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Our thoughts and prayers are with the marshmallow farmers of North Carolina.

 

Happy April Fools Day!

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Almost two months later and we’re still talking about it. It took more than two years to get the darn thing passed, and even after it passes, we’re still talking about how good or bad it is.

That’s right, I’m talking about the farm bill.

Even after it finally cleared the House and Senate, open season on the 2014 farm bill continued, with letters to the editor, horribly lopsided political cartoons and talking heads bashing the bill on every channel.

Mostly, they’re complaining that the bill still isn’t good enough and will cost more than originally projected.

According to the University of Missouri’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI), the farm bill’s Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program will cost more than the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted before the farm bill became law. And that report has everyone talking.

FAPRI’s figures are based on their predicted drop in commodity prices over the next ten years. FAPRI predicts PLC payments will increase in the coming years while ARC payments will start larger, but drop significantly after the first few years, leading to an $11 billion gap in the CBO’s projected cost and FAPRI’s.

Still, if the 2008 farm bill had been continued rather than a new farm bill being implemented, costs could be even higher due to payments based on old farm programs with the same falling commodity prices and an overall drop in net farm income.

In fact, the 2014 farm bill contains many reforms including the elimination of direct payments to farmers, which will save taxpayers $24 billion over the next ten years. The bill does not change program eligibility for nutrition assistance. Nor does the bill cut the current level of nutrition benefits for the approximately two million men, women and children in Illinois who need such assistance.

And it’s important to consider one more important factor: we can guess all we want, but no one knows for sure what commodity prices will be this year, let alone in ten years.

Bottom line, the farm bill helps farmers plan for the future and provides consumers with stable food prices. That’s something we should all be able to get behind.

 

Well, it’s that time of year, again — it’s time to celebrate National FFA Week!

I’ve talked a lot about FFA here on our blog. I’ve talked about my experiences in the organization and how it benefited me. But I’m a farm kid — FFA was made for me, right?

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Well, yes…kind of. I was the target audience, especially when the organization was founded back in 1928. But over the years, things have definitely changed. Fewer and fewer kids made plans to go back to the farm itself, but wanted to stay active in agriculture. Which is why, in 1988, the organization changed its name from Future Farmers of America to simply the National FFA Organization.

FFA Week

What does that means for kids today? You don’t have to be going back to the farm to join FFA. You don’t even have to be from a farm to join FFA. Heck, you might not even have plans (yet) to be in some agriculture-related profession after school.

What am I getting at here? The FFA isn’t just for farm kids like me — it’s for everyone and benefits everyone.

From leadership and public speaking skills to responsibility and ambition, FFA members gain more than their fair share of life lessons and accomplishments. No matter their background, or where they’re going, FFA can offer the world to students.

It offered the world to me.

FFA Week 3

 

This is what I think of EVERY. STINKIN’. TIME.

 

The things you can find on Facebook...

The things you can find on Facebook…

 

What can I say? Even with the Olympics in full swing, I can’t get ag off the brain.

Well, Chipotle is at it again. And I’m tired of writing my two cents worth – the same two cents – all of the time. So this time, we’re tossing it to a special guest post from our friends at the Truth About Trade and Technology. This post comes from farmer Ted Sheely. Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, onions, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. He volunteers as a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology. For more information, visit www.truthabouttrade.org.

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In the boardrooms of Madison Avenue, they call it “values branding”: a marketing strategy in which a company tries to instill a feeling of righteousness in the customers who buy its products.

But what kind of values would inspire a corporation to wage a smear campaign against America’s farmers?

That’s the question I asked after learning about the latest ploy of Chipotle Mexican Grill: a series of four 30-minute videos, scheduled to debut next week on Hulu, the online television service. Called “Farmed and Dangerous,” it is, in the words of the New York Times, “a full-throated attack on ‘industrial agriculture,’ complete with a Dr. Strangelove-like scientist inventing eight-winged chickens.”

