October 31, 2009

While positive, NYT guest editorial highlights important issue

The New York Times this past week ran an editorial written by a Lan Samantha Chang, who lives in Iowa City, Iowa, and is director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. This was part of the Times' "Home Economics" effort - which involves allowing guests to write pieces that provide a snapshot of their local economy.

The "Meet the Farmers" column by Chang was very well done - it talks about the Fuhrmeister farm near Iowa City that has been in the family since 1868.

It highlights the hard work the farm family puts in, plus all the other things that impact farmers: dramatic changes in commodity prices, weather, land costs and more. Importantly, Chang explains how closely tied the general farm economy is to the state's economy as a whole. (This is true for all farm states.)

Chang notes that the Fuhrmeisters are the only farmers she and her husband know after living in Iowa for four years. She also - rightly - points out that "even in our farm state, many city folk are detached from the Fuhrmeisters' way of life."

I'd argue that is true across the country - and that it's not just city folks who are detached. It's also often true in smaller, more rural communities where people who live in town don't really know what goes on just a mile or two away. Even those who have retired from farming may not have a clear understanding of the changes that have taken place in agriculture over the last decade.

(Is this even true, to some extent, among active farmers? Where a poultry or cattle producers really doesn't know what goes on in the hog facility on the other side of the county?)

In either case, Chang's article re-emphasizes an issue that is quickly becoming a priority: Reintroducing the American farmer to people across the country.

Or, as Change put it in the Times: Meet the Farmers.

October 30, 2009

Become a fan of A-FAN

The Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska - known as A-FAN - has a Facebook page.

If you're on Facebook, be sure to check out A-FAN's page and become a fan. It's an easy way to keep up on what A-FAN is doing, as well as to keep abreast of issues that are important to agriculture.

You can find A-FAN's Facebook page here.

If you aren't on Facebook, perhaps this is a good time to give it a try.

It's a great way to stay in touch with family, friends and others who are important to you. Increasingly, it's also a great way to stay informed by and up-to-date with a number organizations and associations (like A-FAN!). Plus you can comment and counter some myths and misinformation you may hear or read about online. Those who follow you will be better off for the knowledge and experience you have.

October 28, 2009

Podcast: Thoughts on a grain indemnity fund

In this Podcast, Brandon Hunnicutt, a farmer from Giltner and president of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, discusses a recent hearing held to discuss a possible grain indemnity fund in Nebraska.

He covers some of the issues farmers had with one proposal and expresses his appreciation of the openness to ideas shown by state legislators.

Nebraska Corn Kernel podcasts are also available iTunes! Click here to subscribe.

October 26, 2009

Nebraska corn only 15 percent harvested

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said today that only 15 percent of the Nebraska's corn crop is in the bin. That’s only a 2 point increase from last week and a 5 point increase from two weeks ago.

Wetter than normal weather has hampered farmers’ efforts to get the crop out of the field. Wet weather and cooler temperatures have also prevented the crop from drying down in the field as quickly as farmers would like.

Last year at this time, 21 percent of the crop was harvested, while the five-year average is 47 percent harvested. Many farmers are expecting to be harvesting their record crop well into November. In fact, three weeks ago the joke was eating turkey dinner in the combine. Now it's Christmas dinner. Dealing with the weather goes with the territory, though, and farmers are hoping a few dry days this week will allow them to make some progress.

For details on Nebraska's crop, be sure to check out the Nebraska Corn Board's crop progress update.

On the positive side, 80 percent of Nebraska's crop remains in good to excellent condition.

Nationally, that figure stands at 69 percent, down a point from last week.

Also on the national front, 20 percent of the corn crop is harvested, only a 3 point gain from last week. Last year the crop was 37 percent harvested. The five-year average is 58 percent. A long road ahead, indeed.

Thankfully, many farmers are reporting the crop to be holding up well (despite rain, snow, wind, etc.). Although the tops of some stalks have broken off that should hopefully not impact the overall harvested crop, although it could slow progress.

