Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Campaign Staffers Visit Monroe County Dems

Just got back from a Monroe County Democratic Party Central Committee meeting.

All of the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate committees were invited to send their area field staffers to visit with the group at the meeting.

Who was there?

The Edwards, Clinton, Dodd and Biden campaigns each had one field staffer in attendance. Obama had two guys there.

Clinton Camp Keeps It Vague on Commodity Payments

With Congress in the middle of debate on the 2007 Farm Bill, commodity payments and other subsidies are a hot topic among rural farm organizations and environmental groups.

Iowa received $14.8 billion in federal farm payments from 1995 to 2005, which clearly illustrates what's at stake.

Much of the argument over the farm program involves the fact that there are virtually no limits on the amount that an individual can rake in from the federal government. As the argument continues over preserving the federal safety net for farmers, the fact that across the nation large agribusinesses and wealthy individuals are swallowing up 70 percent of the farm program's dollars is causing many to rethink the farm commodity payment system.

But as Iowa sets the stage for the 2008 Presidential Caucuses, some campaigns are oddly silent and haven't offered many specifics on the system.

Iowa Independent started asking around. It turns out the front-runners for the Democratic nomination tend to all believe that a strong safety net for farmers is necessary. But a distinct difference appears to have emerged among the three front-runners about proposed limits on commodity payments.

John Edwards and Barack Obama support a strict limit on the amount that individuals should receive in farm program payments, but Hillary Clinton has adopted a vague position.

In an interview with Iowa Independent, Stephanie Bjornson, Clinton's deputy communications director for Iowa, said Sen. Clinton of New York is not calling for payment limits. At least not now. "The farm bill is such a complicated piece of legislation," said Bjornson. "She (Clinton) wants to find the best formula or payment structure to help all farmers to get the assistance they need when they need it. So I know that's kind of a general way of looking at this, but you know, hopefully when the bill gets worked up in mid-July we'll have something more to say about it."

This "wait-and-see" attitude from Clinton refers to the ongoing debate on the Farm Bill and just what may come out of the process in Congress.

"The basic answer is, yes, she has supported limiting payments in the past," Bjornson continued. "But she definitely wants to work with her colleagues in the Senate to find the best way to move forward in terms of helping all farmers get the assistance that they need when they need it after natural disasters and low prices and things of that nature. Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley are looking at how to restructure the payment system based on need ... to best assist all farmers when they find themselves in tough times."

This carefully worded language is quite different from how the Obama and Edwards campaigns responded to questions about payment limits. Tommy Vietor, spokesman for Obama, said that the U.S. senator from Illinois is supporting a limit on payments per individual.

"Senator Obama supports a $250,000 limit on farm commodity payments," said Vietor in an e-mail. "Federal farm assistance programs serve as a safety net and risk-mitigation tool for family farmers who feed the nation and are the foundation of the economy here in Iowa. This limit is common sense reform at a time when the budget is tight, and when America should be providing more incentives to family farmers to produce renewable energy and conserve wildlife habitats all across the country."

When asked about commodity payment limits, the Edwards campaign was quick to point out that Edwards has already called for a $250,000 limit on commodity payments, and noted that the former U.S. senator from North Carolina was the first to take this position and post it on his website. Edwards' position is laid out in his proposed "Rural Recovery Act," where he states his support for commodity payment limits. "To help family farmers (Edwards) will also limit farm subsidies to $250,000 per person, close loopholes in payment limits, and expand conservation programs."

Other Democratic hopefuls weren't quick to take a position on the subject. The Joe Biden and Bill RIchardson campaigns did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Iowa Independent. A staffer for U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut would only say that Dodd believes reform is necessary to address abuses of the system and "to direct support to the farmers who most need it, instead of the largest and wealthiest farming operations."

Johanns Furthers Agricultural Cooperation For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Fresh from the inbox from USDA:


WASHINGTON, June 27, 2007- Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today met with Kazakhstan's Agriculture Minister Akhmetzhan Yesimov and agreed on specific areas of cooperation under the memorandum of understanding signed last September.

"Minister Yesimov and I are putting the agreement into action," said Johanns. "We have identified several significant activities that will foster the use of more advanced agricultural technologies, improve agricultural productivity and rural development, create opportunities for trade and investment and strengthen policy and regulatory frameworks. These efforts will help Kazakhstan succeed in becoming a market-driven economy."

No word on whether Borat was involved.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Food Fight: Congress Battles Over Farm Commodity Payments

There's a battle being waged right now in a far-off place, and just who will win the battle is difficult to predict. The outcome of this fight is likely to affect the lives of many Iowans.

No, we're not talking about Iraq. This fight is being waged in the halls of Congress, and the end result of the battle will be the 2007 Farm Bill.

The legislation that regulates U.S. agricultural policies now, the 2002 Farm Bill, has a five-year life span and is set to expire this year. Congress has been at work for months in preparation for the process of writing new ag policies. Iowa's delegation in the new Democratic-controlled Congress carries a lot of clout, namely on the Senate side where Sen. Tom Harkin holds the chairmanship on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

But the real ag action right now is in the U.S. House, where agriculture committee chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is reportedly having a tough time building any consensus on serious reforms that would fix the flaws in the current ag policy.

Peterson has been dueling with fellow Democratic congressman Ron Kind of Wisconsin and others over policy on farm commodity payments. That fight came to a head last week as the House Subcommittee on General Commodities and Risk Management conducted the markup of its portion of the farm bill.

That subcommittee nixed not only the specific proposals of chairman Peterson, it also rejected Kind's reform package as well as the proposals of the Bush Administration. At the end of the pitched battle, the subcommittee simply approved an extension of the language in the 2002 Farm Bill.

As stated by the House Committee on Agriculture, "This retains the basic farm safety net by extending marketing assistance loans, direct payments and counter-cyclical payments and keeps intact the percentage of base acres for which farmers may receive payments. The committee also considered and rejected amendments representing alternative Farm Bill proposals."

