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August 2012 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block,

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

Ag News Odds and Ends

Aug 29, 2012

Today, I’m going to hit on several issues.

First, a word about the drought. It has been devastating to many farms and small businesses. Not much good will come of it except one thing. Maybe some of the critics of GE crops will come to recognize the value of corn varieties engineered to withstand drought. Maybe they will appreciate that we need all new technology to feed a hungry world. It’s time for them to stop fighting something as valuable as genetic engineering.

Another hot button issue is corn processed into ethanol. I understand why some livestock and poultry operators may not like ethanol. I raise hogs. Corn prices are high and that hurts the bottom line. However, gas prices are spiking up now. Ask yourself, how high would they be if we didn’t have ethanol? Maybe $5 per gallon.

The drought has messed up a lot of things. Food prices will certainly go up next year. But not much more than they went up this year – 3 percent this year, maybe 4 percent next year.

Seed prices and fertilizer prices will certainly go up next year – more than 4 percent. Everyone will want to raise corn. It is going to take some time to work our way through this difficult problem.

Turn the page. Will we get a farm bill before the election? I say no, but I wish we could. The Congress has so much on their agenda. Yet, the election is foremost on their minds. Here is a fact about the farm bill that is often not known by many people. 80 percent of the money in the farm bill goes to food programs – food stamps, school lunch, WIC, etc. Some people would like to separate the food programs from the farm programs and have two bills. The problem with that is that the supporters of nutrition spending support the farm programs, and the farmers support the nutrition programs. "You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours." There is value in having allies when trying to pass a bill. And the food nutrition lobby is powerful.

There is a lot of uncertainty about next year. The federal government doesn’t even have a budget. The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in 3 years. How irresponsible is that!

Oh well – stay tuned.

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to


Down at the Farm and State Fair

Aug 23, 2012

I am back from a week at the farm and the Illinois State Fair. I want to review what took place at the Fair. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a Proclamation naming the Illinois State Department of Agriculture building the John Block Illinois Department of Agriculture Building. Never in my lifetime did I imagine that I would have a building named after me. I am still trying to get in my brain just what happened. I wake up in the morning and pinch myself to see if I am dreaming.

Let me just say, how, as I did at the ceremony, how humbled and appreciative I am. Thank you to my State Representative from my county and a farm neighbor, Don Moffitt, for working to get this done. Thank you to State Senator Darin LaHood. I would not want to leave out Governor Jim Thompson who, back in 1976, took a chance and chose an Illinois pig farmer to serve as his State Director of Agriculture. And four years later, with the support from Governor Thompson and Senator Bob Dole, President Reagan asked a "hands on farmer" to serve as his U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

I have been very fortunate to have had support along the way from family, friends, and good people working for me. I know that timing and luck played a role. I am very grateful and intend to continue to support this great ag industry and rural America. My roots run deep in this black land soil.

After the event on the State Fair grounds, I spent the rest of the week at the farm. The soy beans look good. I expect an average yield. The corn, however, has been hurt by the drought. It was obvious to me that continuous corn really has suffered. We don’t have near as much land in continuous corn as we used to. We will continue to rotate soy beans into the mix. I think our corn this year will be better than last year’s. Last year’s corn was hurt by too much rain.

Our pigs are not as happy as they have been. They are discouraged because prices have crashed. They don’t feel appreciated.

I a week or two, we’ll start harvesting and then we’ll really know how good or bad the crop is.
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to


Ag Industry Helping to Shrink Trade Deficit

Aug 17, 2012

The news is full of worrisome problems. We have the drought which is hurting our ag industry and farmers across the heartland. Europe can’t seem to find a fix for their economic crisis. And can we be far behind with our own crushing debt? Save those issues for another day. They won’t go away anytime soon. Today, let’s look at ag trade.

The U.S. trade deficit declined this last month by 5 billion dollars. Our ag industry certainly deserves a fair share of the credit for that decline. Our farmers produce an abundance of food for domestic consumption; but let’s not overlook the fact that some 30 percent of what we grow we export. Last year, our exports totaled 136 billion dollars. The U.S. in total trade runs a big trade deficit every year. But not in ag products. Last year, we ran a 37 billion dollar trade surplus.

