Random thoughts from Corn Congress and Washington DC

 I was in Washington DC last week for the National Corn Growers Corn Congress. I extended my stay to do some sightseeing with my grown son, so I ended up spending 6 days in DC, which is way too long. I’ve been smiling nonstop since I returned home, just happy to be here, somewhere normal! It’s not my first trip to DC, but I did accumulate a lot of random observations.

  • I spent most of my time with farmers from Kansas and many other states. Words that describe my farmer friends include the following: kind, intelligent, polite, funny, sophisticated, outspoken, focused, professional, friendly, well-rounded, honest, informed. Our farmers sat through long committee meetings, two delegate sessions and visited every member of our Congressional Delegation. All the while, they were also using their smart phones and tablets to keep track of the markets, check email, and kept in contact with their families at home who were running the farm in their absence.
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    With Senator Roberts

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    With Congresswoman Jenkins

  • There were many farewell speeches at Corn Congress this year with NCGA Exec Rick Tolman retiring, as well as Nebraska Corn’s Don Hutchens, Monsanto’s Marsha Stanton and John Deere’s Don Borgman. Our own Jere White was honored at the March Corn Congress session for his retirement. New leaders will rise to take their places, but those are some big shoes to fill.
  • Speaking of leaders, I was so impressed with the members of the DuPont New Leaders Program offered through NCGA. Farm couples are encouraged to go through the program together. This cultivated two new leaders from Kansas: Tom and Sandy Tibbits of Minneapolis. The program’s final session was held around the Corn Congress event. We were happy to have them along on our Hill Visits and Tom was able to help Kansas Corn by serving as a delegate. Tom is already on the KCGA board and we have plans to use make use of Sandy’s skills as well as an advocate for agriculture.
  • Speaking of Hill Visits, many of the Congressional offices have offered Russell Stover candies to their visitors for years. With the new Mars candy factory in Topeka, many of our offices have candy bowls with Peanut M&Ms and Snickers bars as well! And Cheezits. Did you know all Cheezits are made in Kansas? 
  • I serve on the Corn Farmers Coalition steering committee, an image program that aims to educate and inform Washington DC decision makers about corn farmers. The campaign just began and I saw our full page ad in The Hill newspaper, online and in the metro trains. This year’s ads have an innovation and technology theme because the focus groups we used when planning this year’s campaign were fascinated by the use of technology on our farms. I remember one focus group participant saying, “It’s kind of neat to think that those farmers are using the same iPad as me.” It is not always easy to overcome the stereotypes about farmers that many people have. On one hand, they are surprised to learn that 98 percent of all corn farms are family farms–many folks think that our farms are owned by big corporations. On the other hand, they think farmers look and work on the farms just like they did 50 years ago. When we talk to these people about GPS guidance and mapping, precision agriculture, they get really excited.
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    This Metro passenger was extremely interested in our CFC ad!

  • There is some corn planted in front of USDA. And the US Botanic Gardens is featuring a wheat display called Amber Waves of Grain.
  • I saw a lot of advertising in DC. I saw an excellent ad in a Metro train placed by Humane Watch. It explained that HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States, only gives 1 percent of its funding to local humane shelters and encourages people to donate to local humane society shelters instead.
  • On the Metro, we sat next to a woman holding a takeout bag from Chipotle. Over the years, I’ve discouraged my kids from eating at Chipotle for various reasons (primarily because it’s danged expensive!), but also because of how the corporate burrito company bashes farmers. Sitting next to my son who is a devout capitalist, I pointed to the bag in the woman’s lap and told him to read it. This quote is from Chipotle’s “Cultivating Thought” Author Series.
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    If no one must work, who will make the burritos?

    I’m all for love and peace, but just sitting around feeling love for one another might get a little boring after a while.  More importantly, Chipotle, if no one works, where will all that free food come from? Who will make the burritos? I’m for free speech and an open exchange of ideas, and I enjoyed reading the bag that held a nine dollar burrito. But I do have the right to disagree. My capitalist son, who in the past has been disturbed by Chipotle’s anti-farmer statements but still ate the corporate burritos, was even more disturbed by that quote.
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    Norman Borlaug is the new guy in Statuary Hall at the Capitol.

