Catching Up

Time to catch up again, so let’s get on with this, shall we?

Lots of stuff has been going on in the farming world, some of it unpleasant.

Canadian Milk Export Headaches

Grassland, a large milk processor, sent notices to 75 dairy farmers here in the state that the company will no longer accept their milk as of May 1, leaving the farmers scrambling to try to find someone, anyone, to buy the milk they’re producing. Over the last couple of

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Ooo, butter… Yummy yummy butter

weeks Canada has rejiggered its milk classification/pricing system which has effectively prevented Grassland from exporting up to 1 million pounds of milk a day to Canada, and apparently with only 2 days notice. Grassland had no choice but to notify the farmers that they could no longer buy their milk because the company has no way to sell it now. A lot of people in the US dairy industry are claiming that Canada’s actions are nothing but a way to try to curtail the imports of US dairy products and are actually illegal under international trade law. Where are those farmers going to go with their milk? I have no idea. This is a bad time of year to try to find a milk processing company because we’re about to enter into what’s known as the “spring flush”, when dairy cows normally begin to produce even more milk, so there’s going to be a glut of milk coming on the market as it is and few processors are looking for more.

Corn Finances are Wonky

A recent survey by the Farm Journal indicates that the average cost of raising a bushel of corn for most farmers is about $3.69 per bushel. Corn briefly flirted with the 3.70 range for a while, but mostly it’s been in the 3.50 – 3.65 range for months and months now. It makes one wonder why anyone bothers to raise corn in the first place. Granted, some have lower costs than that and do make a bit of money off the crop, but still.

Sometimes the farming business reminds me of the old joke about the two guys from Milwaukee who decided to go into the fruit business. They bought a truck, ran down to Georgia and bought a load of peaches for $1 a pound, and came back to Milwaukee to sell them at $1 a pound. When they realized they hadn’t made any money on the deal and were trying to figure out why, one of them looks at the other and says “I know! We need to get a bigger truck.”

Some days I feel like the entire agricultural system is being run by those two…

Chickpeas

love chickpeas, or garbanzo beans as they’re sometimes called. I use them in salads, soups, but they’re mostly known for their use in hummus and in middle eastern cooking. A member of the legume family, they’re tasty, very nutritious and high in protein and, well, they’re just yummy and very useful in most types of cooking.

Chickpea planting in the US has more than doubled since 2013. We’re only planting about a half million acres, almost insignificant when compared to corn and soy acres, but interest in the chickpea has been climbing steadily. They’re being grown mostly in the north western states. Farmers are always looking for an alternative to low profit crops like corn and wheat, and right now chickpeas look pretty good, profit wise. They aren’t that easy to grow, though, mostly because they’re susceptible to disease. But the prices have gone up about 23% over the last year, and with consumption and interest increasing, and farmers looking to try to find some way to make a profit, I won’t be surprised if acres planted keeps on growing significantly.

Butter Butter Everywhere

Butter consumption in the US is at 50 year record high, and there seems to be no end in sight. Butter price is one of the few bright spots in the dairy industry right now, with the price creeping up despite a decrease in butter exports and an increasing stockpile sitting in warehouses. Wholesale prices for butter were pushing $2.23 at one point and have only declined a few cents since then, despite increases in milk production.

Butter has become a marketing tool for a lot of food companies. A lot of restaurants, even the fast food ones, are switching out margarine in favor of butter, and a lot of companies that make processed foods are now hyping that they’re using real butter instead of margarine or vegetable oils.

Why this increase in demand for butter? Part of the reason is that dairy products are no longer linked to increases in cholesterol levels. Over the last five or eight years new studies indicated that contrary to previous beliefs, moderate consumption of fats from dairy products seems to have little or no effect on cholesterol levels. And there have even been some studies that indicate moderate consumption of full-fat dairy products may even have some health benefits.

Another thing that’s been driving an increase in butter consumption is that it’s been found that hydrogenated vegetable oils, long the primary ingredient in most margarines, are utterly horrible for you, health wise, causing significant increases in risk of heart disease and other problems.

But despite all of that, we’re still producing way too much milk. In many areas of the country there isn’t even the plant capacity to handle all of the milk being produced. There are reports of milk being dumped or being used for animal feeds in some states. With the ‘spring flush’ now arriving, a lot of milk processing plants are at full capacity already. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to milk prices over the next month or two.


Amateur Radio Stuff

If you’re interested in agriculture and don’t give a fig about AR, you can stop reading now if you like.

