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Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off 2013 winners (with placards, left to right): Scott Rob (92.10 pounds), Keevan Dinkel (92.30 pounds) and Brian Shunskis (77.40 pounds). The growers are joined by the cabbage fairies, a group of women who for 15 years have volunteered at the cabbage competition. (Courtesy of Alaska State Fair)

Why Vegetables Get Freakish In The Land Of The Midnight Sun

by Whitney Blair Wyckoff
Aug 20, 2014

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Alaska grower Brittney Kauffman holds two zucchinis she entered in a giant vegetable competition in 2013. "Alaska is just a hotbed for gardening, believe it or not," says Alaska State Fair crops superintendent Kathy Liska. "Everybody thinks that we're always under ice -- no!" Ashleena Roberts holds a reindeer for scale next to a pumpkin in the Alaska State Fair giant pumpkin contest.

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Whitney Blair Wyckoff

Everything in Alaska is a little bit bigger — even the produce. A 138-pound cabbage, 65-pound cantaloupe and 35-pound broccoli are just a few of the monsters that have sprung forth from Alaska's soil in recent years.

At the annual Alaska State Fair, which opens Thursday in Palmer, the public will have the chance to gawk at giants like these as they're weighed for competition.

It's "definitely a freak show," the fair's crop superintendent Kathy Liska, tells The Salt. "Some things [are so big], you can't even recognize what they are."

Several state fairs have giant crop competitions, but Alaska is known for yielding particularly big specimens that wind up setting Guinness World Records.

It's Alaska's summer sun that gives growers an edge, says Steve Brown, an agricultural agent at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who also serves on the fair's board of directors. Basking in as much as 20 hours of sunshine per day, Alaskan crops get a photosynthesis bonus, allowing them to produce more plant material and grow larger. Brassicas like cabbage do especially well, says Brown.

The extra sunlight also makes the produce sweeter. "People often try our carrots here, and they think we've put sugar on them," Brown says.

But many of the biggest ones — the real monsters — aren't flukes; they're a product of careful planning.

Selecting the right seed varieties is just as important as the time spent in the sunlight, says Brown, who teaches a class on growing giants. Top Palmer growers like Scott Robb, who Brown calls a giant vegetables "Einstein," spend years experimenting with different varieties to get a prize winner.

"Let's face it: You're not going to win the Kentucky Derby with a mule or a Shetland pony," says Robb, who holds five current world records for his large vegetables. "If you don't have the right genetic material, you're never going to achieve that ultimate goal."

Indeed, it took him 20 years to break the cabbage record in 2012, when he brought in a 138.25-pounder.

Hopeful giant cultivators start their seeds in January, under grow lights in greenhouses. For months, they transfer their plants into larger and larger pots until May when the ground is finally warm enough for them.

Up until the fair, growers must protect their pedigreed vegetables. Robb said that when he started, he would stay up all night to guard his veggies from hungry moose; eventually he put up an electrified fence to keep them out. Brown also says serious growers may construct elaborate watering and fertilization systems for their produce to ensure they get exactly what they need.

"It really reminds me of Frankenstein's laboratory," Brown says. "If you were to go visit somebody who was growing a giant veggie for this fair, I think the thing that what would impress you is how much science and technology goes into this."

Giants can sprout unexpectedly, too. Such was the case with Roger Boshears, a state fair herbs judge and hobbyist gardener who once took a second-place ribbon for a large tomato he pulled from his garden.

"It's not something that we're aiming for," Boshears says of his fellow amateurs. "It's something that happens."

Not all fruits and vegetables thrive in Alaska. Watermelons and tomatoes, for instance, which love the heat, have a tougher time. But "there are Alaskans that will grow watermelons in greenhouses just to be able to say they did it," Brown says.

As the vegetable hotbed of Alaska, the town of Palmer has its roots in a New Deal-era program to bring Midwestern farming families north to establish an agricultural colony.

