June 30, 2010

Coming soon to a parade near you

By Regina Janousek, Nebraska Corn Board intern

Did you know that 95% of America’s corn farms are family owned? Or that farmers have increased water use efficiency by 28% over 10 years? Corn farmers today use 36% less fertilizer than 30 years ago. And today’s family farmers grow five times more corn than they did in the 1930s and do so on 20% less land!  That’s producing more corn with less. That’s sustaining innovation!

The Nebraska Corn Board and the Nebraska Corn Growers Association are pleased to unveil their new Sustaining Innovation trailer that will be traveling to parades and events across the state of Nebraska.

The trailer will include banners showcasing positive messages from Nebraska’s family corn farmers, as well as promoting uses of corn as a livestock feed and as a fuel source.

The trailer will make its debut this Sunday at the Seward 4th of July Celebration. If you’re in the area come check out the parade around 4:00 p.m.!

The trailer will then make its way to St. Paul for the annual Grover Cleveland Alexander Days on July 10th; then off to Albion on July 11th for the Boone County Fair!

The trailer will be traveling to many other parades through the summer and fall.

Along with spreading messages about corn farmers sustaining innovation, Nebraska Corn Board members and members of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association will be handing out packages of candy corn with Sustaining Innovation messages throughout the parade.

Video: Ethanol Campaign in Washington

This week, the National Corn Growers Association rolled out a weeklong television campaign in Washington. The 30-second TV spot posted here is designed to capture the attention of Washington policymakers as they prepare to debate comprehensive energy legislation, as well as telling the story of ethanol at a crucial time for American consumers.

It is expected to reach nearly three out of five Washington adults between Monday and Friday, running 157 times on early-morning and late-night news programs in Washington and on major cable channels such as Fox, CNN and MSNBC.

“With all the policy and regulation debate and things happening in Washington, D.C., it just makes sense to run the ads there.” NCGA President Darrin Ihnen told a reporter for Brownfield on Monday. “NCGA wants to make sure that we’re in the room and part of the discussion to show the benefits of ethanol—and to show the benefits of agriculture when it comes to energy needs.”

Click here to read or listen to Darrin Ihnen’s interview with Brownfield.

June 28, 2010

Turning corn into cups, bags

The headline for this post comes from an article by Ross Boettcher that appeared in the Sunday Omaha World Herald that featured a profile of the NatureWorks plant in Blair – the plant where they turn corn into small, plastic-like beads that are used in everything from chip bags to cups to clothing.

The plant recently added a second manufacturing line so it has the capacity to produce 300 million pounds a year. One bushel of corn produces 22 pounds of the beads, which means the plant can use up to 13.6 million bushels of corn per year.

Here's the intro from the OWH article (read the full article here):

Next time you pick up a bag of Frito-Lay's Sun Chips, you'll notice — or hear — something different about the product's packaging.

Instead of the muffled ruffle of typical chip bags, Frito-Lay's recently deployed package sounds more like hundreds of aluminum cans being squashed under a boot.

There's a reason, and a reward, for the noisy bag. It's fully compostable, thanks to a renewable, plant-based plastic manufactured in Blair, Neb., by NatureWorks, a Cargill subsidiary.

NatureWorks doesn't actually make the Sun Chips bags, which were announced on Earth Day in 2009 and introduced on Earth Day this year.

Instead, the Blair company makes tiny, plasticlike beads from the starch in corn, and then sells them to packaging firms or companies such as Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola, Target and Toyota. Those companies turn the beads, whose trade name is Ingeo, into products like chip bags, plastic drink cups, food containers, floor mats for vehicles and other products normally made with petroleum-based plastics.

For previous posts we've done on these kinds of products made from corn, click on one of the headlines below:

Corn-based PLA turning up in more places

Sun Chips: There's a bit of Nebraska in that compostable bag

You can’t have Christmas without corn!

Your corn is calling

June 25, 2010

Building 600,000 bushels of corn storage in 2 minutes

I don't know about you, but I love these kinds of videos. In this case they feature concrete grain storage silos being constructed right here in Nebraska -- one set of silos in Sedan and another just west of Aurora (at Aurora West). Both are being built by Aurora Cooperative (read about the company's grain terminal expansion project here).

