Farm Round Up

Lettuce Shortage

MrsGF works with the state’s various food service operations, including monitoring food purchases, and she tells me that the state’s prime food vendor has put out a warning that it may not be able to fulfill orders for lettuce because of adverse weather in California. Those poor buggers out in California — first a years long drought, then they get so deluged with rain that they can’t get their crops planted on time…  They just can’t seem to get a break. She’s put out warnings to the state’s food service operations that they’re going to need to change menus, switch to different types of greens, etc. until the situation is resolved. Kale and cabbage haven’t been hit quite as hard, but they’re seeing some serious shortages for various types of lettuce. Apparently it’s hitting the consumer market hard as well and prices are going up fast at the retail level. The Chicago Trib had a story about it just the other day here. (warning: may be paywalled) I was just at the local grocery store this morning and noticed iceberg lettuce is now around $2.50 a head, a dollar a head more than what it was what it was a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve put a limit of 2 heads per customer on purchases. Romain lettuce has also shot up in price. Pre-cut salad mixes containing lettuce have also gone up in price.

If you’re really desperate for leafy greens, fresh spinach looks like a bargain, going for about one third of the cost of lettuce at our local store. It also tastes better and is significantly better nutritionally than iceberg lettuce.

Over Supply

The biggest problem with agriculture right now seems to be over supply. There’s just too much corn, soybeans and milk being produced. Here in the US I’ve heard of co-ops, large farmers and grain dealers renting abandoned airport runways to pile up corn because they don’t have anyplace to put the stuff. Corn prices on the futures market are sitting at around 3.63 right now, and haven’t moved more than twenty cents up or down for months. And with the US looking at a seriously huge corn harvest in 2017, barring some kind of disaster, about the only direction that price is going to go is down.

Low soybean prices have made farmers in Brazil hang on to their crop, storing it rather than selling it in the hopes of higher prices. But now the corn harvest is going to start in June, and with the bins full of beans, there’s no place to store the corn. The Ukraine is predicting a huge increase in corn production to further destabilize things.

And as for the milk market, oh brother… The market is so glutted right now, especially in the US, that they don’t know what to do with the stuff. I’ve heard of processors pouring milk down the drain because they can’t deal with all of it.

The ag industry is going to have to get a grip on the problems with over production or the whole system is going to come crashing down around our ears.

Herbicide Resistance On The Rise

Weeds resistant to commonly used herbicides are becoming a massive problem. Glyphosate resistant waterhemp, a type of pigweed, has been spotted in at least 17 counties here in Wisconsin, and its cousin, a resistant Palmer amaranth, has been spotted in the state as well. Pigweed is especially difficult to deal with because it produces massive amounts of seed.

This is just another indication that we really need change the way we deal with weed problems. We can’t just keep trying to come up with ever more toxic chemicals to kill off weeds and GM modified crops. That scheme will always result in weeds eventually developing resistance to the herbicides and the cycle starting all over again.

Climate Change

It’s interesting to note that while we have an administration that continues to deny climate change, everyone else seems to have just accepted it and is trying to deal with it. Even Wal-Mart, which isn’t exactly known as a bastion of liberal policies, is trying to deal with the situation and is putting pressure on its suppliers to do likewise. While the politicians bluster and bluff and bloviate and grasp at straws to try placate whoever writes them the biggest check that week, out in the real world a lot of major companies have realized that if anything positive is going to get done, they’re going to have to do it themselves. Even some of the oil companies have started to admit that something has to be done.

GIPSA Rules Delayed

I don’t blame you in the slightest if you don’t know what the GIPSA rules are. If you raise poultry or pigs for one of the big meat packers, you know all about this and are quite possibly pulling your hair out. But almost no one outside of the business does.

The rules were intended to protect farmers who contract to raise meat animals for a meat packing company from abusive and discriminatory practices. “because the processors own the birds, the feed, and other inputs, they can unfairly disadvantage or preference one grower over another as a way of forcing the growers to do things against their will or shut down dissent.” is how critics put the behavior of the processing companies in one article. The basic idea is that the rules would have given farmers who raise animals on a contract basis some minimal rights without having to jump through a lot of hurdles that are basically impossible to jump. The rules were changed by court interpretations about ten years ago so farmers now have to prove that a company’s actions harmed not just them, but the entire market, before they can try to take any kind of legal action against the processing company. As one representative for farmers put it: “We can’t overstate the level of fear and intimidation felt by poultry growers that contact us or our partner organizations,” says Harvie. “If they choose to speak up, they risk everything—their contract, their land, their homes.” You can read that whole story here.

The administration has delayed the implementation of the rules and right now it looks like they will be eventually be abandoned entirely and the meat packing companies are already celebrating a victory.

Vomitoxin

A nasty name for a nasty mycotoxin. Vomitoxin is nasty stuff and it seems to be getting more common in US corn. It is a toxin caused by mold in corn, and generally hasn’t been much of an issue in the US, but it seems to be getting worse, especially because of wet conditions during last year’s corn harvest. The toxin makes corn unfit for consumption, even as animal feed.

It isn’t even suitable for use for ethanol, because the ethanol makers depend on dried distillers grain (DDG) to make a profit. DDG is what’s left over after the ethanol making process. It’s a fairly high protein cattle feed. The ethanol making process concentrates the mycotoxin, making the resulting DDG even more toxic than the corn originally was.

 

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