Childress: Ethanol a Winner for Racers & Farmers

childress-testThe Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing this week on advanced biofuels. One of the witnesses at the hearing was NASCAR team owner Richard Childress who talked about the many benefits of corn-based biofuels, such as the higher fuel performance he has seen in more than five million miles of racing since the E15 ethanol blend was introduced in the 2011 racing season.

“When they decided to go with an ethanol-blend of fuel, in 2010, NASCAR started looking at what was the correct blend to use. After many tests, they came up with E15,” Childress said, pointing out that his own racing team tested up to E30 blends, which he believes would be even better. “Nothing but positive results came out of our tests. Engines ran cooler, ethanol makes more octane so it makes more horsepower, less carbon buildup, better emissions, and our parts when we tore the engines down looked much better.”

Childress, who has also been in the farming business for 30 years, says he knows what it’s like for farmers.

“Ethanol is definitely a great plus for our farmers in America today.”

Listen to all of Childress’ remarks here: NASCAR team owner Richard Childress testifying before Senate Agriculture Committee

Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow of Michigan says advanced biofuels are here now, and they are an important part of the energy title in the recently passed farm bill.

“The Energy Title funds critical programs that helps our farmers produce energy from non-food sources and helps companies get low-interest loans for those facilities, and of course, all that creates jobs,” Stabenow said, adding that to continue to grow the industry, there needs to be policies that support it. She said passing the Farm Bill was a strong first step toward to that goal. “Now we need to provide certainty through a strong Renewable Fuels Standard and tax credits to support long-term investments in our energy future.”

Hear more of what Stabenow had to say here: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chair of Senate Agriculture Committee

Hick Chick Chat: Dick Durbin talks Ukraine, Farm Bill

11326519286_c9a07ae0bf_oDriving into town one day last week, I caught most of an interview with Senator Dick Durbin on the radio station where I used to work. Senator Durbin has been a staple on the air with morning show AM Springfield host Sam Madonia and he would often join me when I hosted my own noon show on the same station. Of course he talks a little bit about local topics in this interview as Durbin calls Springfield, Illinois his home. Last weekend, Senator Durbin discussed many of the same topics on Face the Nation that he also discussed on the local morning show.

D000563Senator Durbin is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He and others visited Ukraine last week to see first hand what exactly the situation is there and how he feels the US should be involved.

You can listen to the Hick Chick Chat with Assistant Senate Minority Leader, Dick Durbin here: Hick Chick Chat with US Senator Dick Durbin

Join in the conversation on Twitter and on Facebook

Ag Day Celebration in DC Features Policy

The National Agriculture Day celebration in Washington DC has events spread across three days – and really it should be more because it is officially National Agriculture Week.

ag-day-14-sara-harden1Official events to celebrate agriculture kicked off Monday with the Farm to Fork politics session sponsored by Agri-Pulse. With a live audience of nearly 400, USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden sat down with Sara Wyant to discuss what they have been doing to implement the new farm bill. “Congress did give us a long time to plan, I’ll have to say that,” said Harden, who said the process really started when she took over the office last August, and continued as they waited and waited for Congress to finally get the bill passed.

Harden discussed the conservation title of the bill, which she says she is especially excited about. “Our goal is to really make sure that producers know all the opportunities they have as soon as possible,” she said. “I think farmers and ranchers will see it’s a good title with a lot of opportunities there.”

Listen to the conversation here: Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden and Sara Wyant of Agri-Pulse

Agri-Pulse Ag Day Photo Album

Coverage of National Ag Day is sponsored by BCS Communications

Partnerships Big for NCGA at Commodity Classic

ncga1Members of the National Corn Growers Association are at Commodity Classic in full force this year, as part the more than 7,000+ corn, wheat, soybean and sorghum growers who have come to San Antonio. President of NCGA, Martin Barbre, a farmer from Illinois, outlined some of his group’s priorities in this coming year, including their work with a couple of partnerships, the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food and the Soil Health Partnership.

“The goal of the [Coalition for Safe Affordable Food] is to seek a federal solution that would establish standards for the safety and labeling of food and beverage and products made with biotech ingredients,” pointing out that GMO issues have been hot in the last few years, and a hodge podge of state regulations would only cloud the issue for producers and consumers. “If we get a myriad, a patchwork of state laws, how would I as a corn grower in Illinois if I’m shipping corn out to Indiana or down the Mississippi certify [my crop].”

