Archive for the ‘Corn’ Category

Minnesota Well Represented at Commodity Classic 2013

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Thousands of farmers converged on Kissimmee, Florida (near Orlando) February 28 through March 2, for the unparalleled opportunities to network, to catch up on the latest technologies and tools of the trade and to forge a united political voice–all the benefits of Commodity Classic, one of the nation’s largest agricultural conferences. In addition to the tradeshow, exhibition and learning events, Commodity Classic includes the annual meetings of National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), as well as meetings of the soybean, wheat and sorghum growers organizations.

Minnesota’s Corn Organizations were amply represented by more than two dozen grower leaders and many others along for the learning and enjoyment.

“Commodity Classic brings so many of us farmers together, so we can learn, so we can understand what issues we need to take to the public and the lawmakers and policymakers so that we can keep farming strong, and be the best, most productive farmers we can be,” said Tom Haag, a farmer in Eden Valley, Minnesota, who serves as president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

A key element of the three-day gathering is consensus-building for the direction of the 34,000-plus member NCGA. By gathering with the other farmer groups, the common bond of farmers is strengthened, and a stronger voice for farmers develops.

“Having these discussions in a respectful, public way–that’s a big part of the reason for having our annual meeting and delegate sessions,” said Greg Schwarz, past MCGA president and current chairman of the MCGA government relations committee. Schwarz farms in LeSueur, Minnesota. He said, “Our grassroots determine what we do as an organization. Our farmers express their opinions and then our staff and our lobbyists carry that out.”

The number one concern for farmers across the country remains the passage of the long-delayed Farm Bill. For Minnesota’s corn organizations and many other groups, the public support that allows broad participation in crop insurance seems to be the most fundamental, strategic element in preserving independent family farms and assuring that the collective know-how they possess continues to give America the safe, abundant, economical food supply that is the envy of the world.

“There were many informal conversations going on about the Farm Bill, and the gist of the ones I took part in, is the need for unity and finding some kind of middle ground on issues that have divided some of the farm groups,” said Schwarz. “There is a recognition that, to pass a Farm Bill under regular order in Congress, we have to be unified, or Congress members may be confused on how to vote.”

Other key issues received discussion and resolutions, including support for keeping the current Renewable Fuels Standard and developing a single label for E15 fuel to be used everywhere, in order to prevent confusion among consumers. NCGA opposed single-state rules on GMO labeling in order to prevent having 50 different sets of regulations. The resolution supports the FDA’s power to pre-empt rules on agricultural biotechnology products, passed by individual states.

Another NCGA resolution opposes tying crop insurance eligibility to conservation compliance, arguing that the current farm program already provides a robust means to ensure conservation compliance by requiring farmers obey conservation rules in order to receive any form of federal farm support.

“We put a resolution together to say that ‘We support local ownership of corn processing, livestock and grain operations,'” Schwarz reported. He said, “The local ownership part is what really gets the value back to our rural communities and provides a good consistent tax base for rural communities. We wanted to put this down in black and white, so that when the next new thing comes along that makes use of farm products… whether it’s biochemicals, or nutriceuticals or energy–we are on record that we support local ownership so that we get some of those dollars back to local communities. We have seen that value with ethanol companies and livestock facilities in Minnesota and we want to support these industries and keep them strong. This is not just about farmer ownership, but also supporting our neighbors in town owning businesses that add value to agricultural commodities, as long as it’s local–if it’s an ethanol plant in a farming community or a biochemical company in a Minnesota suburb–whenever we can have some local ownership we get so much more out of it than if some large multinational company owns it.”

A number of first-timers to Commodity Classic joined the veterans, and saw for themselves that the three-day event deserves its reputation for being an incredibly valuable experience.

“I’ve heard it said how large Commodity Classic is, and how many people there are, and the number of displays, and the awesome scope of things…but seeing it for myself was still amazing,” said Chuck DeGrote, a grower leader on the MCGA board of directors, and a farmer in Clara City who raises corn, soybeans, sugar beets and cattle. He said, “The networking at the exhibition hall, talking to people from other states, people who are active in other commodity organizations, I got to hear what people are thinking about for the future, some of the projects we could be looking into. The people are what make Commodity Classic a special experience.”

DeGrote felt discussions about the Farm Bill and the Renewable Fuels Standard were interesting and gave reason for farmers to work together and to be optimistic about what can be done, even with today’s need for a fiscally constrained approach to the federal government.

