Archive for October, 2012

International buyers reassured on quality and quantity of US grain for sale

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

According to the USDA, corn exports are off 40 percent from their usual rates and grain buying for ethanol and livestock consumption are both off as well, but the 2012 Export Exchange conference hosted in Minneapolis by the US Grains Council and the Renewable Fuels Association helped reassure international buyers that good quality US grain is available.

The most recent estimates by the USDA for this year’s production, 10.7 billion bushels is down 13 percent from the 2011–a remarkable figure in light of the severe drought that struck much of the US Farm Belt this year.

Corn producers John Mages, David Ward and Lori Feltis all represented Minnesota’s corn organizations at the conference, which belong to the US Grains Council. Mages, who farms in Stearns County, took part in a panel discussion about how the harvest went. A farmer from Illinois told about how hard hit drought areas suffered and saw severely constrained production. Mages was able to report the states in the northern tier of the Corn Belt remained untouched by the worst of the weather conditions–the crop is abundant, the grain is high test weight, high quality. This was true for corn from Minnesota and the Dakotas, as well as from the Deep South–Mississippi and Louisiana saw bumper crops thanks to favorable rains.

“Minnesota had record production–1.4 billion bushels,” Mages told the audience. He also noted that “86 million acres harvested nationally was also a record. It’s a surprise that the yield was as good as it was, despite the drought. The hybrids are better than they used to be. This weather would have been completely devastating 20 years ago, but today we can withstand it better. The conference gave the grain buyers a chance to get a feel for what the crop was like in the US–producers like me and Lori and David, and some from the Dakotas and Illinois–it was good to hear directly from the farmer rather than relying on other sources, to know what the crop is like.”

Feltis noted that one particular concern among grain buyers, are the reports of widespread Aflotoxin–a fungus that thrives in drought-stressed corn.

“We were able to reassure them that it’s virtually non-existent in the crop coming from the northern states,” said Feltis.

The fact that central parts of the Corn Belt–huge producers like Illinois–have seen higher incidence of Aflotoxin, has created something of a two-tiered market, according to wire service reports. Buyers are paying premium prices for grain unaffected by the condition.

Because of the drought, many foreign buyers had the notion that this is a replay of 2009, when test weights were off for most of the US crop, but they learned that the opposite is true–despite the lower total production, test weight and quality are above average.

“These overseas buyers were able to make connections and contacts,” said Feltis. “It was a great chance for people to meet each other. It created an open forum, so they could tell us their concerns. For the Asian countries, the biggest concern was price. As a general rule, it seemed like they are very frugal buyers, very price conscious. So we were trying to explain that quality is important. That the results they will get feeding our grain to their animals will make it worth the price.”


Autumn Appreciations

By MCGA Agvocate Michaela Bengtson

Being a college student, I sometimes get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the cities.  So for me, one of the greatest things is getting to go home on the weekends, back to the farm and enjoy the country lifestyle again.  As I was driving home this weekend, I was rolling past the golden fields and started to think about how corn is used every day by my family.

My first thought was about the fuel in my gas tank, which is ethanol.  Ethanol helps the world not only save on oil costs but it helps us use more renewable resources.  Another benefit of ethanol for my family is that it produces distillers grain.  One of the components of our dairy cow’s diets on the farm are distillers grain.  If it weren’t for ethanol, we wouldn’t have that feed source for my favorite cows!  Another benefit is that ethanol can help boost local economies and provide jobs.  In Atwater, an ethanol plant was built in 2005. It not only helped out farmers by providing a new market to keep prices competitive,  but it also gave farmers more confidence that there would always be a buyer for their grain. 

The second thing that I thought about was how corn helps out my mom.  In May, right after the corn planting was done, my mom had a stroke.  Currently, she is working on rehabilitation and gaining back the mobility in her right arm and leg.  One of the things that she sometimes feels is that her arm is tight.  At therapy they have a special machine to help with that tightening.  The main part of the machine is made of crushed corn cobs.  How the machine works is that a patient’s arm is put into a sleeve in the machine and a cuff is secured around their arm to ensure that the sleeve is snug. The machine is then turned on and starts to blow hot air into the crushed corn cobs, which heats them up to very hot temperatures.  The neat thing is that even though the temperature of the air is extremely high, because of the crushed corn cobs, the patient won’t get burned and it helps to loosen and relax their muscles.  It is amazing how something that might only be used for compost is used to help out so many people! 

As I roll past those golden fields, I am so thankful for everything that corn does.  From being a fuel source, to a feed source, to helping a farmer to have an income, to helping people recovering from illness, corn can do a-maize-ing things!

Tim Waibel joins MCGA board of directors

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Animal agriculture is still corn’s number one customer in Minnesota, and Courtland farmer Tim Waibel brings direct experience of that to his new position on the board of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. He joined the board in August, to fill out the term of grower leader Curt Watson.

Waibel, 53, raises corn and beans with his wife Mary, and sons Justin and Jonathan, and together they custom finish 25,000 head of hogs each year. Daughters Rebecca and Anna are college students studying nursing and Clarissa, a senior at New Ulm High School, plans to attend South Dakota State University to pursue a degree in ag business.

“Since Minnesota became a state, animal agriculture has been the key mainstay of farmers,” said Waibel. “It has always been a big usage of grain and it will continue to be. As the original, value added use for crops, livestock production is part of what keeps agriculture and our state economy strong.”

Waibel has farmed full time for the past 18 years and his agriculture leadership experience includes four years on the Minnesota Pork Board.

“A lot of issues interest me, and I’d have to say that number one is transportation–we’ve been dealing with the lock and dam issue for a number of years,” said Waibel. “I’d like to help advocate so we can make progress and get the locks lengthened, so the barge operators don’t have to break up their tow-barges. We need modern, efficient transportation if we want to compete in the marketplace.”

Waibel also feels that farm-based renewable fuels are at a critical stage and need as much advocacy as farm organizations can offer.

“We have to continue to get the word out that ethanol is a great solution for fuel and food–it offers a feed product that has become a real staple in animal agriculture, and another point that I think escapes many people is how much ethanol has helped clean up the air emissions. We used to have checkpoints for testing your vehicle’s emissions. After ethanol came on, those disappeared, because ethanol really cleared the air.”

In addition to his work with farm organizations, Waibel continues to be active as a member of the Nicollet County Planning and Zoning Commission. As the main mechanism for managing the county’s land use, Planning and Zoning benefits from the farmer’s perspective, Waibel feels.

“It’s important to do what we can to be fair and to facilitate land uses that keep crop and animal production strong in our county, while we assure that the environment is protected from harm,” said Waibel.

MCGA board of directors includes 18 leaders drawn from across the state. Waibel will serve 18 months to fulfill the remainder of the current term.