JUNE 2014

“Water and Climate Risks Facing U.S. Corn Production” attempts to link such risks with U.S. corn production. These statements are nothing new and such reports continue to fail in their intent, primarily by not seriously consulting those that actually produce corn.    Farmers are …">

(Posted Fri. Jun 13th, 2014)

By Martin Barbre, NCGA President


A recent report entitled “Water and Climate Risks Facing U.S. Corn Production” attempts to link such risks with U.S. corn production. These statements are nothing new and such reports continue to fail in their intent, primarily by not seriously consulting those that actually produce corn. 


Farmers are central to improvements in the nation's sustainable corn supply. The National Association of Corn Growers (NCGA) advocates for the cultivation of sustainable agricultural production. As corn growers, we are the ones continually promoting improved management practices that benefit the environment, rural communities and farmers’ bottom lines as a means to stay in business.

NCGA is concerned with many aspects of the report from Ceres and will highlight a few. For example, there is no credible science that places all (or even most) of the blame for hypoxia on corn production. Second, while the irrigated corn statistics presented are substantial, the text often emphasizes negative perceptions. By stating “Twenty-two percent of irrigated corn acres still employ inefficient flood or furrow irrigation methods…”, the report under-emphasizes the efforts on the other 78 percent of U.S. corn acres. Further, the data cited is more than 6 years old. It is also not acknowledged that nearly nine in ten corn acres grow with only the benefit of natural rainfall, without any irrigation. 


Third, the report also states “Fertilizer run-off can be further addressed by practices such as cover-cropping, and the development of buffer strips…” without acknowledging efforts such as the Soil Health Partnership and other NCGA, state organization and local group initiatives to identify, test, measure management practices (including cover crops, conservation tillage and advanced nutrient management) and accelerate grower adoption of these under-researched practices. Many farmers already incorporate these techniques as appropriate to field conditions to improve sustainability.  Finally, one would think that an organization developing a report on corn production would seek input from more than a single farmer, who was more than outnumbered by other reviewers. If given the opportunity, NCGA would have lent its expertise in the development and review of this report. As President Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.”


NCGA is a founding member and lead contributor to several organizations promoting improvements across varied fronts relating to sustainable agricultural production. Corn farmers were instrumental in developing and maintaining a leadership role in guiding Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, an effort addressed positively within the Ceres report. Our farmers contribute significantly to the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), a national, public-private partnership promoting the use of agricultural practices that are environmentally beneficial and economically viable.  

Corn growers also support on-going research initiatives to constantly improve sustainable agricultural production. Along with other partners, NCGA founded the Resilient Economic Agricultural Practices (REAP) initiative, a public-private program that serves as a catalyst for the adoption and commercialization of USDA research outcomes. As a member of the National Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, NCGA works toward developing a road map of farm management systems that help producers to achieve verifiable sustainability outcomes, improve the environmental services and productivity of their farms, improve rural communities and satisfy performance expectations of the value chain.  


NCGA works through its Production and Stewardship Action Team to take the lead on initiatives that defend and improve the sustainability of all U.S. corn.  As mentioned above, the Soil Health Partnership (SHP) is an NCGA initiative supported by agricultural industry, environmental non-profits, universities and governmental agencies. The SHP identifies, tests and measures management practices to improve soil health, and as a result, sustainability. In addition, NCGA runs the National Corn Yield Contest that highlights techniques to increase our ability feed and fuel the world and an opportunity to learn from their peers.


If you wonder about our record on sustainability, look no further than the peer-reviewed Field to Market sustainability indicators report. From 1980 to 2011 alone farmers have reduced soil erosion 67 percent; cut greenhouse gas emissions 38 percent; trimmed the energy needed to produce a bushel of corn 43 percent and reduced the amount of land needed to produce a  bushel of corn by 30 percent. And all this has been accomplished while producing 15 percent more corn than the next largest world producer.


As the Ceres report notes, global food and fiber demands will increase due to a growing global population and there will always be a need for improvements in implementing sustainable production practices. However, reports such as this, that present corn farmers and production in a negative light, do nothing to further the cause of sustainability, but rather seem to seek to line the pockets of people behind the activist fundraising machine. 


NCGA and the over 300,000 U.S. corn growers that it advocates for support the cultivation of sustainable agricultural production. We stand ready to contribute our varied and expansive expertise to sustainable achievements. People seeking to join us in the honest pursuit of this cause simply need to call or email.