Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You must be this light to ride this attraction...

The admonitions and repercussions of overweight Americans are continuing their rise in frequency and volume. A recent cancer study finds weight and red meat consumption particularly unhelpful when not controlled.
"Part of the purpose of the report was to show that prevention of cancer by means of food, nutrition, and associated factors is as feasible and crucial as prevention of coronary heart disease," the researchers wrote. "The evidence that high body fatness and also physical inactivity are causes of a number of cancers, including common cancers, is particularly strong."

Hundreds of specialists evaluated more than 7,000 studies over five years to compile the report. Panelists found "convincing evidence" that carrying extra weight, particularly around the waist, may lead to cancer of the esophagus, pancreas, colon, kidney, and uterus, as well as postmenopausal breast cancer. [More]

This hardly news, however. But real-life consequences are getting to be hard to ignore as well.
The problem, quite simply, is that the flume that the boats ride in, and the boats themselves, were designed and built in 1963 on the assumption that the male adult riders would average 175 pounds and the women about 135, which they pretty much did at the time. Alas, those figures are as outdated today as the Rocket to the Moon ride.

The Small World ride now must accommodate adults who frequently weigh north of 200 pounds, which it often cannot do. Increasingly, overweighted boats get to certain points in the ride and bottom out, becoming stuck in the flume.

The ride monitors attempt to leave empty seats on many boats to compensate for the hefty, but this routinely antagonizes the hundreds of paying customers waiting in line. When a boat does bottom out, a long line of other boats backs up behind it, their passengers slowly going mad from listening to the ride’s theme song. [More]
So. Now you're uneasy about your weight and diet...and you'll have that dang song in your head all day.
Give it up for the moon, folks...

We've discussed what the Earth would be like without us. How about without the moon?

The Moon has been a stabilizing factor for the axis of rotation of the Earth. If you look at Mars, for instance, that planet has wobbled quite dramatically on its axis over time due to the gravitational influence of all the other planets in the solar system. Because of this obliquity change, the ice that is now at the poles on Mars would sometimes drift to the equator. But the Earth’s moon has helped stabilize our planet so that its axis of rotation stays in the same direction. For this reason, we had much less climatic change than if the Earth had been alone. And this has changed the way life evolved on Earth, allowing for the emergence of more complex multi-cellular organisms compared to a planet where drastic climatic change would allow only small, robust organisms to survive.

The Moon has influenced biology in other ways as well. For species living near the coast, the tide is an important factor. When you look at the shorelines, you can recognize different layers of organisms that have adapted to the salt water conditions based on the ebb and flow of the tide. [More]
It strikes me as incredible that we are approaching the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, and interest in being there is still meager. Perhaps the Chinese will pick up the lead, whilst we devote our energies to better garege door openers.

[via BoingBoing]
I hope our grandchildren make a lot of money...

They are going to need to to pay the bills we are forwarding to them. Now that both political parties are officially the on record of spending whatever it takes to stay in power, the only real question is when the credit card will be rejected. Consider the 2008 Democrat budget:
From 2001 through 2007, the Republican White House and Congress increased inflation-adjusted discretionary spending by 41 percent. This 5.8 per­cent annual growth dwarfed the 0.3 percent annual growth under President Bill Clinton. To be fair, Pres­ident Clinton's near-freeze was accomplished by slashing inflation-adjusted defense spending by 11 percent after the Cold War, while the war on terror­ism drove President Bush to increase defense spend­ing by 58 percent. However, even non-defense discretionary spending has expanded nearly twice as fast under President Bush as under President Clinton, as exemplified by steep discretionary hikes in education (37 percent), health (37 percent), and international affairs (45 percent).[21]

While Democrats criticized this runaway spend­ing and the budget deficits that followed, they have used their majority to increase discretionary spend­ing even faster. The spending spree began earlier this year when Members of Congress effectively told President Bush that they would not pass legis­lation to fund the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan until he agreed to an additional $17 billion in mostly unrelated domestic spending. After months of delay, President Bush eventually agreed to their demands in order to secure the needed funds for the troops. [More]
Still, in fairness I must admit our economy seems to be capable of carrying an enormous debt service obligation. Until interest rates spiral upward to attract money to finance our debt, this government trend will likely continue. As we throw resources at military and domestic spending, we will find out where that line is.
Stick with it for the last two minutes...

I'm a big Colbert Report fan, and this interview with Craig Venter show why. Notice the comment about bacteria that can generate "gasoline from sugars".

As the bugs get better and better, the yield for bioenergy rises, and many of my criticisms of efficiencies become less valid. This whole science arena is made possible by high energy consumption and expensive energy supplies. While we are concentrating on supplying the feedstock, guys like Venter will make gazillions creating the life-forms that transform those calories into fuel.

Capitalism is a beautiful thing, man.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

When Halloween goes very, very wrong...

It is hard to describe how the California Raisins looked to me then. Their jagged movements and strange eyes gave them an anesthetized quality, like hepcats that had just woken up from getting their wisdom teeth pulled. Those big, weird white gloves à la Mickey Mouse, but way cooler and—more importantly—way more adult. Unflappable, purple, saxophone-playing, rhythm and blues raisins.

“Mom, I must be a California Raisin for Halloween this year!”