This first video was built from snapshots taken every 90 seconds for 122 hours -- the length of the pour. The cooperative said the silos will hold 600,00 bushels of grain and have a total height of 140 feet. Every three minutes the slip, which holds the concrete, moves up 1 inch (it takes 12 yards of concrete per 1 foot of height).

Once you start pouring you can't stop until you're done. That meant a lot of work for the two crews working 12-hour shifts.

For a 3-minute video of construction at Aurora West, click here. It features trains coming and going -- and a lightening strike. Great stuff.

June 24, 2010

USDA: Roadmap reaffirms commitment to energy independence

The U.S. Department of Agriculture yesterday released a report that outlines both the current state of renewable transportation fuels efforts in America and a plan to develop regional strategies to increase the production, marketing and distribution of biofuels.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that the current ethanol industry "provides a solid foundation to build upon and reach the 36 billion gallon goal. As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, we must reaffirm our commitment to bring our country closer to complete energy independence and this report provides a roadmap to achieve that goal."

The current ethanol industry Vilsack is referring to is the corn ethanol sector, which will produce some 12 billion gallons of ethanol this year -- even though the capacity is 13.5 billion gallons and another 1.2 billion gallons of capacity are under construction. That should put corn ethanol right on target to produce 15 billion gallons of ethanol by by 2015 as noted in the Renewable Fuels Standard.

The 36 billion gallon goal Vilsack refers to is the entire biofuels that are to be produced by 2022 as part of the RFS (which, by the way, was included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 - get that? Energy Independence.).

Vilsack noted that continuing to advance biofuels will "create jobs, combat global warming, reduce fossil fuel dependence and lay a strong foundation for a strong 21st Century rural economy, and I am confident that we can meet the threshold of producing 36 billion gallons of biofuel annually by 2022."

The report identifies different biomass feedstocks to be utilized in developing biofuels and calls for the funding of further investments in research and development of:
  • Feedstock;
  • Sustainable production and management systems;
  • Efficient conversion technologies and high-value bioproducts, and
  • Decision support and policy analysis tools.

For more, click here for USDA's announcement or click here (.pdf) for the full report. It contains some good nuggets.

Podcast: Ethanol producers, like farmers, are getting more efficient

In this podcast, Brian Nedrow, a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association and a farmer from Geneva, discusses a recent study shows that ethanol plants have reduced their energy inputs while at the same time producing more ethanol per bushel of corn.

He notes that, compared to 2001, ethanol plants in 2008 used 28 percent less thermal energy like natural gas per gallon of ethanol produced. They also used 32 percent less electricity to produce a gallon of ethanol.

At the same time, ethanol plants in 2008 produced 2.78 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn. That’s an increase of 5.3 percent.

Nedrow said the findings may prove useful to state and federal energy policy makers who study the pros and cons of fuels based on their full life-cycle, or the total energy needed to create a fuel compared to its energy output and related greenhouse gases emissions.

The study’s author noted that biofuel refineries are in a rapid innovation phase. Certainly that is true, and it underscores the importance of using current data when talking about a life cycle analysis.

Ethanol production, like corn production, simply gets better over time. Looking backward with outdated data just doesn’t make sense.

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

June 23, 2010

Nebraska farmers not only work dirt, they work agvocacy!

Last Friday transpired a “first” for several Nebraska farmers – they engaged in social media! Farmers and individuals involved in agriculture met up from across the state in Beatrice, Nebraska to participate in the Social Media Training Workshop, conducted by Michele Payn-Knoper, founder of Cause Matters, Corp. and AgChat Foundation. This workshop was coordinated by the Nebraska Corn Board and Nebraska Corn Growers Association and was sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association’s Image and Activism Campaign Project.

Michele is one of the foremost experts on using social media tools to get positive messages out about agriculture. She started out the session explaining the importance of farmers using social media to agvocate and the power that conversations within social media hold.

“Are you concerned about how the media is portraying agriculture, and how consumers view where their food comes from?” Payn-Knoper asked. “Because the conversation is happening, whether you are there or not.”

Real headlines in today’s online communications and news articles read, “Dirty Corn Ethanol”; “The Vulgar Truth about U.S. Meats”; “Is the Ethanol Industry Failing or Flourishing?”; “Corn industry brazenly turns Gulf disaster into marketing opportunity”; “Why High Fructose Corn Syrup is Bad For You”. These journalists are reaching people with their messages, and consumers believe them! This is why it is so important to get the real voice of agriculture heard.