Translation: they voted to maintain the status quo.

The battle is definitely not settled yet, but this will certainly be seen as a defeat for supporters of reform in the farm commodity payment system.

One of the main topics of concern over this defeat is the fact that a few very wealthy individuals and large farm operations are receiving millions in commodity payments. This fact has been exposed recently with the unveiling of the Environmental Working Group's new database that shows just who is receiving the bulk of federal dollars under the 2002 Farm Bill.

A Des Moines Register article recently exposed some of the biggest recipients of these funds, stating that a Florida real-estate developer collects $3.2 million in farm subsidies over a three-year period. Texas' legendary King Ranch, which owns vast cotton holdings in addition to its cattle, tops even that by getting $3.9 million, as stated in the Register article. "No one has to cheat to get sums like these. Most of the money came through a loophole in federal subsidy rules that allows individuals and companies to claim payments on every bushel or bale they can produce. Six individuals collected at least $1 million each this way from 2003 through 2005, and seven claimed more than $700,000 apiece over the three-year period."

This revelation comes as no surprise to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan. Grassley and Dorgan have been pushing for caps on the amount of money that an individual should receive under federal farm programs. As reported by Iowa Independent, Grassley and Dorgan have asked that hard limits on commodity payments be included in the Senate version of the 2007 farm bill. The Grassley-Dorgan legislation, which was introduced in the Senate in May, would cap payments in an effort to better serve smaller farms rather than large corporate-farming operations.

Just what will happen with proposed reforms of farm commodity payments is really up in the air right now. The House and the Senate won't continue the debate in earnest until mid-July.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cuteness Abounds

No shortage of cuteness around here. These two almost act like they're trying to out-cute each other.

Aidan hams it up for the camera, practically oozing cuteness.

Ariel tries hard to not be outdone. She has the puppy dog eyes thing down pat.

50 Years of Little League Baseball Celebrated in Albia

There was a very special event on Sunday here, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Little League baseball in Albia. A special dedication of a new flag pole and memorial to the founders of Albia Little League was held at Had Kausalik Park.

Everybody who has ever been involved with Little League baseball in Albia was invited to attend this dedication, and there were many people young and old who made the trip home to be a part of the celebration.

My dad, John Judge, was on the Cubs, the Little League team that won the first Albia championship in 1957. He was the catcher. Dad and Mom made sure they were on time to attend the event, quickly making their way from the Iowa Speedway in Newton to the baseball field in Albia.

This statue was dedicated as a part of the Founder's Memorial at the baseball park.

All of the teams gathered members from past and present out on the field for photos.

Dad took his place with other members of the Cubs out on the field. Dad is pictured at the far right in the photo.

Mom was asked to give an impromptu speech at the celebration.

Renewable Fuels Supporters Tout Ethanol at Iowa Speedway

It was a big day for Iowa supporters of renewable fuels, with the first-ever Iowa Corn Indy 250 held at the Iowa Speedway in Newton. An estimated crowd of more than 35,000 attended the race, and it was watched by a nationwide television audience on ABC.

Lead sponsors of the event were the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, highlighting the fact that Indy league cars are all fueled by pure ethanol. Driver Dario Franchitti won the race, and will go down in history as the first-ever winner of the Iowa Corn Indy 250.

Iowa elected officials applauded the new speedway and showed their support for renewable fuels at the event. Pictured are Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, Lt. Governor Patty Judge (my mom), Governor Chet Culver, Senator Tom Harkin, Senator Chuck Grassley and Iowa Speedway General Manager Craig Armstrong.

Senators Harkin and Grassley, my mom, and Secretary Northey get a look at the track shortly before the race.

Senators Harkin and Grassley hopped in this Honda Accord hybrid vehicle with my mom (and a professional driver). They had the honor of taking a fast lap around the track.

The Honda speeds around the track at about 100 miles per hour, giving the Senators and my mom a little bit of an idea of what its like to race around the Iowa Speedway.

The guys from Orange County Choppers, known for the TV show American Chopper, show off their custom E-85 motorcycle that was made especially for the Iowa Corn Indy 250.
American Chopper star Paul Teutul Sr. heads out on the E-85 chopper for a ride.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Reward Offered for Tips on Hog Dumper

A reward of $1,000 is being offered for information leading to the individual who dumped dead hogs in the Raccoon River.

Iowa Independent reported on Monday that the decomposed carcasses of 31 hogs were found dumped in the river near Haage Park in Sac City. Iowa Department of Natural Resources specialist Tom Roos said in a telephone interview with Iowa Independent that people who were boating in the river discovered the hogs on Sunday.

The boaters initially reported seeing about 50 hogs in the river. When DNR officials investigated the scene, 31 decomposed hogs were found. The hogs were relatively young. "They were 20- to 30-pounders," said Roos.

The DNR is continuing to investigate and has collected some leads. "We've got a few pieces of information from the public so far," said Roos.

The DNR announced Thursday that the Sac County Pork Producers Association and the Sac County Farm Bureau are jointly offering the reward for information. Sac County pork producer Pete Houska initiated the effort, as announced in a DNR press release.

Houska lives near the area where the dead pigs were found and was one of the first farmers to be contacted by the Iowa DNR. “It really did upset me that someone would do something like this,” Houska said in the DNR announcement. “It’s uncalled for and will not be tolerated. We need to be the front-runners in coordinating the efforts to find the responsible person, so we’ve offered a little incentive to get people to talk about if they know something,” he added.

Anyone with information about the dumping should call the Sac County sheriff's office at (712) 662-7127 or the Spencer DNR office at (712) 262-4177.

As noted in the DNR announcement, the individuals found responsible for dumping the hogs could face criminal charges for littering or improper disposal of dead animals, as well as civil penalties for improper disposal of solid waste.

