Farm Catch Up

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so let’s take a look at what’s been happening in the farming world.

Dicamba Herbicide Fight Continues: The fighting over the new Dicamba blends of herbicides continues. BASF and Monsanto continue to argue that their newly approved blends of herbicides containing dicamba are completely safe and aren’t a problem at all, while the farmers who have had thousands of acres of soybeans ruined by the herbicide after it drifted long distances, argue that it isn’t safe for use.

Arkansas is pushing for a ban on all dicamba use except for those uses that were permitted before the new blends came on the market. The ban would last until October, 2018, and would halt the sale and use of both Monsanto and BASF’s new dicamba based products, and probably halt the sale of Monsanto’s dicamba resistant soybeans as well because if the herbicide can’t be used, there’s no point in paying a premium for Monsanto’s new beans, either.

Monsanto is, of course, not happy about any of this since they stand to lose millions of dollars in sales of both their herbicide and seed. The company is blaming anyone and anything for the problems that have been going on, claiming that there is no “scientific” basis for the ban, that “scientists” have discovered that even if their product does drift outside of the application area, it doesn’t really hurt anything anyway, that some of the experts testifying in favor of the ban are prejudiced against the company, blaming the people who apply the herbicide, blaming the equipment used.

It isn’t just Arkansas that’s having problems. In Missouri it’s estimated that up to 22% of the soybeans planted in the Bootheel area were damaged by dicamba drift, along with acres upon acres of tomato, watermelons, vineyards, pumpkins, organic vegetables and even trees, shrubs and people’s home gardens. The product isn’t just moving a few yards, in some cases there are indications the herbicide is drifting for miles according to the Missouri Extension weed specialist Kevin Bradley.

Farmland Partners Makes Major Buy: Farmland Partners is an investment company that buys up farmland for no reason other than to rent it to actual farmers. The company now has about 160,000 acres of farmland. They just bought over 5,000 acres of nut orchards for $110 million from Olam, a Singapore based company that ventured into the nut business.

My feelings about this kind of thing? I find it extremely concerning. Companies like this are, well, to put it bluntly, parasites. They insert themselves into the process, competing against actual farmers for a scarce resource, farmland. They artificially inflate demand for that resource, driving prices up. They rent the land back to the farmers at ever increasing prices because the shareholders demand ever increasing profits, and at the same time the company itself provides absolutely no value at all to the whole process. It exists only to skim off profits from the whole system while contributing nothing itself, while at the same time destabilizing the whole system and actually degrading its health through it’s manipulation of the market.

Seed Terminator: Combines are great at two things; harvesting wheat, corn, soybeans, Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 5.53.30 AMetc., and spreading weed seeds all over your fields. The problem is that a lot of weeds are coming ripe at around the same time as your crop. So when you combine your crop, you’re also combining the weeds and blowing the weed seeds out the back of the combine and scattering them all over the field. A lot of people have worked for a very long time on this problem, with various attempts at a solution.

This one which is now going into production it seems, adds a screening system and high speed flails that pulverizes the weed seeds before they get blown back onto the field. If you click the link up there you’ll jump to the article about it. Apparently it works pretty good, and I’m always in favor of anything that helps farmers reduce the need for herbicides.

The problem is that this puppy costs about $70,000. Even when we’re talking about combines that cost a quarter of a million dollars or more, that is a pretty significant amount of money. Is it worth it? No idea.

Pork Cheap, Beef getting more Expensive: Beef prices at the consumer level haven’t been all that good for some time now. Pork is almost ridiculously cheap right now. Pork futures have fallen like a stone since July, dropping some 30%. Pork bellies, where we get bacon from, dove straight into the dumper, falling 60%. Although I note that hasn’t helped the price of bacon in the store. That keeps going up and up, it seems.

Beef on the other hand… Sheesh. Prices on some cuts have moderated a bit, but not by much, and they’re claiming prices are going to go up significantly over the upcoming months. We generally buy a lot of beef from MrsGF’s brother and sister, but because of logistics issues they aren’t going to have any ready to go for probably a year now. So MrsGF and I are looking into seeing if we have enough freezer space to get a quarter or half of beef from the local butcher because we can get that dressed, cut, wrapped and frozen, for $3.90 a pound which is less than what hamburger is going for in the grocery stores around here.

