Farm Catch Up

Farming related news you might have missed, stuff I was curious about, commentary about this and that and all that kind of stuff

Amazon Wants to Buy Whole Foods

On Friday, June 16, it was announced that Amazon is looking to buy Whole Foods for almost $14 billion.

As far as WF is concerned, the company hasn’t been doing all that well. Sales have been flat or even declining and the company seems to have stagnated. Some of it’s major shareholders, particularly a hedge fund called Jana, have been putting heavy pressure on WF to sell itself off in the hopes (they say) of shaking up the company and improving sales and WF’s CEO says they only want to do because Jana would make massive profits. Both sides are correct. WF needs to be shaken up if it’s going to survive, and yes, Jana would make massive profits off the sale. If this goes through, Jana would see about a $300 million dollar profit.

Why does Amazon want an upscale grocery chain that caters to people with more money than brains? Amazon has been trying to get into the grocery business in a big way since at least 2008, and while it’s had some limited success, groceries haven’t worked all that well for the company. Buying WF would give it 430 brick and mortar grocery stores already in place along with the supporting infrastructure, access to WF’s supply chain, etc. It would also give Amazon 430 distribution points that already cater to upper middle class patrons, a very profitable class of consumer.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Cuba

Okay, why is Cuba popping up in a blog allegedly related to farming? Because we actually sell grain to Cuba, that’s why. Over the last eight months we sold 10 million bushel of corn to Cuba, and it could be a significant buyer of other agricultural products as well.

The current administration is rolling back the lifting of some of the restrictions on Cuba that the previous administration began. It is going to once again forbid travel to the country by individuals, institute new restrictions on trade, and basically try to roll things back to the way they were, despite the fact everyone knows the fifty year old Cuban embargo has done absolutely no good at all.

The thing I don’t understand about Cuba is this — Yes, Cuba is a communist country with a history of human rights abuses. But China is also a communist country with a history of human rights abuses that is, if anything, far worse than Cuba. So why do we have virtually unlimited trade and travel to and from China, but the half century old and totally ineffective embargo against Cuba is still in place?

Lead in Baby Food

A really scary story has been popping up all over the place reporting that FDA testing has found that a large percentage of baby food is contaminated by lead. About 20% of the baby food tested by the FDA over the past ten years or so had lead in it.

The amounts were generally below what the FDA claims is “safe” but you have to remember that modern thinking is that no level of lead is safe for infants and children, and FDA standards for lead are many years out of date.

Even more troubling was that lead seemed to be more common in baby food than in adult versions of the same product. Overall 14% of the adult foods had lead, while 20% of baby foods had lead. Even more strange is that 25% of adult marketed apple juice contained lead while a whopping 55% of apple juice markets for babies contained lead. Makes you wonder what the hell is going on.

Dicamba. Again.

I’ve talked about the herbicide dicamba before and all of the problems associated with it, and the lawsuits going on against Monsanto. Let me recap things: Monsanto released a new GM line of seeds called Xtend that was resistant to dicamba as well as it’s RoundUp herbicide because weeds have developed resistance to RoundUp alone. But Monsanto began selling the seed before USDA and FDA had approved the new blend of herbicide that was intended to go along with the new seed. As a result a lot of farmers illegally used non-approved forms of dicamba, causing damage to hundreds of thousands of acres of crops from dicamba drifting into areas where it wasn’t supposed to go. Dicamba is extremely volatile, evaporate easily, and can drift long distances from where it is being applied unless great care is used. Even when the correct blend of herbicide is used and applied properly, it seems it can cause problems. Arkansas has outright banned Monsanto’s Xtendimax dicamba formulation and may ban all dicamba use under emergency regulations because there have already been almost 100 complaints from 14 different counties about misuse of the chemical

There are widespread reports coming from all over Arkansas about damage to crops because of dicamba use already this year, even when the product is being used exactly according to the instructions. There are indications that even when used with the proper equipment and when following the instructions, there dicamba is drifting over large distances, in some cases as much as a mile or more.

Addendum: Arkansas regulators had a meeting on June 20 to consider a complete ban on all in crop use of dicamba. The ban failed because “Due to a procedural error, the vote to consider a ban on in-crop use of dicamba by the Arkansas State Plant Board will be re-voted on at a later time.” So while Monsanto’s formulation was banned, BASF’s version of the herbicide is still legal to use for now.

Rain and More Rain

We’ve been getting extraordinary amounts of rain here over the last few weeks. It just doesn’t seem to want to stop. And as a result a lot of fields around here look like this:

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Fields covered in mud, standing water, and corn starting to turn yellow from too much water. And, of course, there’s more predicted for late tonight and into tomorrow morning.