COOL Idea: Knowing Where Our Food Comes From

That tomato you ate last week -- do you know if it was grown in the United States?
Ever wonder why meat at the grocery store doesn't always have a label to tell you where the animal was raised?
Such details are expected next year, when mandatory country-of-origin labeling is implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- as long as Congress and President Bush don't delay the law again.

The country-of-origin labeling law -- known by the memorable acronym "COOL" -- was passed by Congress and signed by President Bush more than five years ago as a part of the 2002 Farm Bill.
But COOL was never implemented, and shoppers are left to wonder where their food was grown. Under the law, the USDA is supposed to require labeling on retail food products such as fruits and vegetables, beef, pork, lamb, fish and peanuts.

But food processors and meat packers protested, and implementation of the law was delayed until 2006 for all commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish. Then Bush signed a law in 2005 that delayed implementation until September 2008.

Since the original bill was enacted, some in Congress have pushed for voluntary labeling instead of mandatory. This effort was led by the Meat and Poultry Promotion Coalition, which represents several trade groups.

An advertisement running today on WHO Radio asks "What will mandatory country-of-origin labeling mean to the pork industry?" The ad directs listeners to visit, the website operated by the Meat and Poultry Promotion Coalition. The ad says "this isn't good news for pork producers. Costs will increase, but revenue won't," and tells listeners "the time to act is now. Contact your lawmakers, tell them to fix country-of-origin labeling."

In a telephone interview with Iowa Independent, a spokesman for the National Meat Association -- a member of the coalition -- said that his organization continues to oppose COOL, but is no longer actively lobbying for changes to the law.

"Our stance on COOL is that it's a bad law that adds tremendous costs, with no tangible benefits," said Jeremy Russell, communications director for the NMA. "It was really written as an anti-import law rather than to provide information to consumers." He said that his organization worked with the Meat and Poultry Promotion Coalition to lobby for a change to the law last year, but those changes did not pass. Now, he said, the coalition is trying to find "workable and economically viable labeling options."
Russell said that one of the difficulties is that the law actually prohibits a national animal-identification system, something he says is necessary to make the labeling law workable.
Russell is not convinced that the labeling system is going to work under the current law. "It's just going to be a train wreck," he said. Russell explained that there are serious flaws in the law that will result in large numbers of livestock that will be virtually "unmarketable." Many livestock animals have no form of proof that they were born and raised in the United States, and therefore their owners will be unable to sell them once the law takes effect.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is also opposed to the law, but historically has supported labeling initiatives. In 1997, the NCBA board of directors met and adopted policy favoring country-of-origin labeling, but the group changed its position over time. Now the group says the law will place an undue burden on producers and disrupt the market for beef products. Colin Woodall, executive director of legislative affairs for the NCBA, said on Thursday that his organization is now focusing its efforts with Congress to find a workable way to implement COOL. "We understand the dynamics of this new Congress," said Woodall. "There is no way we can defeat COOL, so we will try to find a way to make it work."

Woodall said one of the problems with the law involves the fact that it does not cover food service sales. "Almost 50 percent of American consumers' expenditures on beef are in food services like restaurants, and that is not even covered under COOL," said Woodall.

On the other side of the debate, the National Farmers Union has led the efforts to implement the law and has been working in Washington to ensure the law goes into effect without any changes.
The law has been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past, including Iowa's Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.
Grassley was asked about the possibility of changes to the law in a May 28 news conference. Ken Root of WHO Radio asked Grassley if he was being lobbied by groups. "No, I have not been lobbied on that," said Grassley. But, he added, "There probably has been some lobbying going on in that direction."

Grassley said that he would be willing to look at some changes, but only if "people are willing to accept the concept that consumers ought to know where their food comes from -- just like they do if their clothes are imported."

Harkin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, obviously has a lot of influence on the fate of COOL. He said Wednesday that he is not planning any changes to the current law.
"We have come to a time where we really do need to know where all our food is coming from," Harkin told Iowa Independent. "I'm sure there will be some efforts to water down or repeal COOL, so it's important the focus remain on keeping COOL intact in the new farm bill but also keeping the pressure on USDA to write a common-sense and workable final rule."

Just last Friday, the USDA reopened its period for public comments on its final rules for implementation of COOL. Comments can be submitted online at

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Nussle Will Fit Right In At The White House

President Bush has appointed Jim Nussle has White House Budget Director.
Nussle has a well-documented record of screwing up the federal budget, so he'll obviously fit right in with the Bush Administration.
Before failing to get elected governor of Iowa, Nussle failed to keep the federal budget from spiraling into the largest deficits in the history of the United States during his five years as chairman of the House Budget Committee
Check out the coverage of the news over on Iowa Independent.

Monday, June 18, 2007


A June afternoon rain didn't dampen Sen. Barack Obama's campaign rally in Ottumwa Monday.
The event had been scheduled to take place in Ottumwa's downtown park, but the storm caused a last-minute change of venue to the cafeteria at Ottumwa High School.
A crowd of about 750 filled the room nearly to capacity.
After being welcomed to the stage by Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel, Obama thanked state and local elected officials in attendance.
As expected, Obama's speech included a call for health care reform and a planned withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Obama also spoke of the civil rights movement, and called for similar action from people of all walks of life to get involved and help to change America once again.

Harkin to Testify at Braley's Subcommittee

Sen. Tom Harkin will be testifying before a U.S. House subcomittee this week on the needs of the renewable fuels industry.
The hearing of the House Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology will focus on the workforce needed for the industry, and is chaired by Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley. The hearing will convene on Wednesday, June 20.
Harkin will be joined by Iowans Bruce Rastetter and Dr. Patricia Weir, who will also be giving testimony at the hearing. Rastetter is CEO of Hawkeye Renewables, and Weir is chancellor of Eastern Iowa Community College.

'Tomato King' Wins World Food Prize

Purdue University professor Dr. Philip N. Nelson was named winner of the 2007 World Food Prize today in Washington, D.C.

