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Iowa Corn Checkoff Report Card

Posted on May 30, 2012 at 11:02 AM by Iowa Corn

Deb Keller is Chair of the Iowa Corn
Promotion Board.  She farms near
Clarion with her family raising corn
and soybeans. 
Just five years ago I was like most of you – a checkoff supporter who followed events by what I saw in the newspaper.  Since joining the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, I’ve put in a lot of hours, and I’ve had an opportunity to see first-hand how our checkoff really performs.  So here’s my report card on corn checkoff performance in Iowa.  

I give the checkoff an A on ethanol.  In 2011, ethanol production utilized the starch in 5 billion bushels of corn to produce 39 million metric tons of high quality livestock feed and 13.9 billion gallons of ethanol.  In ICPB's 30 years, no other area of use has seen this kind of growth or done so much to keep corn demand in step with our growing capacity to produce.  

Our ethanol success has absolutely required a team effort between corn groups, corn states, national organizations and more.  It is scary to think about where our corn prices might be without ethanol.  I am convinced that without the Iowa checkoff, we wouldn’t be where we are today.  

Maybe the ICPB even qualifies for an A+, since it also played an essential role in realizing a long-time goal of sharing in the profits of value-added processing.  Today, Iowa leads in ethanol production and thousands of growers have investments in farmer-owned plants and other processing.  

The corn checkoff has also put a lot of muscle into growing the livestock sector, including more than $7 million over the years invested through the U.S. Meat Export Federation to increase corn fed sales of red meat. 

I have seen first-hand how the ICPB’s current commitment to distillers grains education and marketing is delivering a benefit – by helping Iowa’s livestock producers incorporate DDGS effectively to diversify their feed options. 

The checkoff was a major promoter of the first alternate corn uses like high fructose corn syrup and more recently worked for the adoption of corn-based plastics like PLA and corn use in products like sunscreen and canned goods.

Together, the ICPB’s livestock, sweetener and plastics efforts have increased corn usage by 71%.  That’s not an A, but it’s really close in my opinion – let’s say A-. 

I’m giving a B+ for corn exports.  The ICPB has dedicated both time and money to building exports and has partnered in country after country, much of it through the U.S. Grains Council.  I think we’re now in position to achieve major export increases, but I’m holding off on granting an A until we knock that ball out of the park.

Like export market development, research is a long, complex process.  Our checkoff has made major strides, especially since a change in the laws made it possible to own the intellectual rights to the research we fund.  Between that and our success mapping the corn genome, I believe we will see major research breakthroughs and new approaches to management that bring more of the monetary benefits back to Iowa farmers.  One concrete sign that this is moving ahead is the ICPB’s recent success getting patents published for its new uses research.  

Like exports, I’ll give this an A when financial benefits from projects like isosorbide start flowing back to Iowa.  

So when I look at what the checkoff has cost and what it has produced, I think it’s a bargain.  The next question is: What it will take for us to continue this kind of progress?  The answer, I believe, is that we must have additional funds if we’re going to succeed.   

The foremost challenge we face is the organized attack on ethanol, funded with hundreds of thousands of dollars and aimed at discrediting biofuels.  We must win this battle for public opinion – if not, it will sink all our progress on ethanol.  This is going to be a prolonged battle and it’s going to be expensive.  

In addition to the food-and-fuel issue, we need more funds to defend an even more important market – livestock production.  The ICPB’s commitment to responsible livestock production has already been effective, but it’s another battle we will fight for years.  

Finally, additional funds will help us promote E15, E20 and E85 usage to take the ethanol market to the next level and support advances in corn research and new use business developments.

In closing, I’d like to add one important detail – the fact that your checkoff has consistently worked to use funds efficiently and get the most benefit from every dollar.  

Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey has set July 10 as the date for corn producers to vote on increasing the Iowa corn checkoff by ¼ cent. I’ve done the math – for those of us with an average Iowa yield per acre, this proposed increase is like buying one postage stamp for every acre we harvest.  It’s a small price to pay for a big reward.  I hope you will reach the same decision and vote July 10 for a modest increase per acre to invest in our industry’s future. 

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