Monday, June 28, 2010

It defies comment...

The new German Pig Museum.

[More confusing photos]
Stuttgart-based architecture and design firm extrastern has completed the new schweine museum
in a former slaughterhouse in stuttgart, germany. with over 30, 000 artifacts revolving
around the theme of the pig, the schweine museum is the largest gallery dedicated to the
animal in the world.

the 600 m2 museum is divided into 25 rooms of different themes including a 'piggy bank' room,

stacked floor to ceiling with piggy banks, and a 'golden pig' room which features a large statue
of a 'german large white' pig on a rotating stage.

many of the rooms are geared toward children: the artifacts are hidden or viewable only

through tiny windows, some requiring the opening of hatch doors to see. [More]
But did they use the "oink"?
Trouble in the middle...

I have written before about my happy experiences at a small bank.  In this context I'm calling  less than $100M small.  Right now, my bank - and especially its holding group - are deposit heavy and due to very conservative management, and looking for the unicorn of investments: risk-free, high yields.

So for established customers and farmers with good financials, ample funds and low rates are our happy lot. But this sector of the ag finance business may be more unique than even I thought.

Farm Credit is undoubtedly sound, but also struggling with a portfolio of more than a few underperforming ethanol, hog, and dairy loans.  Nor are these relatively small loans either.  I don't think they are under particular duress, but even slight regulatory changes could cause more friction. And who knows whether it's over in the livestock struggles.

The surprising (to me) troubled lenders are regional banks, for whom ag lending has been a tiny activity, and who are under considerable duress again after seeming to climb out of the abyss earlier.

But today Fifth Third and other regional banks across the nation are being shaken to the core by a 21st century financial crisis. For many of them, things are going from bad to worse.
Home mortgages and other loans that the banks made in good times are souring so fast that many of the lenders are scrambling to prop themselves up. If the pain worsens — and many analysts say it will — some of these banks, like Fifth Third’s predecessors, may eventually seek out suitors, most likely large national rivals.
For now, however, no one seems to want the regional banks. Stock market investors are deserting them en masse. On Wednesday, Fifth Third’s share price plunged 27 percent to $9.26, its lowest level in more than a decade, after the bank said it would cut its dividend and seek to raise $2 billion. Other financial stocks, particularly regional banks’ shares, also tumbled. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Regional Banks Index sank 6.8 percent.
“Everybody is trying to figure out where the bottom is,” said Jennifer Thompson, a regional bank analyst for Portales Partners in New York. “Every time a bank reports another capital raise or reports that things are worse than they anticipated, there is another round of selling.”
But Wednesday was just one more bad day in what has been a horrible year for small and midsize banks. Their descent in the stock market has been remorseless, reflecting the economic pain in their own backyards. Weakening housing and construction markets in regions like the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest have hit lenders in those areas hard. [More]
One result is intense demand from large farmers for more in-house (vendor) credit, such as Deere or Pioneer credit arms.  Large operations were more likely to have outgrown small banks and were aggressively targeted by regional banks up until recently.

But ag lending was a sideline and certainly outside much of their expertise.  Consequently, many seem to be anxious to drop that part of the portfolio as they cut back personnel and offices. And struggle with unwise CRE (commercial real estate) loans.

But the problem is writing commercial credit is no picnic either. Corporate paper of any kind is not the flavor of the month for risk averse investors.  That's why demand for T-bill remains rampant and interest pressures non-existent.  Investors have learned they really don't know what is behind corporate bonds, and more than a few have taken some radical haircuts.  Nor are vendors really anxious to get into a messy business nitty-gritty of operating loans, like customers want.  Keep in mind that seed corn finance programs, for example, are unsecured - almost unheard of today.

So we end up with the odd result of small community banks often being the place to be for ag borrowers, IMHO.  Ag lending is their cash cow, and with few risk-free options, they are often bulging with nervous deposits and gazing out the window at steadily appreciating farmland and profitable farm operations of modest size.

Sometimes it pays to be small, too.  Just not often.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Just like Mom used to do...

Extreme watermelon carving.

Watermelon carving from Vid Nikolic on Vimeo.

Yeah - this could be the next foody show.

[via 3Q]
Baxter Black is becoming more unique...

If that is possible.  It seems the transformation of veterinary medicine to a female dominated profession continues unabated.


I think there are several reasons, and some of which feed on each other.  As more women enter a profession, more women are comfortable working in and promoting the work as a viable choice for young people. Plus I would imagine they are making the professional conduct standards, both officially, and in the hotel bars after seminars, more attractive to females as well.

But another powerful factor could be child-bearing, and which professions offer the greatest chance to have a career and family successfully.

And compared to their equally educated counterparts from the early 1990s, these advanced-degree women are much more likely to have borne children. More than a third of women with professional/Ph.D. degrees in 1992-94 decided to remain childless; in 2006-8, less than a quarter of such women made the same choice.
Perhaps this has something to do with Claudia Goldin’s findings that some of the fields that require the most educational investment upfront — like pediatrics, or veterinary medicine — also happen to be fields whose work schedules allow for a healthy work-family balance. High-achieving women who want children may be discovering this, and making their career choices accordingly. [More]
From simple anecdotal evidence - which can be misleading, I'll admit - I see more ag support professions like vet medicine being a popular choice for young women.  Few of us are surprised by female seed/chemical reps for example, although machinery still seems to be a masculine enclave.

That could change too, along with male bastions like farm management.  Ag lending could be slower simply because one of the largest players  - Farm Credit  - has virtually no female lending officers. Which is curious given the fine line it walks with government linkage.

The more powerful enabling attitude may come from farmers themselves. I know there is a completely different response from Aaron's generation than from geezers like me - even though many of are trying to shed old prejudices.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Where to house 700 million farmers...

On relatively little arable land.  I remember a line from Fox Butterfield's "Alive in a Bitter Sea", which I read many years ago.  It opened my eyes to the Great Leap Forward and how it devastated China.

Anyhoo, the factoid was something like "in the good farmland of China, there is on average a village of 1500 every mile." I think I recall it accurately (I hope) because I have ever since imagined a town the size of Chrisman (~1000) here at my house and another at the intersections a mile each way.

Obviously much of the housing boom in China has been for farmers, and here is what they got.

Scott Sumner wonders what it means.
We normally think of the urban Chinese as the more affluent and the rural Chinese as being relatively poor.  That’s true on average, but there are far more exceptions than you’d think.  I suppose nobody’s surprised to see examples of poor migrant workers in the cities, but consider this example:
these are farmers houses that stretch for about 100 miles between Hangzhou and Shanghai. If youve seen
them in person the sheer scale of the devlopment is amazing, it basically looks like one vast urban suburb rather than
countryside. It took me over 2 hrs to get through it by train.