This week's photo, showing a mature ear of corn hanging downward, came to the Nebraska Corn Board from the Imperial FFA Chapter.

Ethanol keeps Nebraska running in tough financial times

The headline of this post comes straight from CNN, where John King, CNN's chief national correspondent, produced a good article highlighting the importance of ethanol to Nebraska's economy.

For those of you on Twitter, John King is @JohnKingCNN. He Twittered and posted several picture during his trip to Nebraska.

The article features the Shaner family near Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, as well as the Advanced BioEnergy ethanol plant in Fairmont, Nebraska. The plant directly employs 45 people.

It talks about how the ethanol industry -- and agriculture in general -- have helped Nebraska have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

Here's a great line from Jeff Shaner on the economic impact beyond another market for corn:

"Absolutely. Whether it be truck drivers, machine shops, people that are at the plant, maintaining the plant, hauling the garbage away from the plant," is Jeff Shaner's partial list of the economic impact. "It is a tremendous ripple effect."

Importantly, the reporter also got a tour of the ethanol plant, where he learned about the process of converting corn into ethanol and distillers grains, which he called a "prized byproduct" for feed.

The article also features some thoughts by University of Nebraska agricultural economist Dick Perrin.

October 21, 2009

Podcast: Dickey had a great year as president of NCGA

In this Podcast, Jim Hultman, a farmer from Sutton and a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, reflects on the challenges and accomplishments Bob Dickey saw during the year he was president of the National Corn Growers Association. Dickey is a farmer from Laurel and is now chairman of NCGA.

Nebraska Corn Kernel podcasts are also available iTunes! Click here to subscribe.

Farmers remain trusted messengers

The National Corn Growers Association released a survey that shows people across the country have a tremendous amount of respect and trust for family farmers. There's also a lot of support our there for using corn for food, feed and fuel.

The nationwide survey found that 95 percent of those polled find farmers to be trusted messengers on issues such as agriculture, corn products and ethanol. Ethanol itself was supported or strongly supported as a good fuel alternative by 65 percent of those polled.

Darrin Ihnen, a farmer in Hurley, S.D., and current president of NCGA said "solid results" were expected, but "the final numbers were beyond what we imagined."

"This high level of support is gratifying, and it is also a challenge for us to work hard to maintain the trust consumers have placed in us," he said.

As for uses for corn, support was broad:
  • 95 percent support its use as food for people,
  • 93 percent as livestock feed,
  • 67 percent support the use of corn as a sweetener,
  • 65 percent support corn ethanol, and
  • 73 percent support other uses of corn, such as for fiber and packaging.
For more on the report, and to download a copy, click here.

October 19, 2009

Harvest progressing slowly but 82% of Nebraska corn is good to excellent

Thirteen percent of Nebraska's corn was harvested as of Oct. 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in it's weekly crop progress report today.

That's up only 3 points from last weeks' 10 percent harvested -- and behind last year's 17 percent harvested at this point. The five-year average is 34 percent harvested and certainly shows what the cool, wet weather has done to slow things down this year -- not only in keeping farmers out of the field but slowing the natural drying process of the grain.

Nationally, 17 percent of the crop is in the bin, up only 4 points from last week. A year ago, 28 percent of the crop was in the bin -- and the five-year average is 46 percent.

The nation's soybean crop is only 30 percent harvested (it's 55 percent in Nebraska), so there are some long days ahead there, too. The five-year average this this week is 72 percent harvested (75 percent in Nebraska).

Crop conditions remain very high. In Nebraska, 82 percent of the corn crop was rated by USDA to be in good to excellent condition. Nationally, that figure is 70 percent, the same as two weeks ago. This is still high especially considering the frost/snow/cold the crop has endured over the last two weeks. (A year ago, 62 percent of the nation's corn crop was rated good to excellent.)