Michele shared some important facts with the participants about social media and networking. According to Jupiter Research, social networking users are three times more likely to trust the opinions of peers over advertisements when making decisions. This leads to the fact that what farmers do is novel to most consumers and that farmers are a trusted source of information about where their food comes from. The average American consumer spends 2.7 hours per day on the mobile web, which allows for a great audience for farmers to put out positive messages about agriculture!

Michele also set some ground rules for agriculturalists using social media:
1. Be 100% authentic and transparent.
2. Build a community around your purpose for engaging in a social network.
3. Understand that your updates are a novelty to 98.5% of U.S. population.
4. Expand beyond agriculture; test messages and ideas in new circles of connections (i.e. If you like running, connect with other runners in social media which gives you a broader audience to share your positive agriculture messages.)
5. Engage in conversation with your community. (i.e. Don’t just be a listener to read what others are saying about agriculture – contribute your ideas!)
6. Put a face on the plate, helps consumers relate. (i.e. Choose a picture of yourself instead of your farm equipment or field.)

In the morning portion of the workshop, participants were introduced to the essentials about facebook and those who didn’t already have an account got hands-on help signing up. In the afternoon, participants learned all about twitter and everyone who didn’t have twitter signed up and started “tweeting” on the spot! Tweeps at the workshop who started twitter before included: @mpaynknoper, @rrjanousek, @NECornBoard, @Ag4Front, @NeCGA, @Cornfrmr, @NESoybeanBoard, @megamaru, @nebrnancy, and @cornfedfarmer. New tweeps after the end of the day included: @NE_AFAN, @kyleregelean, @bzanga, @farmproud, @kaggdaddy, @farmdrg, @weselyfarms, and @kathyu13.

Michele gave Nebraska a compliment that we had some of the most tech-savvy farmers in all the workshops so far she’s seen. But that just allowed her to challenge the group to continue using social media for a bigger and broader voice for agriculture!

To read more about Nebraska Corn’s efforts in social media, visit these websites:
Nebraska Corn Board on LinkedIn

USDA: Corn ethanol a 'substantial net energy gain'

The net energy balance for corn ethanol increased from 1.76 to 2.3 BTUs of required energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted in a recent news release. That means that for every 1 BTU of energy put into corn ethanol (from growing the corn through making ethanol), you get 2.3 BTUs of energy in return.

In fact, USDA said, corn ethanol production has transitioned from "a moderate net energy gain in the 1990s, to a substantial net energy gain in the present. And there are still prospects for improvement."

It said ethanol yields have increased by about 10 percent in the last 20 years, so proportionately less corn is required. In addition to refinements in ethanol technology, corn yields have increased by 39 percent over the last 20 years, requiring less land to produce ethanol.

The report measured all conventional fossil fuel energy used in the production of 1 gallon of corn ethanol. USDA noted that the ratio is somewhat higher for companies that are partially substituting biomass energy in processing energy.

The report is based on a USDA survey of corn growers for the year 2005 and ethanol plants in 2008, which indicates the net energy gain from converting corn to ethanol is improving in efficiency. The survey asked ethanol producers to respond to questions about ethanol yield (undenatured) per bushel of corn and energy used in the plants. The 2008 updates presented in the report recorded the effects of current practices used by corn producers and ethanol processors.

Click here for the full study (.pdf).

This study comes after a recent University of Illinois report that showed ethanol plant energy use declined significantly from 2001 to 2008. During that time, thermal energy use (natural gas) declined 28 percent and electrical use declined 32 percent per gallon of ethanol produced. Ethanol per bushel of corn, meanwhile, increased 5.3 percent to 2.78 gallons per bushel. For more, click here.

June 21, 2010

Crop update: 78% of Nebraksa corn in good to excellent condition

It's safe to say that much of the corn crop in Nebraska has received plenty of water from Mother Nature over the last week. Localized flooding occurred in many locations and one farmer noted today that certainly a few acres will be drowned out. Hail and wind damage are other issues but seemed to be not as widespread or damaging as the heavy rain.

Heat and sunshine will do wonders for the crop.

When I asked on Twitter over the weekend how tall the corn was getting, I got a few reports back from Nebraska growers. @MarkJagles said his was 3-4 ft. tall, while @cornfedfarmer said "chest high" - and that the crop doubles in size each week time of year. @agchick over in Illinois said 15 inches to 6 feet, noting that some acres were planted later than others -- to which @cornfedfarmer agreed, as some Nebraska acres aren't a foot tall yet.

