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….

Tree, Spring Photos, Garden Tour, And Stuff

I’m not going to miss this tree too much. It’s been shedding limbs every time we get a 20 mph wind for years now.

The only big old tree we have left on the property is going to have to come down. I’m sad about that but it has to go because it’s rotting out from the top down where two of the major branches of the canopy come together. If we don’t take it down soon it will come down itself and quite possibly do some serious damage. So that will be coming down probably in August. That’s going to mean some big changes in the gardens around here. That tree is massive and it shades out a huge area which always meant what we could grow back there was seriously restricted because of the shade.

Right now I’m thinking of putting in another decorative feature like this one:

MrsGF looked at me like I was nuts when I first proposed it, but then she thought about it for a moment and said sure, why not. Neither of us want to end up with just a big area of nothing but grass back there. So we’ll see. Putting in that feature up there with the retaining wall blocks and all that was a hell of a lot of work and it wasn’t exactly cheap. I think I have about a thousand bucks sunk into that one garden when the costs of the retaining wall blocks, rock, plants and everything else is added up.

The two new raised vegetable beds are doing quite well. One of these days we’re going to get around to building a brick/stone wall around these to make them more decorative looking, but that’s in the future. We have three tomatoes in one, surrounded by onions, and pole beans and more onions in the other.

I highly recommend raised beds for vegetables. They work really well, are easy to keep weed free, easy to tend the soil, the height tends to discourage animals from getting into them. The biggest drawback is that they dry out rather fast and they need to be watered almost every day. Especially this spring because we haven’t had a decent rain in, well, a month or more, I think. It has been an exceptionally dry spring here.

The other two raised beds are doing well also. One has a variety of pepper plants in it. You can see that the plants have #10 cans with the bottoms cut out surrounding them. Those will be coming off this week yet. The cans are a great way to give the plants protection when they’re first transplanted into the garden. The other bed is all beets with more onions planted around the outside. We really, really like beets. We like ’em roasted, sliced, pickled, etc. They freeze pretty well also so we figure we’ll have enough to hold us through the winter with all of these.

Mr. Spiny, our pet cactus is still doing fantastic along the foundation wall. It’s hard to tell in this photo but there are three other cactus off to the left, started from pads we took off Mr. Spiny and stuck in the ground. The soil right along that wall is absolutely horrible and normally almost nothing will grow there. The cactus seem to love it, though. Makes a great conversation piece because people can’t believe that a cactus will thrive here in Wisconsin for some reason, even though Wisconsin does have some native cactus, including this one. There are some other types that are hardy here as well. You don’t need to live in the southwest to have cactus in your gardens.

If you want to grow your own, go for it. I will warn you that in early spring they will look absolutely horrible and you’ll think it’s dead. At least this one does. It’ll be laying flat on the ground, the pads looking all brownish and nasty. It isn’t, though. Once the weather gets a bit better the pads begin to turn green again and start filling out again.

The hosta garden in the front of the house came through the winter quite well and is looking pretty good. They still haven’t reached full size yet but will be getting there pretty soon at the rate they’re growing.

And then the flowers – holy cow have we got flowers this year!

Other Stuff

Yes, I’m still doing the wood turning thing. Below is a tiny little bowl I cranked out the other day from a piece of scrap walnut I had laying around. It’s only about 3 inches wide and 2 inches tall. Cute little thing. Useless for just about anything, but cute.

This one down below is a rework. This was a rosewood bowl that started to show microcracks on the surface about a week or so after I made it. So I put it back on the lathe the other day and reworked it.

It turned out that the cracks were surface defects that only extended a few millimeters into the body of the bowl. So I reshaped the bowl, put on a finish, and we’ll see what happens this time.

My experience with rosewood has been puzzling. I’ve made four pieces with Indian rosewood, and three of them exhibited what I’ve been calling microcracks, very, very thin, sometimes lengthy cracks that do not follow the grain of the wood and seem to be confined to the surface of the wood. I’m not sure why, either. The wood was dry and stable, didn’t exhibit any other defects. Someone said that rosewood is very oily and that perhaps the oils were evaporating from the surface causing the wood to shrink, and I suppose that’s possible. We’ll see what happens with this one.

Night Sounds, Lasers and Handles

Let’s start out with frogs with this little 30 second video. I put up a video a few weeks ago of some frogs singing when I was out on the bike, but this is in my own backyard this time. As soon as it starts to get dark here, this is what it sounds like here at the house. Turn up your volume and wait a bit. It takes about 10 seconds for the sound to kick in. You aren’t going to see much, it’s dark. It’s the sound that I want you to hear.

