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Texas farmer wades into 'feed versus fuel' battle

Explaining how U.S. corn farmers continue to grow a crop abundant enough to meet all growing demands, a Texas farmer has gained attention from industry publications looking to find the truth behind the headlines.

Ongoing media coverage on corn usage tends to sensationalize trends by pitting demand from the ethanol industry against that from livestock, but Corn Board member Wesley Spurlock, a Texas farmer, has been speaking to groups across the Midwest on why this so-called "feed versus fuel" debate is based in fallacy. Explaining how U.S. corn farmers continue to grow a crop abundant enough to meet all growing demands, he has gained attention from industry publications looking to find the truth behind the headlines.

With further coverage of his success in combating the misinformation plaguing this debate pending, NCGA's podcast series Off the Cob caught up with Spurlock to discuss how corn farmers are growing a larger crop on the land already in production while decreasing inputs used. During this interview, he discussed the innovations facilitating increased yield trends, how the Texas drought plays a major role in recent cattle industry shifts, and the amazing story of modern American agriculture.

"To put it simply, growth in demand from the ethanol industry has mirrored an increase in productivity that yields larger corn crops," Spurlock said. "We are still supplying the livestock industry with the corn that they need for feed, but we now have a market that utilizes an increasingly abundant resource to help solve our energy problems also."

Often overlooked in the debate, he points out that much of the corn initially used for ethanol production ends up serving dual purposes as it re-enters the feed supply as distillers dried grains.

"Distillers dried grains are a tremendous feed additive that bring one-third of the amount of corn initially used for ethanol production back into the feed supply," Spurlock elucidated. "The livestock industry had really increased use of this high-value, affordable product, and it is now a high-demand feed ingredient."

Spurlock notes that U.S. corn farmers have met export demands, even during surges, in addition to supplying the feed and fuel markets. Conceding current carry-out figures may appear low, he explains that 2011 presented a slew of weather challenges unique to the season.

Weather challenges

"This year, corn farmers averaged a yield of 147 bushels per acre," he said. "We did that in a year when we faced weather challenges across the entire country. With rain and flooding early in the season, many growers were forced to delay planting. Then, flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers took many acres out of production. Then, scorching heat hit Texas and the South. When it finally moved into the Midwest over the summer, they saw some of the highest temperatures that they ever had. On top of this, Hurricane Irene swept away a portion of the crop along the eastern seaboard toward the end of the season. Even with all of these challenges, we produced a tremendous national average yield of 147 bushels per acre. 2011 really demonstrated how new technologies and practices help U.S. corn farmers meet all demands even in tough years."

When speaking on how much growers can produce and under what circumstances, Spurlock points out that, like most Americans, farmers are also concerned with the environment. Uniquely invested in the land, he explains that this abundant corn crop is being produced using technology to simultaneously improve the industry's sustainability.

"Today, more corn is being grown on fewer acres," Spurlock explained. "This is possible because of advancements in seed technologies, and cutting-edge agronomic software and practices that help farmers determine how and when to apply nutrients most efficiently while maintaining effectiveness. For example, where we used to raise an acre of corn on one pound of nitrogen, we now use only three-quarters of that amount. As farmers, we constantly strive to improve our sustainability and find ways to grow more while using less."

Summarizing his message, Spurlock boiled down the many factors into one simple statement.

"American corn is a strong and viable industry that can and will continue to produce," he said. "With more innovations in the pipeline, this ability will only continue to grow. We can and will meet all demands even as they continue to grow along with us."

For the full interview, click here.

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