It took little persuading to get her to phone my grandmother, a seamstress of the proper caliber for the undertaking. Grandma happily agreed to begin work on my visual opus and would make everything from scratch, just as she’d done in previous years for costumes such as mummy, army man, and mummy army man. While these had been merely generic ideas, the California Raisin costume would stand alone, I knew—a sloppy but brilliant confection of edginess, innovation, and haunting subliminal imagery. The Best Costume ribbon was as good as mine, and I’d probably steal the parade as well.
[More of a must-read]

So, what are you going to be this year?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Just like the coach drew it up...

One more reason why we have a Div III.
Some of you lucky guys...

Have had tons of rain.

[via ScienceBlogs]
We've located the problem(s)...

It's those dang Boomers.
So just give us all the money in the federal, state, and local budget. Forget spending on the military, education, and infrastructure. What with Iraq, falling SAT scores, and that bridge collapse in Minneapolis, it's not like the military, education, and infrastructure are doing very well anyway. Besides, you don't have a choice. We are 80 million strong. That's a number equal to almost two-thirds of the registered voters in the United States. Do what we say or we will ballot you into a socio-economic condition that will make North Korea look like the clubhouse at Pebble Beach.

And that's the good news. Beggaring government is the least of the damage that we baby boomers intend to inflict over the next 30 or 40 years. What we're really up to is something more diabolical. Our generation is going to do what our generation has always done best. We're going to shape the American social fabric to our will and make the entire nation conform to our ideals, judgments, and tastes. It will be like the Clinton administration but much, much worse. (An interesting little irony since in '08 we're probably going to get a Clinton administration that's much, much worse.)

We're going to make all of you old like we are--old and dumpy and querulous and fuddled. We're achieving it already. Look at the hip young men walking around in their high-water pants, wearing stupid bowling shirts buttoned up to the collar. A bunch of 28-year-olds are going to Starbucks dressed as their grandpas. And what about teenage droopy drawers? That's gramps's other fashion-forward look, perfect for a weekend of crab grass killing and mulching the hydrangeas. Great big cushy, ugly sneakers--be they ever so expensive or young-athlete-endorsed--are nothing but the dread "comfortable shoes" that have been worn by the geriatric for eons.

We have rendered mere school children as dependent upon Ritalin as we are upon Lipitor and Levitra. And watch those kids go out and play. They can't so much as hop on a bike without being swathed in helmets, knee pads, shin guards, and elbow cushions. It's like seeing John Kerry skateboard. Then there's the Segway, which is nothing but a device to make an able-bodied person in the prime of life look as pathetic as if he were in a walker. [More]

And their kids.
Now, you may think he's merely a curmudgeon, a tired old teacher who stopped caring long ago. Not true. Teaching is his life. He says he loves his students, loves education and learning and watching young minds awaken. Problem is, he is seeing much less of it. It's a bit like the melting of the polar ice caps. Sure, there's been alarmist data about it for years, but until you see it for yourself, the deep visceral dread doesn't really hit home.

He cites studies, reports, hard data, from the appalling effects of television on child brain development (i.e.; any TV exposure before 6 years old and your kid's basic cognitive wiring and spatial perceptions are pretty much scrambled for life), to the fact that, because of all the insidious mandatory testing teachers are now forced to incorporate into the curriculum, of the 182 school days in a year, there are 110 when such testing is going on somewhere at Oakland High. As one of his colleagues put it, "It's like weighing a calf twice a day, but never feeding it."

But most of all, he simply observes his students, year to year, noting all the obvious evidence of teens' decreasing abilities when confronted with even the most basic intellectual tasks, from understanding simple history to working through moderately complex ideas to even (in a couple recent examples that particularly distressed him) being able to define the words "agriculture," or even "democracy." Not a single student could do it. [More]

John's World: All harrumphing - all the time.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Comment spam and word verification...

Due to comment spam (see sidebar), I have turned on word verification. Sorry about the extra step, but it helps defeat automated spammers.
The movable blog...

Rained us out yesterday, so I've had time to noodle with my blog - including my very first hack: the Recent Comments section. [Just in time for spammers to load up the comments - dang!] Oh sure, I borrowed the code and instructions from a very helpful Blogger website - but I cutted-and-pasted all by myself.

So here I am blogging away to myself, because I'm not not sure how John's World and the new AgWeb will mesh yet. Still, there is no small thrill of accomplishment to build your own blog and then tweak it compulsively.

The graphics did not transfer from old posts, and the format was jumbled, I know. This stuff happens. We'll keep cranking away.
Tell us how you really feel...

Consider this op-ed piece about farmers:
Yet we are asked to venerate this prehensile moron as the Ur-burgher, the citizen par excellence, the foundation-stone of the state! And why? Because he produces something that all of us must have–that we must get somehow on penalty of death. And how do we get it from him? By submitting helplessly to his unconscionable blackmailing by paying him, not under any rule of reason, but in proportion to his roguery and incompetence, and hence to the direness of our need. I doubt that the human race, as a whole, would submit to that sort of high-jacking, year in and year out, from any other necessary class of men. But the farmers carry it on incessantly, without challenge or reprisal, and the only thing that keeps them from reducing us, at intervals, to actual famine is their own imbecile knavery. They are all willing and eager to pillage us by starving us, but they can’t do it because they can’t resist attempts to swindle each other. Recall, for example, the case of the cottongrowers in the South. Back in the 1920’s they agreed among themselves to cut down the cotton acreage in order to inflate the price–and instantly every party to the agreement began planting more cotton in order to profit by the abstinence of his neighbors. That abstinence being wholly imaginary, the price of cotton fell instead of going up –and then the entire pack of scoundrels began demanding assistance from the national treasury–in brief, began demanding that the rest of us indemnify them for the failure of their plot to blackmail us. [More]

Now consider it was written in 1924. Makes current opinion writers look almost cuddly.

