Posts Tagged ‘corn’

Welcome to the Weekly Round Up where everything is interesting and nothing is second-rate.

Or something like that.

  • So, Supreme Court justices are always austere and serious, right? Turns out, that may not be the case. To find out what you get when you mix a bunch of justices from the highest court in the land, wine and the State of the Union address, check out this article from NPR’s The Salt.
  • This, because, well – I don’t think this is well-known.   corn
  • This story, from Scary Mommy, which has nothing to do with agriculture and everything to do with a boy who’s caught trespassing and stealing – but in the best way. Ever.
  • This, because wise words are always good to hear on a Friday. dreams
  • So, I know this is a longshot, but have you heard of GMOs? Oh, you have? Weird. In all seriousness, though, it’s a touchy topic these days. And, it’s a worrisome topic for moms and dads who are out there just trying to pick the right food for their families. So what do you when you have questions? Tour Monsanto, of course. For more on one mom’s tour of Monsanto and the questions she asked, be sure to check out www.WatchUsGrow.org.

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A couple of months ago, I had a call from a British TV producer, looking for a farmer she could interview about sweet corn. After asking some additional questions, I found out the producer wanted to talk to a ‘large scale’ sweet corn farmer, and visit him or her during harvest in October or November to pick up footage of him or her taking corn out, then visit a plant to watch it canned.

A couple of problems with this:

  • Sweet corn production isn’t exactly large scale here in Illinois; and
  • Sweet corn is harvested in July and August. By October or November, sweet corn is long gone.

I realized the producer was confused about corn production here in Illinois and explained to her that the corn she’s seen in footage is actually field corn used for animal feed and ethanol, and sometimes, food production in the form of packaged foods. Field corn is taken out in October or November, sometimes even September if the weather cooperates, and is hauled back to the farm or the elevator to be sold, not to a plant to be canned for human consumption.

I explained to her that field corn is left until mid- to late-fall so it can dry in the field and is then harvested by combine. The combine picks the corn, stalk and all, then separates the stalk from the ear, and the corn kernels from the cob, right there in the field.

The farmer who owns the field across from our house has been busy picking corn this week. He harvests and then off loads to a waiting semi truck, which then hauls the grain back to his farm for more drying or storage, or to a local elevator to be sold.

The farmer who owns the field across from our house has been busy picking corn this week. He harvests and then off loads to a waiting semi truck, which then hauls the grain back to his farm for more drying or storage, or to a local elevator to be sold.

H has been super interested in the goings-on lately. She loves running into the yard, looking and the "bombine" and watching them harvest the fields around our house.

H has been super interested in the goings-on lately. She loves running into the yard, looking and the “bombine” and watching them harvest the fields around our house. Unfortunately, last night, the “bombine” was out working. But she was equally happy to look at the “big tacker,” too.

She was amazed and thought they may be interested in covering that, too, but would let me know later for sure.

I hung up the phone and smiled a little at the misconception, and then spent my day toying with a British accent in my head because, obviously, I would sound better as a British version of myself.

But then I realized, she might not be the only one who doesn’t realize there’s a difference between sweet corn and field corn. And she might not be the only one who didn’t realize that all of the picking and shucking and everything else happens right there in the field.

Did you know that? No? Well, then check out this video from HowStuffWorks. It does an excellent job of explaining how a combine works and how much ground can be harvested using a modern combine.

The only caveat to this video is that it’s a couple of years old. Near the end, the announcer mentions that corn prices are near record highs, however, that isn’t the case this year. In fact, corn prices have dipped pretty significantly, causing many farmers to put a hold on purchases like combines and other machinery.

Want more information on harvest, how farmers make decisions, what corn is used for or anything else? Let me know if the comments. I would be happy to answer any questions I can — or find a farmer to answer your questions! You can also follow the #harvest15 hashtag on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to find real-time pictures and information from farmers themselves!

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Farmers will soon be out in their fields looking for some signs in their corn plants which will indicate whether their corn harvest will be good. One indicator is whether the plants are “knee high by the Fourth of July.”