  • We saw the new statue of Norman Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution, during our tour of the Capitol. That an Iowa plant breeder is honored in this way Statuary Hall in the Capitol is significant. His work which created a high-yielding, disease resistant wheat is credited for saving a billion lives. Borlaug was a strong supporter of the promise of biotechnology and urged people to stand up to the anti-science crowd.
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    A corn capital at the Capitol. (Architect of the Capitol)

  • I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone has ever counted up the number of Greek columns in DC–it made me remember the Architecture Appreciation class I took at K-State where we learned about Doric, Corinthian and Ionic columns. Speaking of art and architecture, if you are a corn grower, look around in DC, there are many depictions of corn in the Capitol and many other places. In fact, the photo here shows a corn capital in the Capitol. A capital is the top of a column. According to the Architect of the Capitol: Carved by Giuseppe Franzoni from Aquia Creek sandstone, these columns were installed in the Hall of Columns of the U.S. Capitol in 1809. The fluting of a conventional shaft was recalled by bundled corn stalks. On the capital, husks were folded back to reveal the cob and kernels of corn.
  • I was struck by the friendliness of the people in DC on this trip. I think this was influenced by the unusually cool weather. One cab driver told us that the cooler weather was a disaster for cabbies and joked that he would have to charge us double. Judging by his meandering route to our destination, I don’t think he was kidding.

Corn Communicators Summit

By: Paige McFarland, Kansas Corn Intern

Last week I traveled with Kansas Corn Communications Director Sue Schulte to Washington D.C. for an opportunity to participate in the Corn Communicators Summit. We discussed a variety of issues at the meetings, heard some very informational speakers and had the opportunity to do a few tourist-y things as well.

Wednesday:

We started at the crack of dawn heading to MCI in Kansas City, despite some minor construction, we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare! We boarded the plane, which just happened to be the second time I have ever flown. It was a breeze. Once we arrived in DC, we hopped around town and were able to squeeze in the Botanical Gardens, the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden and Pavillion Café, and we were able to see a few other sites from afar. I was absolutely blown away by the Botanical Gardens. All of the different varieties of flowers and plants that we don’t see every day were really neat.

The Amber Waves of Grain Festival was taking place at the Botanical Garden as an informational tribute to the history of wheat innovation. I have learned about many of the wheat varieties in my Crop Science class so it was pretty awesome to see them all side by side. There was even a tidbit on Dr. Norman Borlaug. I recently had the opportunity to listen to Norman Vietmeyer, who was Norman Borlaug’s assistant and wrote the book Our Daily Bread, the Essential Norman Borlaug.

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We ate dinner at the Art and Soul Restaurant. The Chef, Art Smith, is a two time guest on the TV show Top Chef. We had a wonderful server (who was trying to engorge us) and a lovely meal! We dined with Missouri Corn’s Communications Director Becky Frankenbach and Janet Adkison, the Washington DC Bureau Chief for RFD-TV. Janet is also president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters. There was a lot of good conversation about agriculture and media.

Thursday:

Day 2 in Washington D.C. started at 9:00 a.m. on a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Museum of American History. We were shown around by Peter Liebhold, Chair and Curator of the Division of Work and Industry at the Smithsonian Museum of American History,who was extremely passionate about his. So many people think museum=boring, once upon a time I was probably one of those people. This tour was far from boring, he knew what we were there for and tailored the tour to things that would interest us. We got to see a room full of items that were full of life, each item had a story whether it was a keyboard, Dekalb sign, coca cola can, or a beanie baby. My favorite was obviously the Dekalb flying corn sign. The winged ear of corn represented the hybrid era. The reason for our visit was to learn about a new American Industry exhibit that will debut next year. Agriculture is one of the industries that will be featured and it was obvious the curator understood the importance of agriculture. The exhibit will include advertising materials from the Corn Farmers Coalition, an effort funded by several corn grower state organizations and NCGA to educate decision-makers in Washington DC about corn farmers and agriculture.

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Another highlight of the day was listening to Dr. Cathleen Enright speak about genetically engineered crops. She is a top executive from the Biotechnology Information Organization (BIO). It was enlightening to hear her input on talking to people about such a controversial topic. She pointed out that biotech plant breeding was just a sped up version of traditional plant breeding. Plant breeding is just another term for genetic modification. The vegetables we eat today are all products of plant breeding. For thousands and thousands of years, man has genetically modified plants, which has resulted in the natural vegetables we eat today.

We also met with staff from the US Grains Council, talked ag policy with NCGA’s Washington DC office, and the pro-ethanol group, Fuels America.

Thursday night we went out on the water in the Odyssey dinner boat. It was so incredibly beautiful to see the luminous skyline of downtown Washington D.C. reflecting on the water. Dinner was wonderful, the view was breathtaking and sharing stories with fellow cornies made for an enjoyable night!