Anyway, the USDA noted today that 78 percent of Nebraska's crop was in good to excellent condition. This is off from 85 percent last week but is to be expected with all the rain. That leaves 18 percent of the crop in fair condition and 4 percent as poor to very poor.

Nationally, USDA said 75 percent of the crop is in good to excellent condition, down from 79 percent last week but still ahead of 70 percent from last year. That leaves 18 percent of the crop in fair condition and 7 percent in poor to very poor.

For more details on Nebraska's crop, be sure to check out the Nebraska Corn Board's Crop Progress Update.

This week's photos, from the Nebraska Corn Board's 2010 Crop Progress collection, include one showing water standing in a corn field from the Imperial FFA chapter and another from the Sumner-Eddyville-Miller FFA Chapter showing some good looking corn that needs its weeds treated. My guess is that will happen as soon as it dries out a bit. (Ignore the date on that second photo...the camera got reset.) Click on a photo for a larger image.

Nebraska’s dairy industry grows

The Nebraska dairy industry produced more than 1.2 billion pounds of milk last year, an increase over the previous year, the Nebraska Corn Board noted in reviewing annual statistics from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

“The number of dairy cows in Nebraska totaled some 61,000 head, which is an increase over the prior year. Growth in the dairy industry is something few states can show, as the dairy markets struggled nationally and many states saw their cow herd numbers decline,” Kelsey Pope, ag promotion coordinator with the Nebraska Corn Board, said in a news release. “We’re fortunate to have gained cows, as dairy farms provide a number of good jobs and gives a boost to the local economy. With June being Dairy Month, this is something to celebrate – perhaps with a tall glass of milk.”

Dennis Gengenbach, a farmer from Smithfield and member of the Nebraska Corn Board, noted that there is a tremendous synergy between the dairy industry and corn and related co-products.

“Dairy cattle consume a lot of feed, and corn and distillers grains are part of their ration, along with many other locally-produced feedstuffs, including a great number of forages,” Gengenbach said. “Distillers grains, particularly, are a good ingredient for dairy cattle, and we can thank the ethanol industry for that, as distillers grains are produced by corn ethanol plants.”

He explained that ethanol plants only use the starch portion of the kernel, returning the other components to the livestock industries as a high protein feed ingredient.

“The state’s dairy receipts totaled about $172 million last year, but the sector’s total impact is considerably higher because so many dollars circulate several times through the local economy,” Pope said. “Everything from a strong tax base, to feed, veterinary care, equipment, trucking, milk processing and more, a strong dairy sector is good for the state.”

June 18, 2010

Podcast: For more than 50 years, atrazine has proved its effectiveness, safety

In this podcast, Lynn Chrisp, a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association and a farmer from Kenesaw, explains, briefly, the safety measures in place for atrazine -- and notes that it has been used safely and effectively for more than 50 years.

Still, the Environmental Protection Agency has launched a new round of reviews -- even though it just recently finished the review and re-registration process.

Chrisp noted that thousands of test results in water systems where atrazine is used don't indicate any problems with atrazine. "It's pretty clear that atrazine is just not that pervasive and is certainly more within the safety limits," he said. "Let's hope EPA sticks to science so we can continue to use products that contain atrazine, products that help farmers reduce tillage and soil erosion."

He noted that many products contain a small amount of atrazine to improve their effectiveness -- products like Bicep II, Cinch, Lumax, Harness and Guardsman.

For more about atrazine's safety, click here.

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

June 15, 2010

Nebraska beef, corn producers help showcase U.S. beef in Taipei

Posted by Jim Herlihy, USMEF - June 15, 2010

To create more opportunities for U.S. beef in Taiwan’s foodservice sector, USMEF collaborated with the Ambassador Hotel for the “Nebraska Beef Gourmet Festival,” held June 3 in Taipei. The event, made possible through checkoff support from the Nebraska Beef Council and Nebraska Corn Board, featured a diverse range of items showcasing the quality and versatility of U.S. beef. A team of chefs from Western-style and Chinese restaurants prepared more than 20 mouth-watering dishes using tenderloin, striploin, ribeye, rib fingers, chuck eye roll, heel muscle and bone-in short ribs.

