Posts tagged corn

Meet me at the market

   The first Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market of this season will be Saturday, June 6, from 7:30 a.m. to noon and I plan to be there. Stop by the KCRG/Gazette table in Greene Square Park sometime between 9-10 a.m. and say hi! I’d like to hear what you’re interested in reading about on this blog and in The Gazette.

  As reporters, we occasionally receive products from companies that we cannot keep. Dandelion Earth Friendly Goods recently sent several items that the eco-conscious readers of this blog might enjoy, so I thought it would be fun to have a drawing. If you stop by our table – remember, just between 9 and 10 a.m. or so – sign up and you could win some of these cute Earth-friendly products. 

   Here is some information that Dandelion sent:

Dandelion Earth Friendly Goods

Dandelion Earth Friendly Goods

At a time when “organic,” “green,” environmentally-friendly,” “renewable” and “sustainable” is a part of our everyday culture, consumers are sincerely moved to help preserve the planet and the health and well-being of their families. With the desire to champion an emerging “green” awareness, Re-Think It, Inc., is launching its collection of Dandelion Earth-Friendly Goods that turns living green into easy living.
   Dandelion Earth-Friendly Goods are made entirely using eco-friendly materials and processes, from organic cotton grown without pesticides and chemicals, coloring process and right down to the plant-based fibers used in filling the plush toys. The ReUsables – the divided plates, bowls and utensils – are made from corn, rather than conventional plastics comprised mostly of petroleum.
 
Stop by the table on June 6 to see these items and let us know what’s on your mind. For more on Dandelion, go to: www.dandelionforbaby.com
 
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Study says better to leave land unfarmed than plow to grow corn for ethanol

This study, critiquing corn-for-ethanol’s carbon footprint, came to me today from Duke University Office of News & Communications in North Carolina. Perhaps some Iowans would like to weigh in on the topic.

DURHAM, N.C. —  To avoid creating greenhouse gases, it makes more sense using  today’s technology to leave land unfarmed in conservation reserves than to plow it up for corn to make biofuel, according to a comprehensive Duke University-led study.

“Converting set-asides to corn-ethanol production is an inefficient and expensive greenhouse gas mitigation policy that should not be encouraged until ethanol-production technologies improve,” the study’s authors reported in the March edition of the research journal Ecological Applications.

Nevertheless, farmers and producers are already receiving federal subsidies to grow more corn for ethanol under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

“One of our take-home messages is that conservation programs are currently a cheaper and more efficient greenhouse gas policy for taxpayers than corn-ethanol production,” said biologist Robert Jackson, the Nicholas Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who led the study.

Making ethanol from corn reduces atmospheric releases of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide because the CO2 emitted when the ethanol burns is “canceled out” by the carbon dioxide taken in by the next crop of growing plants, which use it in photosynthesis. That means equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide are removed from the atmosphere and “fixed” into plant tissues.

But the study notes that some CO2 not counterbalanced by plant carbon uptake gets released when corn is grown and processed for ethanol. Furthermore, ethanol contains only about 70 percent of gasoline’s energy.

“So we actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions only 20 percent when we substitute one liter of ethanol for one liter of gasoline,” said Gervasio Piñeiro, the study’s first author, who is a Buenos Aires, Argentina-based scientist and postdoctoral research associate in Jackson’s Duke laboratory.

Also, by the researchers’ accounting, the carbon benefits of using ethanol only begin to show up years after corn growing begins. “Depending on prior land use” they wrote in their report, “our analysis shows that carbon releases from the soil after planting corn for ethanol may in some cases completely offset carbon gains attributed to biofuel generation for at least 50 years.”

The report said that “cellulosic” species — such as switchgrass — are a better option for curbing emissions than corn because they don’t require annual replowing and planting. In contrast, a single planting of cellulosic species will continue growing and producing for years while trapping more carbon in the soil.

“Until cellulosic ethanol production is feasible, or corn-ethanol technology improves, corn-ethanol subsidies are a poor investment economically and environmentally,” Jackson added.

However, the report noted that a cost-effective technology to convert cellulosics to ethanol may be years away. So the Duke team contrasted today’s production practices for corn-based ethanol with what will be possible after the year 2023 for cellulosic-based ethanol.

