extended west and south where now Horton Fieldhouse, Redbird Arena and Turner Hall are located.  Enrollment in the agriculture program grew rapidly given the increase in the demand for agriculture teachers at Illinois high schools.  Because of the need to construct new classrooms, athletic facilities and dormitories near campus the ISU farm was moved to the northwest edge of campus on Gregory Street.  As the Town of Normal grew, inevitably the University farm needed to be relocated once again.  In 2000, ISU purchased the FS Research Farm near Lexington, Illinois.  Buildings at that location were renovated and new buildings were constructed.  Today the ISU Farm at Lexington provides state of the art facilities for research and teaching, and each year hosts hundreds of visitors. The Horticulture Center located just off of Rabb Road was established in 2006 and is the latest addition to the Department’s teaching and research facilities.  The Horticulture Center offers students and the general public an opportunity to view a number of gardens made up of hundreds of different plant species.

The agricultural curriculum at ISU has changed to reflect the evolution of the agriculture industry. By the 1960’s Illinois State Normal University had evolved into a comprehensive university and was now called Illinois State University.  An agriculture major with specific sequences in agronomy, livestock science and teacher education was developed and in the mid-1970’s a new major, agribusiness, was offered.  In 1992, the ISU Agriculture Department established a Master’s program in Agribusiness and later launched a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Science.  The Department’s current curriculum reflects today’s wide range of specialized fields in agriculture.  Student’s can now concentrate in horticulture and landscape design, agricultural communication and leadership,  food industry management, pre-veterinary studies as well as the traditional fields of study such as agribusiness, agronomy, livestock science and agricultural education.

The Department of Agriculture’s Centennial Celebration featured a number of events for alumni, students and the general public.  These included the 1911 Dinner at the Horticulture Center that featured food commonly offered in 1911, an old fashion barn dance and Agriculture Day at an ISU football game.   The celebration culminated in a 100th Anniversary Gala that featured Max Armstrong as the keynote speaker.

While reflecting on the accomplishments of the last 100 years, the Department of Agriculture faculty and staff look forward to the challenges and opportunities agriculture will present in the next 100 years.

Rick Whitacre
ISU Professor

THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE AT THE BEGINNING OF 2012

Barry Manilow, musician and political prognosticator recently said, “I agree with everything that Ron Paul has said and what he stands for, but I love Obama, voted for him in 2008 and will vote for him again in 2012.”  This is one diverse guy but most of the country is very politically polarized and this is impacting everything Congress and the Executive branch does.  The polarization will also have a big impact on the 2012 election.  And the reasons are clear.  If the economy stays the same or worse, Obama will likely lose.  If there is even a reasonable improvement, he will likely win.  Both parties know this and are fighting to wait for big changes after the election.

With that, let’s look at the pros and cons of Obama’s reelection prospects.  President Obama’s approval rating is 45%, 48% disapproval.  No one has been reelected in modern times without being very close to a 50% approval rating in the year of the election, like right now.  To put this in perspective, Obama is in better shape than Jimmy Carter but not quite as good as George W. Bush.  This would argue for a very close election.  And with unemployment still at 8.5% and underemployment far higher than that, the economy will not help Obama unless there is a big turnaround in the next two quarters.  This is not terribly likely.

Next, the Republican primary vote is up 3% from 2008.  This is not astronomical but it is a good sign that Republicans are motivated.  Of course the early nastiness of the primaries make all candidates look weak now but improvement for Republicans is likely if Mitt Romney emerges after South Carolina as the virtually certain nominee.  This will help enormously but only if the other Republicans get behind him.  Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will have to mend fences with Romney. John Huntsman has already endorsed Romney, but Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul will have to get behind Romney. Another fear is that Ron Paul will run a third party candidacy.  But conventional wisdom suggests that he won’t run against Romney because it would kill his son’s political ambitions.  Rand Paul is Kentucky’s junior Senator and he will not do well if his father runs a third party libertarian style campaign that would hurt the Republican Party.  But, Romney will have to put a fiscal conservative on the ticket to give Paul some credit for his following in the Tea Party and among other Republicans.  This will be very important.