With more than 25 news outlets in attendance, the program began with a video outlining the storied history of Nebraska’s corn-fed beef industry, including footage of the farmers, ranchers and cattle feeders who work together to produce some of the world’s finest beef cuts. Two famous television hosts from one of Taiwan’s most popular gourmet shows also participated in the opening presentation, which contributed to the strong media interest.

“Taiwan has become a very important market for Nebraska beef producers, and even more so now that we have gained access for a wider range of cuts,” said Ann Marie Bosshamer, executive director of the Nebraska Beef Council. “So we see this event as a great way to build further momentum in the market.”

Don Hutchens, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board, agreed. “This is one of several Asian markets in which demand for Nebraska beef has really taken off this year,” he said. “When we can help our state’s beef industry succeed in these key markets, that’s a home run for our corn producers.”

U.S. beef exports to Taiwan have set new value records in each of the past five years, and this trend is likely to continue. Through April, this year’s exports to Taiwan totaled 11,533 metric tons (25.4 million pounds) valued at more than $60 million. This is an increase of 69 percent in volume and 79 percent in value over January-April 2009.

Podcast: Technology helps farmers be more efficient and better stewards

In this podcast, Brandon Hunnicutt, president of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association and a farmer from Giltner, discusses how technology plays a big role in farming today.

He notes that seed technology in the ground now allows plants to protect themselves from damaging pests, while also supporting conservation tillage -- and that impacts everything from water use to runoff.

He touches guidance systems reducing overlaps and waste, and discusses prescription agriculture -- how combining soil tests, yield maps and more to put fertilizer where it will do the most good. "It’s about managing inputs and opportunity," he said. "And it all means better yields with know-how and technology."

Of course anyone who knows Hunnicutt (@cornfedfarmer on Twitter) knows he enjoys technology. "I’ll admit straight out that I love technology," he said. "From smart phones to GPS to auto steer to planter controls to high-tech seed and more. Data, numbers, touch screens, wireless -- all of it."

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

June 14, 2010

Gold medalist to promote Nebraska ‘gold’

The Nebraska Corn Board has signed Olympic Gold Medalist, Curt Tomasevicz, to be the official spokesman for Nebraska corn this upcoming year. Tomasevicz, a Shelby, Nebraska, native, won the gold medal with his teammates on the U.S. men’s bobsled team, nicknamed “Night Train,” in Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Watch it here or read about it here!
(L-R): The Night Train's Steve Holcomb, Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and Curt Tomasevicz pose with their 2010 Olympic gold medal.

This Nebraskan obviously didn’t grow up bobsledding – some of you may recognize his name (pronounced Tom-eh-SEV-itch) from being on the Husker football team from 2000-03 as a fullback. Rumor has it that Curt wasn't exactly convinced that bobsledding was a legitimate, professional sport, either.

Fellow Cornhusker hammer thrower and friend Amanda Moreley -- now a push athlete and brakeman on the Canadian national bobsled team -- suggested he give it a try. Aren’t we glad he did!

Tomasevicz is the perfect spokesman for Nebraska corn. Being a team player and growing up in rural Nebraska provides the perfect combination to reach many different audiences in Nebraska and nationwide. As we hear more in the news everyday about corn production, ethanol, animal rights groups, atrazine, high fructose corn syrup and more, it’s important to give our industry a face and voice that consumers will listen to.

Tomasevicz will be promoting corn and agriculture at events like the Nebraska State Fair and more.
Tomasevicz with the Nebraska Corn Board and two member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association Board.
Tomasevicz with the Board members and Staff of the Nebraska Corn Board

June 11, 2010

Corn growers appreciate support of resolution to limit EPA actions

The Nebraska Corn Growers Association and Nebraska Corn Board said today that they appreciated the support of Nebraska Senators Ben Nelson and Mike Johanns for S.J. Resolution 26 – the Murkowski Disapproval Resolution – that would have signaled to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to hold off on regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Both Nebraska Senators were co-sponsors of the disapproval resolution introduced by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, and both voted for the measure, which failed by a 47-53 vote yesterday.

“The Clean Air Act was created to regulate pollutants. Greenhouse gases should not be regulated in the same way as lead emissions, smog or soot,” Brandon Hunnicutt, a farmer from Giltner and president of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, said in news release. “We appreciate Senator Nelson and Senator Johanns support of the resolution that would have let EPA know to hold off on its actions. We will continue to examine avenues to change the direction EPA is moving and encourage EPA to hold off on putting any additional regulatory burden and costs on the backs of Nebraskans.”

