March 4, 2014
According to Charlie Arnot, CEO of The Center for Food Integrity, consumers have become increasingly interested in food. “Food is on the consumer radar— big time,” he said. “There is also an increased skepticism regarding food production.”
Arnot said that consumers are deeply conflicted about food. There is a low correlation between what consumers say concerns them and their actual buying behavior. “While many consumers support greater regulation that can lead to higher food costs, they will still buy the least-cost product. In fact, one out of four dollars spent in retail food is spent at Wal-Mart stores.”
While one might think that food safety would be at the top of the list of consumer concerns, affordability of healthy food actually holds the number one position. “Safety is an assumed given in the U.S. food supply,” Arnot said. “It’s the one fundamental, non-negotiable requirement of our food system in this country. But people most want access to healthy foods they can afford.”
The Center for Food Integrity recently conducted a nationwide survey to gauge consumer perceptions about the food system in the United States. The results indicate that consumers are less trusting of “corporate” food production and they are demanding a high degree of transparency from those who provide food for the marketplace. Arnot sees this as a challenge and an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to reach out to consumers.
“We’re not going to change what someone believes by providing them with data,” Arnot said. “Farmers and ranchers need to engage directly with consumers in honest conversations about food production. Agriculture has to embrace a much more radical idea of transparency.”
The Nebraska Corn Board supports a number of initiatives that connect food producers with food consumers, including CommonGround, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, Ag in the Classroom and several other consumer-focused programs.
Arnot said that putting a face on agriculture is critical to overcoming consumer concerns. “Shared values drive trust. When consumers see and sense that the farmers and ranchers growing their food feel the same way they do about important food production issues—that builds a connection and understanding that numbers and science simply cannot.”
This will be a long term process, Arnot said. “Agriculture is very results- oriented. When we see a problem, we want to have it fixed in the next production cycle. When it comes to consumer perceptions on food, it’s a generational challenge—and it will take years to establish a stronger connection between farmers and consumers.”
March 3, 2014
A dozen leaders of state and national agriculture organizations from around the United States, including Nebraska Corn Board executive director, Don Hutchens and Nebraska Corn Board farmer-director and U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Chairman, Mark Jagels, embarked last week on a visit to the Middle East and Europe organized by the USMEF. The mission goal was to develop a deeper understanding of the potential of these two export markets for U.S. beef, pork and lamb.
The largest food industry trade show in the Middle East, the Gulfood Show in Dubai, is the first stop for the group, which includes representatives from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, United Soybean Board, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Iowa Corn Growers Association/Iowa Corn Promotion Board, Nebraska Corn Board, Montana Beef Council and Merck Animal Health.
“Gulfood is like the Oscars for our industry,” said John Chihade, president of Chihade International, Inc., an Atlanta-based exporter who has been exporting to the Middle East region for more than a decade and is participating in the 2014 show. “We get to see our customers and our vendors all in one location in a market that continues growing.”
The Middle East region on display at Gulfood is a stable trading partner for the U.S. beef industry, the No. 4 market in volume during 2013 purchasing 147,696 metric tons of product valued at $276.2 million. The region combines Egypt, far and away the world’s leading market for U.S. beef variety meat, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is almost exclusively a market for U.S. muscle cuts and higher-value beef that grew 11 percent in value last year to $54.6 million. It is a smaller market for U.S. pork, although it grew 27 percent in volume and 50 percent in value last year, largely on sales to the UAE, which hosts numerous business travelers and tourists.
“I am here to try to get more American beef for my customers,” said Ahmed Hefni, general manager of the Egyptian Foundation for Import & Export. “All things being equal, U.S. beef is the only choice, of course, because of its high quality. But, price is always a consideration.”
Hefni noted the competition for his business from a range of countries including Canada, the European Union, Brazil, New Zealand and even India, who were among a range of beef producers with a large presence at Gulfood.
That sentiment was echoed by Thomas Das, vice chairman and managing director of FANTCO, a leading importer based in Dubai, who indicated that Australian beef is the primary competitor to the United States in the region, although the competition is based more on price than quality.
“The UAE is growing and has big potential for continued growth,” said Das, who noted that the consistent supply and quality of U.S. beef is an advantage that he used to help bring the product to an increasing number of high-profile outlets, including an estimated 110 five-star hotels in the region.