All the houses have steep roofs, turrets, towers and even onion domes, by the thousand. Its one of the most amazing ‘urban’
things Ive seen – seriously if anyones in Shanghai, take the train to Hangzhou and look out of your right window…

Theyre all built for free by the progressive local councils:
To see what he is talking about you need to open this link and scroll down to post#49.  Then look at the pictures.  One of them nearly blew me away.  BTW, I have doubts about the accuracy of the statement that all those houses are “built for free.”  I don’t even know what that means.  But I did the Shanghai to Hangzhou drive in 2001, and I could see the beginnings of this amazing (appalling?) landscape beginning to take shape.  As you look at the pictures toward the bottom of post #49, keep in mind you are looking at rural China.
But it gets even weirder.  If you scroll down to post #55 of the same link you will see a Jetson-style rendering of a proposed “farmers apartment” building that is nearly the size of the Empire State building—proposed for a site in rural China.  You’re probably thinking “Sure, the Chinese love those gee-wiz drawings, but how many actually get built?  If you open up this link (post #255), you’ll see that the project is already mostly built.  Question:  Is there anywhere else in the world where a 1076-foot skyscraper would be built for “farmers” and located not in a city, but in the “countryside?”
Yes, I understand that Huaxi is the richest village in China, and is hardly typical.  But I also think that there is far more wealth being accumulated in the rural parts of eastern China than many people realize.
When I used to hear about 800 million “rural Chinese” I pictured dusty little villages in western China.  I may need to re-adjust my mental images. [More]
We simply may not be able to imagine the population density in the habitable part of China. But even weirder for me is trying to imagine how they will migrate more of those people to urban centers as farming consolidates.

Maybe they will be able to keep many on tiny farms in this new housing, but I would think the inefficiency of that will win out in the end.  My guess these new houses will end up containing a lot of old retired people.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What's the deal with mining?...

Ostensibly a post about inefficiencies in our health care system, this chart in a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research also pints to good work by ag and manufacturing to increase productivity.

Any clues as to what the problem is in the extraction (mining) industry?

Meanwhile another chart illustrates the consequences of the productivity problem of our health care system: paying way too much for a system that places dead last among OECD countries.  Note even our vaunted "speediness" is doubtful.


The other thing to remember about productivity is the faster it grows the fewer people are needed, as a rule.
What was that in the cornfield?...

A black swan?  Several individual events recently combined to make me wonder if we could have a real, live production problem this year.  As one (or more) of our USFR market wizards likes to say: we always kill the crop 2-3 times before harvest.  But mix theses datapoints together and see if you don't ponder the possibility.
  1. I drove to Chicago for a meeting yesterday - pretty much straight through central IL on Rte 49 and I-57. I have been discouraged about the recent yellowing in my low spots - even for 4' corn, but I was blown away by how poor the crop looked between here and there.  Once I left I-74, less than 5% of the corn fields looked OK (yeah - I did some actually counting).  There were many fields where I had to look for green spots.  Huge ponds and 27 unplanted bean (?) fields bordering Rte 49.  I had driven this same route about 3 weeks ago and just noted they were 10 days or so behind us here in Edgar County.
  2. Checked the rainfall totals from just yesterday in IA and N IL.  Checked the Crop Comments.  Even after fudging for the only-the-bad-news bias in CC, the rainfall numbers are staggering.  One big diff from 2009: NE has been clobbered.  Last year it was the garden.
  3. Accuweather meteorologist Joe Bastardi issued his summer forecast update.*
  4. Darrel Good quietly points out how even a big crop will get used up at the rate we're going.
  5. Jerry Gulke (I met in his office yesterday) suspects China could have their own production problems and with the new, heftier yuan could gobble several million bushels more of corn to feed their growing protein industry.
The idea of a short crop simply won't fit in most of our heads.  Fool me once, yadda, yadda...  But the idea that the vast majority of the Corn Belt can't have a simultaneous yield problems strikes me as the same assumption the housing industry made about house prices: they couldn't drop everywhere at once. Only they did.

I am pretty much useless offering marketing advice, but I think I see more glimpses of a black swan event in 2010 than last year.  Now imagine what would happen to our livestock, ethanol, and foreign customers if we show up with a sub-12B bu. crop.

*Summer has officially begun and Chief Long-Range Meteorologist Joe Bastardi is calling for more scorching temperatures to occur over much of the nation through August.
Average summer temperatures will rival some of the hottest summers ever recorded across the eastern half of the nation.
"It's possible for record-breaking warmth in the first half of July for much of the nation," said Bastardi.
Between I-80 and I-20 from the Rockies eastward, temperatures will hold between the mid-80s and low 90s F through mid-July.
Humidity and uncomfortable heat will also cover the Great Lakes and much of the Northeast, and south from I-20 to the Gulf Coast through the same period. Temperatures will be slightly above normal, lingering around the low 80s in the Northeast and in the 90s across the south.  [More]
Meanwhile, the bean fields look like excrement, essentially.

I'm just sayin'

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Give it up for your deficit and mine...

Let's check into the "Tax Extender" bill.  As I have mentioned before the "Tax Extender" bill (HR 4213) includes the renewal of the biodiesel credit - something soybean producers are understandably anxious about.

The bill itself is an exercise in posturing according to some conservatives.
By allowing $31 billion of tax breaks to expire every year, Congress gives the appearance of lower future deficits. When the deficit was $161 billion four years ago, that would make a difference. Now that it's $1.4 trillion, it's a trifle, but Congress still goes through the exercise, just like a drug addict who requires ever increasing doses to get the same high. [More]

But wait - there's more.

In this line-by-line report (pdf) from the Joint Committee on Taxation (the revenue equivalent to the CBO on expenditure) check out the other items near and dear to our wallets. The first number is the five-year cost in $B.  

Update:  As I was falling asleep, I realized my howling error.  The numbers are in MILLIONS - not BILLIONS.  Which only changes everything.

  • ($854BM) Line II A. 2. a. Biodiesel credit [Note: this a 2-year cost ONLY]
  • ($148BM) Line II B. 4.  - Contributions of capital gain real property made for qualified conservation purposes [I have no idea, but it sounds ag-ish to me]  
  • ($798BM) Line II C. 7. - 5-year depreciation for certain farm business machines and equipment
  • ($205BM) Line II D. 1. d. - 5-year carryback of net operating losses attributable to Federally declared disasters
Compare and contrast with the much-derided health reform package (Affordable Care Act) which was scored as  deficit-decreasing.  Even if you consider the CBO figures bogus, the ACA still has long way to slide before it matches cost of just the ag provisions of this bill (add 'em up - it's at least $2T over 10 years and possibly much higher).

It's fair to staple our horrendous federal deficits to the White House Occupant, but it's also impossible 
 to deny the farmer fingerprints all over it.

I'll leave the original foolishness up as further chastening.  But what I can't figure out is why it jolted me awake just as I was dropping off.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Junkbox, Episode MMMM...
They know who you are...