Syngenta Lawsuit Settled: Syngenta, a seed company, was sued a while back over one variety of it’s corn. The corn, a GM variety, was heavily marketed by the company and a  lot of farmers planted it. Only to find that when it came time to actually sell their corn to China, the country rejected it because Syngenta allegedly hadn’t told told the farmers that China had not approved that type of corn for import. In addition, it was alleged that the company deliberately misled farmers by claiming the corn variety had been approved by China when it had not.

Farmers, grain shipping companies, etc. lost millions of dollars on the deal and sued. Syngenta claimed they had told them that China hadn’t approved it. Lots of lawyers paid for their kids’ college education out of this one, raking in millions in legal fees, and the final result is Syngenta and the plaintiffs are apparently now going to settle out of court. I haven’t heard yet what the settlement will be, but you can expect that the company is going to have to pay a huge amount of money to make this one go away.

Addendum: Just ran cross another story that had more details. Syngenta is apparently going to cough up $1.4 billion to make this lawsuit go away. The company already lost a $218 million jury trial to a group of Kansas farmers about three months ago. There are still lawsuits pending in Canada against the company that will not fall under this agreement and will be thrashed out in the Canadian courts.

The Great Hosta Experiment

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I love hostas. I have one whole garden in front of the house that’s almost all hostas, and have several others tucked away in odd corners. They come in all different sizes and leaf shapes, with foliage colors that range from yellow to dark blue-green, even variegated. They range in size from small, compact plants to bloody huge. Once they came into flower this year I was sitting on the front porch watching humming birds coming in to feed on them. They generally tolerate low light conditions well. They’re a great plant.

They get a bit pricey, though. Depending on where you buy them, the variety, the size of the plant, etc, you can spend anywhere from $8 for a common variety on a late season sale, up to $40 or even more for some varieties at some of the more trendy (i.e. expensive) nurseries.

I’d like to add about ten more plants to the front hosta garden to fill in holes, plus I’d like to put in another bed of hostas surrounding the old tree in the back yard to make it easier to mow the lawn back there. I’d probably be looking at a couple of hundred bucks in plants if I have to buy them.

IMG_0716So we’re going to try growing them from seed ourselves. Once the seed pods started to dry on the plants, we snipped them off and kept them in a dry place until the pods did this:

IMG_0718Once the pods split open like that after they’ve dried, it’s simple to get the actual seeds out. Just use a toothpick or similar pointed object to slip the seeds out of the dried pod into a container.

About twenty minutes of seed shucking resulted in a whole jar full (well, okay, it’s a tiny, tiny jar) of hosta seed for future experiments and hopefully a hole host of hostas (note the clever use of alliteration as your author pretends he knows what he’s doing).

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Don’t sneeze while you’re doing this. The seeds are very small, about the size of fly wings, and about the same shape, too, come to think of it. One sneeze and you’ll have hosta seed all over the house.

Hmm, wonder if I can grow hostas in pots in the windows during the winter? Now that could be fun. Maybe I’ll try that too. Now if I can talk MrsGF into letting me tear out the walls in the living room and replace them with floor to ceiling glass….

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 6.20.35 AMStill, it gives me something to do with all those dopey little empty pimento jars we have sitting around for some reason. Where do those even come from, anyway? I don’t remember ever even buying pimentos. I think people are breaking into the house and leaving empty jars here.

 

 

 

Strange Weather

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It may look like early fall, but it doesn’t feel like it. Temperatures are running into the mid to high 80s

While Wisconsin is known for it’s occasionally odd weather, this past year has been a bit much. Tomorrow is supposed to be the first day of autumn, but you sure can’t tell from the weather. Yesterday’s high here was 84, today’s high was 87, and it could push into the 90s with heat indexes approaching 100 by tomorrow and Saturday.

We take a perverse pride in our weather extremes. This is a state where it can be below zero one day, and in the 60s just 24 hours later. We rather like that. Gives us something to talk about because, when it comes down it, we’re rather boring people up here and we get kind of sick of talking about the Packers all the time.

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We got lucky. Storm damage was mostly limited to blown over plants and a lot of tree branches down.

We had nasty storms roll through here last night, too. I braved the heavy rain and wind to get outside with my wind meter and I was seeing gusts of up to 62 MPH. Nothing compared to what those poor people who’ve gotten hit by the hurricanes have had to endure, true. But for us this is pretty extreme. Especially at this time of year.

