World’s First Floating Dairy = Silliest Thing Ever?

Earning their sea legs, 32 cows have made agricultural history after boarding the world’s first floating dairy farm located in the Netherlands. Source: Cows Set Sail at World’s First Floating Dairy | Dairy Herd Management

I had to read this article twice before I realized that it wasn’t a belated April Fool joke and that they were serious about this. Yes, they’ve really built a kind of dairy farm on a barge floating in a harbor. Now I’ve tried to find out more information about this but all I’ve been able to find have been more PR fluff pieces, with little or no actual facts. The Beladon website link in the original story has been “in maintenance mode” for several days now (just what are they maintaining?) but there is a link to a site https://floatingfarm.nl/ about the farm itself. Sort of. If you like more PR speak, that is. (You’ll have to use Google Translate) And again, there are no actual facts, just lots and lots of enviro-babble and grand statements and “oh my, aren’t we wonderful!” silliness, and things like that tend to make me a bit skeptical.

I also noted that there is no mention of exactly what this white elephant cost them to build in any of the stories I found. It took a bit of digging to find that out and again, as with everything else about this, everything was more than a little vague. The only numbers I found were from about three years ago when they first proposed this project. They claimed at that time it would cost about $3 million to build this thing. $3 million… To house just 32 cows. (And they claim that traditional farming is wasteful???) And I’d be willing to bet that when all of the bills are added up, this was considerably more than that.

But then nothing about this project makes sense if you look at it closely. They claim that we need different methods of farming going into the future, that raising cattle is extremely wasteful in terms of land use, has pollution problems, etc. And they certainly are right about all of that. But this project doesn’t solve any of those problems.

They claim that moving the cows offshore onto a barge eliminates the need for large spaces for cattle to be raised. But the biggest use of land when it comes to cattle isn’t housing the cattle, it’s growing food for them. Millions of acres of cropland is used just to raise grain, soybeans and hay to feed cattle. The cows themselves are generally housed in feedlots or housing units that actually take up very little acerage. Simply moving the cows off the ground onto a barge doesn’t do anything to eliminate the need to grow food for them.

Now they claim that they’re going to grow 20% of the cattle feed right there in a sort of greenhouse on the top level using LED grow lights, and, well, good for them, but it ain’t going to happen. Do they even know how much cows eat? The average milking dairy cow eats about 100 pounds of feed per day. That means they need about 3,200 pounds of feed a day for their small herd. So their little green house will have to produce 640 pounds of high quality cattle feed per day. Ain’t gonna happen, as I said. But even if they did, that means they still need to come up with 80% of the cows’ diet from other sources, and they claim that’s going to come from human food waste. And there is a huge problem with that. Human food waste doesn’t make very good cattle feed.

Cows evolved to eat mostly grass with a bit of grass seed (i.e. grain) mixed in. And not much else. Modern cattle rations include soybeans and corn and other grains for added protein, mineral supplements and a lot of other stuff that isn’t part of a cow’s normal diet, but is added to improve milk production.

Now I don’t know about you, but here at the house we don’t eat a hell of a lot of grass, and what grain we do eat is almost all in the form of various baked goods like bread. Human food waste is made up mostly of things like spoiled fruit and vegetables, spoiled or outdated, highly processed baked goods, bits of fat, gristle and meat, and all of it thoroughly laced with salt, fats from a variety of sources, and lots and lots of preservatives, “flavor enhancers”, texture modifiers and other things that, while edible, aren’t really, well, food. Not for people and certainly not for cows.

Granted, there are some human foods cattle can eat, but that material is going to have to be carefully selected (requiring labor and energy), is going to have to be processed (more energy and labor), is going to have to be tested (more energy and labor), other feed products are going to have to be added to make sure the cattle are getting a diet that meets their nutritional needs (still more energy, labor and added feed costs), and… Well, when you add in the labor, the energy, the supplements, etc., then add in the cost of running that LED lighted green house that’s supposed to produce 20% of the cows’ diet, this is going to be the most expensive cow diet of all time.

Then there are other questions I’d like answered, like where is the energy going to come from to operate this thing and what is that going to cost? This is going to be very energy intensive, far more so than a normal cattle housing operation. Robotic milkers, the LED lighted greenhouse, the sophisticated sewage treatment system on the lower level, heating, cooling, ventilation… This operation is going to suck up a lot of energy.

So, how much milk are they going to get out of this system so they can pay their bills? They claim they’ll get about 200 gallons a day out of those 32 cows, and while that sounds like a lot, it really isn’t. Running calculations are a bit tedious because the dairy industry doesn’t generally deal with gallons of milk, at least at the farm level. Farmers are paid by the pound, not the gallon. Milk weighs about 8.6 pounds per gallon, so 200 gallons would be about 1,700 pounds, and they have 32 cows so that would mean production of about 53 pounds of milk per cow per day, while the average dairy cow in Wisconsin produces about 64+ pounds per day on average and our best producing cows put out considerably more than that. So when you look at the cost per pound of milk, this operation is going to be ridiculously expensive to operate and extremely inefficient in terms of milk production.

And then why in the world float the whole thing on a barge in a harbor? How are they going to deal with storms, waves, flooding, connecting pipelines, electric cables, communications cables, etc. back to the mainland? All that is going to require special infrastructure that is going to have to be built from scratch and will be very expensive.

Now I’m all for experimentation and innovation. But there is nothing innovative going on here. Every single technology and technique that they’re touting here has already been tried and is already, if it’s useful, being used. Robotic milking? Already being done and spreading rapidly. Using human food waste? Already being done where financially feasible. Treating cattle waste? Already being done. LED growing lights? Been around for ages. There is literally nothing new here. All of the technologies and techniques being used here are already being used, or have been tried and discarded because they weren’t practical or economical, or, like putting cattle on a barge, are so fraught with problems and impractical on the face of it that no one would bother even trying.