Apparently the show also features exploding cows.

Maybe it’s funny, if you enjoy that sort of thing. Like a Super Bowl commercial with a laugh-out-loud gag, however, the point is not simply to earn a chuckle. Chipotle wants to boost its sales. “Farmed and Dangerous” is an expensive scheme to suggest that the act of buying burritos and tacos at Chipotle is morally superior to the act of buying them elsewhere.

As a business decision, it may make sense. But let’s not forget what this really is: propaganda. And it is intended to mock and discredit the honest work of farmers like me.

That’s rich, coming from a corporation that owns more than 1,500 restaurants and boasts a stock-market value of more than $15 billion. Its shares currently trade at about $550 apiece.

Chipotle was once a small fast-food restaurant chain in Colorado. Then, in the 1990s, McDonald’s became a major investor and Chipotle experienced super-sized growth. By the time McDonald’s sold its stake, Chipotle was a fast-food success story.

For the last few years, Chipotle has tried to brand itself as a source of “natural” and “sustainable” food. Steve Ells, its CEO, recently wrote about Chipotle’s “commitment to remove GMOs from our food to the fullest extent possible.” He added that “there is an active debate” over the safety of foods with GMO ingredients.

That’s true, in the sense that there was once an “active debate” over whether the earth is round or flat. Every responsible organization that has studied the safety of GMOs has come down squarely on their side, from the American Medical Association to the World Health Organization. The only people who dispute these findings are modern-day flat-earthers.

Not only are GMOs a proven source of good nutrition, they’re also good for the environment. They help farmers conserve soil and let us grow more food on less land. Mainstream foods with GMO ingredients can and do exist side-by-side with organic foods and other options. That’s what happens on my farm in California, where I raise GMO cotton alongside organic onions.

As a practical matter, Chipotle is going to have a tough time keeping its food-sourcing promises. I once did business with a major retailer that considered moving its entire line of t-shirts and underwear to all-organic cotton. It quickly became obvious that there wasn’t enough organic cotton in the world to meet this demand. Organic crops are niche products, hard to grow and expensive to sell.

The same rules apply to Chipotle. The fast-food chain is almost certain to hike its prices this year, according to accounts in the business media. Perhaps consumers are willing to open their wallets. And who am I to say they shouldn’t? Choices are good, and Chipotle is free to try to persuade people to pay a premium for their food.

Yet Chipotle’s customers should think twice about their options. Last year, the progressive magazine Mother Jones took a close look at the corporation’s claims and offered this advice: “If … you want to eat organic, avoid GMOs, and get food that’s locally sourced—your best bet is to go to a grocery store.”

As a farmer, I welcome an open dialogue and discussion about how I grow the food my family and yours eats. It’s a great story and I’m very proud of what I do.  Sarcasm, however, is not a productive route to building that type of conversation.

“Farmed and Dangerous” shows that Chipotle is not content to promote a positive image of itself, or to achieve a peaceful coexistence with American farmers who participate in modern agriculture. Instead, it wants to build itself up by tearing others down, rejecting the famous observation of Irwin Himmel: “No one has ever made himself great by showing how small someone else is.”

Rich Guebert, Jr., president, Illinois Farm Bureau, joins us today to discuss the merits of ethanol production, as well as what could happen if the EPA succeeds in trimming ethanol production in 2014.

By Rich Guebert, Jr., president, Illinois Farm Bureau

By Rich Guebert, Jr., president, Illinois Farm Bureau

Last fall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a reduction in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) requirement from 14.4 billion gallons to 13.01 billion gallons in 2014.

According to big oil companies, this reduction is a victory for consumers and the environment. But if we look at the facts, it’s easy to see that ethanol production is an environmentally safe and beneficial industry for both farmer and consumers alike. And the EPA’s proposal to cut ethanol production could put all of that in jeopardy.

In fact, if the EPA’s proposal to cut 1.39 billion gallons of ethanol production is finalized, it could have severe economic and environmental consequences.

