Spring Prep

I dug the tiller out of the garage this morning and started doing some work in some of IMG_0148the beds here. That old tiller… It is literally almost as old as I am, probably dates to about the early 1960s. It’s exactly like one we owned when I was a little kid. The dopey thing is the most reliable piece of equipment we own here. It just plain works, and always has. Pull it out of the garage, fill it with gas, check the oil, and pull the starter a couple of times and it starts. It’s an ancient Briggs engine, the brand name, Gilson, is put on with stickers, but the thing is built like a tank.

I’m afraid I was a bit sneaky. Every year MrsGF agrees that we really, really need to work up some of the long established beds because the soil has deteriorated so badly. But when I finally get the tiller out and start to actually do it, ah, well… This flower is so neat and it will come back again this year, and the cone flowers are going to come up there, and this plant is in there and she doesn’t want to do that. And to be fair, there are some nice plants in there, but in order to save those few nice plants, it means the ground is so bad in those areas we can’t plant anything else but weeds.

So I got her to agree to do it yesterday, and while she’s at work this morning I got out there quick and worked everything up before she could change her mind.

IMG_0154.JPG

This area here was first an herb garden, then we tried strawberries, which didn’t work that well because, well, the soil was so bad. So the oregano more or less took over everything except for one patch where the cone flowers had established themselves. It’s a fantastic spot, sheltered in the “L” of the house, with exposure to the south and west, so it’s warm, sunny, etc. But the soil… Oh dear lord it was bad in there. When we first put this bed in we hauled in a lot of compost and worked it in, but that was something like 20 years ago and nothing has been done in there since. The soil was so hard I had to go over it four times with the tiller.

We call this spot the Stump Garden because that’s what it was, originally. It was a big old stuIMG_0151mp when we bought the place about 20 years ago. We could have hired someone to come in and grind it out, but why pay good money for something like that? My solution was to build a retaining wall around it, fill it with dirt and compost, and plant stuff on top of it, my thinking being that sooner or later the stump will take care of itself by rotting away.

And it did, and in a remarkably short amount of time. Within about three years there was nothing left of it under the dirt. We decided we liked having a raised bed there, so we lowered the retaining wall a half foot or so and kept it in place. We’ve found this is an ideal place for growing lettuce. It’s well drained and in partial shade which helps keep the lettuce and greens from bolting. We re-seed it a couple of times during the summer so we have a constant supply of fresh salad greens well into the fall of the year.

IMG_0152The heart garden is called that because it’s sort of heart shaped. My only regret is that I didn’t make it bigger. Much bigger. Because I hate lawns. No excuse for lawns. None at all. I keep trying to kill mine off, but it keeps coming back no matter what. But I’m still working on it…

It’s not far from the herb garden area and I’m seriously considering linking the two up and turning it into the “Shapeless Blob” garden as an excuse to get rid of more grass.

This is another one that desperately needs work, but MrsGF was reluctant to let me work up because there were some plants in there she liked. Even though she told me to work it up last night, I suspect now that I’ve actually done it I’ll hear about it, especially if whatever I plant in there doesn’t work out well.

One year we put the entire thing in alyssum, a variety with an incredibly intense smell. When you’d walk out the back door of the garage the entire area was covered in this incredible scent. I’m tempted to do that again. Maybe. Not sure. The area is shaded from about noon on by our pear tree so whatever we put in there has to be able to deal with that.

Then there’s the garage garden, which is by the garage. Well, of course it would be, IMG_0149wouldn’t it. Garage. Garden… We really worked this one over last year. The soil was terrible in there. I covered the entire area with about six inches of compost and worked it in last year, and that has helped enormously. I have high hopes for this area this season.

 

 

There is More on the Dairy Farm Story

I mentioned previously that a short time ago Grassland Dairy Products here in Wisconsin, which makes mostly butter, sent out letters to 75 dairy farmers telling them that as of May 1 Grassland would no longer be buying their milk. This left those farmers in a terrible situation. They now have no place to sell their milk. And the way the market is right now, finding a new processor to sell to is almost impossible.