But wait. We are shucking and grilling sweet corn for the Fourth of July. Obviously the plants are more than ‘knee high’ if we are enjoying corn now, right?

Well, July is a great time of the year for summer fruits and vegetables like sweet corn and peaches, making for some awesome cook-outs. However, that old saying, “knee high by the fourth of July” refers to field corn, not sweet corn!

In fact, 99% of the corn you see in the United States is field corn. This is the kind that can be made into livestock feed, ethanol, manufactured goods such as crayons, lotion and boxes, and a food ingredient in the form  of corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup and much more.

In the past, this saying was realistic, as farmers could expect a lower yield if the field corn had not yet grown up to their knees. Nowadays, this may be a bit deceiving.

Farmers are always subject to Mother Nature. However, thanks to advancements in seeds, farmers are now less subject to her wrath. Yes, I mean genetically modified seeds when I say ‘advancements.’ Thanks to them, seeds are more drought tolerant, more insect repellant, faster growing and other, what I would call, awesome characteristics.

What would have stunted the growth and taken a toll on yields in the past now doesn’t phase the corn plant. And thank goodness, because ‘perfect’ planting conditions don’t exist.

Obviously the plants can’t survive a drought like the one in 2012, but they can at least make a stand.

This year, in Illinois, we had knee high corn in early June because we were able to get the seed into the ground. Now, that’s not the only thing that contributed to its good looks. Warm days and timely rains are helping Illinois corn look fabulous, even over our heads by the Fourth of July.

While this saying isn’t a good indicator of plant health or yields for farmers anymore, expect for people to keep saying it for years to come.

Photographed by Jennifer Koehler.

Evan Koehler (6’2″) in a corn field well over knee high on July 1, 2014 in Marshall County, Illinois.

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The editor-in-chief of Men’s Health, David Zinzcenko (author of Eat This, Not That), recently wrote about the 15 biggest nutrition myths for an article in Yahoo! Health.  In it, he busts a couple of urban myths that we hope are soon (but suspect never will be) put to rest:

MYTH #1: High fructose corn syrup is worse than table sugar. 

Here’s what Mr. Zinzcenko had to say: “Both HFCS and table sugar, or sucrose, are built with roughly a 50-50 blend of two sugars, fructose, and glucose. That means in all likelihood that your body can’t tell one from the other—they’re both just sugar . . .  HFCS’s role as nutritional enemy #1 has been exaggerated.”

MYTH #14: Organic is always better

Writes Mr. Zinzcenko: “Organic produce is almost nutritionally identical to its conventional counterpart. The issue is pesticide exposure—pesticides have been linked to an increased risk of obesity in some studies. But many conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are very low in pesticides.”

MYTH #15: Meat is bad for you.

“Pork, beef, and lamb are among the world’s best sources of complete protein, and a Danish study found that dieting with 25 percent of calories from protein can help you lose twice as much weight as dieting with 12 percent protein. Then there’s vitamin B12, which is prevalent only in animal-based foods. B12 is essential to your body’s ability to decode DNA and build red blood cells, and British researchers found that adequate intakes protect against age-related brain shrinkage. Now, if you’re worried that meat will increase your risk for heart disease, don’t be. A Harvard review last year looked at 20 studies and found that meat’s link to heart disease exists only with processed meats like bacon, sausage, and deli cuts. Unprocessed meats, those that hadn’t been smoked, cured, or chemically preserved, presented absolutely zero risk.”

We couldn’t have made those points any better.  However, Mr. Zinzcenko needs to be pressed on the logic he presents in one of his myths.  In principle, Myth #7 (Foods labeled “natural” are healthier), is spot on—those ‘natural’ labels are more about marketing than nutrition.  But in attacking the myth, he points out that “7UP boasts that it’s made with ‘100% Natural Flavors’ when, in fact, the soda is sweetened with a decidedly un-natural dose of high fructose corn syrup. ‘Corn’ is natural, but ‘high fructose corn syrup’ is produced using a centrifuge and a series of chemical reactions.”