Frogs. Dozens and dozens of frogs singing their little hearts out. It one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. As soon as the weather got warmer and we got a bit of rain this frog chorus started in and I find myself going out into the backyard a couple of times a night just to listen to these guys.

Lasers

So, let’s move on to lasers, specifically the laser engraver over there on the left. This is the “Laser Engraver laser engraving machine 3000mw laser class 4 Off-line Upgrade Version CNC Pro DIY Logo engraver” from a company called GanGou.

Now I’ve been interested in laser engravers for some time now. You all know by now I fiddle around with wood, and I thought it would be interesting to be able to burn artwork onto some of the things I crank out here from time to time. Especially now that I’ve been getting into this lathe stuff. If I am going to sell this stuff I’d like to put a logo, name, maybe a date, on the bottom of the bowls. A lot of people use custom made branding irons, but those are expensive and can’t be changed without buying a new one. A custom made branding iron with your own logo can set you back well over $100 or more, and then that is all it can do. This laser here costs about $250 and can engrave just about anything you can stuff into a .BMP file.

I never bought one before because they were way, way out of my budget. The good ones anyway. There were always really cheap ones on the market but every one of those I saw was utterly horrible in every single way. ES (Eldest Son) bought one of those a few years ago and it took him days just to get it running and it was utterly useless if he tried to engrave anything bigger than about 1 square inch.

That’s changed, though. Some of the cheap models are now very, very good, and this is one of them. It goes for around $250 on Amazon and it is a lot better than I expected it to be. The build quality on this thing is excellent. It is very, very well made. The hardware is all beautifully finished, the tolerances are excellent, the stepper motors are high quality. It is just very, very good.

This is what comes in the box. Don’t be intimidated. Everything is pre-wired. All I had to do was bolt it together. Four screws hold the arm with the pre-mounted laser to the main arm, 8 screws hold on the feet, and that’s it. It’s ready to go. I went from opening the box to making the first (successful) test engraving in less than 20 minutes.

It does have its quirks, though. The manual is terrible. But then I expected that. Utterly horrible manuals, instructions, assembly notes, etc. are pretty much par for the course with a lot of equipment these days, and this is no exception. The instructions were in both English and Chinese, and interestingly enough the Chinese instructions were just as bad as those in English. (Google Translate makes life for us dabblers in oddball equipment much easier.) The instructions for putting it together are pretty clear, but the rest of the manual deals with the included software, not the engraver itself. And, well…

The software that comes with it, well, you might as well not even bother installing it. In my case I installed it on my test computer, a more or less bullet proof generic, business class Lenovo laptop that I picked up refurbed for $200, running Win 10. This computer will run anything because there is no speciality hardware, no oddball drivers, nothing. It is your basic, simple, 100% compatible Windows 10 computer.

It won’t run the Gangou software, though. The drivers installed. Well, I think they did but it was hard to tell because all of the prompts were in Chinese. The software installed. It ran, and then immediately locked up tight as soon as I tried to click on any of the buttons. As far as I can tell, clicking anywhere in the program, on any control, makes it lock up tight. Sigh… I’ll fiddle with it a while longer to see if I can figure out what’s going on, but I don’t have a lot of hope. I don’t know yet if the hardware will work with the other open source or commercial laser engraver programs out there. I only just got the thing and I haven’t had time to really look into it further.

Fortunately you don’t need the software at all to run this thing. You can do everything from that little touch screen. Plug a flash drive with your .BMP file into it, turn it on, select the file you want to use, set the laser strength, do the positioning test to make sure the object is in the right place, and hit start. Using it from the touch screen is about as simple as it gets. And as you can see from the results of a test run on a tap handle I cranked out the other day, it does a pretty darn nice job.

So far I’ve only done about a dozen engravings with it, including test runs, so I have no idea how long it will hold up under continued use, but considering how well made it seems I’m not too worried about that. And at around $250 the price is right. The reviews on Amazon are all over the place. But you have to be really cautious about reviews these days. And a lot of the really negative reviews seem to have been from, well, idiots, to be blunt, people who couldn’t figure out how to put it together, didn’t know anything about laser engravers in the first place and that kind of thing. One of these days I should really do an article about product reviews and how to try to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

Tap Handles

So I’ve been making handles for beer taps of late. A couple of very good friends of ours bought a tavern in a Milwaukee suburb and are converting it into a brewpub, and we might have invested a few bucks in it. The handles on their taps were left over from the previous owner, and all of those handles are left over from the usual big monopoly beer brands which sell stuff that tastes like their breweries are directly connected to the Clydesdale stables drainage ditch. So those handles have to be replaced with something that reflects what’s actually in the kegs they’re connected to. Hence the need for the laser engraver I’ve been talking about. I’ve done a couple of experimental efforts already. They’re dirt simple to turn out in just about any shape I want. The chrome ferrule down at the bottom consists of a threaded rod; a wood screw on one end to go into the tap, machine threads on the other end to fit into a chrome plated brass fitting that then screws onto the tap itself. Those are cheap. I got these for about $1.50 each from a company in India and they’re good quality.