Nelson will receive a $250,000 award and be honored at a formal ceremony Oct. 18 at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines. Today's announcement was made by World Food Prize Foundation president Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department.

Nelson was chosen for the prize in recognition of his scientific achievements in food preservation, as noted on the World Food Prize website. He got started early in his studies, growing up in Indiana working for his family's tomato canning business.

At the age of 15, Nelson was named the "Tomato King" after winning a 4-H award at the Indiana State Fair.

Nelson studied at Purdue after graduating from high school and received a bachelor of science degree in general agriculture in 1956. When his family's packing business closed because of increased competition from California, Nelson returned to Purdue and began a long career in horticulture sciences.

Scientific breakthroughs at Nelson's laboratories have transformed fruit and vegetable packing industry, and his "aseptic" storage and transportation systems made possible the distribution of not-from-concentrate juices on a wide scale.

Nelson’s biography states that his discoveries include:
• Refining and perfecting the heat sterilization and cooling methods for preserving vegetable or fruit products
• Developing experimental 100 gallon, sterilized carbon steel tanks coated with an epoxy resin for holding the sterilized product at ambient temperature. Later on, tanks ranging in size from 40,000 to more than 1 million gallons were manufactured using Nelson’s protocols.
• Designing and constructing aseptic valves for the large containers, preventing microorganisms from
moving through the valve stem into the sterile system.
• Refining a system for smaller-scale, in-bag storage (1 gallon to 300 gallons), allowing processors to fill
multilayer, inexpensive sterile flexible packaging material with aseptically processed products.
• Perfecting a special system for the aseptic bags allowing sterile product to be introduced without
recontamination. This system was evaluated by Nelson as a membrane that is ruptured during the fill, then resealed with a sterilized foil cap.
• Increasing the capacity of bulk bag-in-box technology up to 3,000 gallon capacity for cost-effective shipping of processed food.
• Developing, with a Norwegian ship builder, the installation of aseptic bulk storage systems ranging in size
from 1.8 million gallons to 8 million gallons into the hulls of ships for transport of orange juice across the globe.

The World Food Prize ceremony in Des Moines in October will be held during the 2007 Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, titled "Biofuels & Biofood: The Global Challenges of Emerging Technologies."

Since 1986 the prize has been given in honor of individuals who have contributed to improving the quality, quantity and availability of food around the globe. It was originally envisioned by 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Norman E. Borlaug.

Photos courtesy of the World Food Prize Foundation.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Could Anhydrous Ammonia Be the Fuel of the Future?

Anhydrous ammonia is commonly applied to the soil of Iowa farm fields, boosting nitrogen levels in the dirt and helping Iowa corn grow tall.

It also just happens to be packed full of hydrogen atoms. And when it is burned in an internal combustion engine, the exhaust consists of only water vapor and inert gases.

In late May, a company in Algona ran a successful test of a new engine that uses anhydrous ammonia for fuel. Hydrogen Engine Center Inc. has been quietly developing and marketing hydrogen-fueled power systems since 2003.

In a telephone interview with Iowa Independent, company vice president Joe Lewis explained how anhydrous ammonia may be the answer to our energy needs. He also discussed some of the drawbacks of ammonia and hydrogen as fuel sources.

Hydrogen may be the single most common substance in the universe, and it works as a fuel. The trick is to compact the hydrogen under pressure, an expensive process.

"The main issue with hydrogen is the fact that it's a very thin, not very dense gas," said Lewis, who heads up sales. "To give you an example, if you had a cubic foot that you filled up with gasoline, which would be about 8 gallons, that would get you, maybe, 250 miles in most vehicles. A cubic foot of hydrogen would get you about 500 feet. So in order to get any distance out of it you've got to pack a lot of it in at very high pressure. So that's the big obstacle to the automakers, that you can't put enough pressure in there to get enough fuel volume."

Here's where anhydrous ammonia comes in. Anhydrous ammonia is one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen. As far as the density of it is concerned, there's more hydrogen packed into a molecule of anhydrous ammonia than there is in pure hydrogen.

"We can take the ammonia out of a tank and put it into an engine and burn it, and the only by-product of burning the ammonia is water vapor," said Lewis. "The octane rating of gasoline is typically 87 to 93. Ammonia is up around 170 to 180 octane so it has a lot of energy potential in it. But it doesn't have a lot of BTUs per cubic foot."

Lewis explained that anhydrous ammonia is very difficult to burn, but his company has figured out how to do it. "What you have to do is you have to have just the right conditions inside the engine in order to make it even light up. But we know how to do it here, with the technology here at Hydrogen Engine Center. What we do is take 95 percent of the fuel made up of anhydrous ammonia. The other 5 percent of the fuel is made up of just hydrogen, and the reason we do that is hydrogen will light under almost any conditions, so it acts as a catalyst to start the engine. We're actually able to get really good power out of it."

Anhydrous ammonia also has another advantage. "One of the nice things about ammonia is the fact that there is already an infrastructure in place to support it. There's a pipeline that goes all the way through Iowa. There are 800-plus filling stations in Iowa where you can get ammonia," said Lewis, adding there are many people in Iowa who are very experienced with anhydrous ammonia, who know how to transport it and use it safely.

Of course, anhydrous ammonia has its negative aspects. It is currently made through the Haber-Bosch process, which uses natural gas and emits carbon into the atmosphere. That basically defeats the premise behind seeking an alternative fuel that doesn't increase greenhouse gases.

"When our big press release came out a week and a half ago, a lot of naysayers came out," said Lewis. "And for the most part they're right about anhydrous ammonia. The Haber-Bosch process, the primary method of making anhydrous ammonia, works by re-forming natural gas. Natural gas is made up primarily of hydrogen, and when you add nitrogen to it, you have anhydrous ammonia. But one of the negative aspects of the Haber-Bosch process is the fact that it creates a lot of CO2."

