Sunday, September 22, 2013

Junkbox, Episode MMXIII ⫔...

Definitely football weather. Too bad I'm not into football.
Beans to cut. Later, druids.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Aw, c'mon, Mr. Secretary...

I'm certainly no stranger to cheap demagoguery, but this lump is a sad example of obfuscation and pandering at the same time.
If the Obama Administration had a jazzy slogan like that it might read: Every Farm Boy a Doughboy.That, at least, appears to be the policy of Obama’s Secretary of Agribusiness Tom Vilsack. For months Vilsack has been delivering the same speech at chicken and peas dinners across the country, the gist of which is that America’s farm mothers are brood sows, birthing sons to be recruited into the army and made into fertilizer. Said Vilsack:
The U.S. population is now categorized as 16 percent rural. Despite that low percentage, more than 40 percent of the men and women who serve in our armed forces are from rural America. Young men and women from America’s farms continue to lead the way in protecting our country and making us the top military power in the world.
Farm boys grow up with a sense of wanting to give something back, Vilsack says. If we lose that value system, we’ll lose our military might.Mind you, that’s the USDA chief talking, not the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff. Welcome to America’s new agriculture policy: Grow large crops of farm boys for use as cannon fodder. [More]

Jeez - where to start!

A. The author of this article is totally clueless here as well, and apparently unable to google "rural". He conflates "rural" with "farm". Let's try some of that fancy arithmetic stuff: 16 percent of the US population (~320M) would be over 50 million people. WTF! WE constantly remind people only 2% are farmers and we know that's a wild overestimate of the number of actual producers. So where are all these folks?

B. To begin with, there are NINE (!) different USDA definitions of "rural". This excerpt leads me to believe Vilsack's speech inventor is using Definition 7. Wade through it yourself, but it's pretty clear it includes lots of what are clearly "city folk". It definitely doesn't mean "lives on a farm".

[Click to enlarge to barely readable]
Put simply, the current makeup of the all-vol­untary military looks like America. Where they are different, the data show that the average sol­dier is slightly better educated and comes from a slightly wealthier, more rural area. We found that the military (and Army specifically) included a higher proportion of blacks and lower propor­tions of other minorities but a proportionate num­ber of whites. More important, we found that recruiting was not drawing disproportionately from racially concentrated areas. [More]
[Note the above study also uses Definition #7 of rural]

C. I can't find a definitive source but anecdotal information suggests young people are not necessarily driven by fervent ideals so much as a lack of employment opportunity near home, the GI Bill educational benefits, and more chances of equal treatment for minorities.  I'm not discounting patriotic motivation but it is not the only factor and there is no evidence to suggest it is stronger in rural youth. A better link is the much higher unemployment in the rural South especially.

D. It is a tortured chain of logic to link national security to a farm bill and subsidies so farmers will keep supplying sons and daughters to fill soldier slots. Also a little nauseating, IMHO.

Vilsack is scraping the bottom of the barrel here. While I am glad I served, I joined because I was going to be drafted and frankly for a little adventure at 21. It was one of the best decisions of my life, but I did not then nor now imagine myself doing anything heroic. It was my job for 5 years. They paid me to do it.

The Secretary's cheap exploitation of military myths is undignified and uninformed by actual fact.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Exhibit G: Growing inequality...

While there were stark differences in salaries when I was choosing my major (almost 50 years ago), the gap has become truly shocking.


There are very sound reasons for this, but more to my point is the decreasing number of majors to fill in the middle. These gaps would be OK if not echoed all across our economy, with a clearer and clearer divide between "will-haves" and "will not haves".

Sound reasons also do not seem to mitigate the consequences of vast inequality. Even if justly allocated, do we want to live in a society of rich and poor? More importantly to me, have we damaged many of the ladders that allow not only climbing up the ranks, but provide an avenue of recovery if you slip out of the top brackets. Scarily enough, we are raising the penalties for losing a job, catastrophic illness, and other career interrupting events. If you drop down, I think it is increasingly likely you will stay down.

And so will your children.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Junkbox, Episode MMXIII ⩏...

First field of beans about done. Not mine - can't say.

Is it me or is it droughty in here?
One  more reason...

