Tuesday, December 28, 2010

February and the start of the NASCAR season are just around the corner. This occasion has taken on an important place in the life of one of my co-workers in recent years.

She was never a big NASCAR fan, but after she married a diehard follower of the sport several years ago, she had to make some life changes. To deal with this potential source of marital strife, she called one of her friends in a similar situation to determine the best way to acclimate to her new life of NASCAR. That is when she learned the secret of the NASCAR nap.

Apparently, most of the drama, excitement and spectacle of NASCAR can be enjoyed in the first half hour and the final hour of the event. Hence, devoted wives of NASCAR fans can take a roughly two-hour Sunday afternoon nap during the middle of the race and still be able to hold competent discussions with their husbands about the event.

The secret of the NASCAR nap has transformed my co-worker from someone who would dread watching races into a fan who actually cannot wait for the beginning of the season, which kicks off right when a winter Sunday nap is particularly appealing. And, working in the agricultural industry, she also has a keen interest in NASCAR’s increased ethanol use in 2011. The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the nation’s renewable fuel industry and NASCAR have partnered after the popular racing organization agreed it would fuel all races with E15, a 15% corn ethanol blend, starting with the 2011 season.

“The productivity of America’s farmers is unrivaled in the world and our ability to supply corn for food, livestock feed and fuel should be a source of national pride. This exciting new association with the NASCAR Nation will help to build that awareness,” said Bart Schott, NCGA president. “With precision farming, innovation, technology and hard work farmers can double our harvest in the years ahead. NASCAR is a high-profile way to showcase one great use for this abundance.”

As part of the multi-year agreement, American Ethanol, a family of related companies developing community-based renewable energy and fuel production facilities, will be highlighted on every vehicle running in a NASCAR race and be prominent on NASCAR’s Green Flag. In addition, American Ethanol will sponsor a new award for every race, be featured in on-site race day events and more. American Ethanol will support drivers, teams and tracks with marketing, promotional activities and advertising.

“NASCAR and American Ethanol are ideal partners,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. “NASCAR is a great American sport in its third generation of family ownership, and ethanol is produced from the harvest of family-owned farms across our country’s heartland.

“American Ethanol’s new partnership with NASCAR is much larger and more ambitious than a typical sports sponsorship. Here we have an entire industry looking to NASCAR to communicate its message that America is capable of producing its own renewable, greener fuel. The entire NASCAR industry will benefit from American Ethanol’s multi-faceted support of NASCAR, as well as from thousands of farmers and members of the ethanol supply chain now serving as new ambassadors for the sport.”

Led by Growth Energy, nearly 100 different entities — from individual ethanol plants to NCGA to biotech companies — are rallying around NASCAR to communicate their ethanol message.

“E15 is an enormous opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create U.S. jobs, and strengthen national energy security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. “There is nothing more American than NASCAR, and there is no fuel more American than ethanol. We are so proud that the bounty of American farming will be used in NASCAR racing.”

The use of ethanol will bring about a number of other subtle changes and improvements to the sport in 2011. So whether you are a diehard viewer of every moment of action, or someone more interested in the NASCAR nap, fans will have something new and exciting to look forward to this season.

For more information on NASCAR ethanol use, visit www.americanethanolracing.com.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Any time we are in a restaurant, my three-year-old daughter starts looking for those gumball/candy/trinket machines that you put a quarter into. If she behaves, a stop at one of those machines is often the reward.

Before putting the quarter in, she has her favorite item picked out – the red gum ball, the sparkly ring or the purple candy. I inform her that she cannot choose what she will get, but everything in there is good. Sometimes this works, and sometimes she is less than pleased about getting the orange gumball instead of the red.

For many years, the grocery store meat counter was much the same way. You pay your money and, while everything was pretty good, you did not really know what you were getting. Sometimes you got the red gumball. Sometimes you got the orange.

In more recent years, though, consumers started demanding more and the meat industry has responded with a myriad of labels to provide information about the product. But, some labels are vague and offer the consumer little information. For example, the term “natural” can mean just about anything, depending on how it is used.

“USDA’s definition of ‘natural’ means minimal processing and no fillers like pumping with water solution. It basically means that nothing was added,” said Sam Roberts, assistant vice president of corporate marketing for United Producers, Inc., a farmer-owned livestock cooperative. “You can walk into a grocery and see something that is all natural, but all that it means is that it did not have water added to it and that is was minimally processed. That is an ambiguous claim. You have to pick up the label and read it to really know what you are getting.”

There are more definitive food labels out there, however, for those willing to look. The key to understanding labels is doing your homework to determine what the label stands for and how it is enforced. At United Producers, Inc., Roberts works closely with the Ohio Signature Beef program.

“Our definition for the Signature Beef program means no hormones and no antibiotics all the way through the animal’s life. There have been different all-natural programs out there, but everyone has pretty much gravitated to the ‘never-ever’ program, where the animals have never been treated with antibiotics or hormones or implants. The cattle must also be in Ohio for more than half of their life,” Roberts said. “It is policed with a paper affidavit trail. The livestock producer must sign off that they do meet these criteria. I think we will see more companies get third-party verification on these kinds of programs to make sure people are doing what they say they are doing. That way you get an outside party putting their stamp of approval on these products.”

In the case of Ohio Signature Beef, the USDA does the third-party verification. A federal grader examines the affidavit form to make sure it is filled out with all of the necessary information and establishes the quality and yield grade of the carcass. In addition, the kidney is taken from some of the beef carcasses and sent to the Ohio Department of Agriculture where it is tested for any residues to assure consumers the beef is free of antibiotics.

With the detailed documentation, retail outlets (including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) have the ability to share information with consumers about the farm from which the beef originated. The popular program also has a Web site that provides extensive details about the standards and how they are enforced.

While they provide consumers with the information they want, the stringent standards and documentation of the entire process from the birth of the animal to the retail sale add costs.

“The products do cost in the neighborhood of 10 percent to 20 percent more than conventional products, but it costs 10 percent or 20 percent more to produce,” Roberts said.

Thanks to the hard work of farmers, dedication to strict standards and the system to document the process, consumers now really can get exactly want they want if they are willing to pay a little extra and do some research. Those who want lower cost food for less effort have their option at the grocery as well. After all, some people think a gumball is a gumball while others prefer a red gumball and now, they can get it. Just don’t tell my daughter.

For more about Ohio Signature Beef, visit http://ohiosignaturebeef.com/.