During the month of August, governors of Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina, Georgia, and New Mexico petitioned the US EPA, asking for a waiver of the Renewable Fuels Standard. But while we’ve all heard this news on the TV and read it in the papers, what exactly does it mean?
The Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) is a mandate to use increasing amounts of renewable fuel from year to year. The RFS includes descriptions of what sorts of renewable fuel are to be used, including up to 15 billion gallons of ethanol (maybe corn-based ethanol) and then increasing amounts of cellulosic and “advanced biofuels” which have to meet a certain carbon footprint and greenhouse gas threshold.
The problem is that livestock farmers view the mandate to use ethanol as the creation of an unlevel playing field for them as they compete for feedstocks. The ethanol industry and the livestock industry need to feed their end product the same thing, corn. When the government has forced more ethanol to be used, livestock producers fear that they won’t have corn left to feed their animals.
In most years, this isn’t true. In fact, so far in American history both before and after the RFS was passed, we have never run out of corn. American farmers continually grow more and more corn because of increasing efficiency of seed, fertilizers, and management systems so we have had more than enough to feed both industries. In fact, we’ve needed both industries to use up the extra corn and raise corn prices to a point where farmers are no longer reliant on government payments to stay afloat.
However, the drought could throw a kink in the system because agriculture expects significantly lower yields in 2012 than in 2011. Exactly how tight corn stocks get remains to be seen though because more efficient seeds actually create plants that utilize water more efficiently so our yields might not be as far off as some are guessing.
Regardless, during the creation of the RFS, Congress wrote an “off-ramp” into the legislation, suggesting that if the RFS ever caused a serious problem and eliminated feedstuffs for other industries, the RFS could be scaled back for a period of time. This is what the governors of the above-mentioned states have suggested … that the drought has minimized corn yields to the extent that livestock will go hungry without a reduction in the RFS mandate. They are literally asking for a waiver of the mandate for a period of time.
Will the EPA grant the request? This remains to be seen. The EPA has 90 days to respond to the request, but the ag industry doesn’t expect anything to happen prior to the election. Stay tuned!
Maybe you are one of those non-farmers who has been hearing and reading about the Farm Bill in the news. Do you understand what the Farm Bill is? Would you like to know more? Read on …
The Farm Bill is a piece of legislation edited and passed by Congress and the President every five years. Sometimes the process takes longer – there have been years where we extend the current Farm Bill and pass new legislation after six years – but the intent is always to review the bill every five.
Within the Farm Bill, there are different “titles.” You could think of them as chapters or sections of the bill. The Conservation Title contains legislation related to conservation programs, the Commodity Title contains legislation related to farm commodities, and the Nutrition Title contains legislation related to food stamps. Other titles are Trade, Rural Development, Energy, and Research.
Which brings me to point number one: The Farm Bill is not just about farm programs.
Yes, the Commodity Title (including counter-cyclical payments, direct payments, etc) gets a lot of attention every few years when we debate a new Farm Bill, but the Commodity Title is NOT the bulk of the bill.
The meat of the Farm Bill is nutrition programs. So when we want to cut the cost of the Farm Bill and we want to cut only farm programs like direct payments and crop insurance, we don’t really make a huge dent or enact large amounts of savings.
Point number two: When our legislators don’t actually pass a bill and instead, extend a bill into a future year, farmers are left with tons of uncertainty as to what they actually have to work with.
This would be similar to playing a game with a child that makes up the rules as he/she goes along. Except, farmers are playing a game with their livelihood and family heritage without having a clue what rules the government is going to set up! It is not a smart business decision for a farmer to put a crop into the ground without first knowing what laws the government will enact regarding that crop. However, farmers have one opportunity to plant, in late March to early May next year, and they will have to plant even if the government has extended the bill and not defined the programs.
Illinois farmers continue to advocate for a Farm Bill Now. We certainly know what we want that Farm Bill to look like, but we are also willing to place a priority on certain areas and let others go in order to get something passed. Farmers have nearly voluntarily let go of many of their payments to get a Farm Bill passed now that includes good crop insurance options. Now we wait for some of the other programs to allow their own cuts to come up with a total Farm Bill budget that works within our current Federal spending allocations.
The Illinois Corn Marketing Board, created in 1982, celebrates thirty years this year. Pictured is Martin Barbre, National Corn Growers Association Board and former Illinois Corn Growers Association Board and Bill Christ, past chair of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, celebrating the thirty-year partnership.