At the end of a fascinating article about on-line commenters, this gem:
While news organizations debate scrapping anonymity, the ground may be shifting beneath them. With all of our identifying information getting sliced, diced, and sold, by everyone from credit card companies to Facebook, is there really such a thing as the anonymous Web anymore? Consider this demonstration from the late ’90s by Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Latanya Sweeney. She took three commonly available data points: sex (male), ZIP code (02138), and date of birth (July 31, 1945). Those seemingly anonymous attributes could have described lots of people, right? Actually, no. She proved they could belong to just one person: former governor William Weld. She tells me that 87 percent of Americans can now be identified with just these three data points.
Maybe the best approach to getting people to behave better online is just reminding them how easy it is to figure out who they really are. [More] [My emphasis]
I'll bet the number is even higher for rural areas.
The protein industry can't catch a break...

I have great concerns about the future of our meat and dairy sector.  While I expect it to survive, I also cannot see a way for it to avoid wrenching changes and probable downsizing as additional costs move their business plans to less, but more expensive meat consumption in the US.

Look at the list of challenges: assorted consumer health concerns, food trends, animal welfare issues, environmental liability (especially with CAFOs), ethanol-fueled feed cost increases.

And now blowback from our immigration turmoil.
Residents of a small city in eastern Nebraska voted Monday to banish illegal immigrants from jobs and rental homes, defying an earlier decision by the city’s leaders and setting off what is all but certain to be a costly and closely watched legal challenge.
In Fremont , a meat-packing town of about 25,000 people, unofficial results from The Associated Press late Monday showed that 57 percent of voters approved a referendum barring landlords from renting to those in the country illegally, requiring renters to provide information to the police and to obtain city occupancy licenses, and obliging city businesses to use a federal database to check for illegal immigrants.
Opponents of the new law, including some business and church leaders, had argued that the City of Fremont simply could not afford the new law, which is all but certain to be challenged in court. In a flurry of television commercials and presentations by opponents in the final days before Monday’s vote, opponents said paying to defend such a local law would require a significant cut in Fremont city services or a stiff tax increase — or some combination of the two.
“There were a lot of tears in this room tonight,” said Kristin Ostrom, an opponent who gathered with others in an old V.F.W. building to await the results. “Unfortunately, people have voted for an ordinance that’s going to cost millions of dollars, and that says to the Hispanic community that the Anglo community is saying they are not welcome here. They thought they were coming to a small-town community with small-town values.” [More]
I have no advice for the citizens of Fremont, nor would it be welcome or even useful.  I have lived in a lightly populated rural community for long enough to expect such major debates unfortunately have to drag to an exhausted surrender by both sides. I don't live there - they do.  I do grieve for the collective pain they will be wading through for too long.

But it adds one more burden on an industry already struggling, and probably is spooking the feeders who depend on that plant.

Perhaps it is the cumulative consequences of an industry that failed to temper economic efficiencies such as large feeding facilities, demanding processing work, and wrenching production culture shifts with some inkling the limits of low cost food as a reason for all.

Like too many other examples, the dimly understood and analyzed externalities like smell, or in this case community upheaval have finally shown up on the industry P & L.  Big time.

At any rate, we will be reinventing our protein sector pretty rapidly, I think.  The intensity of public rancor over these issues may no longer allow thoughtful, deliberate action - just wins and losses.  And I suspect there will be more losses than wins.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The first thing to go...

Is not the knees - contrary to popular opinion.  It's the sense of humor.

The National Pork Producers just could not find the funny in this spoof ad.


We'd like to publicly apologize to the NPB for the confusion over unicorn and pork--and for their awkward extended pause on the phone after we had explained our unicorn meat doesn't actually exist. From our press release [PDF]:
"It was never our intention to cause a national crisis and misguide American citizens regarding the differences between the pig and the unicorn," said Scott Kauffman, President and CEO of Geeknet. "In fact, ThinkGeek's canned unicorn meat is sparkly, a bit red, and not approved by any government entity."
We'd also like to extend a special discount to everyone we offended with our portrayal of Unicorn Meat as "the new white meat." For a limited time, take $10 off any order of $40 or more by using the code PORKBOARD at checkout, good until 6/30/2010 at 11:59PM ET.
Thanks, National Pork Board, for giving us yet another reason to keep the April Fool's Day tradition alive. We'll always wonder if our Canned Unicorn Meat played some small, magical part in your rethinking of your brand.
UPDATE 6/21 2:50p ET: Due to popular request, and after some interest on the intarwebz, you can now download our original press release [PDF]. It was unfortunately rejected by the newswires so you won't find it elsewhere--kinda like unicorn meat.
[More - check out the lawyer letter]

 Sometimes ag is its own worst enemy.

I guess I got off lucky.
Warm and fuzzy is not a business plan...

A loyal reader pointed me to Urban Lehner's most recent editorial which has considerable wisdom. I had read it when it was posted but decided to take several deep breaths before commenting (for reasons outlined below).
But I also received a comment saying I was just plain wrong: The problem, this reader said, is the media's inaccurate reporting and society's gullibility in swallowing it. That this happens sometimes I do not deny. These instances, however, are but one slice of a more intricate reality.
Where this reader and I differ is on the relationship between media and society. He thinks the media leads and society follows. I think the media follows as much as it leads. It's part of society. It caters to society's concerns. It can amplify or illuminate them, but it almost never has the power to create them out of whole cloth.
Reports on pesticide runoff, for example, may raise society's awareness, but if society didn't care about the environment, the media wouldn't be so interested in the subject. A few decades ago, in less affluent, less environmentally conscious times, the reports would have made little stir and the media would have soon directed its attention elsewhere. [More well worth reading]
But as I have written in Top Producer, this righteous indignation of being misunderstood is bootless, IMHO.
Growing concern about public interference in agricultural practices, especially in animal agriculture, has prompted a remarkably uniform response from producers, organizations and associated agribusinesses: We need to “educate” consumers.

At first glance, this rather intuitive answer to the perceived threat seems logical. Obviously, those who would force us to change our operational methods are uninformed, and when shown the light will embrace the Truth. But implicit in this reasoning is the stunningly egocentric and naive presumption that once folks get to know us, they’ll like and trust us. Experience tells me it is possible folks won’t.

For my entire career, farmers have been droning about “telling the farmer’s story.” Left unexamined, this conviction that folks will be swayed by photo ops and nostalgia has become dogma.

For most farmers I have talked to, it’s a struggle to imagine this education process from the other side. Even fewer can embrace the idea—well recognized as a fundamental of psychology—that we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our motives. Convinced our motives are correct, we assume we are simply not shouting loud enough to negate contrary evidence. [ More]
But Lehner lost me as he proposed his approach.

