Discussing New Research At CUTC

David LoosAt the recent Corn Utilization and Technology Conference our very own David Loos, Technology and Business Development Director, moderated a panel titled, “Life Cycle Analyses Applications to New Technologies.”  One of the issues that takes up a lot of his time is ethanol.  And ethanol was a big part of the conversation at the CUTC as you might imagine.  I spoke with David during a break.

Dave says that new technologies that are increasing production while reducing inputs are proving that corn can be very sustainable.  I asked him what he’s working on that needs to become better known by the public.  He says that science is “on our side” on issues like yield increases, inputs, green house gas emissions from growing corn or producing ethanol.  He says it’s our job to make sure the research gets done, is documented and delivered to audiences like EPA.  He pointed to new research by the University of Illinois-Chicago which found that energy consumption by ethanol plants is down about 30 percent.  I’ll have more on that in another interview with one of Dave’s panelists.  Dave also talks about his goal of having EPA recognize corn ethanol as an advanced biofuel.  The research and science backs it up.  The challenge is getting regulators to recognize it!

You can listen to my interview with David here: download (mp3).

Here’s a link to a bunch of photos from the conference: CUTC Photo Album

Chuck Zimmerman Posted by Chuck Zimmerman
AgWired

TILING OFFERS QUICK RETURN ON INVESTMENT

Two years ago when the a 42 inch natural gass pipeline was installed running across some of my acreage, I had no idea I had a problem. In fact, I watched and watched that field hoping not to notice even a hint of standing water. And I didn’t for a while.

But you may remember that we’ve had three pretty wet seasons – last spring the crop was very late getting into the ground because of rain and we were even later getting it out of the ground because of rain. This year, the past couple of weeks have been filled with one downpour after another.

All that rain revealed a tiling problem. And since the rain still isn’t showing any signs of stopping, I’ve been two years trying to get it fixed. Finally, this month I was able to secure both the tiling company AND a dry enough day to get it done.

We didn’t figure this out until nearly the end of the process, but here is the problem. When the natural gas pipeline was installed, this section of older clay tile was broken and was not reconnected to the tiling system in this field.

So we started in to fix it, essentially digging a trench that would hold the tile to drain water from the field. Next to fertilizer, tiling a field is one of the most profitable things you can do and will quickly earn you complete return on your investment. In fact, the absence of this particular section of tile yielded me two complete acres of drowned crops, five acres that were two wet to apply fertilizer, and reduced yield on about twenty acres surrounding it all because of excess moisture.

We are installing five inch, black plastic tile because it is quicker and cheaper. The alternative is the clay tile that you saw in the picture above and it must be hand placed in the ground as opposed to the black plastic tile that comes on a large roll and just flows right into the trench that we dug. The tile is about three feet deep, and most tiles are set between 75 and 90 feet apart parallel throughout a field depending on soil type.

In the end, this is what I have. I lost a sixteen foot swath of emerging corn through my field that I won’t be able to replace. Typically, farmers don’t tile in the middle of the growing season and disrupt their crops, but the losses I’ve sustained over the past two years made the timing this year necessary.

Bring on the rain!

Garry Niemeyer
former ICGA Board member
current NCGA Board member

KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE AND YOUR ENEMIES CLOSER

There’s a new movement afoot in the US and it goes something like this: if corn is bad, corn-based ethanol is worse.

We receive a publication here in the office called The Ethanol Monitor and Friday’s edition featured a front page story by Editor and Publisher Tom Waterman that named the top 10 enemies of ethanol. Some of the listed enemies are blogs and authors I wasn’t well acquainted with and I bet you aren’t either.

This further drives home the message that conversations are happening every hour of every day that agriculture isn’t a part of, so I’d encourage you to click through some of these links and educate yourself. It is raining out there after all.

GRIST is an environmental blog that hits number nine on the countdown and according to Waterman, if you enter “ethanol” in the search button, you will find more than 1,100 entries, not including comments, that are 100% negative. He also mentions that this blog carries a lot of weight with the environmental community and that they could easily be ranked higher than number nine.

Robert Rapier and his blog, R Squared Energy Blog, is ranked as the number five worst enemy of ethanol for time spent discrediting every positive development in the ethanol industry. He is a big fan of the indirect land use theory and according to Waterman is very influential. Also, he’s a former Conoco Phillips employee and is definitely a Big Oil fan.