Back in the Victorian era there was a fad where wealthy people would build ornate, ridiculous and rather silly structures on their estates for no other reason than they could. These structures were often technically advanced, attractive, even artistic. But ultimately they were useless for any practical purpose. These structures started to be called a “folly”. That’s what this is. A modern version of the folly. Interesting but ultimately useless and utterly impractical.

Farm Catch Up

Spring has finally arrived! Well, sort of. At least according to the calendar if not the weather. It’s been too wet and too cold to be able to do much of anything outside except cleaning up the flower beds and yard. So let’s take a look at what’s going on in the ag industry since the last time I did one of these.

Dean Foods For Sale

If you’ve ever had a hankering to own one of the largest dairy processors in the world, now is your chance. Dean Foods, once the largest dairy processor in the U.S., is apparently trying to sell itself off. The company has been having a difficult time of it. It’s been forced to close processing facilities, it lost a major contract with Walmart, and its efforts to rebrand some of its products and buy into other businesses haven’t been successful, or at least not successful enough to prop up the company’s dwindling sales. It’s been missing its sales targets for something like two years in a row now, and there are no signs things are going to get any better. Supposedly Canadian based Saputo, the 8th largest dairy company in the world, is interested in acquiring Dean. If successful this would be just the latest in a wave of mega-mergers among agriculture related businesses in the last few years.

If you find these mega-mergers to be troubling, well, you should. Despite claims to the contrary, these mergers are resulting in the creation of huge, multinational companies that dominate their markets and often they have virtual monopolies on the product lines they sell.

Bayer Stockholders Angry

Speaking of mega-mergers, Bayer’s management is facing repercussions from stockholders over it’s acquisition of Monsanto. It was expected that a lot of large stockholders were going to disapprove of the board of directors’ and management’s acquisition of Monsanto at the annual general meeting of the company. While this doesn’t change what management has done, it does indicate that a lot of stockholders are very angry over the decision to buy Monsanto, and the subsequent legal problems over the lawsuits about the adverse health effects from RoundUp, and most importantly, Bayer’s plummeting stock value.

Frankly, buying Monsanto was a really bad idea from the beginning, and if the executives at Bayer didn’t realize it, the company’s lawyers sure as hell should have. Even back when the negotiations for the purchase started Monsanto was already facing thousands of lawsuits over the alleged cancer risks of glyphosate. Now there are about 13,000 lawsuits in the pipeline concerning the herbicide. No, that was not a typo. Thirteen thousand.

And that isn’t the end of Monsanto’s legal problems. There is the whole dicamba fiasco to be concerned about as well. The lawsuits over the damage the company’s dicamba based herbicide has done since it was released a couple of years ago, along with lawsuits over Monsanto’s marketing tactics for it’s dicamba resistant soybeans, are starting to pop up now and are only going to get worse. Basically Monsanto is a legal nightmare and it is dragging down Bayer with it.

Beef Industry Lawsuits

While I’m on the subject of legal problems, the beef industry has been hit with two separate but related lawsuits alleging the four biggest beef packing companies, Tyson, JBS, Cargill and United Beef Packing (together they control 80% of the US beef market) conspired together to manipulate the price they paid to cattle growers and the prices charged to consumers. Basically it’s another claim of monopolies using their lock on the market to manipulate prices. Just those four companies control about 80% of the beef market in the US. Anyway, I won’t go into depth on this one. I’ll leave it to you to follow the link and sort out the details if you’re interested.

Walmart Gets Into Beef

I mentioned Walmart briefly when I talked about Dean Foods. Dean lost a huge contract to make Walmart’s house brand liquid milk not long ago when the retailer decided to experiment with eliminating the middleman and become its own processor. It built a large milk processing facility, cut deals with dairy farms to supply milk, and cut Dean Foods out completely in one district.

Walmart is now trying to do the same thing with beef. It is developing its own end to end supply chain to supply beef to some 500 Walmart stores. This won’t take care of all of Walmart’s meat. Most of it will still be supplied by Tyson and Cargill. But it does indicate a troubling trend where these big companies are trying to develop a complete monopoly over not only sales, but supply as well. Costco is doing something similar with chicken, developing its own supply chain that will supply about 40% of its needs.

Trade Wars Continue: Updated 5/6/19

I had this section all wrapped up and ready to go when the you-know-what hit the fan and… Okay, here’s what’s going on.

I really want to talk about the China situation, but let’s deal with something closer to home first, the new NAFTA treaty, USMCA, the US-Mexic0-Canada-Agreement. The USMCA negotiations finished some time ago, a treaty was agreed to, and all is well and good now, right? (Side note: Am I the only one who thinks USMCA is the title of a Village People song?)

Well, no. Yes, the treaty was negotiated, but everything is most definitely not good because not only are we still operating under the old NAFTA treaty, the administration has still left the punitive tariffs in place that have been causing disruptions of the economies of all three countries.

So what the hell is going on? We have the new treaty, so why are we still operating under the old NAFTA and why are the tariffs in place yet? Because before a treaty can go into effect it has to be ratified by the US Senate, and the US Senate has been doing what it does best, acting like a bunch of petulant, spoiled brats who are more interested in back stabbing each other and playing at politics and dabbling in personal attacks than they are in actually doing their bloody jobs. Supposedly one of the reasons why the tariffs are still in place is because the administration is trying to use that to goad the Senate into doing something. And since that hasn’t worked, the administration has threatened to cancel the existing NAFTA treaty, which would cause utter chaos, if the Senate doesn’t get off its ass and actually do its job for a change.

Now let’s move on to China. Now if you haven’t really been following what’s been going on there, you can be excused for thinking that all is sweetness and goodness and we’re all well on the way to being best buddies and all of this trade war nonsense will be over soon and, well, no. Sorry, but no.

As you’ve probably found out in the last couple of days, despite all of the positive PR fluff that’s been released by both sides over the last few months, things have most definitely not been going well with the negotiations. While both sides have been putting out positive sounding press releases, there have been issues, as they say. Behind the scenes things have been more than a bit testy.