By H. L. Mencken - the archetype for curmudgeonly writers. Example quote: "Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another."

More cheerful stuff from Mencken.

[via HitandRun]

Friday, October 26, 2007

So I loaned my car to my brother-in-law...

Tasting, tasting, 1, 2, 3, 4...

[It's an old Smothers Brothers gag.] Just seeing if I can post yet.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Somebody hold me...

AgWeb is undergoing a regeneration (a la Dr. Who). I won't be able to post much after this until Monday (I think).

What I can do is have a whole bunch of posts stacked up ready to publish as soon as the system is once again breathing on its own. These event are always tricky, so I'm going to concentrate mental focus on those wacky coders whose talented fingers now control our destiny.
You thought the election campaign was long...

It has occurred to me as I was unloading corn (lots of free brain time there) that while we are all buzzing about the Average Crop Revenue option, it won't kick in until 2010. Some thoughts:
  • I could be dead by then.
  • Given the fact I struggled to follow the examples published recently, I anticipate a major, major education problem for FSA offices. Good thing they won't be closing many soon, huh?
  • As some have noted, the idea of an option is a guarantee for serious laments after the choice is made. Wanna bet there is a heads-you,win-tails-you-win amendment in 2011?
  • The act should be called the Farm Economist, Extension Meeting, Farm Media, and Crop Insurance Full Employment Act. [Arguably, that beats "The Heartland, Habitat, Harvest and Horticulture Act of 2007"] Try to imagine how many magazine pages of explanations, downloadable spreadsheets, websites, extension meetings, PowerPoint paralysis, letters to editors, advisory services, and outright scams that will latch onto this complex scheme by 2010. You will be so sick of reading about ACR, you'll skip over those articles for the ads.
  • We can't predict ag conditions next summer, so who knows what will be going on in 2009 as we first make this choice? The possibility for legislator's regret could be significant.
  • Regardless, by 2009 this optional program will be sooo gamed out by everyone - not just early reactors such as what happened with the "Dakota shuffle". Ah - those were the days...
Most salient of all, the concept has to survive the floor vote, conference and even Pres. Bush's signature. With Mr. Johanns replaced, the administration position on developments has been unclear at best.

Still, if ACR is the future, my attention span has been challenged already.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Like, totally awesome Christmas music, dudes...

This year has introduced some of the best Christmas choir music I have heard in years. My favorites:
  • Here Comes the Light by Joseph Graham ( 10029872) *
  • Fear Not Good News by Robert Sterling ( 10033742)
  • And the Stars Sang by Joseph Martin ( 10029840) *
Find them all here.

* Audio download available for listening.
This would explain the subsidy difference, I suppose...

If you thought farming arose because it offered more food than hunting and gathering, maybe you should think again.
People turned to farming to grow fiber for clothing, and not to provide food, says one researcher who challenges conventional ideas about the origins of agriculture.

Ian Gilligan, a postgraduate researcher from the Australian National University, says his theory also explains why Aboriginal Australians were not generally farmers.

Gilligan says they did not need fiber for clothing, so had no reason to grow crops like cotton. [More]

I dunno - as I study early farming the first indicators are related to domesticated food crops like emmer wheat, not cotton. Still his argument seems passable at least in Australia.

Overall, I would suggest this is going to be a tough dissertation to defend.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hitting the wall...

Every year as harvest winds down, I seem to lose my drive for a few days. I've always called it "hitting the wall" for lack of a better term. Since I habitually contrive to cram more into my days than I probably should, I have come to appreciate and honor this letdown.

So much so that anything that reminds me of autumn whispers rest and respite.

Like this:


The only problem is Jan has her own transition - from farming to cooking. So I'm working less (physically) and eating more.

Not a pretty picture.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mortgage is not a four-letter word...

After struggling to settle four estates, and living to tell the story, I could curl your hair with exasperating tales of our legal property system. For farmland, getting descriptions and easements and liens and yadda yadda just so to suit lawyers can drive a man to drink. Or at least encourage him to have another.

But without this administrative headache we would be just like, well, Chinese farmers.
A critical determinant of China's long-term economic growth and social stability will be whether the wealth of its economic boom can reach the majority of its 700 million farmers, who make up approximately 56 percent of the total population. The benefits that the rural population has received from the economic reforms of the past two and a half decades, while significant, were largely achieved in the 1980s, and now the countryside lags badly behind the urban sector. A survey we conducted in 17 provinces, among 1,962 farmers and other respondents, confirms one fundamental cause of the widening rural-urban income gap: most Chinese farmers still lack secure and marketable land rights that would allow them to make long-term investments in land, decisively improve productivity, and accumulate wealth.

Farmers in China face multiple threats to their land rights from local government and village officials. The most prominent threat is land expropriation or acquisition through eminent domain to satisfy demands of industrial growth or urban expansion. Despite a series of central laws and policies, in practice, farmers who lose their land typically receive little or no compensation. Closely related as another source of insecurity of land rights is the persistent "readjustment" or "reallocation" of farmers' landholdings that is administratively conducted by village officials. Today, such land-related problems are the number one cause for rural grievances and unrest in China, which reported 17,900 cases of "massive rural incidents" of farmers' protests in the first nine months of 2006.