So now that I’ve done some experimenting I am going to crank out about 8 of these for them, and use the laser to engrave their own company logo on them and even specific beer names if they want. And I can make ’em out of scrap wood I have left over from other projects, even glue up blanks with different types of wood like the experiment over there on the left.

Still Biking

Someone asked if I was still bike riding and I am indeed. As soon as the weather started getting warm enough to get out I was out on the bike every chance I had. I’ve had some issues with breaking spokes. I’ve had to have spokes replaced three times already this year and I only have a couple of hundred miles on the bike. I think it’s being caused by shock from going over the railroad tracks around here. The rail crossings have gotten really, really bad over the past year.

Anyway I am out and about, but I haven’t said much here because I figured you all were getting bored with it.

Holy cow it’s dry out there. Thats the river down by the old stone bridge which is on my regular route. This time of year that river up there should be about 3 feet deeper and flowing along at a pretty good speed. Instead it looks more like it normally would at the end of August – completely stagnant, only about a foot or so deep.

We’ve been under fire warnings almost since the snow melted here, and we’ve already had several wild fires. They’re small when compared to those out west, but yes, we have them here too. We got a good shower last night but it doesn’t come close to making up for it. We’ve had to water the gardens here on a regular basis already, something we generally don’t have to do until mid to late summer.

But it still looks amazingly beautiful out there. The road and trailside flowers are in full bloom and I really look forward to getting out of town and into the countryside.

Let’s see, what else… The vegetable gardens are all in. We have the raised beds planted with onions, beans, a variety of peppers, etc. We have one that’s all beets this year because, well, we like beets so why not? We put in a couple of squash, a few cukes. I have two jalapeno peppers growing in pots out front. Only two because I’m the only one who likes jalapenos around here. We only put in 3 tomato plants this year because we still have a lot of canned tomatoes from last year.

The big ash tree in the backyard is going to have to come down. I noticed a large hole near the top of the trunk right where two of the main branches come together and it looks like it’s rotting from the top down. So that has to go before it comes down and damages something. We already talked to a service about doing that and they’ll be coming at the end of summer to take it down. I’m going to keep the wood, at least all of the big stuff, and we’re going to keep the stump and turn it into a decorative feature. That means we get a significantly lower cost for the removal of the tree, all they have to haul out is the brushy stuff.

And that, my friends, is about it for this time.

What’s coming up…

I’ll put up photos of the “official” tap handles once I get those done.

I’m doing some experimenting with the boxelder wood I got from MrsGf’s sister and that stuff looks really nice. If that turns out I’ll put up some pictures of that.

I suppose I should talk about the DeWalt battery chainsaw I picked up a few months ago. That has turned out to work a lot better than I ever thought it would and it deserves a look. I have a Poulan gas chain saw but it is very, very old, very noisy, very messy, leaks oil and is just nasty. So far the DeWalt has been working well. I use it for cutting up large blocks of wood that won’t fit on my band saw or table saw so they’ll fit on my lathe.

Diving Into the Photo Archive

I have about 7,000+ photos in the archive and I keep telling myself I really, really need to sort them all out somehow because there’s stuff in there I’d really like to keep and possibly make prints of, and stuff that should just be deleted. I got bored this morning and started doing some sorting, so here’s a few I dug up in no particular order because why not? Some I haven’t published before, some I have. They’ve more or less been selected at random for no real reason.

I’m a real sucker for roadside attractions. They’re often silly, cheesy, ridiculous, sometimes inexplicable. This place allegedly bought up all of the movie props from Dances With Wolves and then used them to recreate scenes from the movie. I haven’t seen the movie. My wife chased me out of the room when she watched it because I couldn’t stop laughing.

Everything in this place was covered with a thick layer of dust. It was really rather sad.

This was supposedly a recreation of a late 1800s classroom. What’s really sad is that those are exactly the same type of desks I had when I was in the 1st and 2nd grade. Seriously. That should give you a hint that either my school was really, really bad, or I am really, really old.

Not many people have a hot air balloon land on the road in front of them. I wasn’t in a hurry so I just pulled over and watched them recover the balloon. They were actually pretty lucky. They were coming in from the right and if they hadn’t hit the ground where they did they would have hit the power lines on the left.

Did I ever mention I’m an amateur astronomer? Technology has gotten so good that we amateurs now have access to equipment that even professional astronomers would have drooled over twenty or thirty years ago.