The trap agriculture must avoid is what Kaagan calls "demonizing," the habit of lumping anyone who questions any aspect of modern agriculture into the category of "East and West Coast crazies and elitists." A parent concerned about pesticide residue isn't necessarily in league with PETA, he observes; someone who cares about the environment isn't necessarily opposed to production agriculture or a closet member of the Humane Society.
To all of which I say, Amen. If you treat those who question you or express qualms about some of your practices as enemies, you may create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why not, instead, play on that underlying "warm fuzzy feeling" and let them get to know you -- and you them? Talk to them. Listen to them. Invite them to your farm.
Doesn't that sound smarter than getting into a fight with those who own a much bigger bullhorn than you do?  [My emphasis]
The words may have been a simply a poor choice - been there, done that. But I would suggest we have been "playing on that underlying warm fuzzy feeling" too long and to our own detriment. Because we were not comfortable explaining our work without evoking anachronistic imagery like windmills and shucking bees, we have arrived in this awkward moment of self-discovery.  

And here it is: we are not quaint. (I'm speaking from the perspective of an industrial grain producer).  There is nothing warm and fuzzy about my farm, including most of all, me. Nor has this a been a problem for my customers.

Let those who are uneasy with their business practices or contemptuous of consumer intelligence "play on" emotions left over from my father's time.  I prefer to be open and honest about what I do, and abide by the market verdicts on same.

The great fault of the media is not their erroneous portrayal of industrial ag, it is the suggestion that media can solve the problem. But this is to be expected. In an industry writhing in metamorphosis to God-knows-what, suggesting that words will solve producer problems is to be expected.  It is our hammer.

I applaud his advice to forsake fruitless media battles with the public, and his accurate accounting of the enemy forces opposing some of our practices.  But not for reasons of hopeless outcomes. Even now, there are among us those who can respond flexibly to consumer/public opinion and replace those who cannot. This ill wind does not blow nobody good. (That sentence is just not right, but it's the best I can do.)

I am also struck by his confidence that all we have to do is let people get to know us, and they will love us. In fact, I think this is his greatest error.  The more the public understands about my life and my advantages, the less they will be enamored, I suspect. Nor have I found farmers to be particularly ingratiating.  we're too busy telling people how wonderful we are, for one thing. Moreover, if our business plan is to be based on being liked, we have strayed far from our traditional role in the world.
Perhaps Lehner has had different experiences than mine introducing urban friends to modern agriculture.  To put it briefly, few have come away with a "warm, fuzzy feeling".  Some are reassured by the competence of today's farmers, some are disappointed at the lack of bucolic charm, and some are inexpressibly confused.
But none of them have been "played on".   

They have been told and seen the truth. I consider that fulfilling a professional and cultural responsibility, as important as producing from the land.

[Thanks, Tom]

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Junkbox, Episode RCMP...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Soggy spirits...

I'm taking today off.  Goin' out to the old workshop and turn some pens or just de-rust the power tools.  I haven't visited those old friends for way too long.

One reason:  another 0.8" last night.  Luckily it was only a 30% chance of rain!  We were lucky.  Checking crop comments and the storm totals, I can't complain, but frankly I am a little down, and don't want to inflict an unnecessary rant on readers - which often happens, I have found.

OK - maybe a junkbox later...

(I really need to get professional help.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Science you can trust...

Occasionally, at least.  I have had several friends point me to the report about intensive farming being better for the environment than previous methods, starting with Greg Vincent's story on AgWeb.
“The bottom line is modern agriculture has effectively saved a lot of land from conversion and that is a pretty sizable amount of greenhouse gas emissions,” Lobell says. “If you divide the total amount of resources that have gone into those improvements by the amount of carbon savings, it works out to about $5.00/ton of CO2. That is actually less than what carbon is trading for in Europe and other markets.”  [More]
(I take mild issue with his use of the word "stalls" in the lede.  I would suggest "slows" as more accurate.)

The actual report, is tough slogging, and the abstract is no trivial paragraph either, but worth the effort for a couple of reasons (which I mention this week on USFR).

First, I cannot resist pointing out touting this report as supportive to modern ag necessarily requires a confirmation of AGW. If there is no man-made contribution to climate, or if global warming is a hoax, this report means nothing.  Using this report as ammunition in the lamentable battle between agrarian and industrial operation is bogus while denying climate change.

Second, if you wade through the abstruse language some familiar scientific verbiage struck me.  The same land-use modeling techniques used to smack ethanol mandates is what provides the carbon offset for intensive agriculture.
Our results demonstrate the importance of land use change emissions over direct emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from agricultural systems, and suggest that the climatic impacts of historical agricultural intensification were preferable to those of a system with lower inputs that instead expanded crop- land to meet global demand for food. Enhancing crop yields is not incompatible with a reduction of agricultural inputs in many circumstances, however. To the contrary, careful and efficient management of nutrients and water by precision farming, in- corporation of crop residues, and less intensive tillage are critical practices in pursuit of sustainable and increased agricultural out- put (3, 4, 6, 37).† Furthermore, it has been shown in several con- texts that yield gains alone do not necessarily preclude expansion of cropland, suggesting that intensification must be coupled with conservation and development efforts (5, 8, 38–41). Nonetheless, for mitigating agriculture’s future contributions to climate change, continuing improvement of crop yields is paramount. [More]
So here is another logical consistency problem for corn farmers.  Can we cite this type of evidence as support for our methodology and then turn around and declare similar modeling techniques as invalid for ethanol opponents?

The answer of course, is probably.  But it makes no sense.

(I was also mildly jolted by the use of 1961 as the age of "old-time" ag.  I was there - and we thought we were cutting edge.  Sigh.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Coming or going?...

A really cool map of residence changes between counties.  (I chose Champaign county rather than my own because all the changes in my county were to nearby communities.)

[Try your own county here]

And an even cooler land cover map

(Click on viewer button)

(Thanks, Jan)
Attacking the wrong deficit problem...

After some political polling showing the swelling deficit to be the biggest fear preying on voter's minds, politicians are becoming very sensitive to avoiding charges of increasing the deficit.  This is bad news for issues near and dear to farmer hearts however. Republicans also want to go to great lengths not to give Pres. Obama any more wins than they can help, too.

Because we like to bury our budget entries in larger bills to avoid scrutiny - and to be fair, because that seems to be the only kind that ever get passed - some expenses may very well not get funded.