An Honorable Mention went to Mark Perry whose blog, Carpe Diem, highlights other articles against ethanol like that of fellow Honorable Mention, Robert Bryce. Scroll down to June 10 and June 11 dates to get a flavor of the position he’s pushing.

And because I can’t link to the article or republish without author consent, I wanted to offer to you the entire Top Ten enemies of ethanol according to Tom Waterman.

#10: Business Week/Ed Wallace (Bloomberg)
#9: GRIST
#8: “Big Oil”
#7: Grocery Manufacturers Association
#6: David Pimentel
#5: Robert Rapier
#4: Tim Searchinger
#3: Wall Street Journal (editorial board)
#2: California Air Resources Board
#1: Time Magazine (Michael Grunwald)

Waterman also notes that the number one slot could have easily gone to “mainstream media” who publish uninformed articles and are too lazy to complete adequate research, but he was trying to be more specific.

To obtain a copy of this article, Ethanol’s Top 10 Enemies, email info@oilintel.com or call 732-222-5578.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

MORE NORMAL CORNBELTERS

CornBeltersIt may not be opening night at the Corn Crib but I still had a couple of short interviews to share with you from that night.  It was a great game and this bat boy is just one of the thousands of people who enjoyed it.  Fans will get to see the team in action at the Corn Crib again this week.

The Normal CornBelters, presented by the Illinois Corn Farmers, will host the second home stand of their inaugural season at the Corn Crib from Monday, June 14 through Saturday, June 19. They will play the Florence Freedom on June 14, Tuesday, June 15 and Wednesday, June 16. Following, they will host the Evansville Otters on Thursday, June 17, Friday, June 18 and June 19. All games begin at 7 p.m. and gates open at 6 p.m. Tickets are still available for each of the six games!

One of the people I met was Normal CornBelters Field Manager Hal Lanier.  Hal says the Corn Crib is a little different from what you normally see in professional baseball.  He says the fans will see some very exciting baseball and we sure did on opening night.  You can listen to my interview with Hal here (mp3).

I also spoke with Normal CornBelters Reliever Steve Raburn.  Steve says that “at first it was a little different” in referring to the team’s support from Illinois corn growers.  You can listen to my interview with Steve here (mp3).

Normal CornBelters Corn Crib Opener Photo Album

Chuck Zimmerman Posted by Chuck Zimmerman
AgWired

FROM THE PASTURE TO THE PLATE: IF YOU DON’T TELL YOUR STORY, WHO WILL? PART 2

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two posts from guest blogger Trista Milliman. Trista is a native Illinoisan who now lives in Oklahoma where her and her husband run a cow-calf operation. For the first part, click here.

I addressed my friend’s accusations calmly and factually. Hard to do when you’re angry. First, I explained the “steroid” myth. I don’t know who labeled them that, maybe the media or PETA, but we DON’T give our animals steroids. What they get is a growth hormone implant in their right ear. Now, anyone who has taken an Anatomy and Physiology class, what are the two growth hormones that NATURALLY OCCUR in the body, human or animal? Estrogen and testosterone. The hormone we implant is estrogen. (Every woman knows what role estrogen plays in unwanted weight gain.) The estrogen improves our calves feed to gain ratio, which cuts down on the amount of money we have to spend on feed and the amount of time they have to be on pasture. Translation: you get better beef at an affordable price with a smaller amount of time between our pasture and your plate. No steroids here. Oh, and if you’re that concerned about the amount of hormones in your food, consider this: there are 500 times more estrogen in ONE leaf of organically grown spinach than in a three ounce piece of estrogen implanted beef. My town friend was listening.

I moved on to the antibiotics. My town friend loves her two dogs. So, I asked her what she does when her dogs get sick. Of course, she takes them to the vet and if it’s an infection, the vet prescribes an antibiotic. It’s the same with our cows. If we spot a sick one, we take her up to the alley and give her an antibiotic. We treat her as long as she needs it. Simple. If she’s not sick, what’s the point in wasting the money on giving her (and the rest of our herd for that matter) an antibiotic? Not very cost effective if you’re trying to run a business. If the animal is sick we treat her, if she’s not, we don’t. I can’t come up with a better description of animal welfare than that. Point made.