China adopted a Property Law in March 2007 that aims to strengthen the security of farmers' land rights, and the next key step will be full implementation of the law. We calculate that securing rural land rights would bring more than half a trillion dollars of value to farmers. Implementing the property law requires major institutional and legal measures on several fronts that China must tackle in the immediate future. [More]
As Hernando de Soto compellingly argued in The Mystery of Capital, being able to prove you own something may be the single most powerful economic tool. It's also one of the easiest to take for granted.

One of the keys to the success of world agriculture is extending this power to all farmers. Nothing would guarantee the food supply for the world more rapidly than this basic freedom.
I'm sorry...

Apologies are all the vogue these days. Mostly they use the word "regret" a lot and phrase things in passive voice: "Mistakes were made...".
I wish I had that much cover.

Every now and then I re-read some article from my archives and find myself perusing unfamiliar words. After a decade or so this is understandable, but four days?

I just read over my post about Dean Kleckner's NYT op-ed article. I could see that a reader could construe it as an ad hominem attack.

That's because it is.

My words were inexcusable. My judgment was incomprehensible, and my choice of words lamentable. Worse yet, they were illogical - calling on presumption and prejudice for baseless accusations. As with most knee-jerk responses it revealed more jerk than knee.

Regardless of our differences, Dean deserves fairness.
I apologize to Dean and to you, my readers.

I have deleted the post - which raises some interesting questions in and of itself.
We're just beginning to understand how this new medium works, and as more of us stray over the lines of civility, perhaps we will begin to accept some standard practices of commentary to guide our instantaneous outbursts.

As for regret, I have reached an age where I sadly acknowledge the lasting power it has in our lives.

I smell another boondoggle...

Those crafty guys in the Ag Committees of Congress are about to do it again. They are going to raid the Treasury in broad daylight (albeit in the fog of farm legislation - to torture the metaphor). Jim Weisemeyer outlines the increasingly questionable cost assumptions behind the Senate Farm Bill.

One tiny little slice of his analysis:
How will the apparent inclusion of an ever-ready ag disaster program impact a producer's attitude toward buying up crop insurance?

What if.. If as I suspect that the CBO assumes in their analysis that x-percent of producers would buy up insurance to a higher level, the savings resulting from that assumption may not be realized near to the degree that CBO might have predicted. [More by subscription - seriously, ya need to find room for this in your budget]
I'll bet the idea of eliminating the LDP game won't survive conference either.
While not exactly the same, drafts of farm bill language in the Senate do contain a shift in when producers could claim the LDP to the day they lose beneficial interest in the crop. [More]
However I am inclined to believe these are tempests in a legislative teapot. Looking at the trends in trade, biofuels, and biotech, a huge fuss about a few billion per year is going to mean less and less to more and more producers.

Those commodities and communities who insist on government support as their primary business plan may discover they have not built a safety net, they've woven their own shroud.

How very Halloweeny.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Another post about broadband...

Speed matters.

[via Presurfer]
I want to see a field of this after a 60 mph wind...

In our search for plants to make biofuels from, an unlikely candidate has emerged: tropical maize.

Early research results show that tropical maize, when grown in the Midwest, requires few crop inputs such as nitrogen fertilizer, chiefly because it does not produce any ears. It also is easier for farmers to integrate into their current operations than some other dedicated energy crops because it can be easily rotated with corn or soybeans, and can be planted, cultivated and harvested with the same equipment U.S. farmers already have. Finally, tropical maize stalks are believed to require less processing than corn grain, corn stover, switchgrass, Miscanthus giganteus and the scores of other plants now being studied for biofuel production. [More]
We sometimes forget early corn had no ears. And when stalks are 25% sugar - who needs 'em?

Still all these ethanol-wannabees will have a tough time buying acreage the first few years.
This is a big deal...

Forget genes - we're working whole chromosomes now, baby. The world of biotech is just beginning to gather momentum, and we're one reason for it.
It's been a brave new world for genetic crops for some time now but Chicago-based researchers say they have developed a method to take crop manipulation to a higher level: the chromosome.

Creating an artificial chromosome, into which several manipulated genes can be inserted, may speed efforts to produce fuels and medicines from plants as well as boosting crop nutrition and yield.

In a scientific paper set for publication Friday researchers from Chicago-based Chromatin Inc. and the Universities of Chicago and North Carolina reported success in creating an artificial chromosome for corn plants. Through four generations, the corn treated the man-made chromosomes as if they were natural and passed them along to offspring intact at a rate nearly as high as for chromosomes native to the plants.

"This appears to be the tool that agricultural scientists and farmers have long dreamed of," said Daphne Preuss, a University of Chicago professor of molecular genetics and Chromatin's president. [More]
So, while you moan about seed costs, remember you are not stupid. If it didn't make you money, you wouldn't buy 'em. And because you buy them, more will come.

Here is the real question: do you believe that biotech will reshape your yield curve? If so, what will you bet? Whle others are fixated on whether demand (read: ethanol) will falter, some producers are guessing biotech productivity gains can lower their cost per bushel to survive when competitors bleed red ink.

Those bets are being placed in cash rent and land prices as we speak.

Cool water...

You think you know all about something and then you see this:

When exposed to a high-voltage electric field, water in two beakers climbs out of the beakers and crosses empty space to meet, forming the water bridge. The liquid bridge, hovering in space, appears to the human eye to defy gravity. [More]

Water is an amazing substance. How can we still keep learning new things about it?