“Reflections of a Popcorn Lover”

by MCGA Agvocate Michaela Bengtson

Growing up on the farm, we had many different traditions. But one of my favorites would have to be our Sunday night suppers. Sunday nights were always the same for our supper plans. They consisted of two things, the first was that we ate leftovers from the week before, and the second part was always my favorite: when my dad was done with chores, he would come up to the house and pull out the old cast iron pot and make fresh popped popcorn.

The popcorn usually ended up being the majority of our meals and dad usually had to make twice as much because we would eat about half the popcorn while he was still busy popping the rest. We even grew our own popcorn one year to see how it would taste and what it would be like.

Why am I sharing this story with you? March 14th is National Popcorn Lover’s day so in honor of that I wanted to share some interesting facts about popcorn with everyone! The first fun fact is that in Sac City, Iowa in February of 2009, they built the world’s largest popcorn ball! It weighed nearly 5,000 pounds and stood over 8 feet tall.

In searching for popcorn trivia, one of the most interesting facts that I have found has been the following: According to the site, “Many people believe the acres of corn they see in the Midwest during growing season could be picked and eaten for dinner, or dried and popped. In fact, those acres are typically field corn, which is used largely for livestock feed, and differs from both sweet corn and popcorn.” This is an interesting fact for us as agriculturalist to know about our non-farming friends: Even when considering something as simple as popcorn, many people don’t know how their food gets from the field to their table. As we go about our daily lives we need to make sure that we as individuals in agriculture are doing what we can to help everyone to understand what we do and where our food comes from.

So remember the next time you hear the pop in the microwave that we need to pop into action and make sure that we are sharing our stories and enthusiasm for agriculture with everyone!

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!

Drought + Resistance = surge in rootworm numbers and damage

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Alarming signs that the corn rootworm is developing resistance to major GMO corn traits, along with the impact of increasing drought stress and booming rootworm populations, adds up to potential trouble for Minnesota corn producers, according to Prof. Ken Ostlie, a University of Minnesota Extension entomologist, based at the St. Paul Campus of U of M.

Now is a critical time, according to Ostlie, for getting a handle on Bt performance in your fields, and assessing corn rootworm populations. 

“Corn rootworms have been emerging over the last ten days to two weeks, with root injury nearing completion” Ostlie said. “The drought may be aggravating this situation in a couple of ways. Corn rootworm survival is better under drought conditions. Insect feeding on the roots will increase moisture stress and its yield impacts. Also, without thunderstorms, the typical lodging that would be a telltale sign of corn rootworm problems may not be happening, so producers need to get out into the field, dig roots and scout for beetles.

Besides looking for beetles on plants, especially on the ear silks, dig up plants, wash the roots and carefully examine for signs that the worms fed there. “Growers should be concerned when root injury is occurring to a node or more of the roots,” said Ostlie. “In these drought conditions, even loss of half a node may lead to yield loss. Time scale wise, the next week will be crucial to assess what is happening.”

Another concern is that high corn rootworm beetle numbers can trim corn silks so severely that pollination fails. Spraying for corn root worm beetles to prevent ‘silk clipping’ is warranted only on the leading edge of pollination when scouting uncovers the presence of eight-to-ten or more beetles per ear that are keeping silks chewed to within ½” of the ear tip. Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council sponsored a radio interview with Ostlie that aired recently on the Linder Farm Network to alert growers to this threat.

For the past six years, with critical funding from the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council, Ostlie has investigated the potential for corn rootworm to become resistant to the main genetic traits used to combat it– genes taken from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis and spliced directly into the genetic make-up of “Bt” corn varieties. These Bt genes produce a protein in the plant which is toxic to the rootworm alone. In order to assure that the protein remained effective, producers have planted refuges of conventional corn where the insects could feed. Difficulties in maintaining refuges may have led, in part, to the current resistance, Ostlie said.

“It’s important for farmers to know how the traits are working in their fields,” Ostlie noted. “Scouting how these traits are working in their fields right now will be critical to making good decisions for next year. Producers are beginning to plan what additional root protection measures to take, which seed varieties and pest management resources to purchase for the 2013 growing season.”

Since 2009, Ostlie has tracked a growing resistance problem in Yieldgard VT Triple and Triple Pro, but it may be only a matter of time before resistance impacts other Bt varieties like Herculex Xtra, AgriSure 3000GT or even SmartStax.