Yes, China did a soybean purchase, but that was more PR than anything else. While the amount they purchased sounds quite large to the average person, in actual fact it was little more than a token purchase to indicate good faith on their part.

Things did sound positive for a while, though. Both sides were stating that things were going well and that they were on the verge of coming to an agreement. But then something happened. I’m not sure what, exactly, but whatever it was put a definite chill on the whole thing. There are a lot of rumors flying around. One is that the Chinese are very much aware of the legal and ethics issues the administration is involved with here in the US and as a result they just don’t trust anything the White House says.

Anyway, we suddenly had the administration muttering vague threats that it was considering pulling out of the negotiations entirely. Then the administration started threatening to ramp up the trade war to new heights, doubling the cost of the tariffs and including even more Chinese products in the tariff war. Then the Chinese started threatening to pull out of the negotiations… Oh, brother…

As I write this (May 7, 2019) things look tense, and the effects from this little tiff are rippling through the economy. The stock market is down. Commodities prices have fallen. Corn is down to 3.55, soybeans are down to 8.20… Sigh…

Even more disturbing is the fact that statements being made by the administration indicate that the administration doesn’t really know how tariffs work in the first place. One statement implied that the administration believes that China is paying the tariffs and that they are actually good for our economy. If the administration really believes that, it shows a fundamental ignorance about what tariffs are. Let me explain.

A tariff is intended to discourage the importing of a particular product into the US by increasing it’s cost to the importer. Let me emphasize that by repeating it: “increasing it’s cost to the importer.” Not the country of origin, but to the person or company that is importing the product. So for the most part, China doesn’t pay anything extra on products it exports to the US (except indirectly through lost sales). The people who pay the tariff are the US companies that are importing the products. And that cost is passed along directly or indirectly to us, the consumers.

Let me emphasize that: China doesn’t pay the tariffs, we do.

This is one of the reasons why tariffs are generally a bad idea except under extreme circumstances. It causes as much economic pain or more to the country importing the products as it does to the country exporting them.

It also makes the stock and commodities markets very, very nervous, especially in this situation because they don’t know what the hell this administration is going to do next. The markets like stability. They like predictability. And this administration is providing neither of those things at the moment.

Well, I’ve been babbling along for far too long already here, so let’s wrap this up.

Hopefully in the very near future I’ll have some new radio equipment to talk about. I’m seriously considering going QRP and I’ve been looking at mag loop antennas and the Yaesu FT-818ND QRP transceiver. We’ll see how that goes.

Farm Catch Up

It’s bloody cold out there. In the last few of weeks we’ve had a 14 inch snow storm, some of the coldest weather the state’s ever had, followed by temperatures jumping from -37F to +50F in just a couple of days, then more snow, then back in the deep freeze again, then freezing rain and more snow. In other words, a fairly typical Wisconsin winter. So with nothing to do outside I might as as well do something to justify the name of this website and talk about farming for a while.

Stoned Pigs??

No, that’s not some kind of strange code or some new meme up there in that title. I mean seriously, we’re talking about feeding pigs weed. Well, sort of. Moto Perpetuo Farm in Oregon is feeding their pigs marijuana. They’re feeding scraps and outdated marijuana laced bakery products to their pigs because, well, they can, I guess. I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone would do something like this as some kind of marketing gimmick. And I suppose it’s better to feed the stuff to pigs than landfill all those brownies, cookies and other stuff when they go stale. Feeding bakery waste to pigs and other cattle is a pretty common practice and has been going on for as long as there have been bakeries. But feeding them marijuana brownies? Well, hell, why not, I guess. As MrsGF said when I told her about this she said “Damn, I bet those are some happy pigs!”

I wonder what this is doing to the pigs, though. Marijuana is not a normal part of a pig’s diet and while it doesn’t seem to be harming them, no one knows for sure. They seem to be doing this for no reason other than as some kind of marketing gimmick and that troubles me.

African Swine Fever

I haven’t seen much about ASF outside of the ag press, but this is a seriously scary disease if you’re in the pork business. ASF doesn’t harm humans, but it is highly contagious among pigs, and almost always fatal. There is no vaccine or treatment for it. It can’t be cured. All they can do is try to isolate it, and that is proving to be almost impossible. In China it has quickly spread to more than 25 provinces. The country has instituted bans on moving live pigs and other measures to try to contain it, but that doesn’t seem to have done much good. It’s been hitting small Chinese pig farmers hard because they have trouble dealing with the restrictions and health measures. It’s looking like a lot, if not all of the small pig farms will be put out of business by this.

It’s been spotted in the EU as well. Authorities are urging hunters to kill wild pigs which can carry the disease. There has even been talk of putting up fences along borders to keep wild pigs from spreading it into adjacent countries. France has supposedly deployed the military along the border with Belgium because they’re afraid swine from Belgium will sneak across the border

There is a swine fever problem going on in Japan as well, but that seems to be a different strain of disease that isn’t related to ASF. The country has slaughtered thousands of pigs in some prefectures in an effort to halt the spread of the disease, and the farm minister called the situation “extremely serious”. The major concern there is that no one knows how the disease is spreading.

Whole Milk in Schools?

You may not know this, but it is illegal to serve anything except low fat or skim milk in public school lunch programs. Apparently the belief is that if you let one tiny, tiny bit of milk fat past the lips of a child they will immediately swell up to 300 pounds, get diabetes and drop dead of a heart attack. Yeah, right… As if the few calories they’d get from whole milk is going to make any difference to a kid who is gorging on chips, soda, candy, and sodium loaded fast food outside of school.