The Gulfood 2014 show, which runs through Feb. 27, includes 4,500 exhibiting companies and 120 national pavilions representing countries from the United States to Colombia to the Ukraine to Singapore. An estimated 80,000 visitors from 152 countries are expected to attend.
“Maybe 20 years ago, the Middle East wasn’t looked at as much of a volume market,” said Keith Obermiller who manages international sales for American Foods Group of Green Bay, Wis. “But the UAE is unique in this area. Its beef demand is more advanced and diverse, and disposable income continues to rise. And U.S. beef is very much appreciated here.”
In addition to attending the Gulfood Show, the team will receive briefings on the region from USMEF staff, meet with importers, distributors and retailers in the region, and travel to Europe for briefings on the market potential of the EU region and tours of several meat processing plants and livestock operations.
Read more on this mission by Global Meat News - US agricultural group to visit Middle East and Europe.
February 28, 2014
This week, the ag industry put a focus on grain handling safety with the marking of Grain Bin Safety Week.We want to promote safety awareness because working in and around grain bins can be very dangerous. Flowing grain can completely engulf a worker in seconds.
Horizontally crusted grain is like a bridge and can collapse and immediately bury farmers walking across the top of it. The collapse of crusted grain on the side of a bin is like an avalanche that can break bones or bury workers.
People can suffocate with only 12 inches of grain covering them because the weight of the grain prevents movement. (View the the Nebraska Corn Board’s 2011 “CornsTALK” newsletter which featured still-relevant information about grain entrapment, including the types of engulfment and contributing factors.)
We want to encourage farmers to be diligent and train their family members and workers on the hazards of working in and around grain bins and discuss what to do should an accident occur.
The National Corn Growers Association has produced a video (watch here) on the subject in conjunction with the National Grain and Feed Foundation (related to the National Grain & Feed Association) that talks about the hazards of flowing and lodged grain. It also discusses how an engulfment can impact a family and farm operation.
The industry has even more reason to celebrate and create safety awareness this year as the Department of Labor's (DOL) decision to withdraw enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) small farm grain bin guidance. While OSHA's concern with grain bin safety was appreciated, improving farm safety is a collaborative, cooperative process that was not helped by OSHA's enforcement under the just-rescinded 2011 guidance document that was not consistent with the law.
This is important to Nebraska as recently, a Nebraska farmer with one non-family employee was assessed a fine of over $130-thousand dollars by OSHA
Bob Stallman, AFBF President, noted the issue had generated a good deal of concern both on the farm and in Congress, "Farm Bureau appreciates the efforts on this issue by the House Education and Workforce Committee, including Worker Protections Subcommittee Chairman Tim Walberg (R-Mich). We also commend Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) for coordinating bipartisan letters drawing attention to this important issue. We encourage DOL to reach out to farm groups to help develop additional farm safety programs. Preventative measures would better serve OSHA's and the farm community's shared goal of farm safety."
AFBF and Nebraska Farm Bureau are encouraging farmers to contact Senator Mike Johanns and Congressman Adrian Smith and thank them for their efforts in encouraging the DOL to withdraw enforcement of OSHA regulations on farm grain facilities.
The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) is honoring Grain Bin Safety Week this year by echoing the importance of grain bin safety, and reminding its members of the organization’s training materials and upcoming safety seminar.
Each year, NGFA teams up with state grain associations and offers regional safety seminars. The next one is slated March 26 in Fargo, N.D., and is sponsored by NGFA, North Dakota Grain Dealers Association, Minnesota Grain and Feed Association, and South Dakota Grain and Feed Association. The seminar provides the tools needed by successful operations to comply with federal and state regulations. It will include an update on the status of several OSHA regulatory issues, an overview of key Grain Handling Standard components, NGFA guidance documents, and the revised OSHA Hazard
February 27, 2014
Recent consumer research from The Center for Food Integrity found three key perceptions about the food system in the United States:
- Consumers believe industrial processes are inherently impersonal. People cannot relate to them.
- Consumers believe that anything produced at a large scale has a greater opportunity for error—and thanks to the incredible efficiency in our food distribution system, the impact of error is faster and greater.