The fair held there has two rounds of crop competitions along with separate competitions for pumpkins and, the main attraction, cabbages (on Aug. 29). The winning specimens are donated to the animals at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center when the fair concludes.

Robb says he has high hopes for winning the title for some rutabagas he's been cultivating, but he's worried that fellow Alaskan and friendly rival Steve Hubacek could threaten his perch as the cabbage record-holder.

"I'd hate to lose it right away," Robb says of his record. "Then again, if Steve beats me, boy, my hat's off to him because I know how hard it is."

Whitney Blair Wyckoff is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.

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Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off 2013 winners (with placards, left to right): Scott Rob (92.10 pounds), Keevan Dinkel (92.30 pounds) and Brian Shunskis (77.40 pounds). The growers are joined by the cabbage fairies, a group of women who for 15 years have volunteered at the cabbage competition. (Courtesy of Alaska State Fair)

Beheading Video Sets Off Debate Over How — Or Whether — To Portray It

Aug 20, 2014

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Alaska grower Brittney Kauffman holds two zucchinis she entered in a giant vegetable competition in 2013. "Alaska is just a hotbed for gardening, believe it or not," says Alaska State Fair crops superintendent Kathy Liska. "Everybody thinks that we're always under ice -- no!" Ashleena Roberts holds a reindeer for scale next to a pumpkin in the Alaska State Fair giant pumpkin contest.

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A shocking video that shows an American journalist being beheaded by extremist militants has sparked outrage, along with arguments over whether the images should be restricted online.

On one side of the issue are those who believe the images give publicity to the Islamic State, the Sunni group that killed James Foley, an American who had been held captive since he was kidnapped in 2012. They're using a hashtag, #ISISMediaBlackout, to urge people not to spread the images.

But others come at the question from a range of angles. There are those who see the video as proof of the militants' barbarity, and of the tragedy of Foley's death. Some see the restriction of images as censorship. Others question why the killing of an innocent American should be treated differently from other cases.

Those positions represent an overview of the responses to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo after he sent a message about the beheading video early Wednesday morning that said, "We have been and are actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery. Thank you."

In their replies, some people simply thanked Cosotolo. But others questioned whether he was changing Twitter's rules - and some said the company should suspend the account of the New York Post, which tweeted an image of its cover that shows Foley being attacked.

Those urging people not to watch the video reportedly include Kelly Foley, James' cousin, who posted a message to Twitter that was retweeted more than 1,000 times: "Please honor James Foley and respect my family's privacy. Don't watch the video. Don't share it. That's not how life should be."

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Foley's parents, John and Diane, said they had not watched the video.

"We knew it was Jim," Diane Foley said.

"Twitter allows immediate family members of someone who dies to request image removals, the AP reports, "although the company weighs public interest against privacy concerns."

"A Message to America," the title of the video that sparked the debate, was taken down shortly after it was posted to YouTube Tuesday. But it quickly resurfaced elsewhere online, including on the video sites LiveLeak and Vimeo, and in still images pulled from the footage.

On a link to one version of the video, LiveLeak included a note: "for people looking for the original video released by IS click here at your own risk." And on another, it warned that the video "might contain content that is not suitable for all ages." Users were told to click "Continue" only if they are at least 18 years old.

Responding to a question about its policy, Vimeo said, "we are taking proactive steps to remove the videos showing Mr. Foley's murder, terminate the accounts that uploaded them, and prevent further uploads of exact same videos.

The company says its terms of service ban images of "extreme violence," noting that it relies on the site's users to flag such material. And it said it is "preserving all data associated with these accounts in the event we receive a subpoena from a law enforcement agency, and we encourage law enforcement officials to reach out to our legal department about this matter."

"We are extremely saddened by the news of Mr. Foley's death," a Vimeo spokesperson says. "It is unfortunate that people are attempting to use our service to publish these gruesome materials."

Writing for the BBC, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley says the video is likely meant to publicize the Islamic State as being in a conflict with the U.S. - and to attract new recruits for that struggle:

"The Islamic State is unlikely to sway all that many minds through this video. Notwithstanding its stunning successes in recent months, there is little indication Muslims around the world or even in Iraq want to live in such a repressive society."