Hold on.  Didn’t he just get done saying HFCS isn’t necessarily a bad thing? 

His characterization of the making of HFCS also needs to be taken in context.  HFCS is made by soaking corn in water to loosen the starch from the protein, separated in a centrifuge (as he correctly points out) and treated with enzymes.  If that sounds too “processed,” think about cheese.  Cheese is ‘separated’ from an animal when it is milked, and then treated with enzymes to get the desired flavor and consistency.  That’s why parmesan is different from brie.  Bread is another example of something that can be made to sound overly processed: it’s made with yeast, which is (are?) eukaryotic micro-organisms.  Kind of gives grandma’s homemade bread an ick factor, when put that way.

And as compared to “natural” cane sugar?  Cane sugar has to be milled, liquefied, treated with lime, boiled and also spun in a centrifuge before it’s useable.  Turning it into table or powdered sugar requires even more processing.

I’d give Mr. Zinczenko a 9.5 out of 10 for his article.  He started and finished strong, but a little extra twist in the middle cost him a perfect score.

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There’s been a lot going on in the news lately.  With the killing of Osama bin Laden, the flooding of the Mississippi and the Governator’s troubles in California, you might understandably have missed a proclamation that came out of the White House last week.

In it, President Obama declared this week to be World Trade Week.

But for folks in agriculture, every week recently has been World Trade Week, as we wait for the final i to be dotted on a deal that would send three long-pending Free Trade Agreements to Congress for approval.

These FTAs, with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, have been languishing since 2006 and 2007.  We’ve lost a billion dollars in market share in South America, much of it in corn exports, as our friends and allies there make pacts with other countries because they’re tired of—and insulted by having to—wait for us to enact the agreements.

Colon Container Terminal, Panama (Photo courtesy Julie Root, RFD Radio)

Very few trades and even fewer political issues are considered win-win.  This, however, is one of them.  These countries are clamoring for our goods.  We’re clamoring for their markets.  Passing the FTAs would support 9,000 in America for every billion dollars in new exports.  The Korea FTA alone is expected to create about 70,000 jobs, according to the Obama Administration.  More than 22,000 of those jobs would be in agriculture. 

You can see why every week is World Trade Week for farmers and ranchers.  We’ve been working hard to get these FTAs passed.  As Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson recently wrote in an opinion piece to newspapers around the state, it’s like we’re in first place with 100 yards left in a marathon, and we’ve stopped to re-tie our shoes as our competition comes up from behind.  If we don’t get up and finish, we’re going to be overtaken and lose out.

And so, we have a proclamation of our own, since President Obama’s didn’t mention passage of the FTAs:


  • Free Trade Agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia were negotiated in 2006 and 2007, and have not yet been sent to Capitol Hill for approval;
  • The U.S. has lost more than $400 million in corn exports to Colombia alone in the past two years;
  • American heavy equipment manufacturers would finally be able to ship their products without excessive tariffs;
  • And, whereas unemployment claims rose in three of four weeks from April to May;
  • Now, therefore, the Illinois Farm Bureau, representing two out of every three Illinois farmers, does hereby proclaim that President Obama should immediately send, and that Congress should immediately pass, the Free Trade Agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.  Doing so would benefit our economy and create jobs.  Doing so would be the perfect way to celebrate “World Trade Week.”

Dated the eighteenth of May, of the year two thousand eleven.

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The Food and Drug Administration has yet to rule on a petition to rename High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as corn sugar.  We’re guessing the Corn Refiners Association filed the petition in part because of the persistent consumer concern that HFCS “is just so…processed.”

Generally, with boxed and canned foods in stores, more processing equals less nutritional value.

But, processing isn’t always a bad thing.

According to the Food Information Council Foundation, the definition of a processed food is “any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat.”

By that definition, food has been “processed” for about two million years, when prehistoric humans discovered cooking. 