Obama has other advantages including incumbency and no primary opponent.  Incumbent presidents that have been defeated, and remember 78% have been reelected, have always had difficult primary fights.  Gerald Ford had Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter had Ted Kennedy and George H.W. Bush had Patrick Buchanan make very strong runs against them, hurting them in the general election.  Obama will not have to lift a finger within his own party.  This is very helpful to his reelection chances.

Obama will have roughly $750 million to $1billion in the bank.  As we know, Romney is still spending money, and lots of it, to win the Republican primary.  The quicker he secures the nomination, the sooner he can raise money against Obama.  Obama has a big head start and a phenomenal organization that is even better than his ‘08 team, and that is saying something.   But Obama’s success still will depend on the economy, and right now that is not his strong suit.

Ray Fair, the Yale Professor who has analyzed every president since Woodrow Wilson in 1916, gives President Obama a 51.7% chance for reelection.  If the economy grows at 3.69% over the next three quarters, his chances go up to 52% but if the real growth is 1.25%, Obama’s chances drop to below 50%.  If the payroll tax extension continues for all of 2012, this will boost the economy by 0.9%, which would really help the president.  Clearly we can see why he continues to fight so hard for this and why Republicans resist.  The Republican quandary is that a bad economy makes Obama very vulnerable but if they are obviously obstructionist, they can be blamed for the weak economy, which would hurt them.  This is why Republicans will resist any real tax or entitlement change until after the election.

Even though Congress has an 83% disapproval rating, they are counting on this not to cause them to lose their majority in the House.  It is important to remember that just before the 2010 election, 45% of all registered voters said they would vote out very member of Congress including their own; and today this number stands at 54% of all registered voters saying they would vote out all members including their own.  This would be fatal in a midterm election, as it was for then Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s majority as Democrats lost 63 seats.  This was the highest loss in a midterm since Franklin Roosevelt in 1938.  But in a presidential election, the president becomes a far bigger factor.  Thus, if Obama wins or loses a close election, it is very likely Republicans will fare reasonably well.  After all, even if he wins, it will likely be a squeaker.  Since 65.3% of all registered voters think the country is on the wrong track and only 25.3% think the country is on the right track, Obama will have problems since he is the country’s leader.

Romney will have big problems too since he does not truly inspire the Republican base.  He is a blue blood, a Mormon, a former Massachusetts governor, a flip flopper on big social issues like abortion and gay marriage and the Bain venture capital story won’t help with the common man vote at all.  He is also a bit stiff, formal and not terribly warm and fuzzy.  On a demographic basis he has another problem, a large number of under 40 year old non-college educated Republicans voted for Ron Paul.  If they are not appeased, they simply won’t vote.  It is easy enough to say that Obama’s base of young, liberal, idealistic young Democrats will not vote either but Romney does not have a huge appeal.  This could be a low turnout election won by the campaign with the best grass roots ground game.

The Senate races favor Republicans because 23 of the 33 seats up for reelection are Democratic and several Democrats, including Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, will not seek reelection.  These are factors that favor a Republican takeover albeit by a very small margin.  Republicans need only pick up 3 seats to take the majority and this looks likely.  The House will also likely stay Republican even though many of the Tea Party freshmen are not in great shape.  But redistricting, which occurs every ten years, favors the Republicans in most of the States, but not all of them.  But they will suffer some losses simply because many of the Freshman Republicans won in a big “throw out the Pelosi health care bums movement.”  But their own obstructionist behavior regarding the debt ceiling and other high profile disagreements with Democrats, have turned some voters off.  The House will likely remain Republican but they will lose 10 seats or so, in all likelihood.  They will still probably have a 15 seat majority.