The Soil Health Partnership has the support of Monsanto and the Walton Family Foundation and relies on a science advisory council made up of government and university experts as well as environmental groups. “These are just examples of many of the coalitions we’ve been able to work on.”

Another big topic for the corn growers is the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), particularly what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to reduce the amount of corn-based ethanol to be mixed into the Nation’s fuel supply. Barbre said he’s proud of the outpouring of support his NCGA members have given in the form of thousands of calls and letters to the EPA and White House to reverse what they see as bad proposal.

“We’ve done our part so far. It’s an uphill battle, but we’ll keep our pressure on the Administration,” he said.

The new Farm Bill was welcomed by the NCGA, with Barbre calling it a law that makes sense, focusing help for growers when they need it, helping conservation efforts, saving taxpayers’ dollars and feeding the hungry.

Listen to more of Barbre’s remarks here: NCGA Press Conference with Martin Barbre

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Coverage is sponsored by John Deere

Farm Bill Signed

President Obama traveled to Michigan State University to sign the Agricultural Act of 2014 on Friday, calling it a bill that has “a lot of tools – it multi-tasks.”

fb-signing“Despite its name, the farm bill is not just about helping farmers,” President Obama told the small crowd invited for the signing. “Secretary Vilsack calls it a jobs bill, an innovation bill, an infrastructure bill, a research bill, a conservation bill. It’s like a Swiss Army knife.”

The president made note of the conservation efforts funded by the bill. “So that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy places like the Mississippi River Valley and Chesapeake Bay,” he said. “It helps rural communities grow, it gives farmers some certainty, it puts in place some important reforms.”

Listen to some of the president’s speech here: President Obama farm bill signing

Senate Approves Farm Bill

fb-2014The U.S. Senate today voted 68-32 to approve the Agricultural Act of 2014 – what was supposed to be the 2012 Farm Bill.

“This is not your father’s Farm Bill. It’s a new direction for American agriculture policy,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, who notes that the legislation includes “one of the largest investments in land and water conservation we’ve made in many years.”

The Agricultural Act of 2014 consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs while strengthening tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife. By streamlining programs, the farm bill provides added flexibility and ensures conservation programs are working for producers in the most effective and efficient way – an approach supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states. These reforms increase resources for top priorities while reducing the deficit by $6 billion.

The president is expected to sign the bill into law as soon as possible.

Thune Watching Farm Bill Conservation

thune-thumbSenator John Thune (R-SD) believes a farm bill is “getting closer to the finish line” but he still has concerns about aspects of it.

“Particularly the lack of reform in the commodity title of the bill, I think that’s a real missed opportunity,” said Thune during a press call with reporters this week.

The South Dakota senator is also concerned about the conservation title in the farm bill “that they get the ‘sodsaver’ provisions made nationwide, that they don’t carve out regional exemptions from that.”

Thune believes there are some good provisions in the conservation title that provide for both wildlife production and land conservation and he supports linking conservation compliance to crop insurance. “Our farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of the land but we do need to have common sense policies that ensure sound conservation practices are going to continue to be implemented,” he said, adding that he hopes to see a farm bill on the floor of the senate next week.

Thanks to Agri-Pulse for providing us with this audio.
Sen. Thune comments

Former NRCS Chief on Conservation Program Future

bruce-knightA former chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service says both the House and Senate farm bills are similar when it comes to reduced funding and consolidation of conservation programs. Bruce Knight, who served as NRCS chief in the Bush administration, gave a synopsis at a Farm Foundation forum on conservation last week.

“The largest difference is whether or not to link conservation compliance to the farm bill,” he said, but he notes that compliance already is linked to shallow loss and marketing loans in both bills.

Knight thinks consolidating conservation programs is a big positive and he believes linking compliance to crop insurance may also be positive in the long run. “That linkage to crop insurance is vitally important long term for being able to defend both crop insurance and farm programs and conservation benefits,” said Knight.

Listen to Knight’s comments here: Former NRCS Chief Bruce Knight at Farm Foundation Forum

Vilsack Announces Report on Benefits of Conservation

usda-logoAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will visit Silver Ridge Farm on Thursday, Dec. 5th to announce the release of a new report that outlines the impact of voluntary incentive-based conservation practices across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

The Conservation Effects Assessment Project report demonstrates the need for a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will invest in conservation partnerships with our nation’s famers, ranchers and landowners.