Then, we moved on to my favorite topic, feed. My specialization in my major was livestock nutrition. My husband and I both figure our rations as do many beef producers. And if they don’t do it themselves, they hire a nutritionist. Now, how many PETA or HSUS supporters use a nutritionist when feeding their own families? My town friend just couldn’t get over the idea that we were feeding our cattle genetically modified grain that had been sprayed with pesticides. She was just so sure our cattle were ingesting all types of toxins that would end up in the meat. I explained that one of the reasons we “genetically modify” grain is to make it insect and disease resistant so that we don’t have to spray chemicals on it. I also gave her a short economics lesson while I was at it. In laymen’s terms, a GMO produces more with less input, therefore making the product cost less. Keeping costs down on our end is what keeps costs down on the consumer’s end. People forget about that part. Point taken.

My town friend was so taken with the notions that are portrayed in “Food, Inc.” and Omnivore’s Dilemma. She thinks everyone should have chickens and “organic” vegetable gardens in their back yards. That’s great, if that’s what you like to do for fun. That’s awesome if you feed your family and have a little extra to give to all your neighbors and your friends. But is that really relevant to everyone’s living situation? No, it’s not. Let’s just be honest. Is that going to feed the world? No, it’s not.

The reason we try to feed out our calves to market weight within 18 months is because we’re doing just that, we’re feeding the world. We wouldn’t be getting anywhere if we waited on them to reach market weight on just grass. We’d be at least 2 if not 3 years out before we could feed anyone. If you want to go back to agriculture the way it was in the 1940s, be my guest, but if you think the world is starving now, consider what it would be like if we took a step backwards? And, not to mention the amount of money we would have to spend on importing food from other countries because we couldn’t meet our own demands. Don’t even think for a minute that food production around the world is regulated better than it is here. I’d much rather have pork raised on concrete from the U.S. than I would if it was raised on the dirt in some third world country living off of the trash and waste in the sewer ditches. Our food is as healthy and safe as it’s ever been. The whole idea of research and technology is progress. Who in the world thinks it’s a good idea to regress to old medical procedures, or maybe go back to using type- writers instead of computers?

I crunched some numbers to illustrate my point. Back in 1940, the world population was around 2.3 billion people. There were around 6 million farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and each one could feed 19 people a year. Fast forward to 2010. The world population is roughly 6,825,100,000 and there are around 5.7 million U.S. farmers and ranchers (that’s about 2% of the U.S. population). Thanks to our research and technology, a U.S. farmer can feed 155 people a year. Not to be arrogant, but the U.S. farmers and ranchers feed the world. And there are less of us to do it. In fact, there are 300,000 less farmers in 2010 to feed over three times what the population was back in 1940. Every year we are expected to provide more food at less cost to the consumer, with less land to use, with less input, and less waste. We meet the demand. We give the consumers what they ask for. She heard me loud and clear.

Setting aside all the statistics, producers love their animals and the lifestyle they provide despite some hardships. How many times have we had to cancel dinner on friends while we tend to a sick calf? How many times have we had to miss church to find a lost calf or cow? How many hours have we spent feeding orphan calves? And what about all those hours spent on the floor board of the truck or the kitchen floor trying to warm up and dry off a newborn calf in the middle of a Northeast Oklahoma blizzard? How many times have our neighbors missed their own children’s ball games, dance recitals, or piano lessons because they had to stay with a bloated cow? I’ve even ruined a nice J.Crew sweater (gasp!) to pull a calf when one of our first-calf heifers was having trouble. All of this to put quality food on your table. Where are the animal rights activists then? How many of them make sacrifices like that?

I don’t know that I completely won my town friend over, but I know I proved that what we do is ethical, humane, and practical. And it’s not just to turn a profit, either. If that was the case, we would have found an easier way to do it by now. My point is that we, as producers, need to make sure that we are the ones providing the general public with the CORRECT information they need to know about the food we supply to them. The average consumer is so detached from the origin of his/her food that it makes it very easy for anti-agriculture organizations to come in and offer these people their version of what animal agriculture is. I encourage producers to get involved in putting your story out there via social media. Use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs to share the information you want your consumers to know about your operation. Something as simple as a video of harvest or chore time at your farm/ranch is a great way for consumers to see your passion for what you do and where it all starts from pasture to plate.