As for crop maturity, USDA said 78 percent of Nebraska's crop was mature, compared to last year's 82 percent and the five-year average of 94 percent. Nationally, 83 percent of the crop was mature, compared to 92 percent last year and the five-year average of 97 percent.

October 16, 2009

Academic Excellence in Agriculture scholarships

Are you in college majoring in an ag-related field? Here's an opportunity to get some of that education paid for -- and get some face-to-face time with hundreds of like-minded individuals during Commodity Classic in Anaheim, Cal.

The National Corn Growers Association and BASF Corp. are again this year awarding five $1,000 scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in an agriculture-related field.

Applicants for the NCGA Academic Excellence in Agriculture Scholarship Program must be entering at least their second undergraduate year or any year of graduate study, and they or a parent or legal guardian must be an NCGA member. Scholarship applications must be postmarked on or before December 11, 2009.

As a bonus, recipients and a parent or guardian will enjoy a trip to Anaheim, Cal., to attend a portion of the 2010 Commodity Classic, where they will be recognized and have an opportunity to tour the trade show and sit in on educational sessions.

Complete details and a scholarship application are available from NCGA.

October 15, 2009

Video: Hey sugar cube - face forward

A sugar is a sugar - and, as noted at SweetScam.com - some people mistakenly believe that some sweeteners are healthier than others.

Yet the facts don't add up.

Sugar from cane, beets and corn all have the same number of calories - and all come from some sort of process. (Sugar cubes don't grow on trees, after all!)

The Center for Consumer Freedom is running a series of print ads and TV commercials about the scam that typically blames corn sweetener for a variety of ills. Embedded below is one of the spots.

For more, just go to SweetScam.com. (Also check out SweetSurprise.com.)

October 14, 2009

Harvest is a busy, dangerous time; be safe around equipment and on the roads

In this Podcast, the Nebraska Corn Growers Association's Mat Habrock, encourages farmers to be safe during this busy time of year - and asks motorists to keep an eye out for farm equipment and trucks.

Nebraska Corn Kernel podcasts are also available iTunes! Click here to subscribe.

October 13, 2009

Ten percent of Nebraska's corn is in the bin

Ten percent of Nebraska's corn crop was in the bin as of Oct. 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its weekly crop progress report today.

That's up four points from last week but is three points behind last year and well behind the five-year average of 24 percent harvested by this point.

USDA also said 76 percent of the state's corn crop was mature as of Oct. 11. That's compared to 63 percent last week, 77 percent last year and 89 percent over the five-year average.

Considering the cold weather (and snow) over parts of the state this weekend, it's safe to say the crop is done developing. Some farmers were glad for the hard freeze because they hope it will help the crop dry down more quickly. Snow and rain, though, aren't part of that ideal scenario!

While some farmers were back in the fields yesterday, others were waiting for the corn to dry down - while a few in the western part of the state were waiting for snow to melt. It's been one of those weeks.

Nationally, 74 percent of the crop is mature, up considerably from last week's 57 percent but behind last year's 84 percent and the five-year average of 92 percent.

USDA said 13 percent of the country's corn crop is in the bin, up three points from last week. That's behind last year's 20 percent and the five-year average of 35 percent.

It will be interesting to see how the crop comes through the cold snap that spread through the Corn Belt over the weekend. Will  yields drop off? Will crop condition reports fall?

As of Oct. 11, though, USDA said 80 percent of Nebraska's crop remained in good to excellent condition. Nationally, it said 70 percent of the crop was in that category. (A year ago, the national figure was 62 percent good to excellent.)

While it would be nice to say corn harvest will be the focal point for farmers over the next week, many with soybeans to harvest have a ways to go, too. In Nebraska, only 45 percent of the crop is out, compared to 58 percent last year. Nationally, only 23 percent are in the bin, compared to 49 percent last year and the five-year average of 57 percent.

October 9, 2009

Spreading positive corn farming messages at the Archway

He's not like the scary scarecrows you watch in movies.