One thing we do know, there isn't nearly enough of it in the Southeast.
Lake Lanier, the water source that serves a third of Georgia's residents, only has a 4 month's supply of water. Forecasters predict the drought could last months, and residents should look for news ways to conserve.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin says, the city has cut water use by not watering parks. She says maintaining water supplies for drinking and fighting fires is the primary concern. Atlanta commissioner for the Department of Watershed Management, Rob Hunter says Lake Lanier has a 121 day supply of water. He says reducing consumption is key. He offered residents several suggestions: take shorter showers, repair leaky faucets and pipes, and cut outdoor water usage. [More]
What happens when Atlanta runs dry?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

It's not all ethanol...

Commodities have been in and out of the investment spotlight for the last year. I think they are back in for loose money looking for somewhere to live.
But the broad strength of commodity prices may also reflect the appeal of the sector as an “alternative asset”, along with hedge funds and private equity. Ever since the dotcom bubble burst, investors have been keen to diversify away from their traditional focus on equities and government bonds. That has led to the launch of a whole series of exchange-traded funds based on commodities, which have made the asset class accessible for a much wider range of investors; the latest example, from Barclays Global Investors, is a fund based on timber prices. And Wall Street has been gearing up to meet demand; a survey by Options Group, a recruitment consultant, found that the hiring rate of commodity traders is up 33% on last year.

The recent credit crunch may have given commodities a further lift. Speculative money that had been flowing into high-yield bonds and structured credit is now looking for a new home. Some commodities, particularly gold, are also seen as a hedge against a declining dollar.

Robin Bhar, a metals strategist at UBS, says investors seem to feel they have an each-way bet on commodity prices. Either global economic growth is strong and supply remains tight, or the world slips into stagflation, as it did in the 1970s. In either case, commodities should perform well. [More]

This interest in commodities carries over to farm real estate as well, I think. I have long believed (mostly to justify my own decisions) that land is superior investment. All it takes is a few of the very wealthy to agree with me to support what seem to be astronomical prices for dirt.

What many of us have trouble wrapping our mind around is how much wealth there is in the world, and the very real problem of what to do with it. The real world and real stuff like commodities and land contrast well to the abstract and barely comprehensible investment competition like derivatives or (shudder) CDO's.
A new link category...

Thanks to some interesting comments about my recent post on food safety, I surfed over to my first ever attorney blog.

His comment about the pot pie problem says it all.

And, when you make it on a stupid YouTube video entitled, "Drop that Pot Pie," you know you are in trouble.
YouTube is the new test for cultural relevance, I guess.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The cash rent lease conversion accelerator...

Along with others, I have been trying to handicap the new twist the farm bill process (for lack of a better word) has taken. Shrugging what little pride I have aside, I can admit to not really grasping what the good Senators think they are trying to do for me with the revenue assurance option.

So. Let's assume my degree in engineering and years of familiarity with the "times table" (do they still teach that?) have some worth, and my hours of frivolous surfing are not totally misspent. Now consider I really have no analytical or intuitive idea whether I should like this idea or not.

Given these observvations, imagine what a landowner is going to make of this whole legislative puzzle. As we talked about earlier, many observers point out landowners are getting older. Which is a good thing, if you think about it.

But it won't make them really excited about figuring out not merely a new farm program - but A CHOICE to be made. Making choices is not what geezers like to do or do best.

Therefore, some outcomes could be:
  1. Investing serious hours at the FSA and extension meetings learning the new program and getting the paperwork done.
  2. Employment of more farm managers to act on behalf of landowners and select the optimum route.
  3. Electing to reside total faith in the tenant via FSA power-of-attorney.
  4. Just take a large rent check on 1 March and lose the whole headache.
Gee, I wonder what could happen...
Meanwhile, back on the farm...

It's finally sinking in on cellulosic ethanol producers that somebody better figure out where their feedstock is going to come from and what it will cost. And there are some surprises.
When it comes to growing and harvesting switchgrass as an energy crop, recent studies have shown that farmers likely could grow switchgrass for $30 to $35 a ton in the Midwest. However, many cellulosic-ethanol technology companies have not been able to bring down their production costs far enough to allow them to pay farmers enough to grow such a crop at a profit.

Petiot said cellulosic plants will require at least 7,000 tons of feedstock per day and will need to be able to produce their own enzymes near the plants to make it economical.

Corey Radtke, a scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory, said that when it comes to storing biomass materials such as switchgrass or corn stover, the U.S. faces a unique situation.

For example, he said while the moderate-to-moist climate in the eastern half of the country is virtually ideal for growing biomass crops, it is not a good area to store crops like switchgrass. That's because such cellulosic-ethanol feedstocks can be ruined if they become wet during storage.

In the much drier and warmer western half of the country, Radtke said, farmers struggle to grow biomass crops, but the climate is perfect for storing biomass. [More]
The free-lunch theory associated with cellulosic ethanol is now facing serious scrutiny. I believe the most critical test is to convince skeptics like me to grow, harvest, handle and store the monstrous volumes of low-energy biomass needed for the feedstock.

While it could work (on paper), nobody is offering me switchgrass contracts, either.

Almost enough to make me want to smoke...

Cool lighter trick.

[via MeFi]

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Halloween spirit...