Trista Milliman
Cow/Calf Operator and Farrier

FROM THE PASTURE TO THE PLATE: IF YOU DON’T TELL YOUR STORY, WHO WILL? PART 1

Editor’s Note: Today’s blog is the first part in a two-part series from guest blogger Trista MillimanTrista is a native Illinoisan who now lives in Oklahoma where her and her husband run a cow-calf operation.

As a beef producer, (or any other type of producer for that matter), there are those whom you consider your “neighbors” or more precisely, the people that live within a 5-10 mile radius of your place and are fellow producers. Then, you have the people you consider your “town friends”, the friends who live in town (obviously) and really have no direct ties to agriculture, except for maybe, of course, their acquaintance with you. Well, that and the fact that they probably like to eat food and wear clothes, but that’s for another time.

Nonetheless, I am thankful for the roles my neighbors and my town friends play in my busy, overscheduled life. It’s always nice to take time out and enjoy their company whether we’re processing calves, helping each other move cows to another pasture, shopping at the mall, or going to a movie. All of our differences keep the conversation interesting. Recently, however, I had a visit with a town friend that really left me quite unsettled with the way the public perceives conventional animal agriculture. Though, I feel that I answered her questions and corrected her misconceptions accurately, it really made me realize how completely unattached and misinformed the general public is about the production of their food.

Let me bring you up to speed. My husband and I live in Northeast Oklahoma, or more affectionately termed by Okies as “Green Country”. Both of us have our B.S. in Animal Science Production and run our own cow-calf operation in the heart of ranching country. We are extremely proud of our commercial Charolais herd and the quality beef we can provide for people’s dinner tables. Not only is it an income, it’s a lifestyle. Our lives are scheduled around feeding time, breeding season, calving season, and weaning. Mix that in with our “town jobs”, (my husband is an OSU Extension Educator and I am a professional farrier), and our cattle (and horses) eat better and get more rest than we do. Let’s just say it’s not too strange in our small town to see us come in to do our banking covered in manure with our spurs still jingling. Everybody else around here does it, too.

Anyway, back to the conversation with my town friend. I’ve known her for years and consider her a very intelligent person. She’s been around the world and back, literally, and I love her taste in music and clothes. I respect her opinions, even if they don’t always match up with my own. She is very well read and up to date on current issues. So, it surprised me (and quite honestly, disappointed me) when she shared her views on what conventional animal agriculture is. I guess I take for granted that maybe even my closest friends don’t really know exactly how our operation runs or how well taken care of our animals are. And that’s my fault for not providing that information. Then, it got me thinking; if my close friends don’t understand it, then what kind of skewed information is the rest of the world getting and who are they getting it from? Scary.

She gave me her overall impression of production agriculture with one word: “poisoned”. It knocked the wind out of me. I asked her to explain what she meant by it and she said, “You pump them full of steroids, you are constantly treating them with antibiotics, and you feed them genetically modified grain. What makes you think anyone wants to put that into their bodies?” And then, she disclosed where she got her information from. She watched Robert Kenner’s documentary, “Food, Inc.” and read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I should have seen that one coming.

Both are filled to the brim with misinformation and propaganda that would easily suck the average, uneducated consumer in. And both were supplied information by PETA and HSUS, organizations that want to do away with animal agriculture altogether. I mean, who doesn’t want to eat healthier, save the environment, and stop animal cruelty? I know I do. And so does every other livestock or grain producer that feeds the rest of the world and wants to make a living doing it. The information in the movie and the book is maddening, sickening, inaccurate and outright wrong.

They use terms like “factory farm” and “sustainability”. Last time I checked, agriculture has always been sustainable. That’s why it’s called “agriculture”. And livestock production practices have become so efficient that we’ve actually eliminated some diseases, which in turn has eliminated the need for certain vaccines and opened the doors to medical research in saving human lives. Good stuff, considering that it makes the quality of life for these animals outstanding. I could go on, but maybe later.
Trista Milliman
Cow/Calf Operator and Farrier

FOOD POLICY, NOT FOOD PRODUCTION, CAUSES WORLD HUNGER

Assuming most of you are corn farmers or have an interest in producing corn, it’s no secret that corn prices are significantly lower than the high we saw in 2008. In fact, right now, corn is barely $3 when 2008 prices were $7.

