Farm Catch Up

It’s been ages since I did one of these and I was thinking of not doing one at all because I’ve been moving away from farming as a topic here for a long time now, but what the heck, why not? A lot has been going on in the ag world of late, so let’s take a look.

This bunch over at UW Madison are trying to convince people that milk, especially their “milk based beverage”, is a great sports drink. They claim that there is even actual real sciencey stuff behind their claim. Since the article doesn’t actually give any real data to back that up, excuse me if I take that with a rather large grain of salt because the entire sports drink industry is full of hype, nonsense, misleading information, heavily slanted “research” and in a lot of cases, flat out lies. I saw one “study”, for example, that claimed that drinking sodas like Pepsi and Coke was better for you than drinking water. Seriously.

Do we really need another sports drink in a world that is already infested with similar muck? Of course not. We certainly don’t need this stuff either.

Sidenote: Trying to do research about milk on the internet is interesting and frustrating. It’s almost impossible to find any kind of truly independent research being published if you start searching the internet. Just about any “study” that treats milk favorably ultimately traces back to the dairy industry either directly or indirectly. And they pump so much of this heavily slanted information out there that it buries the real independent research which almost all tends to indicate that milk really isn’t all that good for you in the first place.

Dicamba Banned by Court (but not really)

The dicamba based herbicides introduced by Monsanto, the so-called “XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology” were originally permitted in 2016 by EPA for widespread use. But it was immediately alleged to have damaged millions of acres of crops and other plants as the herbicide vaporized and drifted for long distances. Something Monsanto claimed it couldn’t do. And also immediately Monsanto (and later Monsanto’s new owner, Bayer) was hit by hundreds of lawsuits over the product. And despite the seriousness of the problems, EPA approved the stuff again in 2018.

But now the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that EPA’s approval of the product is invalid because EPA apparently ignored multiple rules, regulations, federal law and actual real world data when it issued the approval. It violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. It violated the Endangered Species Act. It refused to consider multiple reports of widespread damage caused by the products. It violated its own internal rules and regulations. It… Well, the list goes on, and on, and on.

I imagine Bayer thought Monsanto was going to be a cash cow when it bought the company. I wonder if they still think it was a good deal now that it is being hit with hundreds of lawsuits over not just the dicamba problem but also over Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide?

What about that “but not really” bit in the header there? Well it turns out that isn’t the last word on the issue. The Arkansas state supreme court apparently just told farmers in the state something like “Hey, go ahead and use the stuff anyway for another couple of months.”

Drought

It’s been dry here in Wisconsin where I live just east of Lake Winnebago. Dry and unseasonably hot. We went directly from heating season into air conditioning season with temperatures abruptly leaping from daytime highs of about 50 degrees to temps in the high 90s. At first this was actually rather pleasant, but it’s getting a bit much now. The forecast indicates temperatures are going to remain in the high 80s to low 90s for the rest of the week, with little or no chance of rain in sight. And the long range forecasts are not looking good. They’re predicting above normal temperatures and little or no rain through the entire long range forecast period.

They’re even thinking now that we could be heading into the worst drought we’ve had since 2012.

The drought here is concerning, but it hasn’t reached the extremes it has hit in the south and west, and up into the Dakotas and into Minnesota. This is causing huge problems for the entire ag industry, of course. Ranchers and dairy farms are already culling cattle, some farms aren’t even bothering to plant crops because there’s so little moisture in the ground the seed wouldn’t sprout.

It’s especially hard out west where aquifers are already depleted after years of drought conditions and over pumping of water, and reservoirs depleted by a lack of winter snowfall.

Of course it’s still early in the season, at least for those of us up here in Wisconsin and Minnesota. If we get any kind of decent rains up here in the near future it isn’t going to be too bad. But in other parts of the country, well, things don’t look good at all.

One good thing is that the drought has kept the mosquitoes down. MrsGF and I can actually sit out in the backyard in the evening without getting eaten alive by the little buggers.

Prices Going Up

Yes, the I-word, Inflation, is back. It is only just starting to filter down to the average consumer but it’s been hitting the ag industry hard for some time now. Construction lumber has skyrocketed, doubling and even tripling in price. Corn and soybean prices are still floating at extreme highs, with corn flirting with $7 a bushel and soybeans up close to $16. Increased corn prices have pushed ethanol costs up which, along with increased demand, have pushed gasoline prices up.

Trucking costs have skyrocketed as well, which has hit food distributors hard. And as if that weren’t bad enough, they’re having trouble finding pallets. Pallets, for heaven’s sake. Costs for those have shot up from about $12 each to as high as $40 each. Considering most pallets are made from wood and wood prices have gone up about 300% that’s not surprising.

Anyway, there are a lot of different factors that are pushing prices up. A lot of it is increased demand. After over a year of hunkering down because of the pandemic a lot of people now want to get out and buy stuff and do stuff that they couldn’t do before. I think a lot of this is going to be temporary. Once things start to settle down a little as people get used to living a more or less normal life once again, demand will start to ease.

Employee Shortages

Farmers have always had trouble trying to find workers but now they’re competing against just about everyone else as the pandemic slows down and people try to return to some kind of normal life. The pent up demand for consumer goods is putting huge pressure on the whole system, and just about everybody is scrambling to try to find employees. For decades farmers have relied on immigrant labor to perform temporary jobs like harvesting fruit, vegetables and the like. Jobs that are strictly temporary and only last a few weeks or even days. But government policies have made it far harder, even impossible, to bring in enough immigrant workers to do the work. The same is true for the restaurant, hotel and tourist industries which have also relied on immigrant labor for decades.

