Procrastination, Political Posts, Catching Up, Tumblr…

Procrastination

The problem with a non-commercial, privately funded blog like this, one that is as unfocused and rambling as this one is, is that there are no deadlines, no sense of urgency to get something written and posted. Don’t feel like writing? Fine. Don’t. No worries…

But it also means I tend to procrastinate terribly. This poor blog has sometimes sat here for weeks, maybe even a month or more, with nothing new appearing. And the only thing urging me to write something are feelings of guilt. Especially when the annual bill for keeping this thing up and running turned up in my email the other day. That’s always a shock. (Wait, what? How much am I paying for this thing? Why did I opt for the ‘business platinum’ package in the first place? Sheesh…)

The thing is, I hate deadlines. Decades ago I was a writer and editor for small market (very small) computer magazines and I came to loathe deadlines. But they were a fact of life. There were notes taped all over my computer with various dates and times, “drop dead” dates that had to be met or the magazine wouldn’t get to the printer in time, writers I had to call to find out where the article they’d promised was, last minute rewrites, getting the new ad from that software company and finding out it’s .25 inches taller than last month’s and having to scramble to try to cut two lines from an already dense technical article to try to make room…

No, I do not like deadlines. But they are sometimes necessary. Maybe I should set deadlines for this thing…

Dear mother of milk of magnesia, no. No no no no…

Political Posts

With the entire country having apparently gone stark, raving mad, I must admit that the temptation to join what seems to be about four hundred million self-appointed political experts and launch into lengthy and impassioned political rants is indeed lurking in the back of my head.

But, well, why? What good would it do to join the ranks of the outraged and turn this into yet another toxic and ultimately useless political blog? None, of course. All it would do is ratchet up my blood pressure, irritate you, attract trolls and other undesirables, and, in the long run, do absolutely no good at all.

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A Political Post

If you want political posts, here’s one for you. It’s a post. It’s political. Well, I think it’s political. I questioned this post very carefully and from various comments I suspect it’s an ardent supporter of the Bull Moose party. But it’s answers were very confusing. Mostly it was complaining about birds pooping on it.

Oh, wait, it’s not in the Bull Moose party, it was complaining about a bull moose that was using it to scratch its butt last week…

To be blunt, I am not going to turn this into a political rant. I hereby declare this to be a political free zone.

Maybe.

 

Tumblr

Ah, Tumblr, the blogging service I love to hate. Or hate to love. Or hate to hate. Or something like that.

Do you mind if, for a moment, I use strong language? No? Thanks

Tumblr is really pissing me off.

There, I said it. I’ve been reduced to expressing my irritation with vulgarity.

It seems like I’ve been on Tumblr since the end of the last ice age. I think I’m up to over 6,000 posts over there or something equally ridiculous. But it’s become so irritating…

I’ve had 30 new followers of the Tumblr blog over the last week. Of those, 21 were hard core porn blogs, almost certainly part of the infamous “pornbot” system operating on Tumblr. Eight were blatant advertising scams, filled with post after post of links leading to commercial advertising sites.

And one actual real person.

Seriously, only one was an actual real person.

And then there’s the advertising. Dear lord… I run ad blockers, security software, firewalls, etc. so when I’m on Tumblr about 99.9% of that crap is blocked before I can see it. But every once in a while I’ll have the blockers turned off for some reason and, oh, dear lord, it’s horrible. It’s like every scam, fraud and fly by night outfit in the world is advertising over there now. Ads for ambulance chasing “legal services”, ads for fraudulent “alternative” health products, ads for dietary supplements that claim to cure everything from bad breath to cancer…

Then there are the bots… A lot of us are convinced that the ten gazillion users Tumblr claims it has are a wee bit exaggerated. In actual fact there are only about 300 accounts by actual real people and all of the others are pornbots and spambots.

Some of us suspect that’s how Tumblr makes money, the bots serving up advertising to other bots, which in turn serve up ads to still more fake accounts, with Tumblr’s counters ticking them all off and counting them as legitimate hits when in actual fact it’s just an unending circle jerk of bots botting other bots…

And I’ve just run out of things to say

I suppose at this point I should come up with some pithy, insightful, thought provoking comment that would make you all nod and go “oh my I wish I’d thought of that” to wrap this all up. Sorry. Can’t think of one.

Give Me Land Lots of Land

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-4-37-48-pmOne trend in agriculture has been making me nervous for some time now, and that is how large quantities of farmland are being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

This has been going on for some time, of course. When I was a kid the road we lived on was dotted with small farms of various sizes ranging about 80 acres to 150 acres or so. Ours was actually one of the larger ones when I was a kid, with 140 acres and about 120 under cultivation. If memory serves me correctly, there were ten or twelve farms just on that one stretch of road when I was a kid. Today the houses and even many of the barns are still standing, but they aren’t farms any more, they’re residences. The actual farmland is now owned by one of three huge farming operations.

Whether or not this is a “good thing” is open to debate. But there is one trend that I think is definitely not a good thing, and that is that large amounts of farmland is being snapped up by investment companies.

Corporations like Farmland Partners (which doesn’t actually do any farming) and a lot of others, located both in the US and in other countries, are buying up farmland wherever they can find it and then renting it back to real farmers. For, of course, a profit

One can understand their point of view. People have to eat, after all. Therefore there is always going to be demand for land on which to grow crops. If a farmer can’t afford to buy land, he or she has to get it from somewhere, so they’re forced to rent it from a land owner. To an investor this seems like a fairly safe type of investment, especially with the stock markets being as volatile as they are.