Some interesting scarecrows.


[Update: Be sure to watch the short video at the end of the photos]

Got your pumpkin lights up yet?


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How dumb do I look?...

Wait - don't answer that. It seems the Congressional Budget Office has an opinion regarding how swift farmers are.
The breakthrough apparently came when the Congressional Budget Office assigned a $3 billion savings to a proposal to offer farm program participants an option, beginning in 2010, to choose between traditional farm programs or a state-level revenue assurance program, an insurance program that provides income coverage when either yields or prices fall. Under his proposal, participants in farm programs would be allowed to plant non-program crops. Coupled with savings provided earlier this month by the Senate Finance Committee, Harkin said his "chairman's mark" next week will offer $4 billion in new funding for conservation programs. Of that, $1.28 billion is earmarked for the Conservation Security Program – which Harkin plans to rename the "Conservation Stewardship Program." Even though the House bill has no funding for the program, Harkin noted his bill is fully funded and theirs is not. "They will have to come our way" in the Senate-House conference, he predicted. Harkin projects the CSP, which provides "green payments" for conservation practices on working lands, will grow by 13 million acres through the life of the five-year bill. [More] [my emphasis]
If I understand this correctly (admittedly a big "if"), the CBO number-crunchers calculate that, given the choice, producers like me will opt for a payment scheme that over the long run reduces our payout by $3B. My goodness, how cleverly packaged will that option have to be?

So much for the efficient market, it seems. If our own best interests can be addressed by choosing a revenue policy vs. the usual scheme, we will probably figure out in a hurry that it's because we are getting more money from the government - not less.

Some specifics from Jim Weisemeyer - our man on the scene:
Harkin confirmed the proposal will include a yearly optional "average crop revenue program" (ACR) beginning in 2010 that would, according to sources:

-- be optional for a producer who could choose either the new revenue-trigger counter-cyclical program or the existing program, beginning in 2010 (the option would be on an annual basis);
-- provide a $15 per acre payment to all program crops choosing the revenue option;
-- eliminate current direct payments;
-- eliminate marketing loans, and thus, loans would become recourse loans;
-- base a revenue-payment on a state revenue concept;
-- base payments on the lower of current acreage planted or the average of plantings from 2002-200);
-- allow revenue program participants to no longer be bound by rules that now bar the planting of fruits and vegetables from land eligible for crop subsidies;
-- not require a producer to purchase crop insurance in order to qualify for ACR.
[More via subscription]
My guess is these savings will prove to be ephemeral. (How bad would you have to want to grow asparagus?) But if they are accurate, signup for the optional revenue program could be pretty slow.
Nice suit...

I still think they are too late.
Very little, very late...

This post has been deleted by the author. The reasons are here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Everyone loves a manure joke...

Crimony people, it's organic! Get a grip.
A clue on the soybean market...

My boss, Top Producer editor Greg Vincent, has absconded to Brazil from whence he is blogging his adventures. While we all think $10 beans will spur Brazilian producers to increase acres big-time - there is a good reason why that may not occur.
So, now the strong prices coming from Chicago and the signals being flashed from the rest of the world will just have to wait. Acreages is expected to increase over last year by about 6 % to 7 %, but that will just get acreage back at 2005-06 levels. If the export market remains strong throughout the rest of this year, and expectations hold out that U.S. soybean acreage stays historically low in 2008 (even in light of the projections that acres will rebound next year, acreage will be lower than normal) the Brazilian market will be poised to make a dramatic comeback. It just won’t happen until the 2008-09 growing season. [More]
Follow his exploits in the southern hemisphere here.

Am I the only guy who finds $10 beans irresistible for 2008?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Huge asset transfer looming!!! OMG!!!...

Or not.

In a helpful response to an earlier post, my most loyal reader, "Anonymous", offers this link to a paper by Duffy and Holste regarding farmland and rental rates. It was mildly interesting reading until I hit this paragraph:
In spite of the uncertainty, Iowa land ownership and rental arrangements will be
changing in the near future. Almost half, 48 percent, of Iowa’s land is owned by people
over the age of 65 and almost a quarter, 24 percent, is owned by people over the age of 75.
This means there will be a significant amount of farmland changing hands over the next
few years. It remains to be seen whether or not this land comes on the open market for
sale. Regardless of how or to whom the land is transferred, there will be an impact on land
values. Iowa land values and the returns to Iowa farmland will remain as a topic of keen
interest for many years to come. [More]

[my emphasis]

The eye blinks; the mind stumbles...

The clear (to me, at least) implication of this statement is we are facing an unusual event re: farmland transfer. But are we? If only there were a SVFAP (Strange Visitor From Another Planet) who could place this concept in perspective, albeit whilst wearing orange underwear outside his pants...

[Phonebooth opens]

[It's a little box with a pay phone in it]

[It's a phone you can pay to use if you don't have a cellph- oh, never mind!]

Frustrate not!! Contextor is here!!

Contextor reads the passage and muses, "Hmmm, '48% of Iowa's farmland is owned by people over the age of 65'. Interesting, but is that number greatly different than yesterday or 2000 or 1957? The authors obviously don't think it is important to google that up for their readers."

Contextor speculates: Perhaps farmland tends to end up owned by old people for the same reasons everything else ends up owned by old people: they've lived long enough to pay for it, and you can bloody well pry it from their cold, dead fingers. Who should own farmland - teenagers? Why is there a tone of alarm with statistics like these?