Alien cat from outer space with laser eyes.

Farm Catch Up: Corn Goes Nuts, Lumber Goes Insane, Dairy Pride Act Back, Herbicide Shortages, And Stuff

Let’s Start with Corn

Photo by Adonyi Gu00e1bor on Pexels.com

Well it was a wild ride on the commodities market this past week as corn hit $7.40 and soybeans hit $15.71. We haven’t seen prices like this in something like ten years or more, and a lot of people are puzzled by why the commodities prices have spiked up this high, this fast. There are no natural disasters or reports of extreme shortages that would cause this, so what’s going on?

It’s a combination of things that have made the markets a wee bit nervous. China is trying to rebuild its pig herds after they were decimated because of culling from African Swine Fever, so there is increased demand there. There are weather problems in parts of South America that are interfering with some corn production down there. USDA announced that US farmers are going to plant less corn this growing season. The reduction isn’t much, but enough to make people think it might make supplies tight. They think people are going to be driving a lot more this summer which is going to mean increased demand for gasoline which, in turn, means more demand for ethanol to meet the blending requirements.

So here we are with corn at 7.49 at the moment. Extended out into the future commodities prices get more reasonable, but not by much. July corn is sitting at 6.73 which is still high but not utterly horrible, and September corn is at 5.92

So, why should you be interested in corn prices? Because volatility in corn prices ripples through the whole economy. High corn prices mean it costs a lot more for the dairy, beef, chicken and pork producers to feed their cattle. That’s going to put pressure on consumer food prices across the board, not just dairy products and meat. High corn prices can force producers to look at other grains like wheat to substitute. That can push wheat prices up, increasing costs for flour, which increases the cost of baked goods. Well, you get the idea.

It also puts pressure on fuel prices. The government mandates that refiners blend a certain amount of ethanol into their fuels, and in the US the majority of that ethanol is made from corn.

Now the markets can absorb some of these increased costs, but not a lot and not for long, and sooner rather than later it’s going to result in increased prices on consumer products. So if corn prices stay this high for much longer, you’re going to see that rippling out into increased prices on food, fuel and other products that you buy yourself. Some companies like General Mills and a few others have already already announced that they’re going to have no choice but to start raising consumer prices. Wholesale beef prices have gone up about 33% already this past month.

And it isn’t just food. Just look at the craziness going on with lumber. And speaking of lumber…

What The Hell Is Going On With Lumber?

That’s a question a lot of people are asking because lumber prices have gone nuts. Prices on lumber have spiked up around 360% in just the past year. That is not a typo. 360% in one year. I was paying under $2 for 2×4 studs last year, now that’s up to around $7 each. MrsGF and I have pushed back plans to do a few remodeling projects here at the house because not only have prices skyrocketed, it’s hard to get materials even at those prices. I talked to one contractor who builds houses. he bid on building one house late last year at $350K and now the same house would be closer to $450K.

Why this abrupt spike in prices? It isn’t because there’s a shortage of trees or something like that. Nor are the people growing trees getting the money. They’ve seen only a 2% increase in the price they’re getting for the logs. It’s all the haulers, sawmills and processors in between that are the cause.

The claim is that it’s being caused by a labor shortage. They can’t find truck drivers, workers at sawmills, tree cutters, etc.

Herbicide and Plastic Shortages

As if corn and lumber prices weren’t enough to worry about, we’re also seeing shortages of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and, believe it or not, plastics. Farmers are having trouble finding things like field drainage tile and the plastic wrap used to protect bales. There are reported shortages of glyphosate and some other herbicides, some fungicides and insecticides that are used to prevent weeds and protect crops.

What this all adds up to is considerable pressure to increase prices. Someone has to pay for all of these increased costs and in the long run that’s going to be us, the consumers. How bad those increases will be, well, I have no idea. It is going to depend on how long commodities prices remain high and how much of the cost increases the industry is willing to absorb before they have to raise prices. As I said earlier in this, a lot of companies have already announced price increases.

Dairy Pride Act

So, let’s talk about plant based “milk”. I didn’t really want to talk about things like almond milk and all that, but it’s in the news again thanks to the Dairy Pride Act being pushed by Sen. Baldwin from Wisconsin and a few other politicians.

The whole problem revolves around that one word, milk, and how it is defined. There are two real definitions of the word, one biological, and one legal. Biologically speaking milk is the scrections of the mammary glands from mammalian animals and which are used to feed their young. The legal definition is, well, here’s a direct quote from federal government regulations:

“Milk means the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows, which may be clarified and may be adjusted by separating part of the fat therefrom; concentrated milk, reconstituted milk, and dry whole milk. Water, in a sufficient quantity to reconstitute concentrated and dry forms, may be added.”