If you don’t think cooking counts as processing, take the informal definition offered by  ‘natural’-food enthusiasts: any ingredients their grandmother wouldn’t recognize.  But surely the process of preserving food with salt curing or smoking would be recognized by one’s grandmother.  Food has been cured with salt since the end of the 16th century, and smoking has been around almost as long. 

Other processed items that might be recognized by grandparents: beer (made at least as early as 7,000 BC), cheese (animal milk treated with enzymes), bread (dough treated with eukaryotic micro-organisms, a.k.a. yeast), American-style chocolate (milk chocolate treated with butyric acid), pickles (cucumbers soaked in brine and fermented), and even water (recycled, cleaned and fluoridated to flow through a modern tap; distilled, flavored and bottled for sale in markets).

Cane sugar, before processing

One other processed food your grandparents would have used—sugar.  That’s right, good old sugar.  Whether it’s cane sugar or beet sugar, it has to undergo processing before it ends up in food.  Cane sugar has to be milled, liquefied, treated with lime, boiled, and spun in a centrifuge before it’s useable.  Turning it into table or powdered sugar requires even more processing.  Beet sugar undergoes a similar process.

Sugar beets

Sugar beets, before processing

As with all foods, processed or eaten straight from the ground, the key is moderation.  Drinking a six-pack of cane sugar-sweetened soda a day will make a child obese and at extreme risk for diabetes just as quickly as a six-pack of corn sugar-sweetened soda.

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Back in school, when somebody else had something good for lunch, you might find yourself offering to swap something in your lunch for the good stuff in theirs.  “I’ll trade ya!” was a common refrain at the lunch table.  Of course, most times it was kids trying to trade carrots for cupcakes, but that didn’t stop them from trying.

The same principles apply in agriculture today.  The U.S. grows an abundance of good stuff that other countries want.  We ship corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and other commodities overseas.  Agriculture, in fact, is the lone sector of the U.S. economy enjoying a trade surplus.

President Obama is currently visiting Latin America. He has indicated one of the goals of his trip is to increase trade. This is a positive step since analysis indicates 9,000 jobs are created or saved in the U.S. for every $1 billion dollars in trade. A delegation from Illinois Farm Bureau just returned from Panama and Colombia, and it came back with a simple recommendation: the President needs to send the Free Trade Agreements, already negotiated with these countries in 2006, to Congress for approval.

Illinois Farm Bureau Director Terry Pope at the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal

There are strong economic, geo-political and labor benefits resulting from the FTA’s. The U.S. has a transportation advantage to Panama and Colombia because of our extensive river network leading to the Mississippi and out into the Gulf of Mexico. They want our grain and heavy equipment. Illinois stands to gain significantly because corn is the largest ag import into Colombia and because of our heavy equipment manufacturers, such as Caterpillar, John Deere, CASE IH and Navistar. The trade is complimentary. Coffee, sugar, seafood and cut flowers are exported to the U.S.

However, Colombia has grown tired of waiting for the U.S. to approve the FTA. They have entered into trade agreements with other South American countries and as a result our corn market has fallen from $600 million in 2008 to $200 million in 2009. Colombian Ag Ministry advisor Andres Espinosa told the group “you are losing market share fast and will lose almost everything if you don’t approve the FTA.”

Making matters worse, Colombia and Panama have long been allies of the U.S. and officials feel betrayed by the fact the U.S. has not signed the agreement after five years.  Espinosa  said “the U.S. has been our most important friend and ally. I can’t believe this is happening.”

With an enemy dictator in neighboring Venezuela it is hard to understand why our government would not want to expand trade and business with our allies.  

In Bogota, citizens now feel safe to move about the city. The growth and development taking place in both countries is amazing. The FTA provides provisions to improve labor and human rights. Can we risk disappointing nations that consider us friends and turn down the jobs that will come with the expanded trade?

The President deserves accolades if he returns from Latin American with a serious intent to move these agreements forward. If not, it would appear his spring break trip was for pleasure and not business.

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