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Tom Hiddleston takes the Ice Bucket Challenge. The actor is one of many stars taking part in the campaign to raise money for ALS. (via YouTube)

The Ice Bucket Challenge And Other Good Causes: Do Stars Really Help?

by Roff Smith
Aug 20, 2014

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Justin Bieber may have a bad boy side, but the angelic Bieber launched a campaign to raise money for victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines last year. Here, he visits a Filipino elementary school. And he took the Ice Bucket Challenge -- twice. And urged Beliebers to do the same. Angelina Jolie visits a displaced family at an Afghan Resettlement Camp in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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It's been the social media hit of the summer — some of the world's biggest celebrities dousing themselves with buckets of ice water to raise money for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Just about everybody who is anybody seems to have done the Ice Bucket Challenge, from Bill Gates to Lady Gaga to LeBron James, who's challenged President Obama to step up. The idea is that the challenged individual either has to donate $100 to the cause or be doused with ice water. Good sports do both - then pass on the challenge to someone else.

Between the A-listers and the millions of lesser-known mortals who have joined in, the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised an estimated $15 million to fight the debilitating disease in just a few short weeks.

That's impressive, but it's just a drop in the bucket- so to speak - of the $300 billion or so raised for charities and aid organizations in the U.S. alone each year. And in the fund-raising appeals, celebrities readily lend their names to a raft of causes, from combating cancer to removing land mines.

But how much influence do celebrities really have when it comes to convincing us to support a charity? While celebrity endorsements in the commercial world are clearly seen as good value (why else would companies pay millions), studies on the impact of celebrity spokespeople for charities give conflicting results.

The principles behind celebrity endorsements are much the same, whether you're selling running shoes or compassion, says Julie Ruth, associate professor of marketing at Rutgers University Business School and an expert in brands and consumer behavior.

"People who are less knowledgeable about a product or an issue are more likely to take their cues from a celebrity endorsement," she says. "So if I don't know much about land mines, say, but I see that Angelina Jolie is involved that might draw my attention. If I think Angelina Jolie is good, cares, spends time and effort in finding out what's important, or if I just plain like her, then I might rely on that in judging whether the charity is worthy of my consideration."

On the other hand, a study released last week by British academics appears to throw cold water on the idea that celebrity endorsements make much difference when it comes promoting causes and raising funds.

Household names don't seem to register with the public in the field of charity and distant suffering. In two surveys, each involving over 1,000 people, Professor Dan Brockington of the University of Manchester and his coauthor displayed a list of seven internationally known charities and aid organizations and asked respondents if they could link any celebrity to the groups. Two-thirds of those surveyed could not.

"Our survey found that while awareness of major NGOs [non-governmental organization] brands was high, awareness of celebrity advocates for those brands was low," they wrote in an article published online in the International Journal of Cultural Studies. "Instead it was plain from the focus groups that most people supported the charities that they supported because of personal connections in their lives and families which made these causes important, not because of the celebrities." [

Another study, by Professor Martin Scott of the University of East Anglia, which was published in the same journal, found that among a focus group of 108 people who had been asked to keep diaries about their thoughts on poorer countries, only six percent of their entries mentioned celebrity humanitarianism. Nearly all of those mentions were in the context of an upcoming national charity telethon that had been given wide publicity during the period of the study.

"Overall the results of this research suggests that celebrities are generally ineffective in cultivating a cosmopolitan engagement with distant suffering," he wrote. Indeed, the British researchers found that it was the celebrities themselves that tended to benefit most from the exposure, in terms of improved public perception and positive images, regardless of their own in doing the charitable work.

A Rutgers School of Business study published last year, however, suggests it might just be the British research that's all wet - or at least bit damp.