The biodiesel credit is one that seems to be in greatest danger.
President Barack Obama's plea for more stimulus spending as insurance against a double-dip recession hit a roadblock in the Senate on Wednesday, the victim of election-year anxiety over huge federal deficits.
A dozen Democrats joined Republicans on a key 52-45 test vote rejecting an Obama-endorsed, $140 billion package of unemployment benefits, aid to states, business and family tax breaks and Medicare payments for doctors because it would swell the federal debt by $80 billion.
The swing toward frugality runs counter to the advice of economists who support the bill's funding for additional jobless benefits and help to states to avoid layoffs of public service jobs. They fear that the economy could slip back into recession just as it's emerging from the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. [More]
I think the idea of hitting a "deficit wall" could become a common description of the fate of such legislation.  It also does not bode well for the ticking time bomb known as the estate tax, I would say.
The House on Tuesday voted 247-170 to advance legislation providing tax breaks to small businesses to the Senate. At least 5 Republicans supported the bill's passage. 
The tax portion of the bill is expected to be combined with loan incentives for small businesses before it travels to the Senate. The upper chamber is expected to take up the legislation after it passes the so-called tax extenders bill. 
The small business bill is expected to attract several amendments in the Senate, including a fix for the estate tax.
During the House debate on the bill, Republicans blasted it for increasing taxes. They also deemed the loan portion of the bill as "TARP-like" because it grants the Treasury secretary temporary authority to make capital investments in small banks to increase the availability of credit to small businesses.  [More]
While the bipartisan appeal of farm subsidies of all kinds hasn't necessarily lessened, for some reason we are seeing more willingness from BOTH left and right to drop them in favor of other pet budget items.  I was struck by two strikingly similar views from Jonah Goldberg, an arch conservative and Kevin Drum, a progressive over ethanol subsidies.
On the other hand, the bulk of Goldberg's column is about the idiocy of ethanol subsidies, so I'll hold down the snark. Strange bedfellows and all that. In fact, what he really ought to be asking is this: given that liberals, conservatives, and libertarians all agree almost unanimously that ethanol subsidies are completely indefensible, how is it that they exist anyway? So here's my proposal: let's make getting rid of ethanol subsidies a destruction test for the whole concept of bipartisanship and the American system of government. If, in the end, left and right can't even work together well enough to get Congress to eliminate ethanol subsidies that we all hate, let's just pack up, rewrite the constitution to turn ourselves into a parliamentary democracy, and be done with it. [More]
The greatest danger for farmers is not that subsidies won't get funded, however. For us and the rest of the nation, it will be from the wretched timing of people suddenly getting deficit fever. Reducing federal spending at the same time as state budgets are collapsing is exactly what we don't need right now.  But human nature is such that we respond to this perceived threat when things are looking bad, and run up huge debts without caring when the economy is booming.

It is hard to keep in mind that high unemployment is the bigger issue until you lose your own job, but economists are virtually unanimous about the difference between short-term deficits caused by shrinking government revenues and our long-term structural debt problem.  Meanwhile the financial markets show no sign of worrying about the US debt as much as many citizens.

The clear chance to control at least the House is a powerful enticement to do the wrong thing, I'm  afraid.  It would also mean being more in charge of the legislative process might not be as much fun as enjoying the luxury of mere opposition.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How to watch the World Cup...

Think of all the time you have saved.
Historians ruin everything...

Our fondness for history as we-want-it-to-have-been is constantly being trampled by persnickety researchers armed with little more than facts and evidence.  The latest take-down for me is the Pony Express.
That the Pony Express generated such income would have gladdened the hearts of the venture’s original founders—William Hepburn Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Bradford Waddell—who never made a dime from the business. The heroic, nearly 2,000-mile delivery of mail across the country hemorrhaged money, from the first day a rider saddled up until the click of the transcontinental telegraph shut it down 78 weeks later. The Pony Express was one of the most colossal and celebrated failures in American business history, but its legacy, as the sale at Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries suggests, remains an enduring and revered piece of the Old West myth. Even today, old-timers in the remotest parts of the American West still speak of “the days of the Pony.” Few figures in that region’s history loom larger than those true riders of the purple sage, whom Mark Twain called “the swift phantoms of the desert.”
In its own day, the Express caused quite a stir. By beginning where the train and the telegraph line stopped at St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1860, the service closed an information gap that had long frustrated both coasts. The Pacific slope was a far country in those days: mail from the East took not days or weeks but many months to cross the nation by stagecoach or to be shipped around the stormy Cape Horn or through the fever-ridden Isthmus of Panama. The Pony cut the time of moving information overland to 10 days or less, and on this count at least it proved a spectacular success. It initially cost customers $5 to send one letter, although rates would crumble as the firm desperately tried to generate business. Still, that was a lot of money in 1860, when a laborer in Kansas might make only that in a week. Patrons of the fast service thus tended to be banks, newspapers, and officials, including diplomats. “[The riders] got but little frivolous correspondence to carry,” noted Mark Twain.
“No enterprise of the kind in its day was ever celebrated on the Pacific coast with more enthusiasm than the arrival of the first pony express,” wrote historians Frank A. Root and William E. Connelley in The Overland Stage to California (1901). “News of the arrival of the first mail across the continent by the fleet pony was published with flaming head-lines in a number of the coast evening papers.” Huge crowds assembled in San Francisco to welcome the brave rider who had brought news so quickly from so far. Only a few observers made negative comments, claiming that the entire venture was a mere publicity stunt designed to drum up more lucrative mail contracts.
The privately financed Pony Express was hastily thrown together in late 1859 and began operations on the evening of April 3, 1860. After the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad train arrived late that day with the mail, a rider and his horse were ferried across the Missouri, heading west into history. That cargo’s goal was Sacramento, capital of the state of California, which had been rocketed into the Union on the heels of the gold rush just 10 years before. At the same time, another rider had set out eastward from California.
Piggybacking on existing posts along the Oregon Trail and other established overland routes, the Pony Express set up operations with approximately 190 way stations about 10 to 12 miles apart. Someone had been hired to feed and care for the horses at each stop. The average station, wrote the celebrated British explorer Richard Burton, who followed the route while the Pony was running, “is about as civilized as the Galway shanty [Burton loathed the Irish], or the normal dwelling-place in Central Equatorial Africa.” The floor of the “Robber’s Roost” station in present-day eastern Nevada was “a mass of soppy black soil strewed with ashes, gobs of meat offals, and other delicacies,” and the roof leaked, too. There were no real windows but what he described as “portholes.” “Beneath the framework were heaps of rubbish, saddles, cloths, harness, and straps, sacks of wheat, oats, meal, and potatoes, defended from the ground by underlying logs, and dogs nestled where they found room.” The station had running water, he noted—an actual spring leaked continually inside, maintaining “a state of eternal mud.”
Riders frequently changed horses at most stations, usually riding no more than 100 miles before being relieved. Though speed was required, they rarely galloped, an activity particularly hazardous when traversing deserts pocked with prairie-dog holes that could easily break a horse’s leg. On the plains the riders often had to navigate around the still enormous herds of buffalo. Keep moving, the riders were instructed, but take no unnecessary risks. [A little more after my exceptionally liberal excerpting]
C'mon - they weren't galloping flat out?  No wonder the trains won.