The entire state isn’t like this, though. Weather patterns have been spotty, with one area getting pounded by rain while just twenty miles away they get nothing. There was considerable damage the other day from a storm that rolled through the Appleton area, even a few suspected tornados, while here, 15 miles away, all we got was a bit of light rain.

Eating Habits Changing?

Is the “fat is evil” belief finally beginning to be laid to rest once and for all? Maybe? Consumption of butter is increasing world wide, sales of “low fat” dairy products are being replaced by “full fat” dairy products. (I put that “full fat” in quotes because it implies that the fat content of the milk is not tampered with. It is. Milk straight from the cow has a fat content that can run as high as 5 – 7% while the “whole” milk you get in the store is 3.25%.)

It isn’t just butter, either. For decades we were taught that eating fatty meat will kill us too, so the trend for many years was to trim all of the fat off of meat, to develop types of cattle and diets that resulted in very little visible fat in the meat, etc. That’s changing now as well it seems.  Sales of fattier cuts of meat, bacon, well marbled cuts of beef have all been going up.

The whole “fat free” craze that finally seems to be laid to rest didn’t do us any good and may actually have done us a lot of harm. Especially when food processors resorted to loading up their products with salt, sugar and other crap to make it edible because removing the fat also removed the flavor from a lot of products.

Animal Welfare

Tyson is launching a very extensive system to monitor the welfare of the animals it raises/processes. It claims it is bringing in a third party monitoring company that will use a variety of techniques including video, data analysis and other techniques to make sure that the animals are treated well. While I am pleased they’re doing it and I hope the other big chicken processors do the same, you and I both know that the only reason they’re doing it is because of the public pressure being put on them because of the videos and information that’s been made public by the animal rights groups that have been exposing how badly many of these animals have been treated.

Milk Prices

Just a few weeks ago I saw people predicting milk would be in the mid to high $17/cwt range, with some claiming it would hit $18+. I was skeptic about that at the time because I didn’t see anything to indicate any factors that would push the prices up that much. In fact, we have an enormous surplus of milk on our hands with milk processors actually shutting off dairy farms supplying them milk because they can’t deal with the glut of product coming in. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and a couple of other states have had incidents of milk processors cutting off dairy farms, forcing them to desperately try to find someone, somewhere, to buy their milk.

Milk on the futures market has plummeted, losing $1.40/cwt in three weeks, and falling by $0.46 just this week alone. Butter fell 4 cents, cheese is down, dry milk is down…

The reason why is simple – too much milk. And production continues to increase. This is going to keep up until there is a major shake up in the industry and dairy farms start to go bankrupt. That seems to be the only thing that will stop this never ending expansion of production.

No Rush On NAFTA

A few weeks ago Sonny Perdue, the ag secretary, was claiming that the administration would re-do NAFTA in just a couple of weeks, illustrating that neither he nor the administration knows anything about how treaties, trade deals or negotiations really work. But apparently someone, somewhere, in the administration does know, and it looks like talks and negotiations will extend well into 2018, a bit more of a rational time frame. Frankly, considering how utterly inept this administration has been in its dealings with other countries, we’ll be lucky if we don’t end up with the administration giving Texas back to Mexico and selling the U.P. to Canada.

Rain, Rain and More Rain

That’s the story around my local area. We had almost three inches of rain Wednesday night. We had two and a half inches last night, when added up with the rain we’ve received over the past week or so we’ve had between 7 – 9 inches of rain over the past week. The ground is saturated, fields have standing water, corn in low lying areas is turning yellow, and anyone trying to get out in the fields around here is pretty much completely shut down if things don’t start to dry out.

My backyard is so saturated with water that the ground makes squishing noises when you walk over the grass, and in the low part of the yard near the property line we have about eight or ten frogs that have moved in. I like frogs, great little critters. But it’s them starting to think that my backyard is a swamp that’s a bit troubling…

 

Bikes & the Ever Popular Stuff!

IMG_0398Even before I retired I knew I needed to seriously ramp up my level of exercise or I was going to end up looking like a blimp in very short order. At first I was just walking around town twice a day, but that got old pretty fast. So Sunday I went and got myself a bicycle and much to my family’s surprise, I actually enjoy it enormously and I’ve been doing about 10 – 15 miles a day.