Alan Tiemann, a farmer from Seward and chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board, said the EPA overstepped its bounds with overly zealous regulatory actions.

“The response to that decision will be a series of Clean Air Act regulations that will have significant consequences for agriculture and small businesses,” Tiemann said. “EPA’s regulations will raise input costs for farmers, make our products less competitive in international markets and impact Nebraskans in countless ways. We thank Senators Johanns and Nelson for supporting the resolution.”

June 10, 2010

Atrazine: What is the safety limit?

Anything can be a hazard at the wrong level.

A cup of coffee is fine. An injection of caffeine (or massive consumption) can send you into a paranoid delusional fit (or death). Oxalic acid in spinach is harmless in an amount someone would normally eat. But if you chow down on 10-20 pounds at once, your liver (and you) could be toast.

But how can you learn what the risk is for caffeine or oxalic acid? Or for another compound like the herbicide atrazine? When is it safe and when is it unsafe?

Risk = Exposure x Toxicity
Exposure comes from food, water or direct contact. Toxicity involves things like cancer, reproduction problems, birth defects, “acute” effects (severe symptoms from a sudden high exposure), nervous system damage and so on.

For caffeine, exposure comes from food and drinks. For atrazine, because it does not exist as food residue, exposure comes from water.

Knowing that atrazine exposure comes from water, researchers then need to figure out how much material causes toxicity. This involves studying animals exposed to different doses – very low to very high – and for short term (known as acute) and long term (known as chronic) exposure. They want to find out possible responses at every level – and regulators like the Environmental Protection Agency require standard lab practices and open data that can be verified and checked.

What the researchers need to find is the level at which there is an effect, and then drill down to a level where there is no-effect – the smallest amount that has no toxicity in the short or long term.

Then the EPA adds safety factors – layers of safety – to that no-effect limit.

For atrazine, EPA adds a 10x “uncertainty” factor. Then another 10x factor to ensure children are safe. And then, just to be sure, a final 10x safety factor.

So what does that mean?

A mile away from the fire
Let’s say you’re at a bonfire and want to keep people safe. You determine that a 5-foot safety ring is an acceptable safety factor.

If the EPA got involved, it would take that times 10 to allow for an uncertainty factor. To keep small children safe, another 10x safety factor would be added. And just to be sure, you better add another 10x.

After adding in all of EPA’s safety factors, you’d end up 5,000 feet away from the bonfire! (That’s 5 x 10 x 10 x 10 – about a mile away.)

For atrazine the “mile away” safety limit is 298 parts per billion in a single day. For children, it is 100 ppb in a single day. (FYI: 1 part per billion is like a single blade of grass on a football field.)

I italicized "single day" because there is some confusion about that because the EPA has set a limit of only 3 ppb for an annual average in a drinking water system. (See this EPA page on drinking water limits.)

In other words, if a water system’s annual average (based on a multitude of samples) is 1 ppb but a single test showed 10 ppb, it is well within EPA’s safety guideline because the daily safety limit is 298 ppb (and the max daily test in this case was 10 ppb) and annual average is 3 ppb (the average in this example is 1 ppb).

To make sure atrazine isn’t showing up in water systems at levels higher than the “mile away” safety limits, dozens of community water supply systems are sampled multiple times during the year – and more frequently during the use season for atrazine. And these water systems are in areas where atrazine is used (it’s generally used in small amounts in branded premixed herbicides) and in  watersheds that are more vulnerable due to soil types, slope, rainfall, etc. We’re talking thousands of tested samples annually.

The good news is, of the samples that do test positive, a majority are less than 1 ppb. A few may reach 10 ppb, while others are at 0.1 ppb. Over the last several years, no water system has averaged 3 ppb or more – and no test has ever come near the 298 ppb daily limit.

Interestingly enough, some 6,000 studies are available on atrazine. That’s a lot; it’s probably the most-studied chemical on the planet. New products usually are backed by 100-150 studies. (Drug companies start human trials well before that level of knowledge!)

Data on atrazine test results in water is available from EPA.

Additional background is available at AgSense.org.

