Farm Beat: This column may seem a bit corny to you

jholland@modbee.comAugust 16, 2013 

CW Ag Edition: The Marchini Farm

Fourth generation farmer Marc Marchini, 30 of Le Grand, holds a corn cob, fresh off the stock, after taking a bite of the sweet corn, at J. Marchini Farms in Le Grand on Friday (7-12-13).

CHRISTOPHER WINTERFELDT — Merced Sun-Star

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John
    Email: jholland@modbee.com

I'm working on a story about sweet corn and would like to hear from readers who love this summertime treat.

First, I need to write about another kind of corn — one that doesn't taste so good on the cob but is vital to our local economy.

The nation's feed corn supply has recovered from last year's drought-reduced harvest, welcome news to the dairy and poultry industries in and near Stanislaus County.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture projected this week that the 2013 corn crop — including the portions that go to livestock feed, food processors and ethanol plants — will be a record 13.8 billion bushels. That's up 28 percent from last year, when drought gripped much of the Midwest and Great Plains.

"A record corn crop would be good news for the animal industry because it should mean that prices would come down," Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Industry, told me by email.

Recent months brought somewhat of a break from the run-up in feed prices that dairy and poultry producers have faced the past few years. A bumper crop of corn this year would keep that going and would be especially helpful to dairy farmers struggling with milk prices that often do not cover their production costs.

These farmers can grow some of their own feed, including hay made with alfalfa, oats, wheat and other crops. Homegrown corn is fermented into silage, an especially useful feed, under those big white tarpaulins you see on dairy farms.

But this industry and the poultry people depend heavily on corn from the Plains and Midwest, shipped here on freight trains at prices that depend on global supply and demand.

Some of the crop ends up in products such as breakfast cereal, tortilla chips and soft drinks sweetened with corn syrup.

And a substantial portion goes to ethanol plants, a use that is not terribly popular among the dairy and poultry producers, who claim this was the main reason for the jump in corn prices.

Mattos said his group continues to seek reform of the federal policy requiring that gasoline be blended with certain levels of ethanol. He prefers a policy "where corn for food would take precedence over fuel."

The ethanol industry sees the 2013 crop projection as proof that farmers can grow enough corn for everyone. A news release from Bob Dinneen, president and chief executive officer of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the report "should be the last nail in the coffin of the ridiculous 'food versus fuel' argument. Corn stocks are likely to hit an eight-year high and prices are at a three-year low."

OK, enough corn politics. Let talk sweet corn.

I invite readers to share their thoughts on the best way to cook whole ears, and just how much butter and other enhancements to slather onto them.

My deadline is 5 p.m. Sunday. Please send your comments, along with your full name and city of residence, to jholland@modbee.com.

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