Why most marketing strategies are useless (IMHO). We are kidding ourselves as producers if we think we are going to consistently outfox the market.

The truth is we're not even in the real game.
Take the grain titan Cargill. The largest private company in the U.S., Cargill has gathered and shipped a bulk of the world’s supply of wheat and corn for more than 100 years. Nowadays, however, Cargill also sells billions in derivatives to food companies, and runs two massive hedge funds, managing morethan $14 billion for investors. Or take Louis Dreyfus, another major grain trader. In 2008, Dreyfus launched its own fund enabling investors to bet on food prices. By 2011, the fund had grown so fast it stopped accepting new money.Trafigura, the third largest global trader of energy and metals, runs nine funds that together manage approximately $2.5 billion. Last year Glencore, a metals and mining giant, and Vitol, the world’s largest independent oil trader, financed a $10 billion loanfor a Russian oil company. As businesses struggle to secure large sums from traditional banks, analysts say these companies could continue filling in for banks as a source of capital. Recently, some experts have also noted that extensive interlinkages between commodity markets and the financial system could pose systemic risks to the global economy."To the extent these companies [are] trading commodity contracts and selling investment products, they seem virtually identical in their scope of activities to the banks," said Marcus Stanley, policy director at Americans for Financial Reform.Unlike the banks, though, most trading companies are privately owned, release scant information, and escape most regulation. Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan might obscure their commodity activities to the public, but they are still obliged to privately disclose them to the Federal Reserve. Firms like Vitol and Cargill, meanwhile, operate in near secrecy. They must register their hedge funds with the Securities and Exchange Commission, but no regulator sees the full stable of their businesses. The lack of rules around “insider trading” in commodity markets also opens a backdoor to manipulation. [More]
Now add in Black Box trading and I think drawing all the clever lines on bar charts is busywork for people who struggle with a random world. And boy, is it!

Friday, September 13, 2013

We're losing...

 The public relations struggle to define commercial farms.  This Chipotle ad is getting rave reviews and could be going viral.

I don't think we have good responses to counter these images. And passing ag-gag laws is really a step in the wrong direction IMHO.

Meanwhile, the GMO battle I declared over seems very much alive.
Four of the world’s largest chemical corporations currently use some of Kauai’s best agricultural lands to test their new pesticide and GMO technologies. Kauai residents are concerned about the impacts of this industry on the island, and through “Right to Know” Bill 2491 are seeking basic information to ensure that the community is protected.Bill 2491 would also establish buffer zones between pesticide application and schools, hospitals, residential areas and waterways, mandate that a health and environmental study be conducted to better understand the impacts of the agro-chemical/GMO industry on the island, and put a temporary halt on expansion of the industry while the study is being conducted. [More]

The real difficulty is the ideological argument here. Farmers want to maximize individual rights, and that's exactly what these GMO opponents are advocating. Forcing others to accept products because "we" or the government know what's good for them would never get a favorable reaction from farmers. It's the climate change position in reverse. 

This is also part and parcel of the devolvement of government action to the local level as state and federal regulation becomes less effective. For a tiny minority like farmers, supporting federal overrides is a really bad strategy. 

We've played fast and loose with science and thus enabled this kind of resistance. Actually, if GM companies and users are successful, I would be troubled by the implications for their own consumer rights. If we can force our views on others do we really thing it won't happen to us?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Life is a moving target...

From the list of "policies that aren't working like we thought they would", this interesting take on why monetary policy (interest rates) don't deliver the bang for the buck they used to.
What’s the theory? To start with, monetary policy works by changing the cost of borrowed money. When growth is weak, a central bank cuts interest rates, which in turn makes spending, consumption, and investment more attractive. You’re more likely to buy a house or a car if the interest rate is 3 percent than if it’s 5 percent, for example. But crucially, the use of borrowed money is a crucial way that these lower rates translate into higher economic growth.But borrowing money is disproportionately an activity of the young. Economists call it “life cycle hypothesis of saving” — people use credit to smooth out what they can consume over the course of their lives. When just embarking on a career, a young person might take out major loans for education and for buying a house and car. As they reach middle age, they will tend to have paid down some of that debt while also building savings. By the time they hit retirement age, they should be net creditors, with significantly more savings than they still owe in debt.
That would imply that in an older society fewer people are actively using credit products. Which should in turn imply that a central bank turning the dials of interest rates will be less powerful at shaping the speed of the overall economy. [More]
I find this idea persuasive. In fact, older Americans are beginning to despair at low interest rates, since they are on the receiving end of money rental. Meanwhile record low rates still can't seem to put m all the excess money to work.