But on the other hand they can help us begin to grasp some of the true horrors of history. I read long ago about the self-inflicted famine the Chinese people suffered during the Great Leap Forward (which I actually remember reading about in Weekly Reader in grade school). 
One of the most horrifying tales uncovered by Yang in the course of his research came from Xinyang, a small city in Henan province, where the famine was at its worst. When he visited, Yang was not directed to the official archives as he’d expected, but instead sent to meet Yu Dehong, a retired cadre from the local waterworks bureau. In their own quiet way, the Xinyang officials might have been giving Yang a helping hand.
Yu was what you might call the local history crank – except the stories he nagged people about did not concern municipal landmarks or the arrival of the city’s first steam train. As the political secretary to the Xinyang mayor in the late 1950s, Yu was an eyewitness to a mini-Holocaust in his hometown, its surrounding villages and even his own family.
Mao had ordered Chinese farms to be collectivised in the late 1950s and forced many peasants who had once productively grown grain to put their energies into building crude backyard blast furnaces instead. As part of this “Great Leap Forward”, Mao’s acolytes predicted that food production would be doubled, even tripled in a few years and that steel production would soon surpass output in advanced western countries. The new rural communes began reporting whopping, fake harvests to meet Mao’s demand for record grain output. When the government took its share of the grain based on the exaggerated figures, little was left for ordinary people to eat.
According to the most conservative calculations, one million people out of a population of eight million in Xinyang died between 1958 and 1961. Yu was often gently advised to drop the issue in the years afterwards. Instead, he wrote a detailed account in his own name and submitted it to the local party secretary. “Some people asked me, ‘Haven’t you committed enough mistakes?’” he said. “But if the official history won’t include this material, then my private history will. I have the materials to back me up.”
Xinyang was generally blessed with good harvests, unlike much of Henan, known as the “land of beggars” for its history of impoverishment and famines. But any advantage the city had was undermined by the officials who ruled over it. At the time, Henan and Xinyang were overseen by radical leftists fanatically devoted to Mao who viewed the grain harvest solely through the prism of violent class struggle. Yu remembers vividly a series of surreal meetings in 1959, when the 18 counties in Xinyang city reported their harvest for the year. After a furious debate in which each county reported wildly exaggerated figures, they settled on a figure about three to four times the real size of the harvest. The distortion was more than enough to set in train the disaster that followed. It was not long before mass starvation began to grip the city and surrounding areas.
As winter turned to spring in the early months of 1960, a thick smell of death began to rise out of the landscape. Yu remembers the change of season clearly. Walking around the semi-rural enclave, he saw thousands of corpses strewn alongside the roads and in the fields. During the winter, the bodies had hardened and set in the cramped, bent shapes in which people had died. They looked like they had been taken out of a freezer and then randomly scattered across the landscape. Some of the corpses were clothed, but the garments had been ripped from others, and flesh was missing from their buttocks and legs. In the first days of spring, the corpses began to thaw, emitting a sickly smell that permeated the everyday life of a shell-shocked local citizenry.
The surviving residents protested later that they had been too short-handed and exhausted to give the dead the dignity of a burial. They blamed the disfigured corpses on hungry dogs, whose eyes, according to rumours which swept the area, had turned red after gnawing at human flesh. “That is not true,” said Yu. “All the dogs had already been eaten by humans. How could there be dogs left at the time?” The corpses hadn’t been eaten by ravenous animals. They had been cannibalised by local residents. Many people in Xinyang over that winter, and the two that followed, owed their survival to consuming dead members of their families, or stray corpses they could get their hands on. [More]
Of all the many benefits of the Internet, it may be the powerful corrective action of meticulous fact-checking (which essentially describes historians for me) that yields the biggest payback. Our ability to imagine and reshape history to our own ends is famous, and at least we will have access to other resources to inform our opinions.

If history is alive in China, it can be alive everywhere.  It makes me hopeful for all of us. 
Never and Always, Ctd...

Here's the list so far.
  • Never try to get too close to a wind mill while rotary hoeing
  • Never use candles for light in hay tunnel
  • Always put a John Deere A in neutral when lifting the cultivator while your brother is adjusting the front shovels
  • Never put an eleven year old boy on a John Deere A to cultivate 
  •  Never throw water on a yellow jacket wasp nest.
  • Always have a fence nearby to climb when weaning calves and sorting the cows off
  • Always let the other guy test the electric fence

And since one of mine sounded familiar, this literary blast from the past (1997) from my Farm Journal archives:

Never, Never

There are a few absolutes in this life. Unfortunately, we seldom discover or believe them early enough to make a difference. However, it remains that there are a few things you should always do - tell the truth, or a close approximation of it, for instance - and several things you should NOT do, under any circumstances.
This list of critical errors for farmers is deceptive. Many seem like reasonable activities that, at worst, cause no harm, and perhaps can save some time and/or money. Oh, be afraid - be very afraid! These are the ways to a wretched end. This then, is my list of things to never, NEVER do.
1. Plant with both markers down. I know, I know - this is a good way to lay off an irregularly shaped field by starting in the middle and planting both ways. However, the odds that you will remember to lift both markers at the end are about 1 in 100 or in my case, 0 for 6.
2. Use the word "sturdy" when describing a woman. While by itself this adjective has many wonderful connotations, mixed into a sentence with a female subject, it can only cause an unfortunate misunderstanding, to be compounded by the attempts at explanation.
3. Assume the power is off. This misjudgment is all too common due to the macho patch-it-on-the-run philosophy that currently passes for manly behavior. 
4. Clean gutters during a thunderstorm. The only time you notice that your gutters are clogged is during a vigorous downpour, but that is not the time to tackle the problem. Once I got so frustrated at the overflowing, bulging gutters, that, at the first hint of a letup, I was out on an aluminum ladder [wait for it - it gets better] with a wire to poke down the downspout. As I reached toward the gutter, one important fact of physics was forgotten: even without a direct strike by lightning, objects in a thunderstorm develop an electrical potential that can be discharged vigorously through exceptionally stupid people. My next memory is lying on my back looking up at the gutter and suddenly remembering the above electrical fact. Even after this electrifying experience, I still have urges to do something when the gutters are pouring over. Now, however, I sensibly go out and play golf.
5. Think you'll remember because it is important. In fact, the more critical the thing to remember, the less likely you will. Bank note deadlines, pump shutoff times, anniversaries - all these can not only be forgotten, but you canforget where you wrote the reminder note for them. Hire someone to help you remember and/or marry her. 
6. Make an offer for fun. The seller may have more of a sense of humor than you.
7. Start a conversation with your loan officer with "Guess what?". Bankers do not enter that profession for thrills and surprises. They thrive on the monotony of predictability. I have noticed my banker tends to hold on to the edge of her desk when I come in for an unexpected visit.
8. Roll an office chair while standing on it. While it seems like a time saver to just ease on down the shelf to the item you are trying to reach, these vehicles are not as stable as you might believe. Too, your balance and reaction times may be a trifle less sharp than you remember.
9. Count on a drought to make your marketing plan work. As silly as this seems, we frequently get caught up in the mirage that higher prices are the only way to make the cash flow sums come out right. And there is no more ambivalent feeling than a drought somewhere else. But the flaw in this scenario is, of course, you. Any drought serious enough to affect the markets the way you hope, will also be sufficient to trip your mind into Drought Mentality. This involves imagining even higher prices and greater profits. Suddenly, too, your own crop looks vulnerable, and selling gets to be extremely difficult. You are placing yourself in a position to act absolutely contrary to your instincts - like having to refuse free food. This is partially why the prices are rising in the first place - selling dries up. Even if you get the “perfect” drought (for me this means most of Iowa), it is most unlikely that you will handle it in any manner that will not leave you muttering about "next time" for years.
10. Ask a friend for an honest opinion about yourself. Finding out what your friends really think about you can only hurt. Your friend is placed in the terrible position of choosing between honesty and kindness. This is like seeing yourself on video for the first time - more self-revelation than you need.
Much of my life has been spent trying to do the smartest thing. I now concentrate on avoiding the dumbest moves. It is not all that easy, either.