Friday:

We began our final day in Washington D.C. at the Washington Post. This was an awesome experience to see the behind the scenes work of a newspaper. They are not only a newspaper, they have an incredibly large social media presence. The Post was recently bought by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and they are aggressively pursuing social and broadcast media to provide their news coverage. They assured us that they will keep printing for years to come, due to the fact the newspaper is a sentimental thing to many people. Your morning wouldn’t start off on the right foot if it wasn’t for reading the newspaper and drinking a nice warm cup of joe. As I am writing, I am drinking out of my complimentary tumbler from the Washington Post!

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After our tour we ventured off to have lunch and head back to the airport.

Here are a few other light observations I made about the trip:

  1. Washington D.C. is a MUCH more fast-paced city than Princeton, KS (pop. 276)
  2. Taxi drivers pay no attention to whether you get whiplash or not.
  3. Bicyclists don’t stop for anybody.

I had a great time mingling with corn staffers from several states from Virginia to Texas during our time in D.C. I want to say thank you to the National Corn Growers Staff for allowing me “The Intern” to take part in this meeting trip and welcoming me! I found that both serious meetings and social events are great tools for discussion and learning. I learned a lot and came back with a passion burning higher and brighter about the future of our industry.

Feast of the Fields: from Farm to Fork

By: Paige McFarland, Intern

Fine cuisine, talented musicians, local products and an evening full of the beautiful scenery only found in the Flint Hills—this is what I was lucky enough to experience recently at an agritourism event called Feast of the Fields. I, along with a few fellow K-Stater’s, had the opportunity to volunteer at this event on Bob and Mary Mertz farm east of Manhattan. The Mertz Farm is tucked away in a river bottom with the most beautiful limestone barn overlooking the Flint Hills. There isn’t a better place to host an event for people to gain the experience on the farm. A majority of guests that I spoke with were from the Kansas City area, and were also in awe of the scenery. This is an excellent opportunity for the Mertz family to share the story of their farm. I was very inspired by their story and want to encourage you all to make sure that your story is heard. People are interested now, more than ever, about the production that goes into putting food on the table.

Agritourism has gained a great deal of interest over the past ten years. Agritourism is defined as “The act of visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural, or agribusiness operations for the purpose of enjoyment, education or active involvement in the activities of the farm or operation.” Farmers and ranchers continue to be challenged by misinformation being translated to consumers, who hold the livelihood of the industry in the palm of their hands. By investing our time in acts of agritourism, we can help to bring more knowledgeable opportunities to the average consumer.

Bob and Mary Mertz are striving to bridge the agricultural gap between rural and urban demographics by opening up an opportunity for dialog on their farm east of Manhattan, KS. A magazine article captivated Mary to envision china, silverware and glass spread upon linen-clad tables stretching out into the field of green cornstalks. This vision that Mary had five years ago is what we now call Feast of the Fields.

The Feast of the Fields event at the Mertz’ family farm is one of few agritourism events in the area. They usually offer the event twice a year, once in the fall and once in the early summer. Some guests were eager to learn more about where their food comes from, while some were taking part to make connections with their family history. Guests were able to talk to the local chef and farmer about what they grow, how they grow it, how they cook it, and what inspired them to make these dishes.

“My main hope for this event is that guests leave feeling positive about Kansas farms and foods, and that they will share that message with others,” Mary stated.

I had the opportunity to speak with a gentleman who had traveled from Indiana for the event on Saturday evening. He had heard about the event from his brother who formerly sold real estate in the Manhattan, KS area.

A ticket to this event landed guests a delectable meal made with Kansas products by Scott Benjamin, owner and chef at 4 Olives Wine Bar in Manhattan, KS, the opportunity to try three Kansas made wines, and music from the “Tallgrass Trio.”

Obviously, not all farms are set up or inclined to hold agritourism events like this. But each of us can do our part by taking the time help our non-farm friends and relatives understand farming and how we raise our crops and livestock. Many special interest groups aggressively spread misinformation about farming, and it is up to us to tell our story!

 

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Know the Facts about GMOs

Know the Facts about GMOs

By Paige McFarland; Intern

“Biotechnology has helped farmers grow 311.8 million tons more food per acre in the last 15 years.”  (www.croplife.org).

How are we going to feed more people on less land and with only 1% of our population being farmers? That’s a great and frequently asked question. So what’s the answer, you ask? Biotechnology- but what is that? A new website called  www.gmosanswers.com gives us this definition of biotechnology:

Biotechnology in plant agriculture has come to mean the process of intentionally making a copy of a gene for a desired trait from one plant or organism and using it in another plant. The result is a GMO (genetically modified organism).”