Silver Ridge Farm, located in Fredericksburg, VA, is a multigenerational family farm that, like many farms in the Bay Watershed area works with the USDA to implement a wide range of conservation measures.

Fed Conservation Programs Topic for Forum

farmfoundationlogo3The Farm Bill is still up in the air on Capitol Hill, and that’s why the folks at Farm Foundation have set up another of their free forums not too far from where Congress will be discussing the legislation’s future. In this next forum on Wednesday, Dec. 4, at the National Press Club in downtown Washington, D.C., the group has invited a host of experts to talk about the future of federal conservation programs and what those programs mean to land owners and conservation work on the land.

Moderating the panel will be former Texas Congressman Charlie Stenholm. Five panelists will present perspectives on the legislation:

Bruce Knight of Strategic Conservation Solutions and former Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, will provide an overview of federal conservation policies and the role of federal programs in conservation work.
Eric Lindstrom, who works on wetlands and water conservation at Ducks Unlimited, will discuss that organizations’ migratory bird program, including the federal duck stamp program.
North Dakota farmer Don Bauman will explain the role of conservation in his farming operation.
Marcus Maier of the Indian Creek Watershed Project, will discuss the role of federal programs in this farmer-led project.

To sign up, click here. Also, if you can’t make it to the event, the audio will be archived on the Farm Foundation website.

Commodity Groups Optimistic About Farm Bill

nafb13-afbf-thatcherDespite reports that high hopes are fading for a farm bill yet this year, agriculture industry representatives at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting last week were cautiously optimistic that the end is yet in sight. “I think progress is being made and I’m still confident that we’re going to get something before the end of the year,” said Mary Kay Thatcher with the American Farm Bureau Federation. Interview with Mary Kay Thatcher, AFBF

nafb13-nfu-johnson“Last year when I was here I predicted that by the end of the year we’d have a farm bill and I’m going to make that prediction again,” said National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson. Interview with Roger Johnson, NFU

ncga-martinNational Corn Growers Association president Martin Barbre says they are still hopeful. “We’re pressing every day, working with our friends in Congress,” the Illinois grower said. “We got it to conference, that’s a step forward!” Interview with Martin Barbre, NCGA

American Soybean Association board member Ray Gaesser of Iowa says they are also pleased to see some progress. “We’ve been working on the 2012 farm bill for more than three years,” he said. “But we are encouraged that it has at least come to conference.” Interview with Ray Gasser, ASA

The other ASA, the American Sugar Alliance, is watching the farm bill progress very carefully because it is so critical to their industry. “The farm bill is .. our one, two and three most important priorities that we deal with,” said chairman Ryan Weston. “We’ll just keep working with all the other farm organizations and members of Congress to try to get a farm bill done by the end of the year.” Interview with Ryan Weston, American Sugar Alliance

The National Sorghum Producers chairman J.B. Stewart of Oklahoma is hoping this process is finally coming to an end. “I think both sides of the aisle are definitely ready to get this behind them,” he said. “We certainly are.” Interview with J.B. Stewart and Tim Lust, NSP

National Association of Wheat Growers president Bing Von Bergen hopes the conference committee puts partisan politics aside. “When they’re in conference they need to reach across the table and say … let’s meet in the middle. And we believe that will happen.” Interview with Bing Von Bergen, NAWG

2013 NAFB Convention Photo Album

USDA’s Drive in Support of Rural Communities

nafb-13-49-editedUSDA Rural Development was on hand during last week’s NAFB Trade Talk to share their work with rural communities across the United States and promote the use of #MyFarmBill.

I spoke with Colleen Callahan, Illinois State Director for Rural Development, during the event and she was eager to express their commitment to rural communities and their passion for brining value to agricultural businesses who drive the growth of those rural communities through their financial and loan programs.

“When it comes to the breadth of what USDA does, we at Rural Development feel that we are the jewel in the crown of USDA because it’s not just about any one program or any one business. It’s about entire communities and regions.”

During the Secretary of Agriculture’s press conference at NAFB, Vilsack gave credit to Colleen for her committed work with the National Drought Resiliency partnership. USDA, along with numerous other government organizations have teamed up in effort to become better prepared to mitigate the consequences of future droughts. You can find the complete audio from the press conference here.