A cut in ethanol production will increase demand for gasoline by nearly 950 million gallons. According to Louisiana State University, that bump in demand for gasoline will increase gas prices by 5.7 cents per gallon across the board. As a result, American drivers will spend $7.6 billion more on gasoline purchases in 2014.

What’s more, oil refiners will keep $2.5 billion in their pockets through avoided purchases of ethanol, while also saving roughly $300 million on infrastructure investments. It all equals a windfall for big oil companies and an added cost for consumers at the pump.

Additionally, a reduction in ethanol production could lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions. According to studies by Argonne National Laboratory, Purdue University, University of Nebraska, Michigan State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory at Duke University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, ethanol significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions when compared to gasoline.

Conservatively, increased gasoline use and decreased ethanol production would increase greenhouse gas emission from the transportation fuels sector by 5.1 million metric tons. To put it into perspective, that’s like adding 1 million cars to U.S. roadways overnight.

Following the 2012 drought, during which corn prices were high due to corn shortages, corn prices have dropped and stabilized once again. But cutting ethanol production will drop prices further. According to Iowa State University, 2014 corn prices will fall by $0.19 per bushel to around $4.35 per bushel if the EPA proposal is accepted.

In fact, according to the University of Illinois, that reduction in ethanol production would send corn prices below the 2013-2014 cost of production.

And dropping corn prices won’t affect only the farmers growing corn — it would affect rural communities and consumers at large. Farmers don’t only live in rural communities, they also spend money in rural communities. They buy machinery and seed from local dealers, buy tires at local shops and equipment at the local hardware store.

And that doesn’t even factor in the ethanol industry itself. In fact, the ethanol industry has consistently performed well and has helped fuel the economies of rural communities across the nation.

Rural employment and income have risen as ethanol production expanded under the RFS. More than 70,000 Americans are directly employed by the production of ethanol with more than 1,000 of those jobs residing in Illinois.

When you tally it up, ethanol adds up to a fatter wallet at the pump, a cleaner environment and stable corn prices for America’s farmers. That sounds like a win-win-win to me.

 

 

 

Cheeri-uh-oh

Cheerios
In case you missed it earlier in the week, General Mills announced that its leading brand, Cheerios, would make the move to GMO-free ingredients. They decided on the change, they said, because that’s what their fans wanted.

The only problem is, original Cheerios — the only cereal in the Cheerios franchise that’s changing — is made primarily from oats, which are already GMO-free. In other words, there are no GMO varieties of oats, so there aren’t any GMO oats grown.

To be fair to General Mills, they are changing the source of their sugar, which can be genetically modified. Currently, General Mills uses sugar from sugar beets and corn, which can be genetically modified, but not always. Instead, they’re planning to use cane sugar, which is not currently genetically modified.

But even that doesn’t really mean much. According to Cornell University professor Margaret Smith, those changes won’t alter the cereal’s make up at all. Smith explains further in a Cornell University press release:

“Corn starch and sugar are highly refined products, so they contain no DNA (which is what is introduced into a genetically engineered organism) and no protein (which is what the new DNA would produce in a genetically engineered organism). Because of that, corn starch and sugar from a genetically engineered corn variety are nutritionally and chemically identical to corn starch or sugar from a non-genetically engineered variety.

“This means that the new version of Cheerios that is being made without use of genetically engineered varieties will be nutritionally and chemically identical to the previous version.”

The better questions is, is that really going to be a ‘significant investment’ as General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas says? My money is on no, especially when they aren’t changing any of the other varieties, like Honey Nut Cheerios or Apple Cinnamon Cheerios.

Either way, it leaves an interesting question to ponder: Did General Mills really feel the need to switch from GMO ingredients to non-GMO ingredients, or are they looking for a little bit of free publicity at little to no cost to them? My money is on the latter.

For more information — and opinions — check out these articles and blogs. They bring up good questions.

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