This image was found on gmoanswers.com to brief consumers on how it all started.

This image was found on gmoanswers.com to brief consumers on how it all started.

 

There are a multitude of common misconceptions involving biotechnology in agriculture. So how do you as a consumer distinguish between the facts and fiction of this topic? Here is the truth behind a few commonly discussed issues with GMO’s.

Fact or Fiction: GMO’s are bad for our environment.

Fiction. Here are the facts:

There will be an estimated 9 billion people on the planet by the year 2050. The World will need 100 percent more food than we produce today. 70 to 80 percent of that food will have to come from improving technologies. Well folks, 2050 sounds like a long ways off but that is in 37 years. Biotechnology in agriculture is an efficient, cost-effective AND environmentally sound way to accomplish this. Using GMO’s is increasing yields in the fields that have been planted, therefore farmers are becoming more efficient on less land. Farmers are some of the greatest environmental stewards.

“Our deep respect for the land and its harvest is the legacy of generations of farmers who put food on our tables, preserved our landscape, and inspired us with a powerful work ethic.”- James H. Douglas, American Politician.

Fact or Fiction: GMO’s have been in our food since the 1990’s.

Fact. GMO’s were studied by scientists for YEARS before they emerged. There has been more testing on biotechnology in our crops than any other agricultural study. These biotech crops are also rigorously tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before emerging into our food source. Since the mid 1990’s there has not been one documented case of harm to humans or death caused by GMO consumption.

Fact or Fiction: Our crops today don’t have as much nutritional value due to GMO’s.

Fiction. Through the rigorous Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing they have found that GMO’s have the same, if not better, nutritional value as non GMO’s. This includes the same levels of amino acids, fibers, proteins, minerals and vitamins.

Farmers and the agricultural industry deserve to be respected for all the advancements and improvements they have made in the last 50 years and even more so for the substantial amount of work they will do in the next 50 years. It’s not an easy job, if it were everybody would do it. Don’t forget to ‪#‎thankafarmer and ‪ #‎agvocate every chance you get folks.

If you still have questions about GMO’s and biotechnology you can visit the following links for some extra information:

http://gmoanswers.com

http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Biotechnology-infographic_.pdf

http://findourcommonground.com/

It’s County Fair Season!

By: Paige McFarland
Kansas Corn Intern

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Isn’t that the truth!! To find out more about the 4-H organization check out this link! https://www.facebook.com/4-h

It’s that time of year again. Yes, you know exactly what I’m talking about- COUNTY FAIR TIME. This is probably one of my favorite seasons. (If you’re a former 4-Her you know exactly what I mean when I say season!) It’s not just four days of funnel cakes, rodeos and rides. County fairs take months and months of preparation- whether you are the extension agent organizing fair books or the 4-Her halter breaking their heifer or even trying to perfect that apple pie.

Looking back on my 4-H years, I cannot tell you how many taste tests my family had of pies where the filling was just too runny or breads that did not rise perfectly. I cannot tell you how many times I messed up an entry card when it asked how many years I’d been in 4-H (because it seemed like the answer should be infinity.) I cannot tell you how many times I stepped in animal feces walking around the fairgrounds waiting on club tours. I cannot tell you how many sodas I sold during the demolition derby while our club did their concession stand time. But there is one thing I can tell you- I can tell you that looking back it’s been one of the single most memorable experiences from my childhood.

4-H isn’t just the county fair. 4-H helps many young children, including myself, learn key morals and values in their lives and for that; I owe so much to this organization. Responsibility, leadership, work ethic and determination are just a few that come to mind. So while you’re walking around your county fair this year try to recognize these kids and extension agents for all they do for the county. It’s a wonderful time of year for so many reasons, embrace it!

 

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This picture couldn’t be more true! To find out more about the 4-H organization check out this link! https://www.facebook.com/4-h

:)

Smile and Wave.

Paige McFarland
Intern

We live in a society where people are always in a hurry. They often speed by farm implements on the roads at dinner time and honk, maybe because they’re in a hurry to get to their dinner reservation. But do they realize that farmer hasn’t eaten yet because he is doing everything he can to put food on our tables?

I’m sure we’ve all either been stuck behind a farm implement on the road, or been driving the farm implement other people were stuck behind. With wheat harvest and the growing season for fall crops both in full swing, there are more and more implements on the roads. As a reminder to all the drivers: use the three C’s- be cautious, courteous and use common sense.