Recall tests may not be the best way to gauge the effectiveness of celebrity involvement with a charity, says Ruth, who coauthored the study with associate professor of accounting Erica Harris, also of Rutgers School of Business. "People oftentimes cannot recall ads or they cannot connect an ad with the brand. Marketing communications can still have an impact even if people cannot recall certain elements of them. Honestly, I think I would have been surprised if surveyed respondents would have been able to link specific celebrities with charities."

The Rutgers study, which relied on statistical analysis of the fund-raising campaigns of 500 charities and aid organizations, found a definite, quantifiable and statistically significant upward blip in the efforts of charities who used celebrity endorsements as opposed to those that did not.

Those with celebrity spokespeople enjoyed an average 1.4 percent improvement in donations over those without celebrity affiliation, and were also able to reduce their overheads and promotional costs by 1.9 percent thanks to the free publicity generated by linking a famous name with the cause.

Although the quantifiable boost in donations was smaller than the researchers had expected, it was nevertheless significant, representing an average of $100,000.

Less readily quantifiable, but still important, is the enhanced public perception a celebrity can give a charity. "A brand that is able to break through the clutter of marketing messages by being associated with a well-known, attractive expert endorser is typically perceived to be more credible and more likable," says Ruth. "Both of those aspects — credibility and likeability — add value to a brand.

The fame that a celebrity brings to the table allows organizations to cut promotional costs and dedicate more of their resources to their core activity something that in turn has a positive impact on public perception and their willingness to donate.

Intriguingly, the Rutgers study showed that the presence of A-list celebrities in a campaign as opposed to regular run-of-the-mill celebrities made little difference in attracting donations. Using an A-lister pushed the 1.4 percent average donation boost to 1.5 percent, suggesting that charities can get more bang-for-the-buck with lesser known stars.

As for the charities themselves, they seem quite happy to continue using celebrities and quite content with their success rates. "Celebrities have a unique ability to reach millions of people, many of whom may not normally be engaged on the suffering of the world's children," Jane Cooper, UNICEF's director of communications in the UK, said in a statement released by the charity.

"Following Tom Hiddleston's engagement with UNICEF UK, for example, a group of his fans calling themselves 'Hiddlestoners Have Heart' spontaneously set up their own online donation page and raised more than 30,000 for our work."

As for the Ice Bucket Challenge, the ALS Association has reportedly seen donations surge by more than 750 percent compared to the same three weeks in 2013. Celebrities surely deserve some of the credit.

And the challenge has been good for the celebrities too. "Just when we thought it wasn't possible to love Tom Hiddleston any more than we already do," wrote a journalist in London's Metro newspaper, "he's gone and surpassed himself with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge."

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Starting Thursday, FXX will air all 552 episodes of The Simpsons in the longest single-series marathon in TV history. (AP)

Prepare For 'The Simpsons' Marathon With Interviews From The 'Fresh Air' Archives

Aug 20, 2014 (Fresh Air)

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Homer and Marge congratulate Moe on the return of Bar Rag (guest voice Jeremy Irons) in the "Moe Goes from Rags to Riches" episode of The Simpsons. Actor Julie Kavner plays the voice of Marge. The Simpsons family in the Itchy and Scratchy Land episode in 1994. The Simpsons creator and cartoonist Matt Groening stands with Bart and Homer Simpson when they were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012. Actor Nancy Cartwright plays the voice of Bart Simpson.

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If you've ever been a fan of The Simpsons, here's your chance to see all 552 episodes of the show in the longest single-series marathon in TV history. They'll be shown back to back, in sequential order over 12 days and nights on the FXX cable network beginning Thursday.

The Simpsons holds the record as the longest-running scripted entertainment series in TV history. In 1987, cartoonist Matt Groening's yellow-skinned Simpsons family — father Homer, mother Marge and the kids, brainy Lisa, bratty Bart and baby Maggie — began on TV as interstitial segments on Fox's The Tracey Ullman Show. The Simpsons got their own Christmas special in 1989, and their own prime-time series a month later, to kick off 1990 in very sassy style.