Instead, this scarecrow on display at the Great Platte River Road Archway in Kearney is designed to get the attention of visitors and teach them a thing or two about today's corn farmers.

The scarecrow is the creation of Nebraska Corn Board intern Paige Bek, who build and setup the display inside the Archway for its annual Harvest Fair. (Bec is a member of The Cob Squad video team.)

The display focuses on the Sustaining Innovation theme. (More details here and here.)

The picture below shows a close-up of the wagon with the sustaining innovation messages and handouts that people can take home. The photo below that shows the entire display with its creator.

Nebraska yield estimate jumps to 178 bu./acre

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today estimated Nebraska's average corn yield at 178 bushels per acre -- 9 bushels more than its estimate last month. If realized, it would easily break the state's previous record of 166 bu. per acre set in 2004.

With the increase in yields came only a slight bump in production - to 1.58 billion bushels. That, too would be a record, surpassing the 1.47 billion produced in 2007. The reason production didn't jump further is because USDA lowered it's planted and harvested acre estimates, with harvested acres dropping to 8.9 million, off from last month's 9.1 million.

(In case you were wondering, in 2007, when Nebraska set its last production record, harvested acres were 9.2 million -- meaning if estimates hold we'll produce 110 million more bushels of corn this year on 300,000 fewer harvested acres.)

Nationally, USDA increased its yield estimate to a record 164.2 bushels per acre, up from last month's 161.9. Harvested acres were reduced to 79.29 million (from 80.00). That pegs total U.S. corn production at 13.02 billion bushels. That's an 8 percent increase from last year and only a stone's throw from the record of 13.07 billion set in 2007.

(Harvested acres in 2007 were 86.54 million - meaning we'll grow as much corn this year as two years ago but do so on 7.25 million fewer acres. Improvements in everything from hybrids to management practices helps this along, but Mother Nature played an important role this year, too.)

On the demand side of the equation, USDA increased feed/residual use 50 million bushels to 5.4 billion and food/seed/industrial use by 5 million bushels to 5.48 billion (the increase was for corn sweetener because sugar supplies are tight). Ethanol use, a subset of food/seed/industrial, was left unchanged at 4.2 billion. Exports were lowered 50 million bushels to 2.15 billion.

The bottom line figure - ending stocks - increased to 1.67 billion bushels. The estimated average price remained unchanged at $3.35. That's 71 cents below last year and 85 cents below 2007.

For the full crop production report, click here.
For the supply and demand report, click here.

No matter what USDA reports, a farmer in Nebraska noted that first and foremost on his mind - and the minds of farmers he's talked to across the Corn Belt - is getting the crop harvested and in the bin. This is especially true for those facing standability issues.

October 8, 2009

Video: This Land is Your Land

"The only thing as important as growing a crop and getting a fair price is farming responsibly, assuring opportunities for future generations." -- Darrin Ihnen, president, National Corn Growers Association

That quote is from the opening of a new video (below) produced by NCGA on the subject of increasing sustainability in agriculture. The video, titled "This Land is Your Land", made its television debut Oct. 3 on the program This Week in Agribusiness.

It features family farmers telling the story of how better management and modern technology spells good news for both consumers and the environment.

Nebraska pork brings value, nutrition to dinner tables around the world

The Nebraska Corn Board today distributed a news release touting the many positives of pork -- from the value it brings to rural communities (and the whole state!) to the value it brings to a healthy balanced diet.

“Pork is a real price value, and it is a healthy part of a balanced diet,” said David Merrell, a farmer from St. Edward who produces corn and pork. “We’re fortunate that so many family farmers produce pork in the state that the rest of us can enjoy and feel good about eating.”

Merrell, who is also a member of the Nebraska Corn Board, said pork loin, for example, is very lean and is an excellent source of protein. “It’s also great way to get important vitamins and minerals, from vitamin B6 to zinc,” he said.