Anyway, a couple of professional criminals — ahem, excuse me, I mean congress persons, are trying to change that and are putting forward a new regulation that would permit whole milk to be served, accompanied by the usual hype from the dairy industry. The usual suspects, the various dairy marketing organizations, are hyping the hell out of this, using it as an opportunity to promote the alleged “health benefits” of drinking milk. They are desperate to try to prop up ever decreasing consumption of milk. About 10 ethically challenged bas… oops, a bit of a typo there… Ten congress persons have signed onto this thing so far and I would think more will join up because it’s “for the children”, makes them look like they really care when they don’t, and doesn’t cost them anything while letting them suck up those yummy bribes … oops, another typo there. I mean, of course, campaign contributions from the dairy industry. Wink wink nudge nudge…

Uh? What do you mean I’m a cynical old grouch?

Dicamba Antitrust Lawsuit

I’ve talked about the herbicide dicamba before so I won’t go into detail about it here except say it is nasty stuff with a habit of vaporizing and drifting long distances and killing and damaging millions of acres of crops, mostly soybeans, and a lot of other plants. Despite changing the formula of the herbicide, more strict application regulations, etc., nothing seems to have stopped the damage.

A new lawsuit has been started against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, claiming it violated antitrust laws when it introduced it’s “Xtend” brand dicamba resistant soybeans. Xtend soybeans have taken over almost 75% of the North American soybean market in just three years. The company claims this is because their seed is just better. The plaintiffs claim that sales are driven, at least partly, by fear.

The claim is that farmers are planting the stuff not because it’s better, but because they’re afraid they’re going to lose their whole crop if their neighbors use the stuff and the herbicide drifts over their fields. That fear is entirely justified because dicamba damaged or killed millions of acres traditional soybeans across the country since it came into widespread use when Xtend seed came on the market. They also claim that seed salespeople are actively promoting this fear, telling farmers that if they don’t buy Xtend seed, they risk losing their whole crop. The lawsuit claims that Monsanto knew about the risk of dicamba drift and deliberately exploited it in order to drive competitors out of the market.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto last year, denies it, claims that the herbicide doesn’t drift if used properly, and claims that damage from drift were down last year after new restrictions were put in place. The plaintiffs claim that the damage has been reduced because farmers have been forced to buy the Xtend seed or face losing their crops.

Rent A Chicken. Seriously?

In the “no one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American people” department: There is something out there called “Rent a Chicken”. For “just” $450 – $600 a season, this outfit will rent you a couple of chickens, a small coop, a bag of feed and a couple of dishes. And…

Oh, come on, really? The free range “organic” eggs you’ll get out of those two birds will cost you something like $20 a dozen. Plus you will experience the “joy” of taking care of a pair of birds that will try to escape, run out into the road and get run over, piss off your neighbors and leave chicken crap all over your yard for your kids to play in.

But apparently people are actually doing this. And enough of them are doing it to let this outfit have outlets in 23 states and parts of Canada and…

Look, you can get free range, organic eggs from small farmers around here for about $5/doz if you’re looking for eggs. And if you think a chicken is going to be your pet, well, tell that to the emergency room doctor when you have to take your four year old in to get her face stitched up after the bird went for her. Can you say tetanus shots?

Look, if you really, really want to have a couple of chickens for some reason, here’s how you can do it for free.

You can cobble together a pretty good coop out of an old pallet or two and chances are good you can pick up a couple free. The birds themselves? Check Craigslist or other community bulletin boards and you’ll generally find ads from people trying to give the things away because they found out what you’re about to find out, that chickens are A) stupid, B) vicious, C) annoying, D) filthy, E) without a carefully controlled diet the eggs they produce (if any) taste bloody awful, and F) drop dead for no apparent reason leaving you to try to explain to little Rachel why her bird went to live in chicken heaven, and costing you thousands of dollars in therapy bills when you haven’t even paid off the ER bill yet from the time the chicken tried to peck her face off. And as for feeding them, well, that’s free too because, well, your neighbors got bird feeders, right? Besides, chickens will eat damn near anything including small rodents, bugs, snakes and each other.

Fake Yogurt

Danone, makers of Dannon and Activia coagulated milk products (yogurt), bought a building in Pennsylvania that it plans to use to make “vegan yogurt”. Basically you take soybeans or some other legume or nut, process the hell out of it, spin off some kind of juice from it, throw in a bunch of chemicals and additives to make it vaguely resemble real yogurt, add a lot of sugar and/or artificial sweeteners and flavoring agents so people can gag it down, then throw in some bacteria, cheap vitamins mass produced in China, and then use a massive marketing campaign to convince you it’s “healthy”.

Anyway, the company has jumped into the fake dairy product market with both feet. Back in ’16 it bought the company that manufactures Silk and other vegan products for something like $12 billion so they want to get into the fake milk and dairy business really, really bad because, well, profits, of course. Sales of regular yogurt have gone flat or even started to decline in some areas so it has to do something to prop up the sales.

What really caught my eye in this story was the term “flexitarian”. I’d never heard of it before. What the hell is, some of you are asking, a flexitarian? A flexitarian, my friends, is a vegetarian who eats meat. Seriously. Oh, they say, I’m better than you are because I don’t eat a lot of meat… And, well, it’s all just pretentious drivel. It’s greenwashing on a personal level

Tinder for Cows

Yeah, seriously, Tinder for cows. A company in the UK has introduced an app called “Tudder” which lets farmers find breeding matches for their cattle by using a Tinder style app where you can swipe left or right as you page through a selection of cows and bulls. You can narrow things down by specifying various characteristics such as breed of animal, whether it’s organic or not, health, age, etc. I know it sounds silly but there is a genuine market for this kind of app. It isn’t being put out by a fly by night company, either. It’s backed by Hectare, which provides marketing platforms for trading cattle and grains that are used by about a third of UK farmers.

And, of course, the article offers the obligatory pun about a possible sheep version called “Ewe-Harmony”.

Big Dairy Is About to Flood America’s School Lunches With Milk | Farm Journal’s MILK Business

Big Dairy Is About to Flood America’s School Lunches With Milk | Farm Journal’s MILK Business

If you click the link above it will take you to a fascinating article at the Farm Journal (re-printed from Bloomberg News) about what’s going on in school food service with the focus on milk. Unlike the usual two or three paragraph news blurb that tells you pretty much nothing, this article goes into the situation in some depth and is pretty well written, and debunks a lot of the hype being pushed by various marketing boards.