You will undoubtedly note a lot of problems with the above. The most glaring problem is that it claims milk only comes from cows, ignoring the fact that goats, sheep, horses, oxen, even beavers, give milk. (Mmmm, beaver milk. Yum. Wasn’t there an old Monty Python joke about Peruvian beaver cheese?) (Sorry, my mind just flashed up an image of a farmer trying to milk a beaver. That’s just the way my brain works. It scares me sometimes. My brain, not beavers.)

So, here’s the problem. For years now certain companies have been selling nut, grain or bean based liquids as substitutes for dairy milk and calling the stuff milk. This is, technically, illegal. The US has very strict labeling requirements when it comes to food, and the government has gleefully gone after a host of companies and individuals who mislabel their products. But not when it comes to this stuff. For whatever reason the agencies responsible for food labeling accuracy have blithely ignored the mislabeling of these products, despite a considerable amount of pressure from the dairy industry to do something about it.

Now you might think this whole thing is silly, and you do have a point. But on the other hand the anger of the dairy industry is understandable as well. The dairy industry has spent many, many decades and hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising, propaganda, health claims, puffed up PR campaigns and other efforts to try to make its products appear to be healthy, good for you, pure and wholesome, and even essential. And then along come these upstarts trying to cash in on all of the work the dairy industry put into making milk look good, and claiming that their products are “milk” as well, and, well, they’re pissed.

Legally speaking, the dairy industry has a valid point. This stuff does not meet the legal definition of “milk”. US food labeling laws, if strictly interpreted, should make the labeling of this stuff as “milk” to be illegal. But the court system doesn’t seem to see it that way and has let this continue, so, well, here we are then.

Politicians from large dairy states like Wisconsin are upset about this as well because, well, let’s be blunt here. The only reason they’re upset is because the dairy industry is paying them to be upset. The dairy industry pumps huge amounts of money into the coffers of these politicians and their PACs. The result is this Dairy Pride thingie which basically says that you can only label actual milk as milk.

Will this actually go anywhere? I have no idea. If it passes, will it help the dairy industry? No. Won’t do a thing to help the dairy industry. Will it hurt the fake milk industry? Probably not. They’ll just come up with something else to call their stuff, pump a few more bucks into their advertising budgets, and that will be it.

Now, let’s see, what else did I want to babble about? There was some more stuff… Oh, amateur radio! Gads, almost forgot about that.

My OCFD (that’s an “off center fed dipole” for you non-radio people out there, a kind of antenna) came down again. That is a long wire antenna, about 130 feet long in total. It had snapped before and I’d repaired it and put it back up, but it snapped again now, so I figure that years of hanging in the air and flapping about in the wind has caused metal fatigue or something in the wires, so I didn’t bother fixing it again. It’s going to come down and I already have another one on order. Why not build my own? I could, but I did mention about the lazy thing, right? Why build one when I can buy one that’s probably going to be better than I could make myself.

Meanwhile I’m using a GAP Titan DX vertical antenna which has turned out to be way, way better than I’d hoped. I’ve had that one up for some time now and it works amazingly well. I had contacts with 3 Japanese stations in the space of about 10 minutes yesterday afternoon using less than 100 watts output, plus one or two in Europe and in other exotic places like Texas, New York, etc.

Who wants to sit in a basement workshop when stuff like this is outside?

My woodworking and wood turning has come to a screeching halt recently because I’ve been spending a lot of time out in the gardens hauling compost, tilling up stuff, etc. We got the onions and garlic in but it’s still too early to put anything else out. The weather hasn’t exactly been warm here except for two days when it was in the mid 80s. Generally it hasn’t gotten much above 50 here, with night time temps pushing down into the mid 30s or even a bit lower. That hasn’t kept the tulips from blooming though as you can see from that photo up there.

But back to wood working to wrap this up. I really enjoyed making decorative lamps with resin and wood and want to do some more of those, so I’ve got more resin on order and that should be coming this week yet. The few “jumble” pieces I did as experiments with odd bits of wood cast into resin, well much to my surprise people really seem to like those for some reason so I’ll probably do a few more of those. But what I really want to make are more decorative lamps. Anyway, more about that when I get into that.

Corn Hits $6, New Windows, New Wood, New Laptop and the ever popular More Stuff!

Corn futures prices have been flirting with $6 for weeks now and prices finally pushed over that line when I got up this morning and started reading the news. As of right now May corn is sitting at $6.32. Soybeans were up to $14.78 and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see it hitting $15. We haven’t seen corn prices this high in a long time. If I remember right we haven’t had prices this high since we had a serious drought quite a few years ago.