Is it me, or is this list being built by sadder-but-wiser old guys?
Never and Always Rules...

A reader writes:
With your large readership and limited time, I thought it would be fun if you considered a spot on your blog that might take on a life of its own.
Robert Fulgum wrote a book called All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.  If you were to start an interactive spot on your blog entitled “every thing I learned I learned while farming” I think we would all conjure up some good mental photos.  The two rules I would impose would be a limit to one sentence and it has to start with  Always or Never.

Always leave your truck end gate down after unhooking the 5th wheel trailer.

Never use a cattle prod after your pour alcohol based Ivomec on your cows.

Never leave your wrench on the implements tool bar.

Always have a kill switch close to the sweep auger.

Sounds like a plan to me.  Add your Rules in the comments. I will start a separate post for all.

I would begin with some of my own:
  • Never use the word "sturdy" when describing a woman.
  • Never assume you'll remember a brilliant idea later when you will write it down.
Your turn.
Whaddya think?...

So Google just showed me some new templates for my blog when I signed on this morning, and I thought, what the hey...

It took about 2 minutes, using my keen sense of design and color to choose this. 

That should be obvious.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Junkbox, Episode LCVIVIVI...

Just way too much rain this week.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

More food stuff I didn't know...

But probably should have.  There are GM potatoes growing in Sweden.

No kidding!
The potato, the first genetically engineered organism to be allowed in the European Union in more than a decade, was planted on 16 acres of land on the fringes of this town in southwestern Sweden, after a quarter century of bureaucratic wrangling.
Although inedible, Amflora is a kind of miracle potato on two counts: for one, there is its starch content, which makes it precious to the starch industry, a major employer in Sweden; and then there is its feisty resilience in surviving some 25 years of tests, regulations, rules, ordinances and applications for approval by both Sweden and the European Union, of which Sweden is a member.
While not grown as a food crop, the Amflora potato is giving many people in Skara, a region of rolling hills, broad lakes and small farms a bad case of indigestion.
Though genetically engineered crops like corn, cotton or soybeans are common enough in the United States, they remain a rarity in Europe, where public resistance is high. The European Union takes the position that the long-term effects of genetic engineering on the environment and on plant and animal life cannot yet be known with scientific certainty, and so urges extreme circumspection. In few places is that caution as much in evidence as in Skara. [More]
Aside from being jolted from my general assumption there were virtually no GM crops in the EU, I had never heard of GM potatoes. Mostly because they came and went here in the US.  What was most encouraging to me was the trait being used was antifungal.
About 130,000 hectares of land in the UK is used to grow potatoes, yielding in the region of 6m tonnes of potatoes each year.
However, in a typical growing season, farmers can spray fungicides on their crops up 15 times at a cost of about £500/hectare, Professor Jones said.
Therefore a late blight resistance GM potato would reduce a number of environmental impacts, including reducing the amount of chemicals being sprayed on farmland, as well as cutting emissions from using tractors to spray fungicides and from the production of the agrichemicals. [More].
Given the possible shift in precipitation patterns and looking at a wetter, warmer future, fungal resistance could be the next killer app.  With the value of glyphosate resistance and Bt becoming debatable (though still positive) in the absence of pest pressure and with growing weed resistance, ag technology companies really need another cash cow.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Yes, it is...

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  This is my answer to the perennial IRS question about whether my mileage log on my light pickup is WRITTEN.  It could be true, ya know.

Driving home from USFR, it dawned on me with all the GPS stuff I've got in vehicles and on my phone, somebody ought to have invented an automated mileage logger.  In other words, there should be an app for that.

This is what I found.

How Milo Works

Milo is simplest and most cost effective way to keep an accurate and complete mileage log that separates business trips from personal use of your vehicle. Plug-and-Drive Just plug MILO™ into any power adapter and Drive! MILO™ does the rest. The MILO™ GPS keeps track of the time, location, and distance traveled for each stop. Because Milo knows your work schedule, it automatically separates your trips into Business and Personal without you having to press any buttons. Connect and Upload At any time, you may plug MILO™ into a USB port to loads data to the MILO™ Web Center and view your mileage log. When your data is uploaded and processed, trips can automatically be associated with your Calendar meetings, Contacts, and Customer Addresses to fill in the purpose of your Business Trips. View and Report Login to Milo Web Center with your email address and password, review your trips, and print your log. You will never lose your trip data again.  [More]
The cost seems a bit salty, however: about $200 upfront and yearly fees of about $100.  Still it is pretty tempting.

Plus it is a Brand New Gadget I don't own!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Any which way we can...

You have to admire the focus of biofuel proponents. Regardless of the collateral damage or uncomfortable baggage, getting federal subsidies trumps all other considerations. Soybean organizations have been pinging me for several days about getting an extension on the biofuel tax credit which seems to be the only way this fuel makes economic sense.

To press the issue with members of the U.S. Senate, ASA has renewed the nationwide Action Alert to its members and supporters asking them to contact their Senators to urge them to pass the biodiesel tax credit extension immediately upon their return from the Memorial Day recess.
"I strongly encourage all soybean farmers to contact their Senators directly over the next week, in-person, via phone and email, to explain the need for the Senate to extend the biodiesel tax incentive," Joslin said. "The biodiesel tax incentive expired on Dec. 31, 2009, and since that time, biodiesel production and consumption has dramatically declined, biodiesel production facilities have closed, and thousands of biodiesel industry workers have lost their jobs." [More]
Like all the other mentions I saw in the ag press, this blurb does not mention all the other crap stuff in the bill involved. In fact, I wonder if soybean farmers phoning their Senator realize what else this bill contains.
As the Congress now considers yet another deficit-increasing, budget-busting spending bill, one must ask: when will those who now control the Executive and Legislative Branches of the federal government begin to take responsibility for containing the ongoing spending binge?
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the latest version of the so-called “jobs” bill before the Senate will increase spending outlays by $126 billion over the next ten years, and add $79 billion to the federal deficit during that time. Over the first five years, the deficit effect is starker still: of the $109 billion in new spending in these years, $103 billion would be added to the deficit. Most of the partially-offsetting tax increases under the law would become effective only later.
The bill is thus primarily a borrow-and-spend-bill, with some tax-and-spend thrown in. But it is, in all respects, a bill that piles still more spending on top of current historic highs. [More]
More curiously, it is the much-despised (by farmers) Democratic leadership that is the good guy here. Republicans are steering clear of this measure, which they will undoubtedly characterize as a tax increase.
In a statement released with fellow Republican Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming that Snowe posted to her Web site, she called the tax a “poison pill” that would “cripple” so-called S corporations, the most common business structure. The proposal would force such corporations to pay as much as a 15.3 percent payroll tax on earnings reinvested in the business rather than taken in salary, she said.
“This is a job-killing tax hike that will force entrepreneurs across the nation to retrench and reconsider any plans for hiring employees or expanding their business,” Snowe said in the statement.
Democrats control 59 of the Senate’s 100 members and need 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle that could lead to passage of the jobs bill. The measure would reinstate unemployment aid for jobless workers who’ve exhausted benefits, renew about three-dozen tax breaks and impose higher taxes on executives of buyout firms and other investment partnerships.
The provision raising Snowe’s ire is aimed at closing the so-called John Edwards loophole in tax law, a name coined by Republicans after the former North Carolina senator organized his law practice in a way that to avoided the 2.9 percent Medicare tax on about $26 million in earnings. Edwards, a Democrat later nominated to be vice president, was the sole shareholder in his S corporation.
‘Reputation and Skill’
The legislation would impose the Medicare tax and applicable Social Security taxes on such earnings when the company’s “principal asset” is the “reputation and skill” of less than four employees. Social Security taxes of 12.4 percent apply only to the first $106,800 of an individual’s earnings; Medicare taxes have no cap. [More]
 For my money (heh), this is closing a loophole - not a tax increase. Regardless, I believe we need tax increases to attack the deficit -but NOT now. But for many upset with the deficit this bill is really ugly.