June 7, 2010

Crop update: Corn crop is up and (rapidly) growing

In its weekly crop progress report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted that 96 percent of the state's corn crop had emerged, which is up from 79 percent last week and 99 percent last year. The five-year average is 97 percent emerged.

Nationally, this figure stands at 94 percent, up from last week's 85 percent emerged. That figure is well ahead of last year's 85 percent emerged by the first week of June. The five-year average is 91 percent emerged by this date.

As for crop condition, USDA said 85 percent of Nebraska's crop is in good to excellent condition. It rated 14 percent as fair and only 1 percent as poor (and none as very poor).

Nationally, 76 percent of the crop is in good to excellent condition, with 19 percent fair and 5 percent poor to very poor. This figure is similar to last week but well ahead of last year.

This week's photos come from the Nebraska Corn Board's Flickr page, specifically its crop progress set. The top photo with the measuring tape was submitted to the Corn Board by the Howells Clarkson FFA Chapter, while the photo below came from the Imperial FFA Chapter.

Both show corn plants benefiting from ample moisture and good growing weather.

June 3, 2010

Podcast: Nebraska is ideally suited for beef production

In this podcast, Mark Jagels, a member of the Nebraska Corn Board and a farmer from Davenport, noted that Nebraska-grown corn-fed beef is featured at the center of the plate here in Nebraska and in dozens of countries around the world.

He noted that Nebraska has the land, corn, distillers grains (feed produced by corn ethanol plants) and processing infrastructure necessary to be a global leader in beef production.

He also noted that five of the nine farmer-directors who make up the Corn Board also raise cattle. "We understand that working together to keep the cattle industry strong is one of the best ways to keep Nebraska strong, too," he said, adding that "it's to all our advantage to keep Nebraska beef at the center of the plate here at home and around the world."

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

June 1, 2010

Corn ethanol plants using less energy while producing more ethanol per bushel

Corn ethanol plants continue to cut their energy use while at the same time producing more ethanol per bushel of corn, the Nebraska Corn Board said in a news release today.

The board made the comments after reviewing a national study conducted by the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago and published in the scientific journal Biotechnology Letters.

“This underscores the importance of using current data when it comes to estimating the life cycle analysis of ethanol production,” said the Nebraska Corn Board’s Randy Klein. “Using outdated data just doesn’t work, nor does the assumption that today’s estimates will be valid tomorrow. The ethanol industry continues to develop, which is why one cannot label today’s ethanol industry as mature.”

The study, conducted by Dr. Steffen Mueller, examined energy use and ethanol output for dry mill ethanol facilities. More than 85 percent of the ethanol produced in the U.S. comes from dry mill facilities.

The findings may prove useful to state and federal energy policy makers studying the pros and cons of fuels based on their "full life-cycle" – the total energy needed to create a fuel compared to its energy output, the greenhouse gases emitted during production, the water used in production, and other factors, according to a news release from the university.

"Policy makers rightfully pay attention to life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of fuels," Mueller said in the release. "Biofuel refineries, including corn ethanol plants, are in a rapid innovation phase."

For the study, the researchers surveyed 90 of the 150 dry mill ethanol plants operating during 2008. Results were compared to a 2001 survey conducted by BBI International on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In 2001, ethanol plants used an average of 36,000 Btu of thermal energy and 1.09 kWh of electrical energy, per gallon of ethanol. They also produced 2.64 gallons of ethanol per bushel.

Ethanol plants in 2008 used an average of 25,859 Btu of thermal energy and 0.74 kWh of electricity per gallon of ethanol produced – that’s 28 and 32 percent less than 2001, respectively. Ethanol per bushel of corn, meanwhile, increased 5.3 percent to 2.78 gallons per bushel.

According to the survey, many older dry mill ethanol plants installed energy efficiency retrofits during that time period.

“Like corn farmers, who continuously strive to produce more corn with fewer inputs, ethanol plants get more efficient and productive over time,” Klein said. “Regulations and fuel standards should not be implemented without taking that into consideration.”

The survey also showed that a dry mill corn ethanol plant in 2008 produced 5.3 pounds of dried distillers grains and 2.15 pounds of wet distillers grains per gallon of ethanol produced. On a per bushel basis, that is 20.7 pounds of total distillers grains produced per bushel of corn converted into ethanol.

Ethanol plants also, on average, sourced corn within a 47-mile radius from the plant.