Case #2: Hunger. Here in agriculture our answer to growing food insecurity has been to pay farmers to grow more. But there are catches to this obvious solution, as well. Poverty and waste.
In a 2012 paperRebecca Bratspies, of the CUNY School of Law, makes the case that increased food production is not the way to resolve food insecurity. Rather, the problem comes from food distribution. For the past decade, she says, food production has increased faster than population growth. Yet, in the past 35 years, the number of people experiencing food insecurity has nearly doubled: 500 million experienced hunger in 1975; by 2010, it was 925 million. Food production doesn’t alleviate poverty, Bratspies argues; it’s a “social commitment to an equitable distribution of food” that will actually help those suffering.
In the U.S., nearly 49 million people live in food-insecure households. However, theUSDA says that our food waste is equal to 30 or 40 percent of the national food supply. That’s 36 million tons of food uneaten, food that the National Resource Defense Council says “eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows up 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States.” Reducing food losses by 15 percent, the NRDC continues, would be enough to food to feed at least 25 million people experiencing food insecurity. [More][My emphasis]
Of course we have an answer for the problem of poor people not having enough money to buy the food we grow: government assistance. No - wait, I forgot. We're going to shutdown government in order to CUT food aid (SNAP), and send more of the farm bill $$ to well, me. Yeah, that makes sense.

Case #3: Breakfast and obesity.  We all know the right answer - breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But are we looking at cause and effect or simply correlation?
The mere fact of this association doesn’t tell us very much about what breakfast really does, of course, and it’s possible that the case for eggs and toast has been overblown. A study published last week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition starts with this simple fact—that in spite of all these association studies, no one knows exactly what skipping breakfast might be doing to our bodies. The study goes on to make a disturbing claim: Scholars in this field of inquiry—breakfast science—have been fudging facts and misinterpreting the science. The literature shows signs of research bias.That doesn’t mean any of the studies described above is fraudulent or dubious. There certainly is a link between skipping meals and getting fat, but Andrew Brown, a nutritionist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and lead author of the new critique, points out that large surveys of people’s diets and their health are at most suggestive. Lining up several dozen of them in a row doesn’t add much more value to their claims. It could be that my yuppie morning ritual really keeps my BMI in check, perhaps by changing my metabolism or helping to control my appetite. But it’s also possible that my breakfast habits do nothing for me on their own, and that they only correspond to some deeper determinants of health.As a breakfast-eater, for example, I’m more likely to work out than other people. At least that was the finding of a breakfast study from 2008, which also found that breakfasters tend to be rich and white, and less likely to indulge in cigarettes and alcohol. Any of these factors might protect someone from obesity and diabetes, so it’s hard to know what role might be left to eating breakfast. There are other confounds, too: People with lousy sleeping schedules may have less time for making pancakes. So what makes them fat—missing breakfast or not getting a good night’s rest? Here’s another: People who are trying to lose weight often make a point of missing meals. The fact that they’re on a diet, though, suggests that they’ve been gaining pounds, not shedding them. Does skipping breakfast make them fat, or do people who are getting fat choose to skip breakfast? [More]
In short, if you haven't learned to keep and open mind on as many beliefs as you can, you may be heading for rude shocks and future shock. We live in a complex world, as as it becomes ever more interlinked, teasing out what will happen when we do X is going to be tougher and tougher.

Which is why I am a big supporter of random trials.  Imagine if we could do that with the farm bill. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The scarce market argument...