- Consumers believe that larger entities will put profit ahead of public interest—and put their obligation to shareholders ahead of responsibility to consumers.
“It’s very clear that consumers want to trust their food system, but they find it more difficult to trust a ‘company’ than a ‘person’,” said Alan Tiemann of Seward, a farmer-director on the Nebraska Corn Board. “That’s why it is increasingly important for all of us in agriculture to take the personal responsibility to meet consumers, listen to what’s on their minds and do what we must to answer their questions and earn their trust and confidence.”
February 25, 2014
Genetic management and selective breeding have been used for centuries (Gregor Mendel and Luther Burbank, anyone?). Today, we’re just doing it better.
As farmers and ranchers work to meet the daunting challenge of feeding an exploding global population, they continue to grow more with less – less water, less land, less fertilizer and pesticides, and less impact on the environment.
Currently, genetically modified (GM) crops—also referred to as “biotechnology”—are an important part of a farmer’s portfolio. But they are not an end-all solution.
“The research we do is not an either-or proposition; it’s a continuum,” said Dr. Sally A. Mackenzie, the Ralph and Alice Raikes Professor in the department of agronomy and horticulture in biological sciences at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. “We’re not able to predict what biotechnology will give us. It’s a tool in an increasingly robust toolbox.”
Dr. Mackenzie says that genetic modification simply refers to human intervention to create a different genetic combination to create a desired outcome.
“We’re using transgenes to create gene combinations that result in diversity and enhanced performance. The outcomes rely on the genes themselves and how they are expressed within the plants.” This same concept is being used in animal research and in human health research for cancer and other diseases
Researchers are focused on helping plants overcome stresses, challenges and inhibitors that keep them from achieving their full genetic potential. Epigenetics is one emerging technology that involves temporarily adding a transgene to a plant and then removing it—while leaving the effects of that transgene intact within the plant. This can lead to more vigorous plants, more biomass and more production.
“With epigenetics, what you eat is not transgenic, but transgene technologies were used to affect the performance of the plant,” Dr. Mackenzie said.
“There has not been a single documented case of a food allergy or human health situation due to crop biotechnology.”
Researchers are also looking at the microbes the plants live with, which dramatically impact the way a plant uses water and nitrogen, and interacts with pathogens. This approach doesn’t change the genetic complexion of the plant, but instead strives to better understand and manage the environment around the plant to optimize its performance.
“GM foods unsafe” is a scare tactic.
Dr. Mackenzie says that assertions that GM foods are unsafe is a distortion of the truth— and in many cases, is a scare tactic used by special interest groups to gain financial support and media attention. “There has not been a single documented case of a food allergy or human health situation due to crop biotechnology,” Dr. Mackenzie added. “It has never been unsafe or unhealthful. When we see distortions of the truth, the first place we should look is at who is benefitting from this misinformation.”
When asked about concerns about insects and weeds becoming resistant to GM crops, she asserts that this concern cannot be placed at the doorstep of biotechnology.
“There is nothing about GM technology that causes weeds to become tolerant to herbicides, just as there is nothing inherent in our medical system that makes us more resistant to antibiotics,” she said. “Just as any doctor needs to be responsible in prescribing medications, farmers need to be careful stewards of their crops—regardless if they are growing GM or non-GM varieties.”
Dr. Mackenzie said that genetics have long been part of agriculture. For example, the original corn was much like birdseed—and the alkaloid levels in the original tomato would be fatal to humans. Ruby red grapefruit is sweeter because gamma radiation was used to mutate the genes to express themselves in that manner.
This is what feeds us.
“Carrots, wheat, corn—Mother Nature never meant for us to eat any of them. Plants resist being eaten,” Dr. Mackenzie said. “All the crops we eat are essentially manmade through conventional breeding. This is what feeds us. Today we’re more precise and we can better manage change thanks to advancements in knowledge and technology.”
“Transgene plants will be part of our future; they must be, “ Dr. Mackenzie said. “Our problems are so challenging, so daunting that we don’t have the luxury to depend on alternatives that are less sustainable or less productive.
“If we’re going to meet global food demand over the next 30 years, we need to pull out all the stops. This is our generation’s equivalent of the putting a man on the moon.”