While high corn and bean prices are good for the farmers who grow the stuff, they’re bad for just about everyone else, and if prices stay this high for more than a short time it is going to have effects that will ripple through the whole economy. Dairy farms are starting to cull their herds already because of high feed prices, as are beef ranchers and hog operations. That could potentially result in higher food prices for you and me. It could put more pressure on wheat, forcing that up causing increases in prices for anything that uses cereal grains like bread. It could even cause significant increases in fuel prices.

Weather

Holy cow it’s been cold up over here in Wisconsin for the last few days. As anyone who’s lived in Wisconsin for more than a few years can tell you, we’re all a bit paranoid about weather up here, and for good reason. We all figure Mother Nature is a sadistic b**ch and is out to get us. She lulls us into a false sense of security with a period of abnormally nice weather, and then BAM, she nails us with something nasty.

So after a couple of days with temps up in the high 70s a few weeks ago, she brought the hammer down and nailed us with icily cold weather ever since, with nighttime temps dropping down to the mid-20s and daytime temperatures rarely getting above 45 or so. We’ve had light snow for a few days, including last night. They had a bridge or two in Green Bay closed for a while because of icing.

So it’s a good thing we finally got the new windows in eh?

This project actually started late last summer when the storm window in the office was literally sucked out of its frame during a high wind. Turned out that what we thought was a solid window frame wasn’t so solid. It had been slowly rotting away behind the paint so we didn’t know how bad it was until the damage was done. So we decided to replace all the office windows and the one in the dining room.

Now usually it doesn’t take long to get new windows made, a week or two at the most. But we hadn’t taken into account the fact that 2020 was far from a normal year. Between shortages of construction materials, disruptions at the factory from sick or quarantined employees and everything else, it was mid November before the windows finally came in and by that time the weather was so bad we couldn’t do the installation.

Anyway, they’re finally in, look good and our contractor, Russ, did his usual excellent job dealing with the situation.

We’d been considering remodeling the main bathroom as well, but we’re going to be putting that off until next year because Russ told me he’s not sure he can even get the stuff we want in any kind of reasonable amount of time. He’s had a bathtub/shower unit on order since January for another job and that won’t be coming in until June. So we’re going to wait until things calm down a bit before going forward with that project.

New Wood

Friends and family know that I’m always looking for interesting bits of wood, so MrsGF’s sister and her husband showed up this weekend with this in the back of their van, some neat looking boxelder from a tree they took down a few weeks ago.

Boxelders are considered a weed around here. They’re extremely invasive, tend to grow fast and die young, and the wood isn’t really good for much. Even healthy looking trees will turn out to be rotting away on the inside. But I’ve seen some really spectacular pieces turned from boxelder so I’m looking forward to tackling this stuff. Some of it looks really promising with some spalting and interesting coloration.

One of the fun things about wood turning is you can put just about anything on that lathe. You don’t need expensive, furniture grade wood to end up with a nice bowl or art project. In fact, some of the nastiest looking stuff that you’d think should end up in the fire pit can end up making some of the most spectacular objects you can imagine.

New Laptop

I do most of the writing and photo stuff for this blog on a 10 year old Macbook Pro that lives on the kitchen table. It gets used a lot. And it is starting to show its age. The keys on the keyboard are chipped, worn and cracked, the LCD display is exhibiting, oh, I suppose you’d call it ghosting. If I bring up a white page like the editing screen for this blog, I can still sometimes see shadows of images that the screen had been showing before. Anyway, I figured it’s time to replace this thing before it just up and dies on me.

Once upon a time what to buy would have been simple, I’d just buy another Macbook. I’ve always liked Apple’s laptops and I’ve had two or three of them over the years. But… Well, Apple’s been having some problems, hasn’t it? There was the infamous keyboard problem with some Macbooks. There have been display issues, battery issues, rumors about problems with SSDs… The latest is that some models of the Macbook had bad cables connecting the LCD display to the computer.

And then there is the price problem. Apple equipment has always been expensive. And what you get for that price — well, Apple’s computers have never exactly been “cutting edge” when it comes to the capabilities of their computers. The hardware stuffed into those fancy cases might be good quality (most of the time), but the actual specifications of that hardware are mediocre at best.

What I ended up with, well, okay, what I ended up with is a bit overkill for a computer that’s probably only going to be used for doing email, writing and reading stuff. (A bit? Ha!). It’s a 17″ MSI GE75 with an i7 6 core processor clocked at a bit shy of 3 gHz, 32 gb RAM, a GeForce RTX 2070 and a 1TB SSD. So, well, yeah, it’s a bit overkill. But on the other hand I got a really good deal on it and it was a lot less than even a low end Macbook Pro would have cost me.