But in the beginning, the writers had a hard time finding a groove to perfect that style, Groening told Fresh Air's Terry Gross in a 1989 interview.

"It's been a real struggle to keep a certain roughness and abruptness and jerkiness," Groening said. "Working on this show, our animators ... all bring their own attitude and aesthetic philosophy to the project, and it's been a real struggle to make sure that everybody gets in line and has the same vision, at least looking in the same direction."

The Simpsons sparked a renaissance in TV animation that led to South Park and Family Guy. One writer, Conan O'Brien, found fame as a talk-show host. Celebrities providing guest voices on The Simpsons included most major movie stars — and Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Its Treehouse of Horror Halloween specials have become one of TV's most inventive annual traditions.

And along the way, year after year, The Simpsons has served up occasional flashes of comic genius, according to TV critic David Bianculli. There was the Season 4 episode that presents a Springfield community-theater musical production of A Streetcar Named Desire — and the Season 2 episode that has Marge Simpson, voiced by Julie Kavner, so upset about the violence in the Itchy & Scratchy cat-and-mouse TV cartoons her kids watch that she goes on TV herself, on a Nightline-type talk show, in protest.

So why would people be interested in the marathon?

"There's something about the sense of watching at the same time as other people that makes it special," says Bianculli. "That certainly goes for a marathon — and that's why I predict this 25-season Simpsons marathon will indeed steer people towards FXX. It's a great show, a great idea and a TV viewing event of unprecedented scale."

Since The Simpsons began, Fresh Air's Terry Gross has interviewed many people who have had a hand in creating the show — from Matt Groening in 1989 and 2003 to two of the writers, Al Jean and Mike Reiss, in 1992. Gross also talked with actors who do the voices, including Nancy Cartwright, who plays Bart, in 2007; Julie Kavner, the voice of Marge in 1994; Hank Azaria, the voice of Moe, Apu, Chief Wiggum and others in 2004.

We listen back to these interviews in Fresh Air's appreciation of The Simpsons.


Interview Highlights

Creator and cartoonist Matt Groening, interviewed in 2003

On how the vision has changed over the years and on taking risks

The problem with doing a sitcom, which has lasted more than 300 episodes, is you're trying not to repeat yourself, you're trying to surprise the audience, and you're trying to keep everybody who works on the show surprised. As a result, the show has gone off in some very peculiar directions. Sometimes, I was alarmed, "We can't do this!" And then it turns out to be OK.

One of the great things we did last year is we parodied the Fox News Channel and we did the crawl along the bottom of the screen. And Fox fought against it and said that they would sue the show, and we called their bluff because we didn't think Rupert Murdoch would pay for Fox to sue itself. So we got away with it, but now Fox has a new rule that we can't do those little fake news crawls at the bottom of the screen, in a cartoon, because it "might confuse the viewers into thinking that it's real news."

On getting into trouble with the Fox network

At the beginning, virtually anything we did would get somebody upset, and now it seems like the people who are eager to be offended — and this country is full of people who are eager to be offended — they've given up on our show. We got into trouble a few years ago for — Homer is watching an anti-drinking commercial and it said, "Warning! Beer causes rectal cancer." And Homer responds by saying, "Mmm beer." Fox didn't want us to do that because beer advertisers are a big part of the Fox empire, and it turns out the writer was able to track down the actual fact where some studies show that indeed it does — or did or has a tendency to [cause cancer] — so we were able to keep it in.

On Homer's religious neighbor, Ned Flanders

Originally Ned Flanders was just the wacky neighbor who was supposed to be just a complete annoyance to Homer for no good reason. And then we realized that he was an object of mirth with his strong religious feelings. We thought, "How do we create a religious character who is not the usual stereotype?" And we made him a truly good guy, and his beliefs are sometimes a little annoying but he's not a hypocrite, he's real. We get lots of fan mail for him, and we get lots of photos of people who look exactly like Ned Flanders.


Show-runners Al Jean and Mike Reiss, interviewed in 1992

On the production process

Al Jean: The first thing we do is write the script and then record the audio track with the cast.