View Dr. Mackenzie’s presentation as part of the UNL Heuermann Lecture Series.
February 24, 2014
We are now in a holding pattern from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hear about next steps concerning their proposed ruling to cut-back on the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).
The corn-industry had big push last month to send comments and letters to the EPA. In remarks submitted to the EPA, supporters of the RFS have chided the agency’s decision to cut the blending requirements. They point to ethanol’s role in boosting the agricultural economy and promoting financial growth through the creation of jobs, tax revenue and other benefits. Many worry lowering the federal mandate could harm that growth.
“The bottom line is that this proposal would have a devastating ripple effect on investment in ethanol plants, their production and the jobs they support — as well as the surrounding communities,” Dave Glasnapp, an investor in an ethanol plant in Gowrie, Iowa, said in a comment to the EPA according to an interview on Brownfield.
Soliciting public comment on a government proposal is a normal step in the regulatory process. After the comment period closes, the EPA reads those remarks and considers whether to make changes to its proposal before issuing a final rule.
Overwhelming number of comments
The large number and the tone of the comments on this proposal illustrate what’s at stake: billions of dollars and a clearer picture of the future of renewable fuels use in the United States. From Nebraska, over 6,000 total number of comments were submitted to the EPA. The over 212,000 number reflects actual comments submitted in both opposition and to keep the proposed ruling. The bulk letters Nebraska Corn Board sent were counted as one until the EPA counts and reads each comment.
EPA is obligated to read each comment that was submitted before the comment period ended. Comments received after the comment period will be noted but do not have to be read and taken into consideration of their final ruling.
A change to the Renewable Fuel Standard would alter the blending requirements for renewable fuels including corn ethanol. In the past, the EPA largely followed the annual level requirements put in place by Congress, helping to drive new markets and spur demand for the renewable fuel. The proposed reduction — a move even some in the oil industry have called substantive — would shift the process to one that sets the requirements based on expected market demand.
So now that the comment period is closed, what’s next?
The EPA is on their own timeframe. We are hoping they make a ruling by this summer on the 2014 requirements, and at the same time, release the 2015 requirements.
The proposal by the EPA, which oversees the country’s Renewable Fuel Standard, would cut the fuel requirement in 2014 to 15.2 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels, 3 billion gallons less than Congress required in a 2007 law.
It would mark the first-ever drop in the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires refiners to blend ever-increasing amounts of biofuels into the nation’s gasoline supply through 2022.
Next steps if their proposal is passed?
“That is a good question,” said Kim Clark, director of biofuels for the Nebraska Corn Board. “We, the corn-ethanol industry, are expecting the EPA to overturn their proposed numbers and not make any changes to the requirements.”
February 21, 2014
Curt help out the Corn Board with some special commercials that will air during the Olympics.
As a Nebraskan, Curt understand the importance of agriculture in our state.
How nearly one in three jobs in Nebraska is connected to agriculture.
How farming and ranching support our communities, our schools and our entire economy.
And how our unique Golden Triangle of corn, cattle and ethanol puts Nebraska in a great position to compete on a global stage—and win.
Click here to watch all three!
When I fuel up my vehicle, I use an ethanol blend without any second thoughts. But what if I wasn’t a farmer?
There are two main schools of thought right now on ethanol. While ethanol industry promotes it, the petroleum industry promotes fear of it.
A reduction in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has been proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and some members of Congress. The RFS is legislation that sets targets for blending ethanol with gasoline. The EPA is proposing a reduction of 1.4 billion gallons.
On one hand, the ethanol industry points out that the RFS decreases our dependency on foreign oil, that ethanol is a cleaner choice for the environment, and that the RFS provides strong economic support for the cities and farms in the Midwest.
On the other hand, the petroleum industry tells consumers that ethanol damages engines, raising corn is destructive to the environment, and agricultural subsidies hurt the poor. However, when we read between the lines, vehicles with improved fuel efficiency have led to decreased demand for gasoline. This has left the petroleum industry wanting to increase its market share and bottom line by reducing ethanol blend targets. If you are holding a petroleum company in your investment portfolio, this benefits you. It’s ironic that oil interests express concern for the poor while they boast record profits and unapologetically stick it to consumers at the pump!