In it’s press releases and comments to the media Grassland blames Canada. Canada, according to Grassland, changed their dairy import policies almost literally overnight, making it impossible for Grassland to continue to sell almost a million pounds a day of ultra-filtered milk, used in cheese making, to Canada. According to some of the information that came from the company, they received only two days notice before the change was implemented. The company had no choice but to cut back on the amount of milk it purchases. Grassland claims that it cut off those farmers that the company felt would have the best chance of finding a new market for their milk elsewhere.

But some people started to do some digging, and as is often the case, what’s been coming out in the press releases and statements from the company seems to have some problems. I ran into an op-ed piece over at Wisconsin Agriculturist that points out numerous problems with the whole story as it’s being presented by Grassland, and if true, there is a lot more going on here. You can read it here.

First of all, allegedly Grassland was not blind sided by this as they seem to be claiming. This didn’t happen overnight as the press releases seem to claim. This has been in the works by Canada for a long time. Grassland allegedly knew about this back in November already, and may have known as much as two years ago according to the editorial piece. Governor Walker actually wrote a column about it back in November.

Then there is the issue of which farms they cut off. The company claims it picked farms that it believed would best be able to find markets for their milk. But almost all of the farms being cut off are the ones that are the farthest away from the company’s processing facility in Clark County. Cutting off the farms that are the farthest away from their processing center would save the company a small fortune on shipping costs.

There there is this little tidbit: At the same time the company is cutting off 75 dairy farms, it is trying to get the permits to build it’s own 5,000 cow company owned mega-farm.

There’s no doubt that the company lost significant sales of product to Canada, but there seems to be a lot more going on here than just a trade squabble with Canada.

 

Too Much Of A Good Thing

As of this morning the ag futures markets are listing corn at 3.67 a bushel, soybeans at 9.46, and wheat at 4.33. But as if often the case, out in the real world, at the farm level, the situation is far different. If you’re a farmer trying to sell, you don’t get the futures prices, you get farm gate prices, what a buyer will actually pay to a farmer. And that is often much, much less than what that commodity is trading for on the floor of the Chicago exchange and other commodities markets.

Out in the real world, farmers are looking at farm gate prices for corn of as little as 2.90 and wheat around 3.15. Those prices are well under the cost of production for most farmers. US farmers are looking at a fourth straight year of increasing costs, declining income, and increasing debt.

The problem is we’re growing too much food.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Especially when we’re hearing about mass starvation in some parts of Africa and other parts of the world. But the problem isn’t a lack of production. We’re producing more than enough to keep everyone fed. The starvation is due not to a lack of food, but to government corruption, incompetence and war, not to any kind of shortage of food.

Overproduction has become a very serious problem. Most of the grain producing nations are looking at massive surpluses of product. Storage facilities are packed tight. In Kansas they’re actually renting runways at decommissioned military airbases and parking lots to pile the stuff up because there’s no place to go with it.

Meanwhile countries like China and Russia are trying to dump old stock in storage in order to make room for new production, resulting in prices being driven down even farther.

And there seems to be no end in sight. USDA is estimating that corn, wheat and soybean production in the US alone could be the biggest ever since they started keeping records.

 

Catching Up

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

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

Canadian Milk Export Headaches

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

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Ooo, butter… Yummy yummy butter

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

Corn Finances are Wonky

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

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

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

Chickpeas

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

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

Butter Butter Everywhere

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

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

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

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

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


Amateur Radio Stuff

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

QRZ

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

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

Terminology

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

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A ham. Not an amateur radio operator

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

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

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

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

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An Elmer. Not a mentor.

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

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

Fish Oil – The New Snake Oil?

So I ran across this item this morning at Agrimoney.com.

Source: Agrimoney.com | Crop farmers may become fishes’ best friends

Apparently this company has developed a type of canola that contains relatively large amounts of an oil with omega-3 that is similar to that produced in fish. The GM seed has been produced by adding in genes from microalgae which make omega-3 oils. The claim is that this microalgae is the source of the omega-3 oils that are found in fish. About 2.5 acres of this canola is supposed to produce s much omega-3 equivalent as 10,000 kilos of fish.