Be cautious- Farmers don’t like using highways and they avoid highways as much as possible. BUT it is legal to drive farm machinery on public roads and it’s often the only way farmers can get from field to field. The most important thing you can do when approaching a large piece of equipment traveling down the road is to SLOW DOWN. Most times there will be a slow moving vehicle sign on the back to let other drivers know that they are going slower than 25 mph. For this reason, it is important to be paying attention at all times.

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Slow moving vehicle emblem on the back of the tractor. This sign is required on vehicles moving slower than 25 mph.

Be courteous- This reminds me of the song “International Harvester”

Well I know you got your own deadline
But cussing me won’t save you no time Hoss
But this big wheel wide load ain’t going any faster
So just smile and wave and tip your hat to the man up on the tractor”

Use common sense-
-Give yourself plenty of distance to pass, before passing make sure they are not turning.

-Bigger equipment takes longer to speed up and slow down. If you don’t want to be stuck behind one that DOES NOT mean you should pull out right in front of them.

- Be extra careful at night- farm equipment is not required to have the same lighting

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A truck passes a tractor on the highway. Tractors are not required to drive on the shoulder.

 Most of all- slow down, enjoy the season and drive safe. Don’t forget to smile and wave and tip your hat to the man up on the tractor! :)

Italian Group Visits Northeast Kansas Farms

By Ken McCauley, Kansas Corn Commissioner
White Cloud, KS

Ken & Mary McCauley of White Cloud hosted a group from Italy who were involved in Agriculture, on June 19 & 20.  The group was led by Anna Trettenero, a farmer (and was the interpreter for the group)—the group included 6 farmers, a professor of Agronomy, an animal nutritionist, and an Italian Government official.  The group was interested in and practice no-till farming.  They were also interested in irrigation techniques that Midwest farmers practice.  Prior to their arrival in Hiawatha they visited farms in South Dakota & businesses in Nebraska.  In Kansas they visited Great Plains Mfg., Agco Inc. and Kansas State University.  Kansas Corn Commission staff Sue Schulte and intern Paige McFarland arranged the group’s tour in this part of Kansas.  From there they traveled to Hiawatha.

They arrived in Hiawatha in the afternoon and checked in to the Hiawatha Lodge.  The group visited the Davis Memorial—they were excited to learn that much of the marble had come from Italy.  Before dinner, the group was thirsty so we traveled to First Street Grill for a “locally produced beer”.  We quickly found the language barriers eased with the universal language of “beer”.  Next stop was our dinner at the Country Cabin where the group enjoyed refreshments on the deck before dinner.  They enjoyed the Cabin’s famous smoked pork chop and rib eye steak and of course some red wine.

Thursday morning the group started out the day at 7 am. for coffee & pastry at the Daily Perk on Oregon St.  Ashleigh did a great job preparing for us–her coffee supplier came and made the espresso and cappuccino coffees taste their best!!  The group was very impressed with Ashleigh, her new restaurant and the friendliness with the local folks who came in and visited with us. 

Our next stop was a visit to Hiawatha Implement to see Larry Roeder’s new building and look at the equipment he had on hand. They also enjoyed the opportunity to buy some John Deere souvenirs!  While there, we had presentations by Andy Pederson on seed trends, and Keith Grimm regarding irrigation.  We then went to the Keith Grimm farm near Morrill for a demonstration of irrigation on his farm. 

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The group enjoying a nice lunch at the McCauley Farm in White Cloud, KS.

We journeyed on to the McCauley Farm Shop just before noon and looked at machinery, grain storage and crops in the field. We all enjoyed lunch at Ken & Mary’s house where we ate in the shade under their Maple trees.  The group had fun seeing where and how we live here in Kansas!  Next stop was “Lookout Point” in White Cloud where you can see four states and a great view of the Missouri River valley.  We then went to LifeLine Foods in St. Joseph, MO for a presentation and tour of their facility. 

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Kansas Corn Commissioner, Pat Ross, discusses cattle and crops with the Italians.

The final stop of the day was at the Pat & Mary Ross home near Lawrence to see their farm and feedlot.

We finished the day at their hotel near the KC Airport.  The group flew back to their homes in Italy the next day.

The group was very impressed with Hiawatha and the surrounding area, making comments about how nice the city looked and the friendliness of the people they met.  I think that our little communities have much to offer groups like this.  We tend to take our surroundings for granted until we look at things through a strangers’ eyes!!  This group’s visit made me appreciate the things in our own back yard.  

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