Lewis said that the solution to that problem is being developed right now. "Hydrogen Engine Center is working with a group that has a new method of producing anhydrous ammonia through a synthesis process, where they can take renewable power, like from a wind-generator, and use the electricity to run an electrolyzer to make hydrogen. Then take the nitrogen out of the air to mix with it, and you have anhydrous ammonia. That's right around the corner."

And there are other problems with anhydrous ammonia. It happens to be one of the precursor chemicals used illegally to make methamphetamine. It is often stolen from farmers by meth cooks, which has caused the need for new heavy regulations.

It also can cause serious burns if handled incorrectly, something many of those thieves have learned the hard way.

Iowa Corn Indy 250 Highlights Ethanol as Fuel

Auto-racing fans across the country will have their eyes on Iowa when the Iowa Corn Indy 250 is held June 24.
The race, which will be held at the new Iowa Speedway in Newton, will be broadcast live on ABC starting at noon.
Lead sponsors for the event are the Iowa Corn Promotion Board and the Iowa Corn Growers Association, which are highlighting the fact that Indy Racing League cars are fueled by 100 percent ethanol. And that's not just here at the Iowa Corn Indy 250, but in all Indy Racing League events including the granddaddy of them all -- the Indianapolis 500.
Legendary race car driver A.J. Foyt will be a special guest. Foyt was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2000.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Grassley to Livestock Groups: 'Don't Be Selfish'

Agricultural commodity groups and food manufacturers are balking at a proposal to increase renewable fuels standards.

News reports surfaced this week about the opposition of livestock groups and manufacturers who use corn-based products to an energy bill provision being debated in Congress.
A Brownfield Network article reported on Tuesday that the National Pork Producers Association and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association are among the groups urging changes to the provision, which would raise the renewable fuels standard to 36 billion gallons by 2022 from its current level of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.
As noted in an article Wednesday on Iowa Farmer Today, pork producers are feeling the pinch because of the higher prices for feed and are worried about their profits.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa was asked about the splintering support of renewable fuels standards in a conference call with reporters this week. Grassley asked agriculture groups to not "be selfish."

"The approach that's being used in the energy bill is a common-sense approach, that's spread out over many years," said Grassley. "We need an expansion of alternative renewable energy. We all know it's not going to be done with kernel corn or with soybeans."

"It's going to have to be done through cellulosic ethanol and any other form of oil we can get beyond soybean oil, to provide the alternative energies that today the commodity groups, livestock groups are raising concern about," he said. "It's a very slow phase-in. During that very slow phase-in over multitudes of years, we're going to get the marketplace solving the problem, based upon scientists telling us three to five years to get the enzymes to break down the cellulosic feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. And then at that time the marketplace takes care of the problems that are being raised by livestock producers today."

Grassley said the potential for production of ethanol will be significant once the new technologies are up and running.

"There's just a tremendous amount of feedstock out there that has cellulose -- grasses, switchgrass, corn stover, wood chips, you name it. That's where we're headed. And all I would ask is agriculture stay united. We've been united on ethanol for 25 years. Don't be selfish with one segment of agriculture towards the others. If you didn't have that selfish approach over the last 25 years, why would you have it now, particularly when you see the successes that we've had."

On Wednesday, Grassley introduced an amendment to the energy bill that would call for 25 percent of the total energy consumption in the United States to be provided by renewable sources by 2025. The amendment was co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Amid Fanfare and Emotion, Ottumwa Guard Company Heads Back to Iraq

Ottumwa was a community swelling with pride at a send-off ceremony Sunday for approximately 120 soldiers in the Iowa National Guard 833rd Engineer Company.
The Hellyer Student Life Center gymnasium at Indian Hills Community College was filled with soldiers and their families and friends, along with others from the community just there to show their support.

A sidewalk was lined with flags from the gymnasium all the way to the buses that would take the soldiers to Fort McCoy, Wis., where they will prepare to be deployed for service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most of the people in attendance, both soldiers and civilians, have been through this emotional experience before.

This group of soldiers, formerly called Company B of the 224th Engineering Battalion, served a tour of duty in Iraq from October 2004 through December, 2005. Company B, from Ottumwa and the rural areas and nearby towns of southeast Iowa, became well-known for being very good at what they do.

Iowa National Guard Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood said the 833rd Engineer Company's responsibility involves "providing greater mobility for U.S. forces and also countering some of the things that opposing forces do to slow down or to stop our soldiers." Hapgood said that the soldiers of the 833rd Company "are very experienced with building things, with tearing down things, with using explosives, and with direct combat support for units in a combat situation. So they really have a great variety of skills that they can do very ably, and they're ready to go do their mission."

One of the things they do best is find and diffuse improvised explosive devices. As noted by Des Moines Register columnist John Carlson, this company of soldiers has proven its abilities and been honored for it by high-level commanders.

Among those soldiers today was Staff Sgt. Tim Raskie, a communications specialist for the unit. His duties during the 2004-2005 tour in Iraq involved taking care of all of the radios and other communication systems used by the 833rd Engineer Company, a task he will continue when they arrive in Iraq for their second tour of duty.

Raskie is a resident of Albia, where he is raising two kids with his wife, Ruth. His son Brian and his daughter Leah are students at Albia Community Schools, and Ruth is a librarian at the Carnegie-Evans Public Library in Albia. In an emotional moment after the ceremony, the kids hugged their father as the other soldiers began making their way toward the buses waiting outside.

Another soldier in the company is Sgt. Nathan Chambers. He deployed today for his third tour of duty in the War on Terrorism.

His father, Brian Chambers of Eddyville, said Sgt. Chambers first served a tour of duty in Afghanistan with another National Guard unit.
After returning from Afghanistan, he later joined this Ottumwa unit and served in the previous deployment in 2004-2005.

Sgt. Chambers was just recently married in March, and living in Pella with his new bride, Dawn.