Farmers also pay close attention to their animals, Merrell said. “We focus on providing shelter, fresh water, high-quality feed and good care,” he said. “That’s good for farmers because animals stay healthy, and for those who love pork because they know it came from a farmer who cares.”

Besides meeting the needs of people in the United States, farmers in Nebraska and across the country also supply pork to people in countries around the world -- from Mexico to South Korea to Japan.

“With 94 percent of the world’s population outside the United States, it is important for our farmers, who are so good at what they do, to supply a quality protein like Nebraska pork to markets around the world,” said Don Hutchens, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board. “This is especially true as the global middle class grows and looks to add more protein to their diets.”

The Nebraska Corn Board supports pork exports by backing the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), an organization that conducts activities and promotions to encourage U.S. pork and beef sales around the globe. USMEF often works directly with consumers to introduce them to U.S. pork and beef, but also assists retailers and restaurants with promotions and information they need.

With October marking National Pork Month (a celebration that began in 1962), it is a good time to recognize the importance of the industry to Nebraska.

“There are about 3.2 million hogs in Nebraska,” he said. “That translates into hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, from equipment to feed, from a larger tax base to thousands of jobs in dozens of different sectors. The livestock industry is critical to not only rural Nebraska, but the state as a whole.”

Want some good pork recipes? Click here!
Or click the photo above for a recipe of boneless pork loin roast with herbed pepper rub.

October 6, 2009

Oil's dirty footprint: On display in DC

At the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, you can now see the traveling exhibit Edward Burtynsky: Oil.

The exhibit will be in place through December 13, 2009, offering a good opportunity for regulatory officials, government employees and elected representatives to examine the impact of oil on our lives through the a decade of photography by Edward Burtynsky.

Perhaps it will help some realize that oil is definitely not carbon or environmentally neutral.

The photo of what appears to be oil-filled foot prints was pulled from a video on the exhibit narrated by Corcoran's curator Paul Roth.

A portion of the exhibit's description is below:

In addition to revealing the rarely-seen mechanics of its manufacture, Burtynksy photographs the effects of oil on our lives, depicting landscapes altered by its extraction from the earth and by the cities and suburban sprawl generated around its use. He also addresses the coming "end of oil," as we confront its rising cost and dwindling availability.

To view the video and learn more about the exhibit, click here.

Higher ethanol blends help your vehicle be more efficient

More miles per BTU -- or more miles per unit of energy. That's what you get with higher ethanol blends, according to a University of Nebraska study released yesterday by the Nebraska Corn Board. The Nebraska Corn Board funded the study.

More miles on less energy means higher ethanol blends provide better energy conversion (improved efficiency) in engines.

“What this suggests is that the increased efficiency of ethanol has a more positive impact as a replacement for petroleum fuel than what it is commonly given credit for,” said Randy Klein, director of market development for the Nebraska Corn Board, in a news release.

“It also suggests that e85, which contains 85 percent ethanol and only 15 percent petroleum-based gasoline, may be the most efficient and often the most cost-effective fuel for flex fuel vehicles,” he said. “Since e85 is also the cleanest fuel on the market and contains so little petroleum-based gasoline, it has a very positive impact on the environment and can significantly reduce our use of foreign oil.”

You can download the full report here (.pdf).

The report said e85 improved energy conversion by 13, 9 and 14 percent, respectively when compared to e10, for the light, medium and heavy loaded vehicles tested.

(Click on the chart to see the results, showing that as ethanol content of the fuel increased from e10 to e20, e30 and e85, the energy conversion within the engine increased as well.)

The researchers acknowledged that higher ethanol blends like e85 have a lower energy density, or fewer BTUs per gallon, than e10. That often leads to fewer miles per gallon for higher ethanol blends, but that gets partly offset by ethanol’s improved efficiency.

“While fewer BTUs typically means fewer miles per gallon, energy density is only part of the equation when considering fuel economy,” said Loren Isom, one of the researchers in the study.