It still puzzles some of my readers here that someone with his roots in dairy farming like me can be so critical of the dairy industry, but that same dairy industry stopped giving a damn about the health and well being of you and your family a long, long time ago. What it has focused on exclusively for decades now is trying to sell you milk and milk products any way it can. It has manipulated data, used misleading statistics, cherry picked information, ignored significant health issues, pressured retailers and school systems, and generally used every marketing trick imaginable to try to convince you that milk is good for you when there is significant evidence that indicates it isn’t.

The article isn’t just about milk, of course. It goes into details about the Obama era school lunch rules, the attempts to undermine them, shows how the big processed food manufacturers try to influence school lunch programs, and how so-called “experts” are used to try to influence things. One “volunteer adjunct professor”, whatever the hell that is, claimed that if a 16 year old girl didn’t drink milk and “doesn’t get enough [calcium] by the time she’s 30 her bones start to turn to dust”.

If it sounds like the dairy industry is growing increasingly desperate to sell you milk, that’s because it is. Right now the US alone has about 1.4 billion pounds of excess cheese in storage. That is not a typo. 1.4 billion pounds. Every year milk production goes up while at the same time demand is trending down. The demand for liquid drinking milk has been declining for decades now, and even cheese consumption has been flat or even declining a bit. In a rational world what happens when you have too much of a product is that you stop making so much of it. But one thing I learned long ago is that rationality seems to be in short supply.

Go take a look at the article if you have some time. It makes for fascinating reading and will give you an idea of how the food industry in this country is being manipulated.

Farm Catch Up

I wasn’t going to do one of these for a while yet but some interesting stuff has been going on in the world of agriculture that I wanted to pass along… Oh, all right, I was bored, okay?

ADM and Perfect Day Make Cow Free Milk But Not Really

According to a wildly misleading headline on Fortune’s website, ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) and a San Francisco start up

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 12.54.27 PM
Actual real cow. Not a yeast.

company claim they can make real milk (they aren’t, not even close) with yeast. According to the article, they got “some yeast” from USDA, then “They then got a cow’s DNA sequence, had it printed via 3D-printer, and inserted it into a specific location of the yeast” according to the article. And if that statement makes you scratch your head a bit, well, yeah, I understand. That’s about as misleading as the story’s headline is.

No, they aren’t making actual milk. Not even close. All they’re making is a casein and yeast not cowwhey which are chemically similar to that produced in real milk. Casein and whey are not milk, they are merely two components of the complex compound that milk really is. Nor are they really trying to if you read carefully. They’re planning on selling the stuff as an ingredient to the food processing industry, not as some kind of substitute milk.

Trade War Drags On. And On. And On. And On…

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Shooting ourselves in the foot. Get it? Yeah, I know I can’t draw shoes.

While the administration is touting a new trade agreement hammered out with Canada and Mexico, don’t hold your breath waiting for any kind of improvement in that sector. Treaties still have to be approved by all three governments before anything goes into effect. And even if it is approved, the administration still has its steel and aluminum tariffs in place which were what helped to trigger a lot of this trade war nonsense in the first place.

And despite comments from D.C. that there will be an agreement with China real soon now, the information coming from Asian sources doesn’t indicate anything of the kind. At the Asian – Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in New Guinea attended by VP Pence the mood was anything but pleasant. The Chinese government said the US exhibited a “blaze of anger” during the meeting and Pence was “unhelpful”. Pence openly accused China of intellectual property theft and a whole laundry list of other alleged misconduct and, well, the whole meeting was pretty much a fiasco.

Will The Federal Farm Bill Pass This Year?

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Farmer Bill, not the Farm Bill.

The current farm bill expired in September. A lot of programs which did not have permanent funding are shut down until a new bill is passed by Congress and signed by the president. Some ag marketing programs are closed, food aid to locations outside of the US are shut down, as are a lot of conservation programs, because once the farm bill expired the funding for those programs ended. Crop insurance and the SNAP (food stamps) program are both permanently funded so they continue even though the bill has expired.

While I’m sure the GOP would love to get the farm bill out the door before the Dems take over the House in January, that doesn’t look likely at this point in time. The House leadership is apparently not going to back down on its insistence to include strict work requirements for the SNAP program, and the Senate already voted those down by a 2-1 margin. I’m not going to delve into what’s going on in the fight over the SNAP program because I promised myself long ago I wasn’t going to descend into politics in this blog. Considering the difference in opinion between the two bodies of Congress, I suspect the Senate would be more than content to let the farm bill languish until the Dems take over the House in January.

Complicating things is Congress facing a Dec. 7 deadline to pass a funding bill to avoid the government shutting down. The administration is threatening to veto any funding bill that doesn’t include funding for “the wall”, so you can expect this to start to get nasty pretty quickly.

It’s possible that a farm bill might get passed, of course, but I’d think the chances of that are less than 50/50 right now.

[Edit: as of Nov. 23 it seems the Senate and the House may be getting closer to an agreement on SNAP issues and might actually produce a bill to present for a vote before the end of the year. At the moment I have no idea what’s actually in this compromise, nor do I know the chances of it actually passing.]

Milk Prices

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 9.09.41 AM
Gadzooks! He can draw a barn!

It’s no secret that the prices dairy farmers have been getting for milk has been utterly horrible for a long time. Wisconsin alone has lost 584 dairy farms just this year and 1,086 over the last two years. You’d think that with that many farms going out of business there would be a significant reduction in the amount of milk being produced, but that isn’t true. What generally happens is that when a dairy farm goes out of business the cows end up being sold to other dairy farms that expand their operation. So while the number of farms goes down, the number of producing cows doesn’t change very much.