“We suggest the fields most at risk are going to be corn planted after corn with a multiple-year history of the same trait,” Ostlie advised. “Those especially would be the ones growers should check–number one looking for signs of excessive moisture stress, number two looking to see if corn rootworm beetles are especially prevalent in a field, and third, digging up plants and washing roots off to see if they had been attacked by the worms.”

Ostlie is working with pest management scientist Bruce Potter, at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton, to develop maps and other information to help growers assess potential rootworm activity in their regions.  We’re particularly interested in reports of performance problems with Bt rootworm traits, Potter says.

Go to this web page to get additional information, or to report Bt hybrid performance problems:

As Drought Kills Corn, Farmers Fight Over Ethanol

(a story on North Country Public radio, reprinted at )

Recently, a coalition of groups representing America’s livestock and chicken farmers delivered an angry attack on the “Renewable Fuel Standard,” which requires gasoline companies to buy a minimum amount of ethanol — 13 billion gallons this year — and blend it into gasoline supplies. The groups released a new study that argues that this ethanol mandate does very little good: It increases the cost of gasoline and makes the country no less dependent on energy imports.

Even worse, the meat producers say, it creates unfair competition for corn. The mandate forces gasoline companies to buy billions of gallons of ethanol that they don’t even want, driving corn prices through the ceiling and potentially forcing livestock producers into bankruptcy.

Our Take:
Let’s turn the situation around. How would livestock producers react if another industry told them who they could sell their product to and who they couldn’t? They’d say, you are standing in the way of out livelihood and making it impossible for us to sustain ourselves economically.

There is no money for government handouts anymore.

If the livestock industry succeeds in sinking RFS and the ethanol industry, farmers won’t raise corn. Period. Because $2 corn, with no government support, is an impossibility.

The same small towns that livestock farmers share with crop farmers will dry up and blow away and we will be buying our food from Chile and Russia. That is, if we can afford to import food. Through the recession, agriculture was a major engine for economic stability.

Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural Research and Development has had something to say about the question of gas prices. The idea that replacing ten percent of the gasoline market with biofuels has no impact on prices (or that it increases gas prices) is pure hog wash. Or maybe it’s chicken feathers—since the National Chicken Council states that biofuels did not reduce our dependence on foreign oil despite the fact that we now import 49 percent of our energy compared to 60 percent before the rise of the ethanol industry. Yes, many people are driving less or driving more efficient vehicles, but studies show at least half of that reduction in energy imports comes from ethanol use.

The livestock industry knows all this. And when it isn’t under pressure from a temporary price rise, they remember it. In the end, they will get the feed they need. Perhaps this won’t be without pain, and perhaps some producers may exit the business, but livestock production as a whole will continue to thrive as long as there is strong pipeline of crop production to feed their animals. Ethanol is part of what makes that happen because it’s a part of a strong crop production industry.

Swedish buses run on E95

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

A growing number of buses in Sweden offer extremely low carbon emissions and cleaner air in Stockholm and other urban centers, thanks to the DC9-E02 engine from Scania Motors, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of trucks and buses for heavy transport applications, and of industrial and marine engines. The engine, based on diesel technology, runs on 95 percent corn-based ethanol.

Scania Engineer Andre Olson completed his Masters in Engineering degree at the University of Minnesota where he studied the use of alcohol fuel in diesel engines, a research project funded by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. He now plays a key role on Scania’s E95 engine team.

 A Swedish fuel maker, SEKAB, produces the E95, from corn.

The E95 engine offers a number of advantages, according to Olson, including compliance with the latest carbon emissions rules from the European Union. The engine increases brake power and brake torque, and offers a higher compression ratio. Turbocharge technology allows the reduction of displaced volume, while maintaining the power needed for safe and convenient operation of city buses.

“On a performance basis, I would say that the ED95 engine is pretty much on the same level as an equivalent Scania diesel-fueled engine,” said Olson. “The peak thermal efficiencies are about the same. In Sweden there’s a strong interest in renewable energy, for environmental reasons and also because they want to minimize the oil dependence.”

Unfortunately, the engine maker has no current plans to market its ED95 engine in the United States. However, if the pendulum once again swings strongly in favor of energy independence through farm-based renewable energy–a concept pioneered by corn grower leaders in Minnesota–who can predict whether Scania might change its mind. After all, it looks like a perfect fit for the US Corn Belt–technology designed not just to accommodate ethanol fuel, but to capitalize on its unique and environmentally-friendly characteristics.