Do farmers have an image problem? Surveys say 'no.' But at the Commodity Classic this week in Anaheim, Calif., groups are talking about telling the farm story. For the National Corn Growers Association, that's a hot topic because members have been at the center of the food-versus-fuel debate raging for the past two years.
NCGA President Darin Ihnen points to the record corn yield in 2009 at 13.2 billion bushels and 165.2 bushels per acre that he says "disprove the myths in mainstream media." Ihnen notes that even as the ethanol industry pumped out more gallons of biofuel, the price of corn slid 50 cents.
"This disproves that higher demand means more acres to corn," he notes. "In 2007 and 2009 we produced 13 billion bushels of corn, but in 2009 we did it on 7 million fewer acres."
The association is watching the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency work toward the E15 blend standard for biofuels too. Ihnen reinforces that the standard is not a mandate, but just a guideline corn growers and the ethanol industry is seeking.
Making headway toward the E15 standard isn't about mechanical issues to a car or truck's operation. Instead EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy are doing long-term durability testing to assure the higher ethanol blend doesn't have a long-term impact on the catalytic converter in vehicles. Word is that EPA could issue information on the standard in the summer, which is later than originally announced.
Taking control of the image
NCGA will be moving forward with its work to promote a positive image for farmers and products and Ihnen says there will be a more united group of producers that can speak out locally and nationally about those ag myths that keep surfacing. "We know that we are our best spokesperson," Ihnen says. "We want local farmers to be able to respond when false information comes out."
The organization will build on its Corn Farmers Coalition taking the ag message to Capitol Hill to keep staffers and lawmakers informed about what ag is doing in the way of sustainability, and productivity for the future.
As part of that effort, the organization is also working to better counter a range of groups and individuals that skew the farm message. Ihnen wasn't ready to say that the "gloves are coming off," however he notes that action to get the facts out will be more coordinated in the face of major organizations working to control the food debate.
Ag Secretary on tap
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is slated to keynote the Commodity Classic Friday and will be discussing trade issues. NCGA notes that action on free trade agreements that have not moved forward - Panama, Colombia and South Korea - would be welcome. In addition, there is talk the Obama Administration would push enforcement actions for countries not honoring agreements.
Vilsack's visit to the meeting is one of the larger commercial farming meetings he has attended since he was appointed in 2009. When he visits farmers in Anaheim, what do corn growers want the secretary to hear from members? "We've been hearing behind closed doors that USDA supports E15 and climate change issues," Ihnen says. "But we have not heard that in public."
Ihnen says farmers would like to have USDA step up publicly to counter some of the critics of modern agriculture. "Right now it looks like EPA is controlling the conversation," he notes. "We would like to hear more from USDA."
Coverage of Commodity Classic will continue through Saturday.