QRZ

Just got the notice that my subscription to QRZ.com is about to expire. QRZ is known as being the place to go if you’re looking for information about a particular call sign, want to buy or sell radio equipment or if you’re a grouchy old fart who likes to complain a lot, hang out in the forums and, well, complain a lot. Most people just use it as a way to easily look up information about an amateur radio operator. If you have the person’s call sign, you can find names, addresses and other information about them on QRZ’s database. You don’t absolutely need to be a paid subscriber, but it’s helpful. It gets rid of the annoying advertising, gives you access to things the freeloaders don’t see, that kind of thing. You get your own web page, email, log book and other goodies. It’s not an essential service by any means, but it is indeed handy to have.

Just stay out of the forums unless you have a thick skin.

Terminology

The other day someone I was talking to remarked that I never, ever use the terms “ham” or “elmer”. And they are right, I don’t. While the term “ham” when used to refer to an

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A ham. Not an amateur radio operator

amateur radio operator has been in common use for probably a hundred years, that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I have no real desire to be referred to by a term that means “cured pig meat” to 99% of the population of the country. Am I being ridiculous? Pedantic? Of course I am. Don’t care.

I also loathe the term “elmer” when used to describe describe someone who assists a newcomer to amateur radio learn about the technology.

Now, before you go off the deep end and launch into a rant down in the comments section about the tradition behind the term “elmer”, I understand that “elmer” refers to a very nice fellow who once helped newcomers to the hobby learn about it. I’m sure he was a very nice person. He was an utterly delightful and nice fellow I’m sure.

But I don’t care. There is already a perfectly

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An Elmer. Not a mentor.

good term for that: mentoring. And to be perfectly frank, the term “elmer” is not exactly complimentary outside of the amateur radio community. It refers to the character Elmer Fudd from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. An “elmer” for a large percentage of the population is a person who resembles Elmer Fudd, someone who is a bumbling, idiotic fool. It is not a complimentary term.

Use both terms if you wish. I don’t care. I won’t object or even comment. But as far as I’m concerned, a mentor is a mentor, not an “elmer”. An amateur radio operator is an amateur radio operator, not processed pig meat.

10 thoughts on “Catching Up

    • Ah, there are days I miss Tumblr as well. I still follow about a dozen people there but about 2/3s of the followers I have over there are either bots, advertising sites, or people I suspect are either inactive or dead because they never react to anything.

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  1. Thanks for the information. So milk and cream are going to be in glut status soon I’d imagine. That’ll send prices tumbling. Good – because chocolate souffle and creme brule use milk and cream respectively – two of my favorite go to desserts.

    And me, I’m getting into DMR now. The reason being I see D-Star as strictly proprietary, C4FM is being dominated by the big players, and DMR has finally broken below the $100 mark. So DMR it is. And it’s funny as I explore more I see how it’s related to public safety radio and to telecom.

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    • There is a glut of milk on the market, but don’t plan on prices to consumers going down, at least not very much. There is a disconnection between milk supply and consumer prices that has existed for ages now. While milk processors and distributors are very quick to pass along price increases to consumers, when the processors’ costs go down, the consumer often doesn’t see much of a decrease in price, if any. Even when milk prices to farmers were in the tank last year, consumer prices didn’t go down much, if at all.

      D-Star, C4FM… All these competing modes are irritating. None of them work with the others, if you want to be compatible with them you have to buy separate transceivers for each… For whatever reason D-star is little more than a novelty around here. While a lot of repeaters switched to the Yaesu C4FM systems, that was mostly due to Yaesu almost giving the things away to repeater owners. I went with Yaesu FTM-400DR transceivers for the house and cars, but only because at the time I needed new transceivers anyway and I was in ARES, and with a lot of the ARES repeaters switching to Yaesu it seemed to make sense so I spent the extra money. I wish I hadn’t spent the money, frankly. My wife and I are still the only people in the county who have them despite the county ARES management talking about making a switch. The problem is money, of course. You can get one heck of a nice analog transceiver for half what a FTM-400DR costs. Can’t expect the volunteers to shell out that kind of money simply to get into ARES.

      And I am still not sure about whether or not the whole system is actually useful. I know nothing about D-star, but as for C4FM, the Yaesu system is very, very nice with tons of bells and whistles. But when it comes down to it, none of those bells and whistles are very useful unless everyone you’re communicating with has compatible equipment. The GPS system, the APRS, the mapping, group paging, all are very, very nice, but ultimately useless unless you can get everyone to spend the money to buy the equipment. And when most of our volunteers are retired and on fixed income, young people paying off student loans, etc. I just don’t see that happening.

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      • Interesting on the disconnect in cost vs. pricing. That said, I know someone is getting rich on it, the question is who is it? It’s definitely not the farmers – so perhaps it’s processors and distributors?