 For land prices. As asset bubbles are being spotted like financial Yeti all around the globe, people are trying to see some sense behind the prices. In this analysis about the boom in classic car prices see if the reasoning resonates with our favorite asset.
From our vantage point — and it certainly is a lay vantage point when it comes to classic cars — there seem to be three core attributes associated with vintage automobiles.The first is uniqueness.Value related to uniqueness is understandable since it relates to how easily an object or item can be sourced, replicated or mass produced. For now, there is little chance that a classic Bentley will be perfectly replicated. Value applied on these grounds seems rational enough.
The second is utility.Though, while this may be a bonus, we’d argue that in classic cars this is not necessarily a core value since most classic cars are notoriously unreliable and hard to maintain.In fact, a lack of utility can even be part of the appeal for classic car enthusiasts, since the joy of ownership is often linked to the challenge of maintaining the cars in working order, or getting them up to scratch.The third attribute, arguably the most important, is historical importance to car enthusiasts and sector specialists. [More]

The third point may be a bigger contributor to land prices than we think: land has continues to stand unchallenged as an historic form of wealth, and because it is intrinsically tied to location it also is a repository of history. To know an ancestor or beloved grandparent walked/bought/farmed an acre is to add the same type of value as knowing your childhood movie idol owned an item. Think of Spock's napkin or Jon Voight's car. Funny doesn't work without a wide acceptance of the underlying truth we feel.

When it come to land next to me, it is truly a scarcity market. And given my conviction that extremely large amounts of liquid assets are looking for a long-term home, farmland could be a semi-scarce asset that can at times possess some attributes of fine art or a Duisenberg. 

This means that using tools that select the best stock for your 401K may not help when making land decisions, especially if you farm. 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Slouching toward legality...

Every now and then I see the claim marijuana is the "most valuable US crop".
Reuters reported Dec. 18 that public-policy analyst Jon Gettman estimated the value of the U.S. marijuana crop at $35 billion annually, with California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Hawaii and Washington each producing more than $1 billion worth of the illegal drug each year. Gettman estimated the annual California marijuana crop to be worth $13.8 billion.
The estimates were based on previous federal reports showing that the U.S. produced more than 10,000 metric tons of marijuana each year.  At $1,606 per pound, that makes the crop worth at least $35 billion, compared to $23.3 billion for U.S.-grown corn, $17.6 billion for soybeans, and $7.4 billion for wheat. [More]
First, this was 2006, so the commodity numbers are much lower than current prices, and it also uses street value - not "farmgate" - prices for weed. Finally, the estimate comes from a partisan source, not disinterested economists. Something smells funny about this claim (heh).

So as the nations moves fitfully toward legalizing cannabis, what are some better numbers to estimate the importance of this ag product and its possible effect on the economy?

Well, that turns out to be a tough question. I started by trying to find out large US consumption is. As you might guess, the estimates are even worse than NASS on the soy crop.
Consequently, all the data presented above suggests the most reliable estimate of annual supply is one that takes each of four most prominent estimates into consideration: 1) the 21,865 mt estimate based on seizures and domestic production; 2) the 17,000 mt estimate reported by the Library of Congress; 3) the 8,700 mt estimate generated by combining State Department and NDIC reports; and 4) the 9,830 mt consumption estimate above derived from National Survey data. The average of these four estimates of supply is 14,349 mt of marijuana available in the US on an annual basis. [More]
But a more recent (2010) Rand study refutes this number.
The $20 billion figure appears to come from multiplying a $525-per-pound2 markup by an estimate from the Mexican government that 35 million pounds were produced in Mexico and then rounding up. However, no data support the claim that U.S. users consume 35 million pounds (~16,000 metric tons [MT]) per year, let alone that they consume this much marijuana from Mexico. (This point is addressed in detail in Chapter Three.) This is three times the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) (2009) upper bound for total U.S. consumption and nearly four times the amount estimated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (DASC, 2002). [More]

