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Monday, February 24, 2014

Strengthening Kentucky's Corn Markets

By Russel Schwenke, KyCorn President

Russel Schwenke, of Boone County, was elected president of KyCorn in January, succeeding Ray Allan Mackey. Schwenke raises grain and beef cattle with his brother Bob, son Eric and nephews, and has been farming for 40 years. He also serves on the Boone Co. Conservancy Board of Directors, which works to protect farmland and green space, and he is the vice chairman of Union Emergency Services.

I could not have had a better first month of being president of the Kentucky Corn Growers Association. The farm bill was finally passed, and we were able to submit more than 3000 letters to the EPA regarding a change to the Renewable Fuels Standard. It makes me delighted that our members and partners have the passion to mobilize in such an effective manner. Only time will tell if our efforts were fruitful. The new rules from the EPA are anticipated this summer.

Unfortunately, corn prices bring me some concern. I’ve read from various agricultural economists the breakeven price is about $4.30 per bushel, which means it may be time to roll up our sleeves and look for additional market opportunities. 
Livestock continue to utilize about 70 million bushels of corn within the commonwealth, making it our primary market. We are interested in finding ways to grow the opportunities for Kentucky livestock producers to increase the amount of corn needed for feed.

The bourbon industry is also growing. We see the possibilities of promoting the benefits of using local corn and investing in infrastructure to improve access to Kentucky-produced grain.

Our ethanol plant continues to utilize 12 million bushels of local corn per year, and success of the industry plays a vital role in corn demand. We want to ensure this market continues to be strong and are excited in anticipation of more Kentucky fuel retailers providing ethanol fuel blends. There are now more than 50 retailers selling E85.

Corn for food processing may also provide room for growth. We have several mills in the state using local corn for baking and snack foods, and we may need to look at additional opportunities for specialty corn crops. A group of corn buyers from Mexico visited Kentucky last summer to see how our crops may fit their needs, and feedback was promising.

Exports may provide the biggest opportunity for development. Once local demand is met, surplus needs to move out of the state for southeastern and overseas markets. Location on major waterways and transportation infrastructure provides our growers increased access to these markets. We have been working to protect and improve waterway infrastructure and will continue to do so. Supporting the efforts of the US Grains Council, the organization that promotes corn and distiller’s grains exports, continues to be a vital investment. 

These are just a few of the areas we are working to provide more opportunity for our corn farmers’ profitability. For more information on all of our market development, research, promotion and education programs, please visit our website at

I am also more than happy to receive feedback and input from our members about the job we are doing, so please be sure to send me a note at

Friday, February 7, 2014

Finding Common Ground - and Corn - Half a World Away

KyCorn Communications Director Jennifer Elwell recently traveled to South Africa with the Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program. KyCorn supports the 25-year old program, currently administered by the University of Kentucky.

Jennifer in a South African corn field.
I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life last month, thanks to Kentucky’s farm community. I traveled with the Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program (KALP) to South Africa, and spent two weeks visiting farms and agribusinesses and learning about their culture and politics.

If for no other reason than having a conversation with our South African tour guide about antibiotic use in American livestock, I believe I am a much stronger leader now than before I became an international traveler.

I had not thought much about the country prior to learning I would be traveling there. I worked to keep an open mind and put away any preconceived notions. With that being said, there were several things that surprised me about South African agriculture:
  • South Africa has incredibly diverse farmland due to climatological and topographic variations. They produce much of their food within the country, which is about twice the size of Texas. About 14 percent of the land is used for crop production, but only 3 percent is high potential arable land.
  • Their commercial agriculture system is much like our own. There are many large farms specializing in a few crops or livestock depending on their resources, and they are under similar regulations with regard to food safety and environmental factors.
  • Land seemed to be utilized more effectively to feed more people. It was not uncommon to see makeshift subsistence gardens along the highways or to see livestock roaming the streets of rural areas. There was a substantial difference in the breeds of cattle used depending on vegetation available.
  • Corn (maize) and other cereal grains are their most important crops. They grow quite a bit of white corn for food. Pap (think of super thick corn grits or polenta) is a staple and available at most every meal. White corn is exported to other African countries, and yellow corn is imported for livestock feed.
  • They make wonderful wine and horrible ketchup (tomato sauce in a bottle).
  • South Africans are very familiar with Kentucky, as there was a KFC in most every town we visited.
  • Many of the farm laborers came from bordering countries. Farm owners said they were willing to work longer and harder for less income.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Kentucky Corn Growers Thank Senate for Farm Bill Passage

The Kentucky Corn Growers Association voiced its gratitude today following the Senate’s 68-32 vote passing the 2014 Farm Bill. KyCorn is especially thankful for Senator Mitch McConnell’s support. The bill now needs the President’s signature for full implementation.

“Looking out over our snow-covered fields, we are relieved to finally have the stability that this 5-year plan provides,” said Russel Schwenke, KyCorn president and farmer from Union, KY. “We are most thankful for stronger crop insurance programs and a market-oriented farm safety net as we think about planning for this year’s crops. As a food buyer, I welcome the added stability this farm bill will have on the food supply. I also appreciate that the Congressional Budget Office announced the net savings of the bill will be $16.6 billion over ten years, making agriculture the only sector contributing to deficit reduction during this Congress.”


KyCorn is a grassroots organization, founded in 1982, dedicated to growing opportunities for Kentucky corn farmers.