By analyzing 142 different soil studies, the researchers found that conventional corn farming can remove 30 to 50 percent of the carbon stored in the soil.  In contrast, cellulosic ethanol production entails mowing plants as they grow — often on land that is already in conservation reserve. That, their analysis found, can ultimately increase soil carbon levels between 30 to 50 percent instead of reducing them.

“It’s like hay baling,” Piñeiro said. “You plant it once and it stays there for 20 years. And it takes much less energy and carbon dioxide emissions to produce that than to produce corn.”

As part of its analysis, the Duke team calculated how corn-for-ethanol and cellulosic-for-ethanol production — both now and in the future — would compare with agricultural set-asides. Those comparisons were expressed in economic terms with a standard financial accounting tool called “net present value.”

For now, setting aside acreage and letting it return to native vegetation was rated the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, outweighing the results of corn-ethanol production over the first 48 years. However, “once commercially available, cellulosic ethanol produced in set-aside grasslands should provide the most efficient tool for greenhouse gas reduction of any scenario we examined,” the report added.

The worst strategy for reducing carbon dioxide emissions is to plant corn-for-ethanol on land that was previously designated as set aside — a practice included in current federal efforts to ramp up biofuel production, the study found. “You will lose a lot of soil carbon, which will escape into the atmosphere as CO2,” said Piñeiro.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Center for Global Change at Duke University and by the Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnologíca of Argentina.
 
Other researchers in the study included Brian Murray, the director for economic analysis at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and a Nicholas School research professor; Justin Baker, a researcher with Murray and Jackson; and Esteban Jobbagy, a professor at the University of San Luis in Argentina who received his Ph.D. at Duke.

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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Meet the King Corn guys

Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, filmmakers and stars of "King Corn"
Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, “King Corn” filmmakers

   All that corn being harvested this fall in Iowa, in one sense, isn’t even edible. In another sense, it’s ubiquitous in nearly everything we eat.

   That irony is the theme behind the documentary, “King Corn” which was screened Thursday night at Christ Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids as part of the Environmental Film Festival.

   Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, filmmakers and stars of the documentary, made an appearance at the church to discuss the film with the crowd of about 50 people.  The church’s Rev. Barbara Schlachter said seeing the two stars walk in after watching them on the big screen was like a scene out of “Field of Dreams.”

   Curt, now of Austin, Texas, and Ian, of Brooklyn, NY, both 28, also spent time at Coe College this week. The two are still making environmental films. Their next, “The Greening of Southie,” is about the making of the first large-scale “green” building in Boston.

  

   The two, best friends in college on the East Coast, discovered they both had great-grandparents from the same northern Iowa county while in the process of making King Corn. The documentary shows their efforts to grow an acre of corn in Greene, northwest of Waterloo, and their attempts to follow their corn in the food system. Along the way, they interview experts who describe government subsidies of the crop – “we subsidize the Happy Meals but we don’t subsidize the healthy ones,” one expert noted – and what has happened to corn, in a nutritional sense, since corn first came into the country hundreds of years ago from Mexico. Essentially, in exchange for higher yields, the high protein content of corn has given way to a higher starch content, with no nutritional value.

   The corn seen growing in most Iowa fields isn’t corn-on-the-cob for humans, but a variety used for cattle feed, ethanol and high-fructose corn syrup, which is in most of what we eat and drink. Soda is liquid candy, one health expert in the film said. The film pointed out that the higher consumption of pop and other processed foods has contributed to the nation’s obesity epidemic, which in turn, contributes to higher rates of Type 2 diabetes.

 

   Ian and Curt said they’ve changed their eating habits since making the film, with Curt noting that he no longer drinks soda. They plan to do an offshoot movie of “King Corn,” along with other projects in the works.

 

  The Environmental Film Festival runs through Oct. 26. See the gardening events tab on this blog for the full listing. If you’ve seen one of the films and have some insight to share, add a comment below.

 

 

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Sunshine of the plant world

   Sunflowers have been brightening neighborhoods once covered in floodwaters.

Linn County Master Gardeners Deb Walser and Mary Prendergast suspect the sunflowers could have been dislodged and moved from area gardens by the floodwaters, or floated away as seeds from bird feeders during the floods.

   Corn has also been sprouting in the median of I-380 that was once covered by floodwater.   That seed or the young plants, probably came from adjacent fields.

 

  If you have a theory on where the plants have come from, add your opinion in a message below.

 

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