I needed something with some horsepower because eventually it’s going to be used to run Adobe CS to edit photos and videos, and while I don’t do actual gaming any more I do play around in SecondLife and need something with a fairly high end graphics.

Anyway, more about that in the future. Maybe.

That’s about it for now. Hopefully we’ll be getting some decent weather soon so we can get out in the gardens and I can get out on the bicycle. Trying to get on the bike when the temperatures are in the 40s isn’t exactly a lot of fun.

Garden Update And Stuff

Weather here has been curious. After a few days of temperatures up near 80, it quickly dropped back down to more or less normal temps with highs in the 40s and 50s. And unusually dry as well. Until just a few days ago when we got a bit of rain the entire state was under a fire warning because of the dry conditions.

The irises and sedum are all leaping out of the ground this time of the year along with other assorted flowers and plants back there, including our one surviving blueberry bush, which actually seems to be doing fairly well at the moment.

The cool temperatures and lack of rain hasn’t prevented stuff from growing, though. The grass has greened up finally and things are sprouting all over the place.

Our parsley survived the winter and were some of the first plants to start to turn green, along with the chives. I was rather surprised by that. I honestly didn’t think the parsley would come back by itself but, well, there it is. I really need to learn how to use it better. Except as a garnish or to add color to otherwise colorless dishes I never really used the stuff. And to be honest I’m still not really sure if I like the flavor all that much. I throw it in scrambled eggs and mac and cheese to add some color. MrsGF tells me it’s good for you, lots of vitamins and all that fun stuff.

Chives, on the other hand, I do know what to do with that. Those end up in a lot of stuff around here, potato dishes, sauces, omelets, etc. They’re generally the first plants to pop up in the very, very early spring because they’re in a warm, sheltered corner with lots of sun.

I wasn’t sure the rhubarb was going to survive, but it came back too. I’ve been a bit concerned about it. It’s been in there at least 20 years now, and up until recently it’s been doing very good. But the last couple of years it starts out strong, but by mid summer it starts to look worse and worse. We don’t use a lot of rhubarb so if we do lose the plant it isn’t going to be any great loss.

I got the new raised beds built that will go where the old pear tree was. These are 8 X 4 feet, about 16 inches tall, about the same size as the other two. The plan is that eventually they’re going to be surrounded by decorative brick that matches that big oval shaped feature in the photo at the top of the page, but that might not get done this year.

We’re also trying to get a professional in to give us a bid on redoing the entire lawn. It isn’t so much that the grass is really bad, which it is, it’s because the surface of the ground is so rough, so full of pits and diviots that developed somehow, that I’m afraid I’m going to break the mower just mowing the lawn or that someone will twist an ankle.

The hostas in the front garden are just starting to peek out. It looks pretty ratty up there right now with all of the mulch exposed, but once the hostas fill out you can’t see any of that.

We put in a mountain ash up there about two years ago and apparently it really, really likes it. We grew that from seed from the tree in the backyard and it’s gone from a seedling to about 10 feet tall in just two years. Amazing things, trees. I think I may have to start to trim back the top to keep it from getting too tall.

And how about some color to finish up the photos? These guys are the first plants to show color in the early spring.

MrsGF started ordering seed a month ago already and we have all of that in. She has some seeds started already. Now if only it would start getting warm!

Let’s see, what else?

Oh, windows! We’re getting new windows in the office and dining room. The contractor should be here today to start that project. We actually started that late last summer but because of supply problems the windows didn’t come in until it was too late to put them in because of the weather.

Lumber prices – holy cow, when I went to get some lumber for the raised beds and some other projects, well, talk about sicker shock! I came home with an embarrassingly small pile of assorted lumber for $650, at least twice what it would have cost me a year or so ago.

Coming up: I want to talk about the DeWalt battery operated chainsaw I just got in the future. That turned out to be way better than I thought it would be for the price. And it uses the same batteries as the rest of my DeWalt battery operated tools.

Things have been slow in the woodworking department because I’ve been dealing with gardening stuff and other chores around the place, but I do have a bit of rosewood mounted on the lathe that will probably turn into something in the near future. That was actually already a bowl that developed some problems that I’m trying to re-shape to eliminate some odd cracks that turned up weeks after it had been cut the first time. That bit of rosewood was ridiculously expensive so I’m not going to give up on that. I’m also getting in what I hope will be some really neat looking boxelder from a tree MrsGF’s sister took down a few weeks ago. They’re going to cut it into easily managed chunks for me and once I get that I’ll probably talk about that.

I just got a new MSI gaming laptop yesterday that I’ll probably talk about in the near future as well. I spent a large part of yesterday afternoon removing bloatware, doing system updates and other housekeeping chores to make it useable so I haven’t had a chance to actually use it yet. We’ll see how that goes and whether it’s interesting enough to spend some time on here.

