Awash in Corn

Most of us can imagine a bushel of something–a bushel of apples, raking bushel baskets of leaves, or for those on the East Coast, even a bushel of blue crabs or oysters. But few of us can imagine the number 14 billion.

Crop forecasters predict the 2014 corn crop will reach historic levels—over 14 billion bushels. And the U.S. soybean crop looks similar—it could reach a record 4.0 billion bushels.

Being “awash” in corn is fabulous testament to the productivity of U.S. farmers, but refocuses the need for, and promises of, a vibrant renewable fuel market.

With the harvest seasons soon to begin, the following are most assuredly some of the thoughts and questions crossing the minds of U.S. corn growers:

  • Fantastic! Producing a record crop is a both a personal and industry achievement. We’ve put incredible technology to work—seed genetics, equipment, soil data, GPS mapping—along with a lot of sweat and long days. Despite some shaky weather at the beginning of the season, so far Mother Nature has cooperated. Can we do it again next year? Will we break 250 bushels an acre on that parcel?
  • What am I going to do with all this corn? As we begin the harvest season, will my combine hold up? Will the corn be dry enough? Once my on-farm storage is full, will I be able to haul the grain to the elevator fast enough? In some parts of the Corn Belt producers are worried about the potential of rail car shortages to carry their grain to port. The Polar Vortex is coming back—early. Will the snow hold off until the corn is in?
  • The markets are responding to the crop forecasts and prices are down. Navigating the markets will be tricky this season. How much corn should I hold onto? How much should I forward contract? How low might our farm income fall as a result of low prices? Will we make enough money to acquire the piece of farmland I think might come on the market next spring? Is this the year I should be transitioning ownership of the farm—to retire on a high note?
  • To say the least, there’s a lot of political unrest in the world. Will the situation in the Ukraine affect their ability to export corn this year? What about the Middle East? Will these situations begin to affect global oil prices again?

Visit a coffee shop out in the Corn Belt. Talk to farmers in line at the weigh-station. Listen to their experiences and opinions and you will hear a full spectrum of thoughts, and you are sure to hear at least a few like those expressed above.

But one set of questions poses the greatest uncertainty for farmers thinking about the future and those questions surround legislation and policies. Perhaps the most important of which is- Will my elected officials stay the course in supporting policies like the RFS that will help ensure continued development of the biofuels industry and the economic, environmental and national security benefits it provides? Policy uncertainly continues to be a huge wet blanket on renewable energy investments and any retraction or weakening of federal biofuel policies will eliminate markets and create continued downward pressure on the price of corn and other biofuel feedstocks our nation’s farmers have demonstrated they can produce.

Being awash in corn shows the power of U.S. farmers and their value-chain partners. Together they have delivered the feedstocks necessary to stay on the trajectory to achieve 25x’25’s goal: that America’s farms, forests and ranching operations will provide 25 percent of our nation consumes while continuing to supply safe, abundant and affordable food, feed, and fiber.

Being awash in corn reinforces the critical importance of policies, new markets and renewable fuels if our farmers continue to exceed production records. Now is not the time to stop fighting for renewable energy. The policy challenges are real, but they can be surmounted.

Proof positive was the opening this week of—Project LIBERTY—the cellulosic ethanol joint venture of Royal DSM, the Dutch conglomerate that provides the enzyme technology, and the ethanol company POET. Just as with bushels of corn, the numbers are somewhat hard to imagine. This $250 million project will produce 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year.

Project LIBERTY will use the corn stover, “the leftovers” of corn production from farmers up to 40 miles away from Emmetsburg, Iowa as a feedstock. Imagine the environmental and economic promise this brings to this rural area.

Now is the time to continue the forward momentum toward new markets and renewable energy. We can’t afford to turn back.

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