He reads on, "...almost a quarter is owned by people over the age of 75". The hint here is these geezers will all be losing their grip on this precious asset any minute now as the Grim Reaper gathers them in. But do farmowners exhibit normal longevity? Or are many of them too danged stubborn to die on schedule?

But let's do some simple math. If we assume land is farmland is inherited/transferred once per generation (20-25 years), then about 4-5% of it should roll over every year from mortality reasons alone. Therefore, we can expect - at any time - about 50% of all land to transfer in the next decade or so (10 x 5%) - right?

That statement works every day, all the time. Now it sounds more urgent to talk about how much land is going to rollover in the next X years, but unless you compare it to an average from the past it tells you nothing. The ERS found this same thing a long time ago (1989):
Land transfers are the cutting edge in the structure of landownership and control. Even though the annual turnover in rural land is very slow -- currently 4.6 percent of parcels and 3.5 percent of land -- concerns linger that farmers in the United States are losing control of the resource that is basic to their industry. Small, persistent changes can eventually make a difference, but the data examined here indicate that a transfer of landownership out of agriculture is occurring at an almost imperceptibly slow pace. [More, but ya hafta order it]
Myriad questions loom unconsidered by the authors.
  • Will longevity trends (especially in previously short-lived males) change this normal rate? [40 points]
  • Why should future land turnover be any different than the past? (Discuss in paragraph form) [30 points]
  • Do you know of an flat black 80 I can get for under $5K? [200 bonus points]
Contextor fumes: It borders on "tabloid" for public-payroll economists to make evocative statements like this without supporting evidence for readers to judge the importance. But then, tenure means never having to say you're sorry.
Yeah, yeah - it's all my fault...

Older brothers have traditionally been blamed for all the evils in the world by their younger siblings. I just thought they were a bunch of whiners.

Turns out they are right.
More recently, Lummaa and her colleagues have been studying how sons are not just tough on their mothers but also hard on their siblings. Those born after a son were physically slighter, had smaller families and generally had a greater chance of dying from an infectious disease. The effects held up whether the elder brother died in childhood or not, suggesting that the negative outcome is not a result of some direct sibling interaction, such as competition for food, regular beatings or the practice of primogeniture, in which the eldest brother inherits everything. “Big brothers are bad for you,” Lummaa explains. “If the fifth-born was a male, then the sixth-born is doing worse.” [More]

Man, I hate it when this happens!

A firm grasp of the obvious...

I continue to be amazed by non-farmers who suddenly discover that the majority of subsidies (and eventually all of them, I figure) end up in the hands of landowners. Consider these comments from the EU.
At a dinner I attended in Brussels last week with a small group of CAP reformers, former EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler shared his experiences of the politics of reform. One of the most interesting things he had to say concerned a study by the OECD showing that barely 25 per cent of traditional production-linked subsidies actually went to farmers. He said this study had been invaluable as he traveled around Europe trying to convince European farmers to embrace his proposals for decoupling farm payments. But a recent clutch of academic studies is confirming the anecdotal evidence that decoupled farm payments are just as leaky as old style production subsidies they replaced.

A new study of land prices and rents in Germany and the United States by by Harald von Witzke, Steffen Noleppa, and P. Lynn Kennedy shows that the problem of land value capitalization is still very much with us in the new era of decoupling. They find that of every euro in subsidy paid to German farmers, two-thirds is passed on to the landowners and conclude that:

The operator is the intended beneficiary of agricultural subsidies in the European Union; however, as we have found, the main beneficiary is the landowner. Therefore, agricultural subsidies must be considered instruments that are poorly targeted to the intended beneficiaries. In fact, the shocking reality is that land rents in the absence of EU farm subsidies would be negative in most of Germany.

This conclusion is consistent with other recent studies into the impact of decoupled farm payments on land values, such as this study by Arathi Bhaskar and John C. Beghin at Iowa State University and this study by Stefan Kilian and Klaus Salhofer at Technische Universität München.

The implications are of even greater concern given the high and rising share of farm land that is rented and not farmed by the owner. The current subsidy-driven rush to biofuels can only make things worse. [More]

It doesn't take much imagination to realize this is the most rational long-term response to handing out subsidies. For me to stay in my chosen profession requires land - preferably owned, but mostly rented. And all my neighbors are in the same boat. Access to land is the key to being a farmer, and every extra dollar should be spent to advance that aim. Land is the key resource for farmers and a zero-sum struggle to boot.

Of course farmers will use subsidies to secure land. Any reasonable manager would.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Instant icon understanding...

To encapsulate the myriad differences between East and West, consider these graphic comparisons of China and Germany.

Handling Problems


[via Neatormama]

That's why we call it raw, folks...

The continued revelations of food contamination problems has created an impression for many that our food is suddenly unsafe. Certainly, these incidents could have been prevented, but I think there is much more happening here.
ConAgra Foods on Wednesday asked stores to stop selling pot pies linked to a salmonella outbreak, although the company and the Department of Agriculture defended their decision not to immediately recall the product.

ConAgra asked stores nationwide to pull the Banquet and generic brand chicken and turkey pot pies after two East Coast grocery chains made their own choice to remove the product from their shelves.

The pot pies made by ConAgra have been linked to at least 139 cases of salmonella in 30 states. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at least 20 people have been hospitalized, but so far no deaths have been linked to the pot pies. [More]

Given the seemingly continuous revelations of food contamination and endless recalls, it would be easy to magnify these problems into an epidemic. And certainly the media would be drawn to stories of "unfair" deaths, especially when the victims are likely to be the very young and the very old.