Mike Reiss: We record it like a radio show. It takes about eight hours and we cut it down to about 19 minutes of audio track, and then that's sent to the animators, who expand it to about 24 minutes.

Jean: We have a team of about six guys who are terrific. They direct the way a movie director directs a feature. They take the script and they pretty much stage the whole thing, design the characters, and then we see a real rough version in black and white called an "animatic." We do some rewrites there, and then we send the whole thing to Korea — and that's where the actual color animation is done, and it comes back about three months later.

Reiss: It's sort of a good thing, which is we throw in some topical allusions, but I think [the show] will be a little timeless because we can't ride every current thing and get a quick laugh about something that's in the news right now.


Actors

Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson and others), interviewed in 2007

On doing multiple voices in one conversation

There was one show ... there was a scene where it was Bart, Nelson, Ralph and Kearney, I believe, and the scene was like three pages long and I was just talking to myself the entire time. I remember doing it at the table read. I was so nervous to do it — [there were] like 100 people in the room, [and I was] just praying that I wouldn't get confused who I was. And I finished my run and I was sweating and ... out of breath, there's no time to even breathe, practically, that is such a challenge.

On children learning she is the voice behind Bart

Parents will come up to me — and I know they really want to hear me do the voice — but there's a 3-year-old clutching onto mama's skirt, and they're saying, "Could you do it for Sally?" And I'm thinking ... [the kid] looks scared to death. If I was to lean down and said, "Hi! I'm Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?" — you think that kid is going to like it? Kids look at me like I'm an alien or they get upset. I just say, "I'll do it for you, but I'm not going to do it for your child." I just think that that's wrong. ...

It's too big of a concept. ... They might watch The Simpsons, but a child, I really don't think [the parents] are watching through a child's eyes. [Kids] enjoy the colors and they like the different expressions and emotions that they see, whereas a teenager will pull something totally different out of that. They will start to recognize references — and, of course, adults, we can get the satire. ... There's a whole cross-generational span of The Simpsons that entertains those audiences. But a kid? I don't know, man. I don't know how old I was before I realized that those sounds came from actors. ... I use some discretion on who I just throw that voice to.

Julie Kavner (Marge Simpson), interviewed in 1994

On having a naturally husky voice

I was born this way. I came out of my mom and said, "Hello Rose. Hello Dave." They used to send me home. They always used to think I had laryngitis. ... [I'm from Los Angeles and] my parents are from New York, and they taught me how to speak English so that's why I sound like this, as opposed to something lovely.

Hank Azaria (Moe, Apu, Chief Wiggum and others), interviewed in 2004

On singing in character

It's much easier for me to sing in character; it's much more difficult for me to sing in my own voice. It's much easier for me to sing as Wiggum or Apu or even as Moe. I think I'm just more comfortable with the mask, the vocal mask. ... I'm not embarrassed to do that, but I'd be embarrassed to do the same thing in my own singing voice — it's weird.

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Starting Thursday, FXX will air all 552 episodes of The Simpsons in the longest single-series marathon in TV history. (AP)

Bumper U.S. Corn Yield Could Top Records

Aug 20, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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Homer and Marge congratulate Moe on the return of Bar Rag (guest voice Jeremy Irons) in the "Moe Goes from Rags to Riches" episode of The Simpsons. Actor Julie Kavner plays the voice of Marge. The Simpsons family in the Itchy and Scratchy Land episode in 1994. The Simpsons creator and cartoonist Matt Groening stands with Bart and Homer Simpson when they were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012. Actor Nancy Cartwright plays the voice of Bart Simpson.

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Early rains, cooler temperatures and hardier seeds have led to projections of a record harvest of corn this year. Most of that corn is used for livestock feed and ethanol.

Because of the predicted glut, corn prices have dropped by 13 percent this year.

Bryce Knorr of Farm Futures magazine tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that consumers can expect to see prices drop at the gas pump, but not at the grocery store.

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