As we get close to the end of the year there is a trend in the ag press to start publishing optimistic articles claiming that the price of milk is going to go up, sometimes significantly. Unfortunately those overly optimistic claims are generally based on data that is looked at in isolation. For example, about 12 states in the US report that milk production has declined significantly. If you look at just that fact, that might indicate milk prices might be moving up. But it also ignores the fact that the rest of the milk producing states have actually increased production by as much as 10%. Overall, milk production in the US has gone up about 1 – 2 % (the number varies according to who’s data you look at) despite the reduction in the number of dairy farms in operation.

News on the international scene is even worse. The last big sale conducted by Global Dairy Trade in New Zealand had prices dropping on almost every type of milk product being sold. And this is despite the fact China has, according to some reports at least, lost a considerable percentage of milk production.

What it boils down to is that there is very little information to support the claim that there will be a significant increase in the price of milk any time soon.

Farm Bailout Payments

farmsinkThe administration promised that the trade war it started with much of Europe, Canada, Mexico and China wouldn’t harm farmers, and came up with a bailout plan to help financially support farmers and reduce the impact of the loss of exports to other countries. So how is that going? According the administration it’s going wonderfully. According to the actual facts, well, not so good according to at least one source.

According to the administration the program is wildly successful. In actual fact less than 8% of the money the administration claimed it was going to give out has actually been paid as of Oct. 31, and a lot of that has been given away to non-farm interests. And while the dairy and corn farmers have been hit hard, the bulk of the money seems to be going to soybean growers, with other farmers being offered so little that it’s actually insulting.

Farm Catch Up

It’s been a while since I did one of these so let’s see what’s been going on in the agriculture industry.


Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 5.43.30 AM.pngI’d be willing to bet there are a lot of people over at Bayer who are wishing that they’d never thought of the idea of buying Monsanto. Before Bayer completed its purchase of the company, it was already involved in a lawsuit in California claiming that RoundUp ™ caused the plaintiff’s (a school groundskeeper) cancer. The company lost and was hit with a $289 million dollar judgement against it. Bayer is trying desperately to get the judgement voided, claiming that there is little or no evidence to prove the product causes cancer and a lot of evidence proving it doesn’t.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, is facing dozens of similar lawsuits. There are apparently about 8,700 people in the US who directly blame the herbicide for their cancer, so Bayer could be in court for a long, long time over this unless the company can figure out a way to get out from under this.

Note: The day after I wrote the above item a judge in San Francisco has indicated she is inclined to set aside a $250 million punitive damage judgement against Monsanto and even reopen the case. In a preliminary statement the judge said the plaintiff’s lawyers did not present clear and convincing evidence of malice and suppression of information by Monsanto.


The Farm Bill – The farm bill has turned into more or less a very unfunny joke over the last few decades. It has less and less to do with agriculture and more and more to do with social welfare programs, especially SNAP (food stamps). Something like 80% of the funding in the so-called farm bill actually goes to the SNAP program, not to agriculture. So while the collection of laws and regulations that has become known as the “farm bill” does indeed deal with things like crop insurance, ag subsidy programs and other ag related programs, the vast majority of the money involved is funneled into the SNAP program.

This means that when it comes time to redo the bill, the political bickering gets intense and it’s gotten harder and harder to get the thing passed. It is currently bogged down over, surprise, disagreements over the SNAP program, and doesn’t look like it’s going to pass any time soon. You aren’t going to see any action on the FB until after the November elections, and there’s a good chance it could be pushed off into next year, which means the whole bill would have to be rewritten and the whole mess would have to start all over again.

One of these days I should really write an article about what the “farm bill” really is and how it was transformed from a collection of programs to help agriculture into a program where 80% of the funding goes to non-ag related support programs, and why there is so much resistance to splitting off the welfare related parts of the whole mess and making the farm bill really about agriculture again.


Sales of the abomination that is “American Cheese” are declining according to an article from Bloomberg over at AgWeb. As a friend of mine once said when confronted with so-called “American cheese” for the first time, “I don’t know what the hell that is, but it isn’t cheese.” A lot of people have said even less flattering things about the stuff, with some justification. With a list of ingredients that reads more like a chemistry lesson than something you should see in a food product, the muck was invented back in 1916 and was canned (yes, canned) and sold to the US government to feed soldiers during WWI. I’m not sure why sales are declining. Perhaps it’s because people are finally finding out that it doesn’t really taste like, well, much of anything, really. Except salt. Certainly it doesn’t taste like actual cheese. Perhaps they’re concerned about the fact that a lot of those ingredients in it shouldn’t be anywhere near any kind of product you put in your mouth. Or perhaps it’s just a trend. But whatever the reason, restaurants and even the fast food joints are moving away from the stuff and switching to actual real cheese for their products, and have been for quite a while. Except for McD’s and a few other fast food places, restaurants switched to using real cheese some time ago, substituting cheddar, swiss, asiago or blends of different cheeses for their cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, etc.


Sears Files for Bankruptcy. The Sears bankruptcy didn’t really surprise anyone. We’ve seen that coming for years now. The only really surprising thing is that it took them this lon to do it.

Why talk about Sears in a post about farm news? Well, if you grew up on a farm in the 60s like I did, Sears was the place you went for just about everything from work clothes to hand tools to car batteries to household items. I’m sure there will be (if there aren’t already) books and scholarly papers written about the decline and fall of what at one time was the biggest retailer in the country.

It is popular these days to blame Amazon for the failure of retail stores, but even as early as the 1980s the company was showing signs of serious problems. The quality of the store branded products it was selling began declining. Craftsman hand tools which had been of good quality and came with a lifetime warranty, became less polished, less well made, and that famous lifetime warranty which had always been a major selling point for them, disappeared. The company seemed to lose focus. It moved into areas that made no sense. It started selling glasses. Portrait studios began popping up in the stores. The stores started to look more and more shabby as the company tried to cut costs, and Sears’ reputation declined rapidly. The only thing its cost cutting measures did was drive more and more customers away. And the worse its financial situation became, the more strange the decisions of management seemed to become.