The send-off ceremony included a speech by Ottumwa Mayor Dale Uehling, who presented the company with an Iowa flag the soldiers will take with them to Iraq.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, who is a member of the U.S. House Armed Services committee, thanked the soldiers for their service and offered his gratitude to the soldiers' families.

As the company exited the gymnasium to board the buses, the local American Legion post conducted a 21-gun salute.

The buses carrying the soldiers were escorted out of town by the sirens and flashing lights of Ottumwa fire trucks, ambulances and police vehicles.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Black Star

Witness the greatest evah!

If we picked our presidents solely on their guitar shredding skills, Yngwie Malmsteen would be the obvious frontrunner.

Unfortunately, he was born in Sweden. So he's not eligible for the presidency.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Brownback Touts his Agricultural Roots at Pork Expo

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback is probably known best as a conservative hard-liner on social issues, but the presidential candidate was touting his agricultural background during a visit to the World Pork Expo Friday.
Brownback is one of many candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president, but his Iowa communications aide, Billy Valentine, is quick to note that Brownback is the only farmer in the race.
Answering questions from reporters who gathered as he arrived at the expo, Brownback emphasized his roots in agriculture. "I grew up raising pigs in eastern Kansas," said Brownback. "It was a good part of where I made my income to be able to go to 'K' State to get an agriculture degree. And I was a farm broadcaster for a while, and secretary of agriculture in Kansas. So I know some of these issues. Now the industry changes, and has changed since then. But I think I still have the heart of a farmer. My dad farmed, my brother farms, and my other brother is a veterinarian. These are folks I identify with and I care for a lot."
Brownback talked about how agriculture is quickly becoming an important part of the energy puzzle in the United States, and discussed his views on farm policy. "I want to see an aggressive support for getting a bigger piece of the energy market," he said.
Rising grain prices due to increased demand for renewable fuels production are taking a bite out of the profitability of livestock production, a fact that is on Brownback's mind. "I think something we need to have a good discussion about is the impact of this on animal agriculture, with the expansion of the energy market. I'm hearing from cattlemen, and it's going to hit pork producers. I don't know the solution, but I know that we're having a big market shift taking place that has impact and I want to see if there are any policy adjustments we need to make to account for that."
As Brownback toured the Varied Industries Building at the expo, he was greeted by a group of supporters that included a former student.
Chris Sluder, pictured above, was a student at Kansas State University when Brownback was a teacher of agriculture law and policy. Sluder now works in an agribusiness in the pork industry in Bethany, Mo.
Brownback was asked at the expo if he would be competing at the Ames Republican Straw Poll in August. "I'm here to compete," he said. "And I'm here to talk about ideas. And I don't believe in coronations, that somebody just declares themselves a victory." Brownback was asked if a Republican candidate can be successful without competing in the Straw Poll. "People have tried that in the past, people have tried to bypass Iowa in the past. It has not been successful," he said. "And they shouldn't bypass Iowa. Iowa is a great testing ground. It has a very balanced set of people, and they've shown a very good track record of picking winners."
It didn't take long for Brownback to be asked about the immigration debate in the Senate. "It's derailed, since yesterday," he said as he explained some of the reasons why the immigration reforms failed to pass through the Senate on Thursday. "(A) deal was cut behind closed doors. I sit on the Judiciary Committee, and it wasn't taken through committee. It was just jumped from the deal to the floor, and then a lot of us put forward amendments on the floor. I think we need comprehensive immigration reform, but you've got to go through the process to be able to get this done."
Brownback went on to explain what he would like to see happen as part of immigration reforms. "The current system doesn't work. It's broken. Badly. We've got to do something about it. I was very hopeful that this process would produce a bill. I want border security, interior enforcement and comprehensive reform. Those, I think, are the three hallmarks that you have to have in a bill and if we can get those, I think you can get a bill through," he said.

Environment a Hot Topic at Pork Expo

Environmental concerns are a hot topic at the 2007 World Pork Expo, with a full agenda of educational environmental presentations for pork producers as well dozens of new technologies on display throughout the fairgrounds.

The seminars opened on Thursday with a presentation by Purdue University professor Brian Richerts on environmental issues facing hog producers. Ten other environmental sessions were held throughout the course of the expo, including a talk by Dick Nicolai of South Dakota State University called "Odor Science and Techniques Producers Can Use to Reduce Odor." Sessions on environmental topics were also held with staff members of Iowa State University, University of Minnesota, as well as other university researchers and pork industry specialists.

On Friday Morning, a conference for agriculture reporters was held with Michael Formica, environmental policy counsel for the National Pork Producers Council.

Formica shared details of some of the federal legislation affecting pork producers and environmental policy. He stressed the need for an increase of funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the need for pork producers to receive an increase in their share of that funding. He also talked about some of the changes that he is in favor of seeing in the program.

"We hope to streamline the application process," said Formica. "Make it easier for a producer to go to the local Natural Resources Conservation Service office and apply for EQIP." He said that a lot of the paperwork that pork producers have needed to fill out for the program was very redundant. He said that these hurdles have been hindering producers in making improvements in their operations.

Under the 2002 farm bill, pork producers have received less than 3 percent of the total EQIP funding. "We like to say that's less than emus, goats and ostriches," he said.

Formica went on to discuss several of the priorities of the NPPC in the upcoming farm bill, and said that they are happy with the process so far.

"We've been fairly successful with Mr. Peterson's conservation title," he said, referring to U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson's initial drafts of legislation for the new farm bill. "In the House, we've gotten nearly everything we've asked for. We've sort of rallied the agricultural community together and created a coalition and a plan of action that all sections of agriculture can get together on."

Formica went on to discuss the farm bill legislation in the Senate, and talked about the status of an EPA ruling on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

New technologies on display at the expo

There are many new technologies for pork producers on display at the expo that could help reduce the environmental impact of raising hogs.

