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Posts Tagged ‘corn’

Will Mexico Stop Buying US Corn?

A quiet shot across the unbuilt wall was fired Monday from Mexico City when Senator Armando Rios Piter said he would introduce a bill that would end the purchase of corn from the US. This is in response to some of the suggestions from the current administration to stop the trade imbalance between the two countries.

NAFTA is a dirty word among many folks, especially labor. However, Iowa’s corn farmers saw a huge boon when NAFTA went into effect. NAFTA opened up a huge market for their corn in Mexico. What most people forget or maybe never knew was that when NAFTA ended the barriers to exporting corn to Mexico, Mexican farmers were greatly affected. Few farmers could compete with the cheap and hybridized corn from the US. Having lost their means of income in their home country, for many of them the only answer was to go to the US to look for work.

So while NAFTA was a boon for Iowa farmers, opening markets that were hard to get into before, it was a disaster for Mexican farmers. Here is a snippet of a story from a couple of years ago that illustrates the plight of the Mexican farm community:

When the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994, it removed nearly all corporate trade barriers between the United States and Mexico. Among the industries affected was agriculture, forcing small Mexican farmers into direct competition with big American agribusiness. Cheap American corn — heavily subsidized, mechanized, and oh, yes, genetically modified — soon flooded the Mexican market, undercutting local farmers’ prices.

In the last eighteen years, the share of American corn in Mexico has jumped at least 500 percent. And just as millions of industrial workers in the United States lost their jobs in the free-trade outsourcing bonanza, rural Mexicans suffered a parallel fate. Even by cautious estimates, NAFTA is directly responsible for the loss of two million farm jobs in Mexico.

One of those farmers was Luis Moreno, Carla’s brother.

“How could he compete with something like Cargill?” Carla asked, speaking the name of the U.S. agricultural giant like it was a mythical dragon.

“He couldn’t, but he still had a wife and three kids,” Carla continued. “So Luis left to find work. First to Mexico City. Then to Kansas City. He’s been there for nine years now, cleaning office buildings. His kids only know him on the phone.”

It is also easy to see that the displaced Mexican farmer was integral to the wave of persons immigrating to the US illegally. When farmers could no longer make a living in their own country they had to do something. That something was to go to where to where the money was.

Immigration was an unplanned for side effect of NAFTA. Iowa farmers had a major new market for their corn. sums up the effects of the potential boycott of American corn by Mexico:

To date, Mexico is the No. 1 buyer of U.S. corn. For the marketing year September 1 through February 13, 2017, Mexico has bought 25% of the total U.S. corn sales. The next biggest buyer is Japan at 16% of the total.

Jason Ward, director of grains and energy for Northstar Commodity Investment Co., says the trade spat could impact both future and past sales.

“If all future sales get shut off to Mexico, it would be a significant negative to the marketplace for corn, and would easily overflow into other commodities, including pork and dairy,” Ward says.

To this point, in bushels, Mexico has bought 411.4 million bushels of corn from the U.S. this marketing year. Of that total, 197.6 million bushels have been shipped, “so we are talking about future sales and potentially unshipped sales that we have on the books, but haven’t arrived in Mexico yet,” Ward says.

However they do note that since commodities like corn are traded world wide, if Mexico shifts to new suppliers, then other current customers of the suppliers that would now service Mexico suppliers may need to find other suppliers. That is the US may pick some business from those customers.

What the current administration has done with its fist shaking and tough talk with our neighbor to the south is to start some cracks in a wall of trade that may well be the start of the destruction. So far all that has happened is to have an initial shot fired by the US and a return of fire from Mexico. That may be the end of it. Or these may be the first shots in what will become an all out trade war.

With an administration that has little experience in international relations and little skill in negations outside of making demands I fear Iowa farmers may see this little skirmish blow up with those farmers as one of the major victims.

My Attempt At Alternative Heat – The Corn Stove

After I wrote the story below, I realized that my little predicament is nothing compared to those whose assistance has been cut back for this winter thanks to the Norquist Republicans and their refusal to make the rich pay a little more to keep the poor from starving and freezing this winter.


For the past ten years, this would be the time I would be checking the chimney, thoroughly cleaning the insides and generally getting my corn stove ready for another heating season. I would also be calling my corn supplier and purchasing corn for the coming season. Then when that first chill of the season came to pass – usually sometime around Halloween – I would pour a couple of 5 gallon buckets of corn into the hopper and get ready for another season of heating with corn.

Usually I would wait until the temperature in the house was around 50 degrees and someone was bringing up that annual threat of divorce before I moved into action. I would then pour some wood pellets into the burn pot, lace those pellets with some sort of fire-starting stuff and give it a light. Every year I had a fear it would not start; every year it did. As the fire started, I would close the door and turn on the fan motor that sucked in fresh air to burn while removing smoke. Usually within a few minutes corn started dropping down the chute from the hopper. The fire started with pellets and fanned with outside air was now hot enough to burn the corn. At first the kernels would drop into fire slowly. I would gradually increase the speed until the desired heat was reached. Then we would turn the ceiling fan in the room on a low setting and VOILA – we had corn heat circulating throughout our house.

We were able to keep the temp around 65 most of the winter with the corn stove. Only in times of extreme cold did we need to resort to our natural gas furnace. The heat was very,very comfortable. Since it was constant, we stayed at a level temperature unlike the gas furnace that would turn on and off run by the thermostat.

We took a flyer on corn heat at an I-RENEW expo. The previous winter we had had a blip with our supply line coming into town while we were out on Christmas Eve. We were gone for 8 hours and so was our heat since the blip happened about 2 minutes after we left. It was extremely cold that night, so when we returned the house was hovering around 35 degrees.