Many schools are back in session this week. With it comes the dilemma for parents: Do I pack a lunch or let my kids eat what the school serves? When I was in high school the food was actually pretty good, it was mostly home cooked and I ate it the majority of the time. On the few days where I didn’t like what was being served, I brought a sack lunch. I was a very active and healthy kid and needed a full well-balanced meal to get me through the school day as well as sports practice after classes was over. I grew up to be a not-as-active but still healthy adult. I don’t think school lunches were detrimental to my development. Apparently though, the USDA thinks that it’s the schools who should take the blame for overweight children today.
Please hand me my soapbox….thanks. As I climb up on this block, I run through my mind the reasons that I have not made this blog a political platform. I don’t like to denounce government programs, endorse political candidates or spout points or counter-points to current events. But, dangit, I’m MAD…
What makes me mad enough to go against my policy so that I will use my Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch blog to talk about the USDA? The new school lunch guidelines as announced by USDA. Frankly, this has been stewing in my brain for a few months. My husband is on the school board and told me that the cooks for our school have had to put in extra hours this summer to clarify the new regulations and plan for the changes they must make. So I immediately looked up the rules and talked to our school cooks. Here is what I’ve found:
The new guidelines for High School Students lunch:
Limit total weekly protein (meat and meat alternatives) to a maximum of 10-12 oz/week
Limit total calories to 750-850 per day
Limit milk to 5 servings per week
Mandate a set portion of various vegetables and fruits
Mandate switching to whole grains
On the surface, I don’t think these things appear so wrong. But these are the regulations for High School students. Now, let me tell you about my high school boys. I have two high school boys who are 6 feet tall and weigh 155 and 165 respectively. They both play all the sports that our small school offers, and work on our ranch before school, after sports practice and on weekends. They do not spend much time sitting in front of a television, computer or game station. They are healthy weights, muscular, and very active. In short, 800 calories is a SNACK to my boys!
I am totally against mandating hunger–I thought we were fighting against hunger?! I thought that school lunch is often the best meal of the day for many kids. So why are we cutting back on protein and the nutrients that meat provides? I believe that by the second hour after lunch rolls around, my boys will be hungry again if they do not have more than 2 ounces of meat and only 800 calories. Its proven that protein slows digestion stabilizes blood sugar and helps to maintain energy.
Our classes are over at 3:30 pm and then the boys head straight to the locker room to change to football gear for a 2-hour physical practice. But if they haven’t eaten since noon–and then only fruits and vegetables with minimal protein–they will not have the energy to practice!
My biggest concern with this mandate on our school lunch program is that it takes NOTHING but age level into account. It doesn’t allow for physical activity level, weight or height. It doesn’t take into consideration that at a small school, most of the students are participating in sports–if they didn’t we wouldn’t have enough for a team! (As an aside, we have 18 boys playing 8-man football this year in our entire high school.)
Some moms will say, “Debbie, why don’t you just pack a lunch for them?”….but my response to this is WHY should I have to? We have always had excellent homemade lunches served at our school for a very low price. The regular price on our high school meals used to be $2.40/day. My boys would get a second carton of milk (charged an extra 35¢) and they could return for second servings of the main course or side dish after everyone else was served. I should not have to drive 30 miles to purchase lunch items at a grocery store to send with my students when they have been served an excellent meal in the past.
We do have an “open lunch” but there is only 25 minutes for the lunch period. That is not enough time for any student to drive to a restaurant to eat. We only have a local bar (which does serve a lunch) and a gas station for food in our town. The kids often drive to the gas station for a soda (it is not sold during the school day in the school) after they eat their lunch at school. I believe there will be more of that, and the kids will also pick up a package of chips or a candy bar to fill them up now!
I don’t believe this is the intent of the regulations. I really understand that the American society is overweight. But mandating our kids to eat more leafy greens and less lean meat at school is not going to solve the problem. Mandate physical education….put more PE back into our days! But don’t make our kids go hungry.
I’ll step off my soap box now, but I will be calling my congressmen, you can be sure! In the meantime, here are a few links for more information and insight.
Harvest is beginning, and with it we’ll have a first real-world look at what corn yields will be for 2012. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided its own prediction of a national average at 123.4 bushels of corn per acre (as of their Aug 10, 2012 report). There are many consequences to that yield, not the least of which is changing corn prices. But what impact will that have at the grocery store? The immediate impacts will be felt in the livestock sector as herds are liquated. As time rolls on, however, other prices will be impacted. USDA actually anticipates about a 3-4% increase in the coming calendar year.
It’s interesting to see that the meat products with the highest corn value are in the poultry section (including eggs.) The biggest takeaway that you’ll have after studying this document, no doubt, will be that the largest portions of the cost of food are not directly related to the commodities themselves, but rather processing, energy, and marketing.
When it comes to water quality, Illinois Corn puts their money where their mouth is.