But for farmers, for agriculture in general, this practice is disturbing in more than one way and is potentially damaging for consumers, farmers and agribusiness in general.

These companies do no farming, grow no crops, harvest no grain, raise no cattle. They do nothing to improve the quality of the land they own. They exist for only one reason, to rent land back to real farmers for the maximum amount of money they can squeeze out of them. They contribute nothing to agriculture. I dislike the term ‘parasite’, but, well… Isn’t that what you call an entity which does nothing but syphon off the resources of others and provides no benefit to those it feeds off of?

So far these companies have had little adverse effect on agriculture. Up until now they have been picking off the ‘low hanging fruit’, so to speak, snapping up deals here and there, in widely scattered areas. But as they acquire more, as more farmland is taken out of the control of farmers and placed in the hands of a few companies that care only for making profit… Well, the potential for abuse is obvious.

This kind of thing is legal. I certainly can understand the attraction people may have for this kind of an investment. With the stock market going through endless series of boom/bust cycles over the last few decades, a fairly stable investment like farmland is certainly attractive.

But what kind of effect is this going to have on agriculture as ever increasing amounts of land are being held in perpetuity by companies whose only goal is to squeeze as much profit out of farmers as possible?

Dairy prices – will their recovery continue in 2017?

Dairy proved one of the best commodity performers of 2016, as the price slump of the previous two years at last curbed output. Has the rally got legs?

Source: Agrimoney.com | Dairy prices – will their recovery continue in 2017?

At the start of the year everyone seems eager to present their predictions of what’s coming for the future, and the markets gurus are no exception.

Right now their view of the future looks fairly good, although not exactly what I would call glowing. USDA is predicting a milk price of around $17.25/CWT. While better than the $13-$14 farmers were getting at one point, it’s still not really all that good. To give you some historical perspective, with bonuses for butterfat, protein, low somatic cell count (i.e. our cows were healthy) we were getting around $13 for our milk back in 1979 or 1980. So now you know why dairy farmers were in so much financial trouble over the last year or so as prices dipped below $14/CWT(2).

The US actually escaped the worst of it. New Zealand and other milk producing regions around the world suffered far worse than we did. NZ was hit especially hard because a huge amount of their milk goes to China, and when China began to cut imports of milk, the NZ market crashed so hard it actually caused a devaluation in the NZ dollar and had repercussions through their whole economy.

China has been slowly ramping up imports again. While the country has been increasing its own dairy production, it’s having trouble meeting demand for various reasons. Many Chinese consumers still remember the melamine horror of a few years ago where domestic milk was deliberately contaminated with melamine(1). Consumer confidence in domestic products plummeted, increasing the demand for imported dairy products. Over the last few years China has increased it’s own milk production, and by improving food safety they’ve made some progress in restoring the confidence of consumers. But China still doesn’t produce enough milk to satisfy demand and imports have had to increase to keep pace.

New Zealand and the EU both saw production decline because of the plummeting prices. The EU didn’t return to the quota system it had a couple of years ago, but it did institute pricing incentives to get dairy farmers to reduce quantities. Between the low prices, farmers in NZ being pushed out of business, and the new pricing system in the EU, milk production in both areas has dropped by several percent.

Not in the US, though. Here production has continued to ramp up. Depending on whose data you believe, production in the US during 2016 went up anywhere from 2 – 4%, and there seems to be no end in sight at the moment. But then the US isn’t as sensitive to the international market as is the EU and NZ. Domestic demand has more of an effect, and it has remained fairly strong. But while we weren’t hit quite as hard as the EU or New Zealand, the prices dropped to the point where a lot of dairy farmers were suffering financially and were just barely hanging on. At $17 – $17.50 the situation is a bit better, but not by much.

I’m not all that optimistic, to be honest. In the US we’re looking at continued growth in production, and almost no increase in demand for milk products. While demand for butter has grown and the cheese market has remained fairly stable, we still have huge stockpiles of both sitting in warehouses. The market for fluid drinking milk is flat or is even shrinking. And now that the holiday season is over demand for both butter and cheese is going to shrink.

None of this bodes well for dairy farmers in the upcoming year. About the only good news dairy farmers have seen is that feed prices have remained low. But that’s bad news for the farmers who raise grain, especially corn. Corn prices have been sitting in the $3.40 – $3.52 range for months on the futures market, with farmgate prices dipping down to the $2.75 level or even less.

Will things ever improve? I hate to say this, but in all honesty, no. Farming has always been like this. You have long periods of mediocre prices, followed by a year or two of absolute panic, with the occasional good year thrown in just often enough to give you hope that maybe things will get better. And then the rug gets pulled out from under your feet…

 

 


  1. When melamine is added to milk, it makes milk quality tests indicate it has a higher protein content than it really has so they can get a higher price for it. It sickened hundreds, even thousands of people and even caused the death of some children. China acted quickly and clamped down hard, even executing some of the people responsible. But the damage was done and people didn’t trust domestically produced milk any more.
  2. CWT stands for hundred weight. While you may buy milk by the gallon in the store, farmers get paid by weight, not volume.