And one of these days I want to talk about Korean and Chinese television. Seriously. I watch Korean and Chinese television. Well, you already knew I was weird but you didn’t think I was that weird, did you?

That’s about it for now. The contractor’s here getting ready to start so I need to wrap this up!

Catching Up: Spring, Blanket Chest and Stuff

It’s actually starting to look like spring out there now. Sort of. I’ve been seeing robins and finches of late, one late afternoon I even heard frogs singing. And most important of all, the days are getting longer now. I don’t mind winter, but it does get a bit tedious. It still isn’t all that pleasant out, but things are stirring out in the flower beds and signs of spring are beginning to pop up.

This is an amazing time of year. The weather is still chilly and they’re even talking snow by the end of the week, but that will pass and soon we’ll be about to get outside without bundling up. I even spotted a little flower trying to peek out of the mulch the other day!

I mentioned a while back that we had to take down the pear tree after a large part of the canopy collapsed. That was sort of a blessing in disguise because that’s opened up a large area where we can now put in plants that require full sun. We now have a lot of options open to us for that area. MrsGF wants to put in two raised beds there now, so this week I need to get some lumber to build those.

I even had the bicycle out the last few days. A bit cold for me, but pleasant enough out that I could put a few miles on without freezing my bits off. Well, I had to get the dopy thing fixed first. I pulled it out of the garage, checked it over, checked the tire pressures, gears, oiled the chain, and everything seemed fine and dandy, and I got maybe a half mile before spokes started to pop on the back wheel. Again. This is the third time that’s happened now. I keep telling them at the shop that they need to just replace the darned wheel, but no, they said, it’s just the spokes. Well, after the third time, now they’re starting to believe me and if it happens again they’ll replace the wheel. So we’ll see.

Anyway the bike is back on the road again and I’ve finally been able to get out after a long winter hiatus. And wow, am I out of shape!

And then there’s this, the chest:

This was one of those projects that took me way too long. I started this chest ages ago and for whatever reason got distracted or lost interest and it got set aside and forgotten about until MrsGF got on my case about it. This was a gift for some friends of ours on their wedding anniversary and it went out to its new owners, finally, about a week ago. It turned out pretty good. It’s white oak trimmed with walnut edging and the vertical inlaid stripes on the front are purpleheart, with hand made wrought iron handles attached with brass bolts that I picked up somewhere. I’m rather pleased by how it turned out.

I’ve done several of these now with varying types of trim and inlay and they’ve all turned out well, but to be honest I’m not all that fond of making chests. They are, oh, fiddly, I suppose you could call it. I can’t get boards wide enough to make the panels so those have to be glued up from smaller boards. I don’t have a power planer big enough to take the panels so after glueing them up they have to be smoothed down by hand with a hand plane. Then there’s the inlay, the trim pieces… Looking at one I’ve completed is very satisfying, but the process of making one is tedious.

Other stuff…

MrsGF and I both have had our 2nd vaccination now. I’ve already warned the kids that as soon as the waiting period is over we’re going to hunt them down and hug them.

MrsGF had a mild reaction to the 2nd shot. The next day she felt generally out of sorts and achy, but that passed pretty quickly.

My reaction to the 2nd shot? Well, I had more important things on my mind the next day because I was sedated and curled up on a table in a hospital with somebody sticking a scope up my butt getting a colonoscopy. I’d had a Cologuard test come back positive so they were up there rummaging around. Fortunately the biopsies came back negative. But they did the colonoscopy on Thursday and they didn’t get the results back until Tuesday. Nothing ruins a weekend like waiting around to find out if you have cancer or not.

Anesthesia was – interesting. They couldn’t believe at the hospital when they found out I’d never had any kind of anesthesia before. They wheeled me into the room, put an IV in me and the anesthesiologist said “I’m going to start giving you the…” And the next thing I knew I was sitting in a sunny room, fully awake, fully alert. It was like someone threw a switch off and then on again. It was one of the weirdest things I’d ever experienced.

Things are going to get real busy real fast over the next few weeks I suspect. We have new windows going in next week, I need to guild the new raised beds for the yard, it’s almost time to get seeds started.

Oh, and I got a new chainsaw, a DeWalt battery operated one to supplement the ancient Poulan gas model I have. I wanted something that was going to be quiet, easy to operate, and it didn’t have to be big because what it’s mostly going to be used for is cutting wood up into more manageable sizes to fit on the lathe. If I need to do any serious tree cutting or any of that I still have the Poulan to fall back on. Once I’ve had a chance to use the DeWalt I’ll let you know if it’s worth looking into or not.

And that’s about it…