In recent years, farmers have come under fire as new, modern fertilizers and water drainage methods have been blamed for increased nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the Gulf of Mexico. The theory is that farmers are using more nitrogen on their fields instead of crop rotations and that this trend, coupled with a newer trend of tiling fields to improve water drainage, makes more fertilizer run into nearby creeks and waterways. Eventually this water makes its way to the Mississippi River and then to the Gulf of Mexico where increased nitrogen and phosphorus levels kill fish and plants.
Because Illinois Corn and other Illinois farmer groups want to correct any amount of this problem that they are contributing to, we are investing in research to figure out first what the problems really are and second, how we fix them. Our main project right now is the Indian Creek Watershed Project.
Indian Creek’s 82-square mile watershed (52,480 acres) drains north to the Vermilion River’s south fork, one of the USDA’s Mississippi River Basin Initiative focus areas.
The major resource concern for Indian Creek watershed is water quality, particularly nitrate levels. With an average farm size of 500 acres, agriculture dominates the watershed – 95 percent of the land is tillable, most acres in a corn/soybean rotation, with several livestock operations.
The goal of the project is to determine what water quality changes occur when at least 50 percent of producers in a small watershed develop and implement comprehensive agriculture conservation systems. As of December 2011, 37 percent of the watershed’s farmers were enrolled in programs to enhance their conservation agricultural systems. Water quality parameters are recorded in-stream at five locations.
Using the in-stream monitoring and a growing number of farmer participants, we can determine a baseline for our nitrogen run-off into streams and whether or not our perceived solutions actually create meaningful reduction of nutrients in the water.
Other states have developed models to help farmers determine baseline data and improvement data on water quality control and conservation initiatives. Illinois works with those states to figure out our next steps for research and implementation.
Although we don’t have any meaningful data yet to report, Illinois Corn and all Illinois farmers are excited to demonstrate their willingness to fix environmental concerns by implementing conservation practices on their own farms. Not only is this about wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, but Illinois farmers are desperate to preserve water quality around their farmers, ensuring the livelihood of future generations on the family farm.
“When I was younger and it would rain in the summer, my brothers, the neighbors down the road, and I, would swim in the ditches,” I recently told a friend I met in college.
“Wow, you are country,” was her response.
It was at that moment where I started to think about the differences between growing up in the country compared to growing up in town. The lifestyles are completely different and as my peers become older, I personally notice the positive impact of being raised in the country. It seems to me that my peers from the same background as myself are laid back, and not afraid of a little grease under the fingernails. While in college, I’ve become friends with individuals who were raised in the city, and I have since been able to experience their way of living. Their lifestyle is so different as they always seem to be on-the-go while keeping up with the latest trends on the street. Side note: According to my childhood scrapbooks, keeping up with fashion was not something that ever interested me. Thanks to my mom for allowing me to wear my cut-off jeans made into shorts, and over the ankle leather lace up boots with white socks peeking out of the top.
Growing up in the country is a fond memory, and one that I will never forget. During my childhood, my brothers and I would play hide-and-go-seek in the cornfield, we would walk through the large tunnels at the end of the asphalt road (it was especially fun when we would lay on top of the tunnels and look at each other from opposite ends), and we would climb the wobbly wooden steps up to the hayloft in the barn just to hangout. My three brothers were my best friends. My greatest summer accomplishments would be to replace last years’ kiddie tractor pull trophies with new ones from local festivals, and county and state fairs, and our family vacation location depended on where my dad would be showing his antique tractors.
In the country, you’ve got to make do with that you have. When the closest ‘big town’ is twenty miles away, a trip to town was something to look forward to for days to come. Transportation included our bicycles that got us half a mile down the road, and sometimes if we promised to stay together we could take a long ride to grandma’s house three miles away (three miles is a long way when you’re eight years old). The individuals who I argued with, laughed with, and relied upon were my family.
After nineteen years of calling home “the middle of nowhere,” it was my time to move to college. I still remember the day I was with a friend and she saw a combine and had no idea what this “large vehicle” was, or why it was “running over the plants.” While I’ve had the opportunity to experience both lifestyles, I look back and realize how blessed I was to grow up in the country. My background has helped me to become the hard working individual who I am today, while learning to appreciate the small things in life.
While my friends in the city describe the country life as boring, there’s just something indescribable about sitting on the back porch looking at nothing but cornfields and bean fields for miles.
Everyone has heard about the drought this year and how it is the widest spread since 1956. For those people not living on a farm, it’s hard to comprehend what the lack of rainfall and high heat means beyond the brown grass in your yard. When you combine these two things together, this is what you end up with… very sorry looking corn.