All mudslinging aside, here’s what I know as a farmer:
- We’ve used ethanol for over twenty years in our pickup trucks and personal vehicles without any engine problems. None of our mechanics has ever advised against using ethanol blends.
- Corn production on our farm is not destructive or unsustainable. Most of the farmers I know practice similar methods to care for the land and water. (I’ll let you make up your own mind as to what kind of impact you think the petroleum industry has on the environment - such as 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.)
- 80% of the Farm Bill funds food stamps and nutrition. The remainder supports crop insurance, conservation, subsidies, and other programs. The main intent of agricultural subsidies is to provide economic stability in times of extreme weather or market risk. Connecting subsidies to the plight of the poor is questionable at best.
- Veterans groups are pro-ethanol.
As a corn farmer, I’m biased. However, we also raise soybeans, wheat, grain sorghum, alfalfa and cattle. Although corn prices spiked in recent years, it’s when production is high and prices are low that the ethanol industry lends important stability to the market.
I truly predict that a reduction in the RFS would have a negative influence on the economy in the Midwest, which could ultimately impact other sectors of the economy nationwide which have been experiencing a somewhat shaky recovery. When the farm economy is weak, it deals a severe blow to all of rural America. During the 1980s Farm Crisis, we didn’t just lose farmers. We also lost small town businesses and population which eventually triggered a wave of school consolidations. When farmers can’t replace and update equipment, it affects manufacturing sector. The ripple effect reaches all consumers eventually. Ethanol production is a homegrown American industry that benefits our economy with thousands of jobs beyond just farmers. While domestic petroleum is considerable, there’s no denying that there are foreign firms who want you to use less ethanol.
Until I’m convinced otherwise, a little ethanol at the pump never hurt anybody; but letting petroleum interests determine our opinion of it could be painful to us all in the long run.
*You can read Diane’s blogs, and other posts from farm women across Nebraska at CommonGroundNebraska.com!
February 17, 2014
In times of extreme weather people often look to their furnace or air conditioner to provide them with comfort and even though these two units play a big part in keeping us comfortable we often forget about the importance of our insulation. Without insulation we would have nothing to keep that energy in. Traditionally insulation has been comprised of foam and fiberglass. However, new technology is proving that corn stalks that are pressed can be used as an effective form of insulation that is considered to be a "green" energy source. Many tests are currently being done on corn insulation to see if it indeed would suffice as a source of insulation. So far, some of the corn insulation assessed properties (ex. density, fire resistance, and durability) show adequacy of this product for building applications, such as a thermal insulation product, a ceiling coating, or a lightweight partition wall.
Corn insulation has also won awards for being a renewable, clean, insulation source. The only problem is not many people know about this product. Grants are being developed that are to be used to promote corn insulation and to draw awareness to its environmental benefits.
So the next time you are putting up that new barn, or remodeling that room you always wanted changed, consider using corn insulation as a cleaner alternative.
February 14, 2014
pork cuts on a 10-point scale - resulting in a demonstrated increase in the volume of consumers ranking pork as an eight or higher. Other than price - the study shows the top three drivers of meat purchases for consumers are quality, appearance and convenience. According to the tracking study - the checkoff's consumer target has grown to 43-percent of U.S. households - up from 36-percent in May of 2013. The checkoff points out the consumer target was just 27-percent of U.S. households in 2010. The growth is attributed to people rating pork cuts higher and their confidence in cooking great meat. The study also found that a majority of all fresh pork eaten - 84-percent at-home and 80-percent away-from-home - is consumed by a Pork Checkoff target consumer. The total percent of pork eaten by this target consumer grew significantly since the Pork Be inspired® campaign was introduced in 2011. Pork Checkoff Domestic Marketing Committee Chair David Newman says the checkoff believes the campaign is making a distinct difference in the marketplace and how American consumers view and buy pork.
The results of the tracking study are reinforced by the Pork Checkoff's key measure of domestic marketing - real per capita consumer pork expenditures. Using USDA data - consumer pork expenditures measure both the volume and value of pork sold in the United States. Data through December 2013 showed per capita pork expenditures grew by 5.6-percent from 2012 to 2013