You can’t talk with anyone from USDA without bringing up the Farm Bill. Colleen talked about the power of strength in numbers and their promotion of #MyFarmBill. The use of the hashtag will allow us all to express our opinions and share our agriculture story to the decision makers. As one it’s hard to make a stand, but together we can share our words, photos and video using #MyFarmBill to be heard. Colleen also reminds us that this is more than simply a farm bill, it is a food bill. It is about producing food for exports and putting wholesome food on the tables in homes across the country.

“In agriculture during this time of year we use a lot of technology. We use that GPS, we know where we are in the field, what the yield is in that very spot. We use the no-steer guidance to get use where we are at that point in the field and so using that technology helps us with social media. The #MyFarmBill really completes that circle. You’re at the end of the field, you’re unloading, it goes from the augur to the grain cart and you are sitting there watching. Take advantage of the time you have to communicate the business you are in.”

Listen to my complete interview with Colleen here: Interview with Colleen Callahan

Checkout photos from NAFB Convention: 2013 NAFB Convention Photo Album

Ag Secretary Visits NAFB

vilsackAg Secretary Tom Vilsack made a trip to Kansas City to visit with farm broadcasters during the 70th National Association of Farm Broadcasting Annual Convention. The Secretary centered his comments around the RFS announcement, record levels of exports, drought issues and of course, the farm bill.

Vilsack started off by thanking all the farm broadcaster for the work that they do and shared how nice it was to talk to a crowd that understood what truly happens on the farm and appreciates the rural lifestyle.

The first topic Vilsack discussed was his excitement with agricultural exports. He stated, “We have now reached a record level of agricultural exports. Once again, $140.9 billon exports. It’s the best five years of ag exports in the history of the country. If you compare it to the pervious five year period we’ve done $230 billon more of agriculture exports and our volume is up as well.”

Next, the Secretary commented on this mornings announcement about the establishment of the National Drought Resiliency partnership. It is a collaborative effort between the Department of Commerce, Department of Interior, Department of Energy, Army Corp of Engineers, EPA, FEMA and the USDA. The goal with this team effort is to become better prepared and to mitigate the consequences of future droughts.

The final announcement came from the EPA today about RFS. Vilsack said, “At USDA we are going to focus on those aspects of this industry that we can control.” They plan to work with the industry and specifically the larger operators to create a distribution system to increase the availability of ethanol products and not depend on the petroleum industry.

You can listen to the entire press conference here Secretary Vilsack Press Conference

Checkout photos from NAFB Convention: 2013 NAFB Convention Photo Album

Conservation Compliance Support in Farm Bill Conference

One area where there seemed to be general agreement in the first meeting of the farm bill conference committee last week was the need for a strong conservation program – and most committee members who mentioned it during last week’s meeting are in favor of tying conservation compliance to crop insurance, which is part of the Senate bill.

fb-conf“As we make this shift to risk management policies, it’s very important that farmers and ranchers continue to do the things that make them the best stewards of our land and water resources,” said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). “By reconnecting conservation compliance to our now-strengthened crop insurance program, we protect the future of agriculture for our children and grandchildren.”

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) agreed. “With direct payments eliminated, it’s important that we provide incentives for farmers to continue to be good stewards of the land,” he said.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) noted that the vast majority of producers are already doing what is required. “Are we going to say to the few that might be bad actors that you can still get your insurance and not do what the vast majority are doing on their own?”

Only Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) spoke against linking conservation and crop insurance. “In the House version you do not tie the conservation compliance to crop insurance,” he said. “I think that is the right approach.”

The committee met for the first time on October 30. No word yet on when it will meet again but some members have said they are hoping to get the bill out of committee by Thanksgiving.

Farm Bill Future Topic of Farm Foundation Forum

farmfoundationlogo3The farm bill is coming closer to becoming reality, as Congress is about to start the legislation’s Conference Committee. Our friends at Farm Foundation will take a look at how work is progressing on the bill and how the outcome may effect the nation’s food and agriculture system during its next free forum, Wednesday, Nov. 6 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. EST at the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C.

The Forum panel: Moderating the panel will be former Texas Congressman Charlie Stenholm. Five panelists will present perspectives on the legislation:

Joe Outlaw of Texas A&M University, will give an overview of farm bill policies.
Michael Dimock of Roots of Change, will address the impact of legislation on food systems and consumers.
Helen Jensen, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University, will examine issues surrounding the nutrition title of the legislation.
Jon Scholl of the University of Illinois and former president of American Farmland Trust, will discuss conservation programs.
Kip Tom of Tom Farms, will provide a producer perspective.

To participate in this free forum, sign up here.