The pundits say to watch 7 races closely in 2012 as a harbinger of Republican versus Democratic leanings.  First, will Wisconsin’s high profile, anti-union Governor survive a recall election?  His odds are good but if he loses it would be a big defeat for the GOP.  Will consumer expert Elizabeth Warren defeat Freshman Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown?  Brown took Ted Kennedy’s seat in a huge win for the GOP but Elizabeth Warren is raising a huge amount of money and Brown will have a tough time coming back.  If he loses, it would be a big win for the Democrats.  The Virginia Senate race between heavy weights Tim Kaine and George Allen will be important to both parties.  Kaine was a governor and head of the Democratic National Committee.  Allen was a governor and a senator, who is mounting a comeback.  This race is very important to both parties and is a toss-up state for the president.  President Obama became the first Democrat to win Virginia since LBJ in 1964 and Republicans with a new governor from their party are working mightily to get it back.  In Missouri, Democrat Claire McCaskill will have a tough time getting reelected and Obama will have a hard time winning in the Show-Me state.  North Carolina’s Democratic Governor Bev Purdue will also have a very tough race against Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.  This is another important state that Obama won, and Republicans will work hard to get it back.

In the House, redistricting has created some situations where incumbents will have to run against one another and many districts have been changed significantly.  North Carolina Democrat Heath Shuler and Illinois Republican Joe Walsh are examples of members who will have a difficult time getting reelected.  But many other incumbents will have a tough run in this economic climate.  And voters are discouraged because the parties are so divided politically.  This may hurt incumbents that are already weakened by having to run in substantially changed Congressional districts.

It will also be interesting to see if Romney can woo the blue collar white voter who is fed up with Obama’s economic policies.  Many of these voters see the $2 trillion in stimulus money only helping bankers and Wall Street.  They are ripe for the taking but can a blue blood who made his money as a venture capitalist capture these voters?  It is clear the old message that helped the GOP with blue collar voters won’t work this time.  Romney will have a hard time running on “God, guns and gays.”  Romney will be viewed as a liberal or at best a flip flopper on these issues, so the economic message will have to carry the day.

To that point, legislators will begin looking at the Farm Bill.  As we know, agriculture has a good message to tell in that it has been a bright spot in an otherwise dim economic picture for the country.  Regarding the Farm Bill, as 2012 begins, it appears that how to reform the Commodity Title of the Farm Bill, also known as Title 1, will be the focal point of Farm Bill discussions for the first quarter of 2012.  American Farm Bureau Federation members, who had long opposed changes to the direct payment structure of the commodity title, voted on January 11 at their annual meeting in Honolulu, to eliminate direct payments and replace it with strong and effective safety net/risk management programs.  These programs would protect producers from catastrophic occurrences while minimizing the potential for farm programs affecting production decisions.

This is a significant development as it will open the door to further negotiations with the Agriculture Committees to reform the safety net and crop insurance programs.  The Farm Bureau will work on developing a proposal based upon this decision to submit to the Agriculture Committees, which will be considered simultaneously with what the National Corn Growers had submitted to the Committees this past fall during the Super Committee process.  What will emerge remains to be seen, however, the acknowledgement by the Farm Bureau that direct payments will be eliminated will open the process in a way that will give House and Senate Members more leeway with which to consider safety net policy reform. 

The House and Senate Agriculture Committees will begin scheduling Farm Bill hearings in mid to late February to debate these ideas.  Several prominent Agriculture Committee Members have indicated that they hope that the Farm Bill will be completed by July of this year, given that any delay beyond that point will get too close to the Presidential election and thus limit the chances of the bill’s passage.

On a final note, there are always the “black swan” possibilities.   For instance, in the 2000 election, it was revealed just before Election Day that George W. Bush was issued a DUI many years earlier in Kennebunkport, ME.  This late hitting news likely cost him about 4 million evangelical Christian votes.  And many Republicans fear that President Obama will bring Hillary Clinton on as his Vice President and ask Joe Biden to be Secretary of State.  This could energize the female vote in a way that Republicans would have a hard time counteracting.

Election Day is still more than 10 months away, so lots can change but both parties seem dead set against doing much on Capitol Hill until the election is over.

David Crow
President, DC Legislative & Regulatory Services, Inc.