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May 2009 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block, AgWeb.com

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

We Eat Too Much

May 29, 2009

Combating obesity in the U.S. cannot be dealt with unless we understand how we got where we are today. A lot of organizations have jumped on this problem to further their own interests or just to push their own philosophy on everyone else.
 
We’re all aware of the lawsuits against McDonald’s and the widespread criticism of “fast food.” There has been an assault on corn sweetener in soft drinks. Reality is that corn sweetener is just like sugar. Speaking of sugar, there is proposed legislation to tax soft drinks that have sugar or sweetener in them. They may even tax orange juice which is high in sugar. The organizations that want to do away with animal agriculture point to fat as the problem. They say that fat makes you fat. All of these loud voices screaming about what we are doing wrong fail to acknowledge up front that the real culprit is the number of calories. Calories – it is that simple.
 
The number of calories on the label should be big and bold. The rest is of less importance.
 
So, why do we eat so much? We eat too much because it tastes good and food is cheap. We spend less than 10 percent of disposable income on food. Contrast that with the cost of food in developing countries where they spend as much as 50 percent of their income on food. They don’t have the money to overeat.
 
I have been in many countries – rich and poor. Europe is gaining weight faster than we are. Go to Africa and you won’t find many overweight people. I was in Cuba in March. They’re not overweight there. I haven’t been to N. Korea, but I’ll bet they’re skinny there.
 
It all boils down to this. The rich countries have solved their hunger problem with an abundance of cheap food. And that has created another problem – obesity.
 
Therefore, do we tax all food and make it a lot more expensive? Of course, we’re not going to do that. The government is proposing all kinds of legislation, but that won’t do very much good either.
 
The simple answer is – we need to have more discipline to control how many calories we eat and get more exercise.
 
Won’t be easy.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

Energy Independence

May 22, 2009

Prompted by lower oil prices and the beginning of the driving season, Americans are expected to start hitting the highways again. We will be turning to the oil rich countries with unstable or unfriendly governments to fuel our cars. The U.S. imports 70% of our oil at a cost of 475 billion dollars a year.
 
Listen to the report.
There is some good news. In 2008 alone, we produced 9 billion gallons of ethanol (which accounted for 7 percent of U.S. gasoline sales), replacing 321 million barrels of imported oil. That was the equivalent of eliminating oil imports from Venezuela for 10 months – or not importing any oil from anywhere for 33 days – and it saved our country more than $30 billion.
 
That’s a good start, but we can do more. The U.S. should encourage the growth of the domestic renewable biofuels industry, including the production of ethanol from corn starch and newer, non-food (or “cellulosic”) feed stocks, such as wood chips, grasses, agricultural waste, and even garbage.
 
Biofuels can revitalize rural America by creating thousands of jobs. In fact, last year, in the midst of a deepening recession, the industry produced and sold a record 9 billion gallons, opened 31 new biorefineries, and created an additional 240,000 new jobs. This year, the industry is poised to produce more than 10 billion gallons, which would represent almost 9 percent of the nation’s gasoline supply.
 
Also, using and producing ethanol is good for the environment as well as the economy. As scientific studies have reported, using ethanol instead of gasoline can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 48 to 59 percent.
 
The suggestion that the production of ethanol from corn is driving up food prices is nonsense. The U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that there are 2.8 billion hectares of uncultivated land in the world that is suitable for rain-fed farming. It’s not being farmed. That’s a valuable wasted resource. On top of that, with the explosive technological advances in biotech seeds and farming practices, we expect to double production by 2030 on the same number of acres anyway.
 
The sky is the limit.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.
 

Down On The Farm

May 15, 2009

I’m talking to you today from the farm in Illinois. Here it is the second week of May and we’re just getting started planting our corn. We are usually finished by this date. Some say late planting doesn’t always hurt yield, but history says – “it does.”
 
Listen to the report.
We’ll plant our annual corn test plot today – 60 different numbers. We have had a test plot for more than 30 years.
 
Our input costs for this year’s crop are up dramatically. The encouraging development is that next year’s costs should be down – just following the energy price decline.
 
The ups and downs in farming can be brutal. The uncertainty of weather and price are always waiting in ambush. In 1986, our farm corn yield per acre was 200 bu. Amazing! But just two years later, the yield plunged to 70 bu. per acre. It was the weather. A recent example – our yield was 135 bu. per acre in 2005. Last year, it shot up to 235 bu. per acre. Prices can be just as volatile. The hog business was good for three years. The last two years, terrible.
 
With all of these challenges, America’s family farms and ranches are resilient. They have to be. This homestead, where I was raised, has been in my family for six generations – since the 1860s. My great grandfather ran cattle and crops. He saw his crops flooded when the Spoon River came out of the banks as I have seen. Horses pulled his tillage equipment. Now it’s big tractors and combines – very expensive, but very efficient. You have to operate your farm or ranch as a business or you won’t be in business very long. But farming is still a way of life.
 
We cannot escape our love of the land, our affection and commitment to our livestock. The animal rights groups cannot relate. We live a family tradition – a natural love of rural America. Even when we are away from it, it keeps pulling us back.
 
Rich, black soil, growing crops, cows having baby calves, baby pigs born every day. This family business is a challenge but also rewarding in many ways.
 
It’s a new crop year. Put that seed in the ground. It’ll grow. If we can get swine flu out of the news , maybe we can get hog prices up too.
 
Until next week, I am John Block down on the farm.
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