The new canola (rapeseed) is still in testing and hasn’t yet received approval from USDA or from other canola growing countries. But everyone is excited about it because this could go a long way to fill the ever increasing demand for omega-3. In the US alone omega-3 supplements are a billion dollar business and people by the millions gobble down the capsules. Food processors are adding it to a wide variety of foods like yogurt, cereals, juice, even cookies for heaven’s sake. So it is hoped that a product like this may help to reduce overfishing that has driven some of the most popular types of fish in the oceans to near extinction.

But there are problems. And everyone seems to have been completely Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 7.03.24 AMignoring them. And the biggest problem seems to be that no one seems to be really sure that omega-3 actually works. Even worse, there are some indications that taking omega-3 might actually be detrimental for the health of some people.

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a report a year or so ago that indicated that linked eating a lot of oily fish or taking fish oil supplements to a 50% increase in the risk of prostate cancer in men, and a 70% increased risk for aggressive prostate cancer.

Taking omega-3 supplements is supposed to improve heart health, of course. But studies are indicating it doesn’t do that, either. A study published in 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that taking omega-3 supplements did nothing to reduce heart attack, stroke or death from heart disease.

Why all this confusion and conflicting information? Because how food and it’s components affect the body is an extremely complex subject and often still largely a mystery. Using supplements for anything other than to treat an actual deficiency is generally something you should do only with caution and great reluctance.

Eating a diet that has fish in it is considerably different from gulping down a handful of omega-3 pills because no one seems to be able to prove beyond a doubt that omega-3 is the only thing at work when there is an improvement in health. It’s more likely you need everything in that fish, all of the vitamins, minerals and other substances that are in the fish itself, not just a single component of that fish.

Even though we have hundreds of companies trying to sell you fish oil and omega-3 supplements, adding it to other foods as a marketing gimmick, there are a lot of studies out there that indicate that taking fish oil and omega-3 supplements to reduce heart problems doesn’t work any better than taking a placebo. Like this one. Or this one. Or… Well, you get the idea so why go on.

 

Crimes Against Food

 

Let’s talk about food, shall we? Why? Well, I’m bored, that’s why, and you’re the ones who are going to suffer for it. For your sake I hope this doesn’t last very long.

Now I’ve eaten some rather odd things in my lifetime. And just a relatively short period of time ago if you’d told me I would eat some of this stuff and actually like it, I’d have said you were as loony as, well, as most politicians. Which is pretty loony indeed.

Let’s face it, we human beings do some very strange things with our food. We aren’t

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Dear sweet mother of milk of magnesia, what the hell is it? No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

satisfied with just eating stuff, no, we have to go fiddling with it and turn it into things like, well, like this over there on the right, whatever the hell that is. When I ran across that image I just sat there for about thirty seconds going “Oh my God” over and over again. What is it? Well, it’s — it’s pink. I thought it was some kind of cake at first, but then I saw that bizarre cyclops eye in the center, the olive, and what kind of cake has a cyclops olive eye in the center of it. Finally I decided I really, really didn’t want to know what it was because I will probably have nightmares about cyclops eyed long pink sausages chasing me…

Now like I said, I’ve eaten some odd things. Raw eel. Raw squid. Lutefisk. Fish cheeks. Hell, I didn’t even know fish had cheeks much less you could eat them until someone came along and made me eat something they claimed were fish cheeks. Blutwurst. (Why do disgusting things sound so much better when they’re in a language you don’t understand?) Various forms of fermented — fermented things. Many of them rather — gelatinous. And pungent. (Handy hint: If you need to wear a gas mask before you can eat something, you probably shouldn’t. Just saying)

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 2.31.56 PMWhat I really don’t understand is this need we have to fiddle with our food. To take perfectly good food and turn it into things like that pink abomination above. Or, well, this, this — this thing over there on the left. No, you aren’t seeing things. That’s lima beans in some kind of jello. Topped with olives.