The purchase of Kmart (I’m not really sure who bought who, if Sears bought Kmart or Kmart bought Sears. Not that it really matters) was pretty much the last nail in the coffin, really. Who in the world thought that a failing company buying a retail chain that was in even worse financial shape than it was made any kind of sense at all?


Weather – Up here in the midwest the weather has been, well, odd. By Oct. 9 we’d already had more rain than we normally get in the entire month, and it still hasn’t stopped. We’ve had rain every day for the last 14 days or so and we’re getting a bit tired of it. Soybean harvest should be almost done by now, but a lot of fields are still standing because the farmers can’t get their equipment in the fields without burying their combines in mud.

Over in the Dakotas they got hit with a snowstorm that dumped 5-9 inches of snow on them right in the middle of soybean harvest.


E-15 On The Way – The administration announced it was going to approve the use of E-15 fuel (15% ethanol blend) during a campaign rally in the midwest. While it’s been approved for limited distribution during certain times of the year already, it will, apparently, now be available all the time. While some corn farmers (and the ethanol makers, of course) are cheering the decision in the hope it will boost corn prices, a lot of other people don’t think it will have much of an effect, if any, on corn prices in the long run.

There are a lot of problems with the whole ethanol fuel idea. It isn’t a very good fuel, it isn’t really very “green” as far as the environment is concerned, it’s a government mandated program so it can be ended overnight at the whim of congress, and, when it comes down to it, it’s a dead end technology. The future of the automobile appears to be electric. Once Tesla proved it was possible to make a vehicle with a realistic travel range at a fairly reasonable cost, the big car makers began to jump on board and now just about all of them have at least one EV or they’re going to be coming out with one soon. I suspect that the next vehicle I buy will be an EV. I’d probably already have a Tesla if they had a normal dealer network where I knew I could get the thing serviced.


Dicamba Lawsuit Coming Up – Monsanto put it’s dicamba resistant seed line on sale a year before the government approved the dicamba blend herbicide Monsanto intended to be used with the new seeds. Apparently that didn’t stop some farmers from using regular dicamba with the new crops, resulting in widespread damage to adjacent crops and other plants. The problem with dicamba is that it vaporizes easily and can drift over very long distances, causing widespread damage. So, of course, there are lawsuits. The first of these is coming to trial in October of next year. The plaintiff blames Monsanto (now Bayer) for the damage, claiming that the company should have known that as soon as it started selling the dicamba resistant seeds, farmers were going to use unapproved mixtures of dicamba on the crops.

While I think Monsanto should not have started selling the new seed lines until the herbicide blend was approved, as far as I can tell the company did indeed warn farmers, seed dealers and herbicide applicators that there were no legally available dicamba blends approved for use at that time with the new seeds. The damage was caused by growers and applicators who illegally used dicamba blends that were not approved for that use at that time. So I don’t know how Monsanto can be held responsible for that damage.

But that being said, there are serious problems with even the approved dicamba blends of herbicide. Even the approved blends seem to be drifting over long distances, damaging tens of thousands of acres of crops. While the company continues to claim this is due entirely to improper use by the applicators, states and the feds are putting ever increasing restrictions on the use of the stuff, and some states are thinking of banning it entirely.

Well, that’s enough of that. You’re probably getting as bored as I am already😜

Farm Catch Up

It’s been a long time since  I did one of these, so let’s see what’s been going on in the farming world.

Bayer Acquisition of Monsanto Wraps Up — As of Aug. 17, Bayer had finished divesting itself of various businesses to satisfy regulators so it could complete the buy of Monsanto and it will fully acquire the company and Monsanto as an independent company will disappear. Bayer actually bought all of Monsanto back in June, but could not fully integrate the company until it satisfied the conditions set by various governments.

One has to wonder if Bayer is thinking this might not have been such a good idea. Monsanto just lost a $200+ million dollar lawsuit in California which claimed glyphosate caused someone to develop cancer and I’ve heard that there are many, many more lawsuits in the pipeline over the herbicide. And if that isn’t bad enough, Monsanto’s dicamba blend herbicides could actually end up being banned because of continued wide spread damage being caused by the herbicide drifting long distances and harming other crops, gardens, trees, bushes, etc. Despite stringent application requirements the problem has not gone away and there is a lot of pressure to ban the stuff entirely except as a pre-emergent herbicide that can only be used prior to planting. That would pretty much destroy Monsanto’s sales of dicamba resistant seeds.

You have to remember that the lawsuit mentioned above was in California where apparently just about everything causes cancer, even coffee. Which it doesn’t. Coffee, I mean. The slight correlation between drinking coffee and cancer appears to be due not to the coffee but to the temperature of the beverage. There seems to be a link (a very slight one) between drinking drinking hot beverages over 140 degrees and esophageal cancer and some others.

Milk Labeling Controversy Continues — The argument over what products can use the label “milk” continues. Despite the fact that FDA has, for decades, had an official, legal definition of what “milk” is, defining the term as the secretions of the mammary glands of animals, various makers of nut, grain and plant juices have been using the term “milk” in their labeling for years. Protests about the mislabeling and demands for enforcement of the existing regulations have been ignored for decades. But it seems the FDA is finally going to do something about it because of increased pressure, and it looks like the agency might actually start to enforce it’s own regulations in the fairly near future. I’ve talked about this before so I’m not going to repeat that.

The interesting thing is that a couple of senators tried to slip an amendment into an unrelated spending bill that would have kept the FDA from actually enforcing it’s own rules by prohibiting “the use of funds to enforce standards of identity with respect to certain food.” The amendment would not have altered FDA’s definitions, but would have kept the agency from actually enforcing it’s own rules. Exactly why these two tried to slip this through I don’t know. I’m sure they didn’t get, oh, large campaign contributions from people or organizations linked to the nut “milk” lobby. (Here is where I wish we had a sarcasm font)

Anyway, the amendment was shot down in flames by the Senate. The vote was something like 14 for, 84 against.