We’re fortunate enough to live in a fairly rural area with a lot of paved back roads that have very little traffic. I’ve found it’s a great way to just get out and enjoy nature because some of the roads run through undeveloped land around here. I’m not exactly a power rider because I’m having too much fun stopping and looking at birds, trees, turtles, streams, taking pictures… You get the idea. Great fun

I end up in places like, well, this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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What surprised me most about all of this was the smells. I can smell cedar, spruce, flowers… Along the trail I kept smelling an almost intoxicating floral scent that turned out to be this bush:

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The air was thick with the scent. It was amazing.

But then there’s stuff like this…

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Yes, more rain. We got 2 1/2 inches overnight according to the rain gauge in the backyard, and except for an hour or two this afternoon we’ve been getting light rain most of the day.

There are bright spots, though. Like these guys.

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Another of the lilies is starting to bloom. The color on these guys is spectacular.

 

 

Lilies, Peppers, Water and Stuff

One of the lilies is finally coming into flower and it’s been worth the wait. I love these things and grin like an idiot whenever I walk past this plant.

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For some reason MrsGf went pepper crazy this year and we’ve ended up with something like 30 pepper plants of various types out in the gardens. One of the raised beds is full of them, and then they’re tucked away in odd corners all over the flower beds as well. They’re all starting to blossom now.

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This particular one is supposed to be a small, round, hot pepper called a cherry bomb if I remember right, although it’s hard to keep track of what’s actually planted where. There are at least 4 or 5 different types out there. Both of us really love peppers, especially fresh from the garden, but there’s no way we’re going to be able to use all of these this year. I think it’s a hint that the family wants me to make and can a big batch of pickled peppers this year. The pickled peppers were an experiment last year and turned out so good we’re down to one or two pints left. I certainly don’t mind, but damn, that’s a lot of pepper plants…

Now that I’m not working I’m going to blow up like a balloon if I don’t exercise, and walking around town day after day is pretty darn boring so I went and got myself a bicycle. Biked about five miles down to the old stone bridge outside of town.IMG_0391.jpgIMG_0393.jpgIMG_0389.jpg

the bridge goes over a shallow, slow little river that dries up into a mud hole by mid-summer usually. I never really paid much attention to it before because usually I’m going over the bridge in a car. I realized it’s really kind of pretty down there, especially with the sky reflecting off the water.

Four thirty in the morning? Really? Ick… Why do I keep getting up this early? I have turned into one of those most obnoxious of people, a “morning person”. As soon as the sky begins to turn light in the pre-dawn, my idiotic brain has decided I need to be up. Right now. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s annoying because I don’t want to be up at bloody 4:30 or 5 in the morning.

The cats are delighted by this, of course. Being the utterly annoying little goofballs they are, they’re generally all sitting outside of the bedroom door by 4:30 anyway because they want their breakfast. So I’m out here, bleary eyed, still half in the dark, trying to make coffee and tripping over cats, stumbling over cats, having cats butting against my legs (it’s not a sign of affection, they’re trying to trip you, you know) and having cats yelling at me. And trying to keep things quiet so MrsGF can get an extra half hour of sleep or so.

If they’re especially bored or hungry, they will drag their food bowl all the way across the room and put it directly in front of the bedroom door so I trip over it when I come stumbling out. One of them has developed the habit of going through the house, finding every cat toy she can, and depositing it in the empty food dish. Apparently she’s under the impression that if she makes some kind of offering the cat food gods will refill her bowl?

Come to think of it, it works, doesn’t it? She puts her toys in the empty food dish and like magic I show up and refill it.

Photos

How about a hosta flower?

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This is the last surviving iris. These are some of the most amazing flowers.

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The roses are finally coming into full bloom.

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Took the one below yesterday morning just as the sun was hitting it. Didn’t notice the fly tucked away in there until just now.

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This last one is, I think, a real gem of a photo. The lighting could have been better and I suppose I could tweak that with Photoshop, but the raw image is still pretty neat I think.

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Hostas and What is it?

One of the hostas up in the hosta garden is blossoming for the first time and I was surprised by how pretty the flowers are. I generally don’t pay much attention to hosta flowers because I’m more interested in the foliage and I have to admit I don’t think the flowers are all that attractive. But this one? Take a look.

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When I was up at the state park I ran across this bush/tree:

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MrsGF and I have never seen this one before, and neither of us know what it is. Anyone out there know?

 

Miscellaneous Stuff & Retired?

IMG_0375Cactus

I think Mr. Spiny the cactus is about to bloom! The cactus has been doing really well out there tucked up against the side of the house but it hasn’t blossomed in two years. It is currently loaded with new pads, but I noticed some of the new buds looked different, and may be flowers, not pads. I really hope so. The flowers on this plant are absolutely spectacular.