But it could be less dramatic than that. To begin with almost all food contamination occurs in the kitchen - or at least could be circumvented by actions like clean counters and thorough cooking.
The vast majority of reported cases of foodborne illness occur as individual or sporadic cases. The origin of most sporadic cases is undetermined. In the United States, where people eat outside the home frequently, most outbreaks (58%) originate from commercial food facilities (2004 FoodNet data). An outbreak is defined as occurring when two or more people experience similar illness after consuming food from a common source.

Often, a combination of events contributes to an outbreak, for example, food might be left at room temperature for many hours, allowing bacteria to multiply which is compounded by inadequate cooking which results in a failure to kill the dangerously elevated bacterial levels. [More]

Even with the rising concern, the 5000 annual deaths from food-borne contamination is barely a blip. In fact, it falls under the "all other deaths" category, I guess, because you can't find it easily in CDC statistics. I do not dismiss it, but we need to keep it in perspective.

My feeling is the decline in food preparation skills - specifically undercooking meat, food storage, and not washing produce thoroughly - has placed a larger and perhaps unrealistic burden on food purity at the farm/factory level. Nor will organic provide any significant improvement. Our food is not more dangerous, we are simply incapable of modest food preparation hygiene.

At the same time, longevity raises the portion of our population at risk because of weakened immune systems, which occurs naturally with age. Hence we read too many stories of very young and elderly victims of food poisoning.

I support vigorous efforts to improve food processing in the US, but the best bang for our buck would be better food management skills in our kitchens at home and in restaurants.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

No longer a boom maybe, but certainly not a bust...

The Verasun announcement last week that they were slowing construction of a plant in Indiana is being pointed to as the harbinger of similar news across the biofuel industry.
In other words, the lion's share of inducements have gone to production—call it supply-side energy policy. But crudely stimulating this ethanol is actually the cause of the ethanol backlash. As production increases, the price of the commodity used in the process (corn) rises. So does the price of the expertise and materials needed to build capacity. During the railroad boom, the cost of steel and the salaries of engineers rose. During the dot-com boom, the cost of fiber-optic capacity and the salaries of Web programmers rose. The Wall Street Journal reported that the cost of building a new ethanol plant has risen from $1.50-per-gallon last year to $2.20 per gallon today.

The combination of rising commodity prices and production costs and a glut of product makes it more difficult for the manufacturers to turn a profit. In the second quarter, Verasun's gross margins shrunk to 19.2 percent, compared with 41 percent in the same quarter the year before. In its second quarter, Aventine gross margins shrunk from 11 percent to 6.9 percent. Verasun said earlier this week it would suspend construction of a refinery in Indiana. [More]

I'm not so sure.

I think this is more simply pushback against a construction cost squeeze, and a convenient way to reinforce the need for a larger RFS mandate in the energy bill. And given the relative ease with which the Senate seems to find money for ag, I think Congress will ponder for only a few seconds before raising the mandates.

Reform of any kind in Congress is playing about as well as the Cubs in postseason.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bad signage...

A sad, funny, and/or pathetic collection of public signs.

[More - way more]

Something happens to our brains when we write for the public.

F'rinstance, consider this whole website devoted to inappropriate use of quotation marks.

[More - way, way more]

I tell ya, the Internet has been a Godsend to pedantic fusspots like ...well, me. And English teachers everywhere.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Where conservatives come from...

I have written about my parting of the way with the Republican party. While egocentric, I admit, I still believe the party changed course more than I did. David Brooks at the NYT offers a similar view.
Over the past few decades, the Republican Party has championed a series of reforms designed to devolve power to the individual, through tax cuts, private pensions and medical accounts. The temperamental conservative does not see a nation composed of individuals who should be given maximum liberty to make choices. Instead, the individual is a part of a social organism and thrives only within the attachments to family, community and nation that precede choice.

Therefore, the temperamental conservative values social cohesion alongside individual freedom and worries that too much individualism, too much segmentation, too much tension between races and groups will tear the underlying unity on which all else depends. Without unity, the police are regarded as alien powers, the country will fracture under the strain of war and the economy will be undermined by lack of social trust.

To put it bluntly, over the past several years, the G.O.P. has made ideological choices that offend conservatism’s Burkean roots. This may seem like an airy-fairy thing that does nothing more than provoke a few dissenting columns from William F. Buckley, George F. Will and Andrew Sullivan. But suburban, Midwestern and many business voters are dispositional conservatives more than creedal conservatives. They care about order, prudence and balanced budgets more than transformational leadership and perpetual tax cuts. It is among these groups that G.O.P. support is collapsing.

American conservatism will never be just dispositional conservatism. America is a creedal nation. But American conservatism is only successful when it’s in tension — when the ambition of its creeds is restrained by the caution of its Burkean roots. [More of an excellent op-ed]
There is an atmosphere of loyal dissent that bodes well for the nation, and I think, agriculture as we forge ahead into this new century. The dialog - albeit roughly hewn at present - of debate on the Internet offer real hope for unifying forces. We can speak and be heard. We can read and learn. We can all be present at every event of moment.

The conservative movement has paused long enough before embracing this new idea. And now that they have weighed the possibilities and costs, I think they will recapture their own ideology from reactionary blowhards.