No, I don’t know what kind of jello. I don’t want to know.

And what’s that red stuff in there? Hmm? Just what is that…. No, don’t tell me. I probably don’t want to know that, either.

And why  top it with olives? Hell, I don’t know. Why the olive in the pink cake/sausage/whatever it is up there? Maybe they figure we’ll go “Oh, look, a nice olive!” and then ignore the fact that the rest of it looks like something a very sick cat coughed up in your shoe?

It’s bad enough when actual food, the stuff we’re supposed to eat before we start fiddling with it it, is utterly horrible. Like lima (shudder) beans. I mean, who actually buys the things? Lima beans, I mean? I’ve seen them for sale in the store, but I’ve never seen anyone actually buy the things, much less eat them. I did meet one fellow once who claimed he actually liked lima beans. But since he also claimed he was in direct communication with the evil shape changing lizard people from Andromeda who secretly control the entire world, well, I tend to disregard a lot of the things he says. He’s dead now, so I can’t give him a lie detector test or something. Probably killed by lima beans, come to think of it.

Why do we need to do truly nasty and evil things to our food before we eat it? I used to

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The real, actual spawn of Satan?

think lima beans were the spawn of satan, but  then I ran across this little item and realized they weren’t. This is the real spawn of Satan over there. Dear sweet lord… Well, considering the color it’s apparently related to the cake/sausage/cyclops eyed thing, but what is it? The really horrifying thing is that someone, somewhere, actually made this and fed it to someone.

Oh, I wanted to show you this, too. If you do a Google image search for the phrase “lima beans spawn of satan” one of the Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 2.30.19 PMimages that pops up is this thing over there on the left. Now exactly why it pops up when searching for that phrase I’m not entirely sure. I suspect, however, that the sight of that thing left some poor four year old traumatized for the rest of his/her life and needing many years of expensive therapy…

Let’s face it, we do very, very strange things to our food. Some of it is, or was, necessary, like fermenting. It was done as a way to preserve food so it could be stored. But there’s no excuse for this kind of thing. Lima bean jello. With olives… Give me a break.

Next thing you know people will be, oh, hell, I don’t know, making corn dresses or Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 2.29.47 PMsomething and wanting you to wear…

Oh, wait, they do.

Never mind. Well, it’s better than that pink cyclops olive eyed sausage/cake thing, I suppose.

So, GF, is there a point to any of this or are you just wasting our time?

Oh, come on, if you had a blog and you ran across that photo of that pink cyclops eyed sausage/cake thing up there, you’d write a whole entry about it too, wouldn’t you?

 

Milk Prices: Sigh…

Milk prices, especially the price of skim and whole powdered milk, plummeted at Global Dairy Trade of New Zealand, dropping 12.4% and 15.5% respectively. (Source: Agrimoney.com | New Zealand milk prices follow Europe, US lower)

People were starting to think that milk prices were beginning to stabilize, and that milk prices were finally starting to go up to the point where dairy farmers might not be under such financial stress from low prices.

But that might all have been little more than a house of cards. There were always a lot of problems with those hopes.

The first problem was that except for the New Zealand and Australian producers, milk production in the rest of the world had not really declined all that much, and in large parts of the world like North America, production had actually been increasing. While prices have been going up here in the US, that increase in milk price seems to have been due more to market stabilization and corrections than to anything else. There has been no significant increase in demand for dairy products to push prices up.

The second was that many seem to rely on prices at GDT as some kind of indicator of the overall health of the milk market. They shouldn’t. Global Dairy Trade is owned by Fonterra, the huge milk co-op in New Zealand. It markets it products mostly to Southeast Asia and China. And because it is owned by Fonterra, Fonterra can do whatever it likes with it. Fonterra has deliberately restricted or increased the amount of product flowing through GDT in order to manipulate the market prices in the past.

So relying on a sales organization that serves a rather narrow market, and which is wholly owned by a milk producer, and which has used that sales organization to manipulate market prices in the past… Well, do I really need to tell you that relying on sales figures at GDT as some kind of indicator of market conditions is really not a good thing to do?