Whitefish Dunes State Park has become one of my favorite places. It has about 880 acres of shoreline along Lake Michigan up in Door County, and it’s well worth the price of admission. I’m not sure what the cost is because I get a yearly pass as part of my conservation patron license, but I think it’s about $8 for a day pass.

It’s hard to pick out a single photo from the park that is representative of how beautiful it is, but perhaps this one will do:

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People seem to think Wisconsin is a rather dull place, with flat land, corn, cows and football. But we have more than 14,000 lakes, plus Lake Michigan. We have cliffs, rivers, forests, water falls… Well, you get the idea.

Alas, I’m not sure how long the state park system is going to continue to exist, though. The current administration down in Madison has cut off all state funding for the park system. It’s only funding now is what it can generate from entrance and camping fees.

Lichen

I continue to be fascinated with lichen for some reason. If I’d ever actually gone to the botany class I signed up for in college I might actually know something about it. But I find the colors, the forms, and everything about it fascinating, and if you’d look through my photo library you’d find a lot of images of lichen and mosses. Most people find the photos rather dull, without the splashy colors of my flower photos, but I think lichen has it’s own unique beauty. Like this, for example

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The subtle shadings of greens and yellows and browns, the amazing shapes. Like I said, I’m fascinated with it.

Storms

We’ve been getting a lot of them of late. We’ve had severe thunderstorms roll through here two or three days in a row now, and we’re getting a bit tired of it. Here at the house we’ve avoided the worst of it, but there have been trees taken down, power outages, minor flooding and building damage all over the area with every one of these. It’s kept the SkyWarn people busy, as well as the utility crews trying to keep up with the damage.

I was really glad we had the backup generator yesterday. Power was out for about 45 minutes and if I hadn’t been able to use the generator we’d have ended up with about a foot of water in the basement because of the heavy rains. We got over an inch and a half of rain in about half an hour here. The sump pump was kicking in every 2-3 minutes all the while.

We actually have 2 generators. One is a little 2KW Yamaha inverter that was originally intended just to run the radio equipment for field day or in emergencies for ARES operations. The other is a big Generac 9KW that was intended to power most of the house. The intention originally was to put a big connector on the outside of the house going to the Generac and using it to run the whole house. As long as we don’t use the ovens, turn on every light in the house, etc., it would have enough capacity to keep everything going. But we never got around to installing the bypass switches and connectors necessary. And when we do have a power failure, the little Yamaha can keep the sump pumps going as well as the radios and a few lights. It’s also much, much easier to move around and get started. It also uses a hell of a lot less gas and is much, much quieter.

IMG_0377Roses! The first roses of the season have popped open at last. I’m not a huge rose fan. I like them, but generally I find them a bit fussy and fiddly to deal with. The one we have in the front of the house takes care of itself pretty much. It just keeps coming back year after year, surviving drought, wet, cold, heat…

That’s my kind of plant – just stick it in the ground and ignore it and it takes care of itself.

Oh, and while I’m on the subject of plants, we found this incredible tree up in Door County as well when we were up there on Monday. Neither of us had ever seen anything quite like it before. Covered with these beautiful red, white and yellow flowers.. Absolutely breathtaking. I don’t know what it is. Have been too busy (i.e. lazy) to actually do research to look it up.

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Retired

I turned in my resignation at work last week and I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I am unemployed. Willingly unemployed. It doesn’t seem right somehow.

Well, it isn’t like I was putting in a lot of hours at the job anyway, to be honest. The position I’ve been in for the last two years or so was part time, and more or less on an “as needed” basis. I worked for events at the theater, filled in when one of the day guys was out sick, or there was a situation that required extra help, that kind of thing. A lot of weeks I didn’t work at all and it was rare for me to put in more than 20 – 30 hours a month.

Still, not having a job? It feels — strange. Feels, oh, not right somehow.

 

More Tiny flowers

It was always my opinion that even the best cell phone camera couldn’t do as good a job as even an average and relatively inexpensive dedicated camera. I may end up having to change my opinion. The camera in the iPhone 7 is actually pretty decent. It has some odd quirks, has difficulties figuring out what to focus on much of the time, but I have to admit it has been doing a decent job, certainly much, much better than the camera in the 6 was. It’s difficult previewing images on the screen, though, so I didn’t really know what I had until I got the photos transferred over and saw them on the big screen. Anyway, more tiny flowers! Here you go—

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