I’ve long believed that what we really need is a better definition of the term “bribery” and a law enforcement agency willing to enforce it.

Wisconsin Loses 382 Dairy Farms In First Half of Year — That number should give you some idea of how bad the dairy industry is doing right now. Last year Wisconsin lost about 465 dairy farms. If the attrition continue at this rate, we’re on track to lose more than 650 farms this year. It’s easy to look for scapegoats, of course. The dairy industry itself is a primary contributor to the problems thanks to massive over production. This administration’s nasty little trade war isn’t helping, of course. I’ve seen estimates that this trade war has knocked about $1.50 off the price of milk as countries that used to import our dairy products are now looking elsewhere.

Tariff Relief Program — USDA announced at the end of July it would be starting up a tariff relief program to try to make the hit farmers in the US are experiencing a bit less painful. It announced $12 billion would be funneled to farmers in one way or another using existing relief programs. The exact details are a bit muddy, and USDA seems to be in utter confusion about exactly how this is going to work, so if you’re a farmer who’s been hurt by this, don’t expect any kind of relief any time soon. Considering Perdue, the Secretary of Ag, claimed well over a year ago that the administration would renegotiate NAFTA in just a “few weeks” and they’re still fighting over it today with no end in sight, I wouldn’t count on seeing any actual money coming out of this program for some time.

Another big question is exactly where this $12 billion is going to come from because Congress hasn’t authorized any spending for this program.

Almond “milk” Recalled Because It Has Real Milk In It — HP Hood, makers of Almond Breeze nut juice, is recalling more than 145,000 cartons of it’s product because it may have actual real milk in it instead of it’s nut juice stuff.

Still More Tariffs — The administration will begin to levy 25% import duties on still more Chinese imports soon. This time it’s going to be mostly industrial products like chemicals, plastics and machine parts. China has promised it will strike back dollar for dollar by putting it’s own penalties against US products in place. And it could get worse fast, with the US apparently considering tariffs on an additional $200 billion of Chinese products. The administration has uttered threats of putting tariffs on all Chinese imports.

What a lot of people, especially those who blindly back what the administration is doing, don’t seem to realize is that this while this may hurt China a bit, the ones who are really paying for it are us, and not just in lost sales to China. A lot of these products that are being imported from China simply aren’t made anywhere else, or are made in such small quantities that the domestic makers can’t even come close to meeting the demand.

Let me point out one thing that people don’t seem to understand. That 25% tariff isn’t being paid by China.

That tariff is being paid by the people who buy the product here in the United States. We pay it. If a manufacturer makes a product that includes parts and materials that can only be sourced from China, it has to pay that extra 25%, and that’s what’s happening right now. Yes it will cut back on the amount of purchases from China, but in a lot of cases there is no choice. You pay that 25% tax or you can’t make your product.

That extra cost has to be accounted for somewhere. At the moment a lot of manufacturers are absorbing that extra cost in the hopes that this situation won’t last long. But eventually they aren’t going to be able to keep that up and they are going to have to increase the prices of their finished product. So in the long run, the people who are paying that tariff are us, the consumers.

Lost Valley Farm Saga Continues — A mega dairy in Oregon called Lost Valley Farm is in the news yet again. The farm has only been in existence less than two years, and it has already racked up an impressive list of operational violations that is unprecedented in my experience. Illegal manure disposal, illegal pumping of water from aquifers, illegal generation of wastewater, failure to obtain proper permits, violations of permits… The list goes on and on according to the Oregon Dept. of Ag. (ODA). Most recently the farm was ordered to produce no more than 65,000 gallons of waste water per day to meet permit requirements, but allegedly has continuously violated that agreement by producing as much as 375,000 gallons in excess of the limits.

Meanwhile, the farm’s bank has been going after them. They took out a $60 million loan from Rabobank to start this thing up and the bank is not exactly pleased with things. The farm agreed to sell off the cattle to try to pay down debt.

And then declared bankruptcy the day before the sale was supposed to happen to prevent the sale and keep the bank from foreclosing.

The attorney for the owner of the farm claims they are doing everything the ODA is asking, that they’ve made significant progress in meeting the requirements, etc. ODA counters by pointing out the farm has been in almost continuous violation of of the deal. And the judge handling the case is considering contempt charges against the owner.

Drinking Straw Bans — Oh, brother… Just about everyone seems to be jumping on this call to ban plastic drinking straws. Using data allegedly developed by a nine year old kid, everyone seems to now think that plastic drinking straws are killing the planet and have to be banned right now. Almost every time I look at a media outlet I’m seeing yet another article about some restaurant or town or university or some organization banning plastic drinking straws.

Look, has anyone actually thought about this? Hmm? I’m not sure about the exact numbers because they bounce all over the place because no one seems to know the actual facts, but it seems that straws account for something like 0.0002% of the plastic waste being generated by people. I’m all for reducing waste, especially plastic waste, but there are a heck of a lot more serious sources of plastic waste to go after than drinking straws.

Some places are talking about going to reusable straws made of stainless steel or some other substance that can tolerate cleaning. Have you ever tried to actually clean and sanitize a straw? Basically, you can’t. If put in a dishwasher, the water isn’t going to actually get inside of the straw to clean it. Some might trickle through it depending on how it’s oriented inside of the washer, but not enough to do a thorough job. And as for hand washing, you can run water through it, but that isn’t going to actually remove anything clinging to the inside of the straw. Or you can get, oh, a tiny, tiny brush and wash each one individually, but of course no one is going to do that. Then you’re going to have to try to sanitize it, perhaps by soaking it in some kind of bleach solution. But water is a tricky thing. Because of things like the surface tension of water, you can get air gaps in small spaces…

Do you really want to be drinking out of a straw that’s been used by someone with, oh, hepatitis, for  example, or norovirus?

Well, that’s enough for now. You’re probably getting as bored as I am. And the way the garden looks outside MrsGF and I are going to be busy processing tomatoes for a while. They’re starting to come on fast right now.