Farmers aren’t the only ones having trouble finding employees. Just about everyone is. A lot are going to extreme lengths to try to attract people. It isn’t just increased wages, either. KayTee, the bird and pet food company, is located here and their starting wage for warehouse workers is now pushing up to $20/hour starting, with full benefits, including health insurance, starting the first day of employment, longevity bonuses, and even arranging shifts to be more attractive. You can work a three day shift, 12 hours, get paid for a full 40 hours, and then have the rest of the week off.

Farmers can’t offer those kinds of terms, though. Farmers can’t increase the prices of their products the way manufacturers can in order to try to cover increased labor costs. They get whatever the monopoly food processors will pay them. It’s hard to try to reduce costs as well because most farmers are already operating on razor thin profit margins.

Hemp Hype Hits Roadblock

For decades certain persons have been pushing hemp as the crop that would save the American farmer or some such nonsense. Hemp was going to be hugely profitable, would be in demand for paper making, making clothes, making rope, foods, as yet discovered medical advances and, well, magic pixie dust for all I know.

Yes, hemp was indeed a major industrial crop in the US up through the 1950s. The last commercial hemp crop was planted in 1957 here in Wisconsin, and the crop was banned entirely in 1970 when hemp was classified as a Schedule 1 drug, making it comparable to heroin. Apparently certain persons in the administration at the time had a nightmare involving roving bands of stoned hippies wandering from farm to farm smoking industrial hemp?

Anyway, it is now legal to grow industrial hemp. Sort of. Maybe. Kinda. And it sure isn’t easy. Federal regulations seem to change on almost a monthly basis, and what was legal last month may not be legal this month. Every state has its own laws and regulations. Three states, Idaho, South Dakota, and Mississippi, don’t permit it at all. But the others generally have some kind of permitting process to allow growing it.

But here’s the big question: Can you actually make money growing the stuff?

The answer to that seems to be, frankly, no. At least not enough to bother actually going through all the headaches involved in growing it. Wisconsin’s ag department received 48% fewer applications to grow the stuff this year. The number of registered processors dropped by 37%. And the reason why is that it is damned hard to make a profit off the stuff.

The problem is that except for CBD there just isn’t any market for hemp. Yes, hemp makes an excellent fiber for making paper, even better than wood fibers I’m told. But none of the major paper manufacturers have the equipment or skills to actually use it, and they don’t want to invest in changing because it would be hugely expensive. Yes, you can make a lot of stuff out of hemp. Once upon a time we did. But none of that infrastructure exists any more. Manufacturers switched to different materials and different technology and they have absolutely no reason to switch back.

So that leaves CBD as pretty much the only product that’s made from hemp that might be profitable, and CBD is, well, basically it’s snake oil. Except for use to treat some forms of epilepsy and perhaps arthritis, most of the claims you see made about the stuff are entirely unproven or even outright lies.

So, if you are a farmer with bills to pay, employees to pay, a mortgage to pay, equipment loans to pay, are you going to plant hemp which you will probably lose money on, or are you going to plant corn or soybeans or milo or some other crop that you will actually get paid for?

Cybersecurity

JBS, the huge meat processor (they have 25% of the market in the US) was hit by a ransomware attack that shut down their operations in the US and Australia. JBS apparently had to pay $11 million to the attackers to get control of their computers.

This and the pipeline attack should have people not just outraged but also more than a wee bit frightened because they’ve proved that our basic infrastructure systems are woefully inadequate when it comes to security.

Anyway, let’s wrap this up for now.

Coming up…

I need to get out in the gardens with the camera and get some pictures up. It’s going crazy out there. We’ve had to water the gardens pretty much every single day for two weeks now because of the lack of rain and the abnormally high temperatures, but there is a positive result, everything is growing like nuts and most of our plants out there are about two or three weeks ahead of normal. The tomato plants are loaded with flowers, the raspberries will be ripening in probably a week, we’ll be harvesting lettuce today, we’ll have a few blueberries coming ripe in the next few days on the new bush. The poor hostas are showing some problems from the heat that we normally don’t see until the end of summer.

I haven’t been talking about woodworking and amateur radio much of late because I just haven’t had the time. We spent all of yesterday morning buying food and helping to prep for a kids’ day camp coming up in the near future. That’s something MrsGF is involved in and I just get dragged along to do the heavy lifting. Do you have any idea how much food 40 kids can eat in one week? I didn’t until now. We’re helping to fund a university research project to study the effects of climate change on small fresh water lakes with a small college in upstate New York. And now that the pandemic has started to settle down we really, really need to get down to the brewpub and see how things are going down there because it sounds like the place needs to have some basic renovations done that have been ignored up until now.

My wood shop is horribly over crowded. I need more storage space down there, I need to move out equipment I no longer need and, build racks for wood storage. I just got in $400 worth of wood the other day and until I get things reorganized I don’t have any place to store it conveniently.

I need to get something set up on Etsy so I can start selling some of the stuff I’m cranking out. That means I need to set up a separate bank account for that because I most definitely do not want to tie my personal accounts to an online sales system.

And my kids thought I’d have nothing to do when I retired….

Author: grouchyfarmer

Yes, I'm a former farmer. Sort of. I'm also an amateur radio operator, amateur astronomer, gardener, maker of furniture, photographer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s