One of these new innovations is from Odor Cell Technologies, a company based in Solon and operated by Roger Treloar and his brother Robert, who is a research and development biologist.

Roger Treloar said his technology works to capture the particulates in the air at a swine facility and reduce the foul smells emitted. "We combine the particulates and activate that with water, and then add bacteria to it," he explained. "What we're doing is creating a self-sustaining compost pile that dramatically reduces the odor, the ammonia, the hydrogen sulfide, and it captures the dust particulates."

The company has been in operation just a few years, but has seen some positive results.

"We started with our own swine facility about five years ago, and as we did research on it initially the community around us gave us a lot of positive feedback," he said. "And so then we did a few more years of research and studies on it. My brother is a biologist, so we did scientific analysis, and then over the last three years we've been a commercial operation."

Treloar said that the process can reduce odors to approximately 60 percent of the level of a similar facility without the system. Dust particulates, which can travel significant distances, can be reduced by 98 percent, he said.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

From Pulled-Pork to Pigcasso, Expo Has It All

Need a robotic arm to automatically clean out your hog stalls? How about an anaerobic manure digester? Or maybe you're just interested in a pork sandwich. Well then step right up to the world's largest trade show for the pork industry.

More than 30,000 visitors are expected at the 19th annual World Pork Expo, which began its three-day run Thursday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

The expo is a showcase for hundreds of exhibits promoting products for pork producers and pork consumers. Just about everything imaginable in the world of pork production is represented in row after row of booths and tables.

In one area, a visitor can learn about the seemingly endless array of veterinary pharmaceutical products. In another, there is a booth demonstrating robotic arms that can automatically clean out hog stalls.

Near the grand concourse, the smokey aroma of barbecue wafts through the air around the Iowa Pork Producers Association's big grills. The association is handing out free pork burgers and pulled-pork sandwiches for lunch.

Reigning Iowa Pork Queen Rita Cook efficiently hands out the free pork burgers to a long line of hungry folks during the lunch hour. Cook is a native of Hubbard, in Hardin County.

It doesn't take long to catch a glimpse of Iowa barbecue sauce celebrity Speed Herrig, who is busy loading charcoal into a pink barbecue pit shaped like a giant hog.

Herrig is the owner of Cookies Food Products, the maker of Cookies BarBQ Sauces. He has been a fixture at the World Pork Expo since its very first run. "We've been at it since 1988. It's always a lot of fun out here at the expo," said Herrig. "We'll go through -- oh gosh, I don't even know how many gallons of sauce we'll go through out here this weekend."

Not far away, the familiar logo of the world's most-famous canned meat, Spam, is displayed on a large RV called the Spam Mobile. Standing in front of the big rig is an announcer singing songs about the virtues of Spam and handing out free samples of the Hormel product, of course.

In the fairgrounds' livestock barns, visitors can view the "Pigcasso" art exhibit, a collection of photography and paintings, all focusing on swine as subject matter.

The World Pork Expo National Junior Show, and other breed shows are held in the Swine Barn.

There are even more exhibits in the other livestock barns at the fairgrounds, like the exhibit from the British Pig Association, where Brits are promoting their breeds of livestock.

The World Pork Expo happens to be Ian Bretherton's first visit to America. "It's a group of 12 of us, and we're here to tell people about British pigs, to meet people as well as to try and export to America," he explained. Bretherton raises hogs in Lancashire, near the town of Kirkham, England.

The main difference between pork production in England and here is the system of transporting livestock, he said. The expos and shows are different, too. "The shows are a lot larger here, and it's a lot tidier, in general, in the overall appearance," he said. "It's been rally enjoyable so far."

Bretherton said he plans to tour Des Moines while he's here. "We have a day off, before we go back, and we're gonna go and have a look 'round."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Aidan's First Movie Role

Just messing around with the camera and experimenting with putting videos on YouTube. That odd sound you're hearing is the dog getting a drink of water behind me.

The Promises of Local Control (Final Part of a Series)

There is no free lunch. Let's face it, any sweeping reforms in how Iowa controls use of agricultural land for livestock production -- such as the reforms suggested in the first two articles in this series -- are going to cost the taxpayers money. And Iowa's counties sure don't need another unfunded mandate from the state.

Just how much money it's going to cost is difficult to estimate, but the good news is that most Iowa counties, around 80 of them, already have a comprehensive land-use plan and zoning commission.
Les Beck, president of an association of zoning administrators called County Zoning Officials of Iowa, estimates that it would cost at the very least $20,000 per county to write or rewrite all of the state's comprehensive county land-use plans. Multiply that by 99 counties in Iowa, and we're talking about at minimum $2 million just to get started. Others estimate that the cost would be lower.

It sounds like an expensive proposition. But even $2 million is a bargain when you consider the benefits of rural land-use planning and agricultural zoning as part of the solution to Iowa's larger priorities of environmental protection, water quality improvement, economic development and growing the renewable fuels industry. And we're already ahead of the curve in more than 80 of Iowa's 99 counties, given the fact that there are already technical staff and processes currently in place.

Once created, as we've recommended in the second article in this series, a Rural Land Use Planning Board will need to determine exactly what it's going to cost each county to implement these changes, and the state should pay the bills.

The next step: County land-use plans and development codes should be prepared at the local level, by local people. But the cooperation of other services and institutions is imperative to the success of the process. Local planners should be required by code to seek the input of the USDA Soil and Water Conservation Service, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, local economic development groups, and most importantly, local farmers.
Each county in Iowa is different, and each county has its own areas that are well-suited to modern livestock production. The comprehensive land-use plan of each county should help determine exactly where those places are.

Agricultural zoning boundaries would then be set by local zoning boards in accordance with the comprehensive land use plan in each county. A strict set of guidelines must be codified in state law to maintain as much uniformity as possible throughout Iowa's 99 counties. County zoning boards would be required by code to follow the guidelines when setting their ordinances. That way, environmentally sensitive areas would be protected under a statewide uniform standard. And farm operations in areas that are well-suited to raising livestock would be protected from nuisance complaints.