Other prices were high in 2008 – wheat was around $6.50 when it’s now $4.30. Freight was extremely high compared to what we see today.

Yet, according to this article, food costs are so extremely high that poorer countries have hungry citizens in droves.

“With food costing up to 70 percent of family income in the poorest countries, rising prices are squeezing household budgets and threatening to worsen malnutrition, while inflation stays moderate in the United States and Europe,” Joe McDonald, author, says.

We need to fix world trade. Market distortions obviously exist that prevent food from flowing into regions of the world when it makes economic sense. We have corn in the US. In fact, carryout of world grains are steadily increasing, so I see little reason for the bag of flour to cost three times what it did two years ago, as a Pakistani mother of five mentions in the article.

In addition, media and humanitarian efforts are consistently calling on corn farmers for increased productivity even as the elitists in the US pursue policies that will stagnate productivity or even cause it to decline. Obviously these people need food and a food policy that focuses around lower productivity doesn’t make sense.

The food is there and it’s less expensive than it has been in recent times, but due to artificial trade barriers, and to some extent the overall economy, the people who need the food can’t get the food.

Prices, policies, and productivity – they are things we seriously need to consider if we are to tackle the growing world hunger problem.
Rodney M. Weinzierl, Executive Director,
ICGA/ICMB

ORGANIC, FREE RANGE, LOCALLY GROWN AND OTHER HYPE

Although it comes as no surprise to anyone that knows me personally, I tend to be fairly opinionated.

I enjoy a good debate, especially when I’m armed with the knowledge that will enable me to win. I love the feeling of always having the retort that completely derails my competitor’s argument, of having the last word. And, of course, I feel so completely over-educated about the organic and locally grown movements, that I will argue which is better (organic vs. conventional) all day, every day and never tire.

In fact, I have. Maybe “argue” is too strong a word here, but the folks at my church probably steer a conversation away from these topics at all costs. My Facebook friends are likely sick to death of me providing links and other information about organic vs. conventional produce. Now, I must air my thoughts here.

While I always start a conversation with the fact that consumers have a choice and should be able to purchase whatever sort of food they want, I quickly turn it to the fact that I want them to really UNDERSTAND their choices. Because I believe they are being jaded by the media and popular journalists (ie, Michael Pollan) into an emotional response to their food choices instead of a scientific one.

This article by Tamar Haspel really drives the point home and I couldn’t have been happier to read it.

Haspel and her husband raise chickens and really wanted to believe that their fresh, locally grown, free range eggs taste better. They went the scientific route – engaged their friends to come over for a taste test – and came up with some interesting results. Read for yourself because I really don’t want to ruin her lovely experiment and wonderful writing by telling you what happens.

While this likely won’t change their purchasing decisions (Why would Haspel buy eggs when she has free eggs in her backyard!?) the information she’s discovered will likely put her decision in context. Does she eat home grown eggs? Yes. Does she think they are the ONLY eggs? Nope.

This is what I wish for the elite in America (the ones that can afford these high priced options) that believe organic and locally grown foods are the ONLY choices for better health and taste. Context to your choices is so important. Is a locally grown tomato from your neighbor’s garden better in your salad? Probably. Is it the ONLY choice? Nope.

Should it be the only choice? Not by a long shot.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

FRONTIER LEAGUE BASEBALL HAPPY TO SEE CORN GROWER SUPPORT

The Commissioner of the Frontier League, Independent Professional Baseball, is Bill Lee. Here’s Bill making some opening remarks prior to the first home game of the Normal CornBelters in the Corn Crib. I spoke to him about this new franchise and what he thinks about the support of Illinois Corn Growers.

Bill says it’s a wonderful thing because it’s a “field of dreams.” He hopes the CornBelters are very successful. You can listen to my interview with Jim here (mp3).

I thought I’d also include a new video about the opening home game in the Corn Crib that was produced by the Illinois Corn Growers summer interns. I think they did a great job. How about you?

Normal CornBelters Corn Crib Opener Photo Album

Posted by Chuck Zimmerman
AgWired