Look back to 1978 when USDA organized the Foreign Agricultural Service at the Department to push our exports. At that time, 60 percent of our farm exports were grain. The 1970s were good years when Secretary Earl Butz sold grain to the Soviet Union. Prices jumped. Today, our export sales are nearly 5 times what they were then. They are better balanced with 36 percent grains and oil seeds, meat and poultry, 15 percent, and produce, 13 percent. We have done an amazing job.

Thirty years have passed and it is time to take a new look at USDA’s trade structure. Trade is so important to our industry, our country, and a growing world population. The ag trade function at USDA must be given a higher priority. Funding for farm programs and subsidies will surely be cut. Let’s give the trade function the attention it deserves. There is legislation in the Congress to do just that. Give it a push.

I’ll be on the farm this weekend and report to you what I find next week.

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to

Genetically Modified Sweet Corn on the Way

Aug 09, 2012

How will we ever be able to increase food production to feed the growing world population if we don’t employ new production technology? The answer is – we can’t. Fortunately for all of us and the world, we are not sitting on our hands.

Let me ask this question – did you eat some delicious sweet corn in the last few days? I did. Growing it is not easy. The labor in the field and tillage costs are substantial. Sweet corn makes up less than 1% of the corn acres in the U.S. Yet, sweet corn accounts for 40 percent of the insecticide used in corn production.

That’s the case because sweet corn has not been genetically modified. Corn grown for livestock feed in the U.S. is genetically modified and toxic to root worms and corn borer. 91 percent of our soybean crop is genetically modified.

Now – thanks to Monsanto – we will have GE sweet corn. That means the weeds can be controlled, the pests turned back, less energy tilling the field.

Of course, it’s to be expected – the critics of GE crops come screaming from the roof tops. "Oh no, there might be some risk." That sweet corn might harm people’s health." Nonsense – the International Food Information council says, "the campaign against genetically modified foods is groundless."

The Food and Drug Administration fully approves. We have eaten our weight in GE foods in the last 10 years. 70 percent of American processed foods contain GE ingredients. There have never been any documented food safety problems with food produced using biotechnology anywhere in the world.

To the critics of GE foods, I say – "get over it. You are wrong and it’s time you admitted it." Even the stubborn Europeans are starting to come around – slowly.

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.

Gaffes Galore

Aug 02, 2012

Be careful what you say. It can get you into trouble. The press is checking. We are all listening. It seems like Romney and Obama get taken to the wood shed every few days for some unintended gaffes. Even the CEO of Chick-Fil-A made the unforgivable mistake of saying that his company believed in the traditional family and the marriage between a man and a woman. That’s heresy! No more Chick-Fil-A restaurants in Chicago, Boston, New York, etc.

Here is one that we don’t want to forget. This is not a gaffe. It was carefully thought through by someone at USDA. The Department of Agriculture endorsed "meatless Monday" to "help the environment and to not waste resources" used in meat production, especially beef and dairy. Secretary Vilsack quickly retracted the statement, saying it was released without proper approval.

Damage done. The Secretary has people working for him that don’t know what department they work for. It’s the Department of Agriculture. That is – cows, pigs, chickens – the meat industry. I cannot imagine how a statement like that could get out the door. But it did.

Senator Grassley and Senator Cornyn were able to capitalize on the whole affair. To demonstrate their "beef" with USDA, they celebrated "meat Monday." Senator Grassley said, "This is a reminder to USDA that it’s supposed to advocate for American agriculture, not against it."

PETA – the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals couldn’t stand Senator Grassley’s love of meat and his criticism of the "meatless Monday" promotion. So, they said they will counter by taking "informed bets" on when the 78-year-old Senator will die from eating meat.

That statement is way out of line. Should I be surprised? PETA is extreme, absolutely against meat consumption – vegetarian all the way.

I wonder how many more gaffes and crazy statements we will see in the weeks ahead. Anyway, tonight I want a T-bone steak for dinner.

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.

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