Note the ~15,000 MT estimate is from the same guy who made the previous value estimate. His estimate that we import about 50% of consumption is also echoed by other sources, but that claim seems to be more widely accepted as a reasonable guess. Perhaps a better estimate:
No one can know the actual value of the domestic marijuana crop with any certainty, as most cultivation is hidden in the shadows, all the more since federal prosecutors began cracking down in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The authors' best guess is that it’s worth about $2.1 billion to $4.3 billion.How legalization would affect the value of domestic pot production and potential tax revenue is another complex question the authors attempt to untangle.While legalizing marijuana could double or triple consumption, the authors point out that it also would dramatically lower the cost of production, with growers adopting highly mechanized, large-scale techniques used by big agricultural companies.Under this scenario, marijuana could become the cheapest legal intoxicant, far cheaper than alcohol. The authors suggest a legal market dominated by high-potency marijuana would produce annual tax revenues of a few billion dollars nationwide.By comparison, alcohol and tobacco each bring in $10 billion or more per year, according to the book.So what about California, where the pot industry is a fixture in some counties and growers boast of producing the most potent and most valuable strains in the country?The authors don’t speculate. However, 2010 figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the most recent available, rank grapes at the top in California, worth $3.2 billion annually, followed by almonds ($2.8 billion), strawberries ($1.8 billion) and lettuce ($1.6 billion).That means that if one values the nation’s marijuana crop at the high end of the authors’ estimate, about $4 billion, California would need to account for more than 75 percent of domestic production in order for pot to rank as the state’s top cash crop.Inflated valuations are not the sole domain of marijuana advocates. The authors suggest that there are incentives for law enforcement officials to pump up the potential value of marijuana to present their seizures in the most favorable light. [More]
By this time I have reached the conclusions that 1) any economic analysis regarding farm income, tax revenue, or economic  impact from legalization should be viewed with great skepticism, and 2) marijuana today probably is not close to being our most valuable crop. 

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Junkbox, Episode MMXIII ⨸...

 Group 2 beans are pushing toward harvest next week. Or being pushed...

If you don't have a camera on the back of your combine or grain cart, please cough up the $200 to prevent a tragedy.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Just not funny...

Believe it or not, I never could understand the joke about "cow tipping". Mostly, I knew it to be absolutely impossible and failed the test of humor for sheer illogic.

But obviously this fable is alive and well.
Let's get this out of the way: Cow tipping, at least as popularly imagined, does not exist. Drunk young men do not, on any regular basis, sneak into cow pastures and put a hard shoulder into a cow taking a standing snooze, thus tipping the poor animal over.While in the history of the world there have surely been a few unlucky cows shoved to their side by boozed-up morons, we feel confident in saying this happens at a rate roughly equivalent to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series.The evidence against cow tipping is immense, and backed up by both farmers and the laws of physics (more on that later), but the simplest bit of proof we can point to: YouTube.

It even includes some serious math to back this up.

I'm sure this will put an end to all those tremendously un-funny jokes.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Junkbox, Episode MMXIII ⨳...

 Our annual trip with our dinner club to the local lake for boating, overeating, and highly-disciplined wine consumption. And home before 10 pm.!

Cut beans in two weeks. No idea about yields. Meanwhile winds keep blowing the corn over.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Does this really happen?...

 Part of an e-mail from a friend:
On the grain front, got a call from my closest grain dealer, asking me to change delivery of my remaining August corn to his elevator in southern Lancaster County. He is loading trucks to go to Georgia with corn and does not have enough in the bins to fill the trucks!!! Apparently there is an area that needs corn and likely does not have rail access. The trucks are hauling wheat to the flour mills in this area and taking corn back. Can you say 'long haul'. The story is there is corn nearby, but rain is delaying harvest, so they are coming to Pa, an already corn deficit state for 'surplus' corn.
There are stories of some 1 million bushels still in bins in Pa however. I talked to a trucker who was loading corn out of a bin that the producer told him was 4 years old. I just wondered where he has been the last 2 years with an opportunity to sell in the last 14 months at 9.69 a bushel. I also realize that the truth sometimes can get in the way of a good story.

Man, I have trouble keeping corn until June.  I can't imagine 4-year old corn, but I've hear these stories all my life.  We had trouble with bins picking up moisture this spring, so Maybe they dry it to 12% or something.

Meanwhile, I have always needed to turn grain into money to like, buy groceries, and pay off loans, so maybe I never really had the right circumstances.

FWIW, we had a storm last night to boost our August rain total to .51", which means it won't be a new record low. While there was modest wind, it sure broke a lot of corn over. Is it me or are new hybrids remarkably wind-sensitive?