As we've discussed throughout this series, there is no quick fix to all of the problems involved with livestock production in Iowa. Land use planning should be viewed as a long-term solution that will help Iowa be better prepared for the agricultural economy of the future. Local control, land use planning and effective agricultural zoning should be seen as a win-win for everyone on all sides of the issue.

As Iowa continues to lead in the production of renewable fuels with the goal of achieving energy independence, livestock will play a crucial role as part of the economic equation. Livestock producers will play their part by utilizing the co-products of the process of making ethanol and biodiesel. And people considering making investments in this growing economic opportunity will want firm, uniform laws in place so that they are not blindsided by shifting political powers at the county level.

The time is now for this process to begin. Legislators need to start talking about it this summer and throughout the fall with their constituents, so they are ready for the debate to begin in January. Such a sweeping reform of our antiquated system demands an open and honest discussion in the legislature not a back-room deal cut by leaders in the final week of the session.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

World Pork Expo set for June 7-9 in Des Moines

The world's largest annual trade show and exhibition for pork producers will begin its 2007 run Thursday in Des Moines.
The 2007 World Pork Expo will continue through Saturday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, and event organizers expect some 30,000 visitors from across the country and around the world.
The expo, organized each year by the National Pork Producers Council, will feature exhibits from more than 400 organizations and businesses involved with the pork industry. Scheduled events include educational seminars, breed shows and sales, an environmental information center, a career center and job fair.
Iowa Independent will be reporting from the expo, so check back later this week for more.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday Farm News Roundup

Here's a look at some of the stories in agriculture news from the past week.

Planting of corn in Iowa is nearly complete, according to a report from Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey.

The Des Moines Register is reporting that growth in the renewable fuels industry is bringing up the value of Iowa farmland.

A Wallaces Farmer article discusses research showing that global warming will cause depletion of soil nutrients.

Wild hogs are on the loose and it's a big problem, according to a story on Radio Iowa.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier has a report on how the conservation debate is shaping federal ag legislation.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader has a story about an Iowa dairy that's going organic.

Iowa Farmer Today reports on the bull market enjoyed by dairy farmers.

The Brownfield Network reported that more melamine has been found in animal feed, but this time imports weren't involved.

Members of Iowa Future Farmers of America were honored with proficiency awards, according to an article on Iowa Farmer Today.

Radio Iowa has a piece about a traveler who is promoting locally grown foods.

Contract arbitration amendment moves forward in House

U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, won approval in the House Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Subcommittee last week for an amendment that would limit the power of large agribusinesses to force arbitration in contract disputes. The amendment is similar to legislation introduced in the Senate by Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
Boswell introduced, but later withdrew, two other amendments in the subcommittee. One of those amendments would have changed the way agricultural price reporting is handled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to Boswell, this amendment will likely be introduced to the full House Agriculture Committee as farm bill legislation moves forward.
"Price reporting is very, very important," Boswell told the Iowa Independent. "If you talk to the USDA, you don't get a really strong feeling that they are reporting everything that they know. So I'd like to force that to happen."
For example, he said, farmers raising cattle currently can't find accurate and timely information on what is happening in the cattle markets. Mandatory price reporting would improve the ability of farmers to obtain accurate market information, he said.
"I want to be sure that we're ready to do it, and it will probably be introduced to the full Agriculture Committee," said Boswell.
His other withdrawn amendment would have limited the ability of processors to terminate contracts with farmers.
According to a Brownfield Network article last week, the subcommittee approved Boswell's arbitration amendment along a strict party-line vote of 8-6.

Corn marketers nervous about Agrisure RW

Farmers and corn marketers continue to be concerned about a genetically engineered variety of corn that has been planted in Iowa.

Agrisure RW, a new corn trait created by Syngenta that protects against corn rootworm, has only been approved for sale in domestic markets. But it has not yet been approved in important overseas markets.

According to an article on farm news website Agriculture Online, the corn variety is being marketed under Syngenta's Golden Harvest, NK and Garst brands. Several companies have already announced that they will not be accepting the Agrisure RW variety after this year's harvest, Agriculture Online reported. Those companies include grain transporters like Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, and corn milling facilities such as those owned by POET, a major corn-ethanol maker based in South Dakota.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey explained in an interview with Iowa Independent last week that the Agrisure RW variety has made a lot of Iowans in the corn business nervous.

"It was approved in the U.S. for food and feed, to be sold in the U.S., but it's not approved in Japan, in Mexico, in Taiwan, in many of our markets overseas," said Northey. "It probably will be approved, but the question is when. The real concern is, if it's in general release out there on farms right now, it could easily get into some of our ag exports into one of these countries. And what they'll do is they'll reject loads -- especially the Japanese will reject loads, and that will impact the market."

According to Northey, only Syngenta knows exactly how much of the Agrisure RW variety has been planted in Iowa.

"Other companies that have had this same situation generally have said they're not going to release it until we get those market approvals," said Northey. "Syngenta made the decision to bring it forward even though it's very possible we won't get those market approvals. So the grain industry as a whole is very concerned. Corn growers and many of the farm groups have stated their concern that there could be a serious market disruption."

Northey discussed some of the steps being taken to lessen effects of the problem. "In Iowa we've had a meeting with some of the grain industry folks to talk about ways to lessen the likelihood that there will be a problem. We're going to sit down with the Syngenta folks over the next month as well and look at ways to make sure that the farmers who did plant it know where they can sell that corn," he said. "The Japanese market is very, very important to corn farmers. We don't want to jeopardize that market. We need to do the best that we can, and sure hope those approvals come before fall or quickly after. It's not one of those situations we thought we were going to get into six months ago, but now we've got to deal with what's handed to us.