“Fuel economy is actually a combination of fuel efficiency and fuel price, and on that point, higher ethanol blends may be the better choice,” said Isom, who is with the University of Nebraska’s Industrial Agricultural Products Center. “It just depends on fuel prices at the time. Specific vehicles may test out differently based on engine design and settings, but increased efficiency from ethanol blends make sense, and for the fuel prices we looked at in the study, e85 was the best choice every time.”

In addition to Isom, the study was conducted by the University of Nebraska’s Dr. Milford Hanna and Robert Weber. While the Nebraska Corn Board funded the project, additional support was provided by the State of Nebraska Transportation Services Bureau, which provided the flex fuel vehicles used in the tests, and The Shop Inc., where the tests were conducted.

The photo at the top of this post shows one of the cars being tested on the chassis dynamometer at The Shop Inc. in Lincoln.

October 5, 2009

@HuskerFarm takes farm knowledge to the people

The Prairie Loft Center for Outdoor and Agricultural Learning held its Harvest Celebration yesterday. The Prairie Loft is just west of Hastings.

According to the Hastings Tribune more than 750 attended, up considerably from the 500 or so who ventured out to last year's inaugural event.

One of the opportunities for visitors was to take a ride through nearby corn and soybean fields. Instead of simply driving folks through, though, Ryan Weeks (@HuskerFarm on Twitter, and in the red jacket in the photo) jumped on and went through a mini presentation about contemporary agriculture.

Weeks, who is on the Prairie Loft board, explained everything from the economic importance of agriculture to precision ag and other technology that is good for farmers and good for people who like to eat.

I heard several folks comment about how interesting the tour was, including positive comments from a member of the city council.

It was a great opportunity for a real farmer share the story of agriculture.

Opportunities like this exist all the time if you look for them. All it takes is someone to jump up and make it happen.

Corn harvest creeping along

Farmers in Nebraska have harvested 6 percent of the corn crop, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today. That's up from last week's 3 percent but behind the five-year average of 16 percent. (Last year at this time, 8 percent of the crop was in the bin.)

Many farmers are still wrapping up soybeans. USDA said 27 percent of soybeans have been harvested so far.

USDA said 63 percent of Nebraska corn was mature, up significantly from the 33 percent mature last week but behind the 80 percent average.

As for crop condition, USDA said 81 percent of Nebraska corn is in good to excellent condition.

On a national level, 70 percent of the crop was rated good to excellent, which is 9 points ahead of last year; 57 percent of the crop was considered mature, 27 points behind the five-year average. Only 10 percent of the crop has been harvested, up 4 points from last week but still 15 points behind average.

Many weeks of busy fall work remain for farmers across the country.

For the full crop progress report, click here.

October 1, 2009

Bob Dickey: The truth is on our side

Bob Dickey (pictured), a member of the Nebraska Corn Board and a farmer from Laurel, has just wrapped up his term as president of the National Corn Growers Association. (Remember the reception at Commodity Classic for Dickey? Click here!)

While Dickey's role at NCGA continues as chairman, a great summary of his time as president is available at NCGA's website here.

In the summary, he noted that since October 2008 the corn industry has seen "huge shifts in the political and social landscapes." That required good, solid efforts by the NCGA board and staff, especially in building relationships with a change in Administrations in Washington, D.C.

Also during his term, corn farmers promoted energy independence and economic growth in rural America by supporting efforts to increase ethanol blends. NCGA encouraged members to flood the Environmental Protection Agency with comments supporting higher ethanol blends in gasoline -- and thousands of farmers responded. (More than 5,000 in Nebraska alone! Click here.)

NCGA and many of its member state, including Nebraska, also launched a major educational campaign in Washington that resulted in an infusion of fact-based information on how innovative farmers are growing more corn every year with fewer resources while protecting the environment.

"The truth is on our side. The more that people understand how modern producers grow more corn with less land, pesticides and fertilizers, the more that they support us," Dickey said.