Let me offer a prediction.  Farmers will harangue Congress to pass this bill and then rail about out-of-control spending with their next breath. I also wonder if there is any legislation so odious that would cause soybean producers to wait for the next bus. Reinstate the draft? Repeal the interest deduction? Create real "death panels"?

I'm not sure.

Meanwhile, the ethanol lobby is not about to let a good crisis go to waste.
The most disgusting aspect of the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico isn't the video images of oil-soaked birds or the incessant blather from pundits about what BP or the Obama administration should be doing to stem the flow of oil. Instead, it's the ugly spectacle of the corn-ethanol scammers doing all they can to capitalize on the disaster so that they can justify an expansion of the longest-running robbery of taxpayers in U.S. history.
Listen to Matt Hartwig, communications director for the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry lobby group: "The Gulf of Mexico disaster serves as a stark and unfortunate reminder of the need for domestically-produced renewable biofuels." Or look at an advertisement that was recently placed in a Washington, D.C., Metro station: "No beaches have been closed due to ETHANOL spills. … America's CLEAN fuel." That gem was paid for by Growth Energy, another ethanol industry lobby group. [More]
This angle smells like a winner to me.  With Palin snuggling up to pols in Des Moines, and Obama on board with renewables-at-any-cost, highlighting the spill can be good for the mandate push.  And even better, mandates don't require a budget offset.

Investors are sniffing around ethanol again as a result.
With oil prices hovering around a modest $70 a barrel, coupled with the poor economy, ethanol startups have had difficulty attracting investors.
Now the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico could help change that. The horror of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill has focused more attention on the need for alternative fuels, Florida companies planning to produce ethanol say.
"We can displace enough oil through biofuels and renewable energy that we don't need to rely on offshore drilling for oil," said Brad Krohn, principal and manager of Highlands EnviroFuels LLC, Lake Placid. "Until now it has been difficult to get our projects financed. We believe this is a prime opportunity for both federal funding from government agencies as well as private investment." [More]
I will not belabor my opposition to an industry that cannot remove the training wheels, so let me offer this remark about my interpretation of these events:

Go long corn.  Watch China for beans.

And to our protein industry, we corn growers seem to be saying: Buy your own Congresshumans.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Crop scouts don't like to be positive...

I have a professional crop scout for one of our farms.  Actually the farm manager thinks it's a good idea, so...

Anyhoo, he recently reported conditions were ideal for an outbreak of white mold this year.  To be sure, crop scouts are pressured, I think, to find some problem to justify their fee. We have never had it this far south, but I guess it's showing up just north of me (Champaign County).

This could be a really tricky problem as the freakishly productive Kip Cullers points out.
We have a white mold problem on our farm because of the green beans we’ve grown in the past and the intensive management practices we follow. We have a disease breeding factory here and once you get white mold, it’s almost impossible to get rid of it.
This year, we put 4 pounds per acre of Contans WG® down before we planted, then we worked it in a couple inches deep and then we chemigated another 4 pounds per acre three to four weeks later. To me it looks like the Contans WG should work because it affects the sclerotia before the soybeans bloom.
Another thing we learned in Brazil is spraying soybeans with Cobra® at the third or fourth trifoliate. We’re going to give that a try, too. The Cobra should cause the growing point to fork so hopefully we’ll get two main centralized feeders so the soybeans don’t grow so tall.
White mold is costing us a lot. Last year, we had the best soybeans ever and it looked like we would make 165 to 175 bushels per acre. And then white mold came in and ate our lunch. We’ve got to get this disease figured out. Between this and the soybean height, we could be losing as much as 100 to 125 bushels per acre. [More]
Laying aside the fact that if I lost 100-125 bushels/acre, my yields would be about -60 bpa, I do respect his assessment. 

But try to find any reasonable, effective approach to handling this problem other than looooong rotations with lots of small grains.  Yeah, that sounds doable.

So to sum up, our intensive production of corn and soy could be at risk from new problems triggered by what some see as long term climate change for the Midwest.
"Historically, a drought like the Dust Bowl would happen every 100 years, but what we've found is that modern droughts are shorter and can be more severe," said Cherkauer, whose results were published in the early online version of the journal Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. "The frequency of these droughts and the aerial extent has decreased significantly, however, since the middle of the last century."

Studying precipitation data from 1916 through 2007, Cherkauer and Mishra found that only one severe drought -- in 1988 -- occurred since the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. During that time, Indiana and much of northeastern Illinois have trended toward more precipitation during the crop-growing season from May to October, a positive for corn and soybean growers.
"There is less chance of having widespread, extreme drought," Mishra said. "We may have drought, but the tendency is that we're getting more precipitation during the crop-growing season."

Cherkauer and Mishra predicted future drought conditions by studying historical precipitation trends and inputting soil moisture and stream flow data into the Variable Infiltration Capacity Model, which simulates how precipitation moves through land surface environments.

Cherkauer warned that despite the rarity of drought conditions, droughts would be likely to occur during the later part of the crop-growing season, when the plants need moisture to produce grains.

"Yields are also much higher than they were during the Dust Bowl, so the impact of the damage would be worse," Cherkauer said.

Mishra said future research will try to determine the cause or causes of the increase in precipitation. He said global warming is likely a factor because rising sea temperatures near the equator are causing more El NiƱo conditions, which increase rainfall in the Midwest. [More]
Say what you will about drought, but it cuts down on fungal diseases.  

Drought tolerance may not be the feature we will need here in hybrids soon, compared to disease resistance.