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        • You’re right that it isn’t the farmers. Most of the dairy farmers I know are barely been breaking even over the last few years, several even operating at a loss. It’s even worse in the EU from what I’ve been hearing. Milk prices were so bad in the EU that there were massive protests by dairy farmers in some countries.

          So where is the money going, then? As you guessed, the processors, distributors and other middlemen.

          Over the last two or three decades milk processing and distributing has become concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer players. Except for the high-end cheeses, some organics, etc. most milk is processed and marketed by a virtual monopoly made up of a tiny handfull of huge processing companies like Dean Foods, yogurt makers like Yoplait which is owned by General Mills, Kraft, etc. Most of the national and global dairy brands are owned by one of a handful of major food processors/distributors. Even generics are produced by Dean or one of the other big processors. Now Walmart is getting into the act and is in the process of dumping Dean as the provider of their generic milk products and building processing plants to make their own. In the Asian markets the dominant player is Fonterra, which handles virtually all of the milk products coming out of New Zealand and Australia. It’s not quite a monopoly, but it’s damned close to it.

          Complicating things is various governments fiddling with things. Milk production, milk prices, cheese prices, etc. are all heavily tampered with by governments. There is no such thing as a “free market” when it comes to milk. Price supports, massive buys of surplus product by USDA, quasi-governmental marketing boards… All of it was done with good intentions to try to make dairy production a bit less risky, but in the long run I think a lot of these programs have done more harm than good. They have certainly insulated the dairy industry from normal market forces, encouraging massive overproduction and the development of “mega-farms” that milk thousands of cows.

          When you throw the grocery stores into the mix, things get even more intense and complicated. I’m intimately familiar with the grocery store business. I used to work as a technician/installer/trainer for a company that sold and serviced point of sale systems to grocery stores, and learned a lot more about the business than I really wanted to. It is one of the most viciously competitive, cut throat businesses I’ve ever seen. The big grocery store chains put enormous pressure on distributors and food processors to slash their profits to the bone so the store can shave a couple of cents off of it’s retail prices to make consumers think they’re getting a deal…

          The whole thing gets real complicated, real fast.

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          • Yeah – sort of how I learned through six months of doing a grocery scoring contract that there are only two canning facilities in the United States. That one really got my attention. Oh yeah and that the scoring, if it was say broccoli it scored 94/100, but add salt, fat or sugar and the score would plummet drastically. Now the sugar that one I agree with, I’ve tried to limit the amount of sugar I take in. Salt I don’t consider harmful, and fat isn’t bad for us either.

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          • Ah, diet… It seems every day I see new recommendations, new fad diets, we’re eating too much of this, not enough of that. I try to ignore all of it and just eat a balanced diet, heavy on the veggies, and generally don’t worry about it too much.

            Salt seems to be replacing fat as the “great evil” in our diet. But the data to back that up seems to be questionable as well. Yes, high salt intake can cause problems in some people, but only in about 25% of the population, it seems. Most people can tolerate the salt levels in our current diets just fine.

            I’m a good example of why one shouldn’t just jump into these diet fads or even health advice from the average doctor. I have high blood pressure. So the standard recommendation would be to put me on a low sodium diet. But doing that would have serious health consequences for me. I have chronic low blood sodium levels, at or below the lower limit. Putting me on a low sodium diet would actually threaten my health I’m told.

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  2. I follow a doctor on youtube who calls the Dairy Industry “Big Milk”. Because they have created a belief that milk is one of the healthiest things you can eat. But in reality it’s not even digestible by most of the world. 😀 But I don’t care. I love me some dairy. I endorse Big Milk.
    I hope those dairy farms are able to find a buyer for their milk.

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    • The whole milk thing — That doctor you follow is pretty much right, milk’s health benefits are largely little more than marketing ploys. It does have some nutrients, yes, but most of the claimed health benefits don’t really seem to exist when it’s studied by truly independent researchers. Milk consumption seems to have little or no benefit when it comes to strengthening bones. In fact, some studies seemed to indicate just the opposite. The nutrients in it are easily obtained from other sources. There seems to be no real health benefits to consuming it if you have a decent diet in the first place. And as that doctor says, there are a lot of people out there who have trouble digesting milk proteins. One of my sons has trouble with dairy products

      But then there’s yummy, yummy cheese….

      Anyway, I hope these farms can find someplace to sell their milk. It doesn’t look good right now. There hasn’t been much follow up since the story first broke a few days ago, but it doesn’t look good. A lot of milk processors are at full capacity already. Despite the increasing demand for butter and a fairly strong cheese market, we are sill producing too much milk for the system to be able deal with it.

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