Well, I have always been one to try to have a Plan B. We had been looking at alternatives for a while. The very first thing we did was to replace our very old furnace with a new self-lighting unit. We needed that anyway. And we stepped up our search for a reasonably priced alternative. Another issue in the back of my mind was to get away from burning fossil fuels.

So we bought the corn stove, plus a large container to hold corn. The container would hold about 35 bushels of corn. We had no idea how long that would last. I really thought that would last most of the winter. I only missed by about 3 months. At that time corn was $2 a bushel. The vendor told me “it was $2 when I was born, it is $2 today and it’ll be $2 the day I die.” Boy was he wrong.

We found out through trial and error that we would use around 250 bushels a year. At $2 a bushel we were saving huge dollars over our gas bills. The stove paid for itself in just 3 years. But my vendor lost his business trying to keep his price at $2 a bushel as he had promised. I tried to get him to accept more and he refused.

The reason the price was going up was that another use for corn had grown dramatically. Ethanol was being used as an oxygenater around the country and demand skyrocketed. Couple that with world food shortages and some small harvests elsewhere and corn as a commodity was a hot property. Soon we were up to $4 a bushel.

At $4 a bushel we were nearing the break even point. We also had to seek a new supplier and I had to become my own service man. We wanted to stay with corn because of the very comfortable heat and because we had really cut back on burning fossil fuels. But the end was coming soon. The price of corn and other commodities spiked again. Last year we still had some $5/ bushel corn left, but the price was over $7 a bushel and headed up.

So we decided to burn what was left over. Wood pellets were expensive also and did not give out near the heat. So as March rolled around last year, we prepared to return to natural gas. We were literally burning the last of the corn when, as if in a cosmic moment, the fan went out. A few minutes later the auger that moved corn from the hopper to the burn pot, also quit. So now we were looking at a broken mache and high costs for fuel. Plus it made no sense to burn food when there is so much hunger in the world.

Now we are back to gas heat. It is sure as heck easier – just flick a switch. But I am really concerned about burning fossil fuels especially when the gas companies are fracking to mine the gas. Fracking is causing huge problems and I hate to be a part of that. So we are back to searching for Plan B once more.

Geo-Thermal? Maybe if I had lots of money. Solar? Maybe in a year or two. Is there anything else? Someone in Italy claims they can create cold fusion ……..

Sunday Funday – Let’s Harvest!

The harvest moon the other night let it be known that it is time for the harvest to begin in the very near future. Here are some questions about Iowa and American crops and other things to do with the harvest and the season.

1) Iowa produces lots and lots of corn. The yield is measured in bushels. Just what exactly is the standard measurement for a bushel of corn?
a) a cubic measure 2’x 2′ x 2′ of shelled corn
b) a weight measure equaling 56 pounds of shelled corn
c) the amount of corn in a standard 5 gallon bucket of shelled corn.
d) The amount of shelled corn from one square yard of planted corn.

2) This year the yield per acre will be around 155 bushels per acre. What approximately was the yield per acre 20 years ago?
a) 150 bu/acre
b) 75 bu/acre
c) 135 bu/acre
d 110 bu/acre

3) Iowa’s other major crop is soybeans. The United States is by far the largest producers of soybeans. Which country is second?
a) Russia
b) Canada
c) Brazil
d) Australia

4) What industrialist experimented using soybean product as an essential part of his company’s main product?
a) Henry Ford’s cars had bodies made of soybean products.
b) Thomas Edison’s light bulbs had filaments made from soy product
c) George Westinghouse made insulation from soybeans to wrap power lines
d) Andrew Carnegie used soy products to stabilize steel beams.

5) Ahhhhh! Who doesn’t love a tomato in late summer? Botanically speaking, what is a tomato?
a) a vegetable
b) one of the newly designated crossover category called ‘vegi-fruits’
c) a berry.
d) a fungus

6) John Deere is deeply entwined with farming in the Midwest. Why?
a) Deere adapted the plow to an early steam engine, creating the first tractor
b) He created the polished steel plow which could break the soil better than any other plows available at the time.
c) His adaptation of engineering techniques to the harness team greatly increased the pulling power of the horses. This technique was later used in tractors.
d) Deere’s reaper was the first mechanical method of harvesting.

7) BTW, what familiar area approximates the size of an acre?
a) a city block
b) a football field
c) a basketball court
d) a baseball field

8) What percentage of the earth’s surface is arable (available to grow food on)?
a) 1/8
b) 1/64
c) 1/32
d) 1/50

9) as of 2006, approximately how many acres of arable land were there per person in the United States?
a) 2
b) 10
c) 1/2
d) 25

10) Corn is actually a type of
a) legume
b) grass
c) fruit
d) fungus

Well, my love affair with my corn burning stove for heating our house has came to an end last winter. The price of corn is such that it may be cheaper to burn dollar bills. The corn burner has mechanical problems that are not worth fixing for what corn costs. But oh, what a wonderful heat it was when we had it!

Answers? All Right!

1) b) 1 bushel = 56 pounds
2) d) just 20 years ago, the average yield in Iowa is 109 (110) bu/acre. Quite an increase in 20 years!
3) c) Brazil. In order it is the US, Brazil, Argentina and India.
4) a) Henry Ford used soy products in his car bodies. Soy was used as an ingredient in plastic bodies.
5) c) as my biologist daughter tells me, the tomato is a berry!
6) b) Deere was a blacksmith whose polished steel blade worked much better than iron blades in tough Illinois soil.
7) b) an acre is approximately equal to a football field
8) c) only about 1/32 of the earth’s surface is arable
9) a) about 2 acres, but population is growing and arable land is decreasing.
10) b) Corn is a grass – or at least descended from a type of grass.