Then we got nailed by the rain. Here at the house we got 4 1/2 inches of rain in just two hours. It was very spotty, though. A short distance away they got almost nothing.

IMG_0707And the poor pear tree… Well, so much for the pears this year. We had a small yield to begin with. The storm seems to have stripped every single fruit off the poor tree. Nothing can really be salvaged, either. When they hit the ground they hit hard, and the fruit is generally ruined, smashed, burst open, and immediately the insects move in. So all we’re going to get this year are the couple of dozen we picked already. Seems like such a waste, but there isn’t anything to be done about it.

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That Organic Food You’re Buying May Not Be. Oh, and a Cat Picture.

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With demand for organics growing every year, the US can’t produce enough to meet the demand, and hasn’t been able to for some time. At least not at a price that US consumers are willing to pay. So we rely on imports from other countries to fill the gap. Imports of organic produce, cattle feed and other organic products has been increasing every year for a long time now.  We imported about $1.2 billion worth of organic products last year, and that number is going to keep growing.

That brings up the question of how you know that a product labeled as organic, produced 7,000 miles away, is really organic? You can’t know, of course. You have to rely on government agencies to do the proper inspections, certifications and tracking to make sure the stuff you are buying is really what the seller claims it is.

And apparently USDA and its Agricultural Marketing Service, isn’t doing a very good job of doing any of that according to USDA’s own internal audits. A story originating at Bloomberg reports that USDA’s internal audits indicate that the AMS couldn’t prove that cargo labeled “organic” coming into the US were actually organic. It couldn’t even properly track whether or not the product came from an actual certified organic source.

To quote the report, “The lack of controls at U.S. ports of entry increases the risk that non-organic products may be imported as organic into the United States”.

The problem isn’t just with a potential failure to grow the product according to organic standards, it’s shipping as well. A lot of products, especially bulk shipments of grains, beans, etc, are routinely fumigated by storage facility operators and shipping companies to reduce the formation of mold, prevent rodent infestations, etc, which, of course, violates organic regulations.

So the agency responsible for making sure that organic products coming into the US actually came from certified organic sources, and weren’t fumigated or treated with non-organic substances along the way, pretty much can’t do it’s job.

Kind of depressing, so here’s a picture of one of the cats staring at me while I’m writing this, wondering why I’m not playing with her.

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The End Is Coming! Yes, Again! Non-famous Blogger Eaten By Shark! Exclamation Points Made Illegal by Obama in Secret UN Deal!

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 6.43.18 AMThe world is coming to an end again. This time it’s going to end on Sept. 23 when a great whopping planet called Nibiru is going to smack us.

What? You didn’t know? Oh, dear. Well, if you have plans for anything after Sept 22 you might want to reconsider.

We know this because a “christian numerologist”, whatever the heck that is, has figured it out from a Bible verse that says– well, it says absolutely nothing about planets hitting us or anything else, really. That, along with lots and lots of made up numbers, tells him that we’re going to get smacked by a giant planet called Nibiru on the 23rd. And for whatever reason some tabloid media outlets have picked up on it and have plastered it all over the place.

There is no planet “Nibiru”, of course. Nor is a planet going to hit us any time soon. If there was we’d have seen it coming by now. In fact, we’d have seen it coming years ago. And there’s no point in claiming there is some kind of conspiracy by NASA and astronomers to keep the info secret because there are tens of thousands of amateur astronomers like me out here, and we’d have spotted it ages ago and would have gleefully been plastering our images of it all over the place. We love things like planets getting hammered by really big rocks and comets, stars blowing up. solar systems being eaten by black holes, galaxies colliding and stuff like that. So if there was a planet about to smack the Earth, we’d have been all over that.

This is about the fifth or sixth “end of the world” that we’ve had in the last couple of decades that I can remember. There was the Y2K nonsense, of course. Then we were going to get hit by a comet. Then the LHC was going to generate a black hole that would swallow the Earth… Oh, brother…

Why do we human beings have this fascination with the world coming to an end? You’d think we’d have enough other problems to worry about rather than let yet another scam artist or person who needs professional help who spouts this nonsense to influence our lives. Yet we do it over and over again.

I am especially fascinated with all of these so-called Christians claiming they can predict the end of the world when Jesus himself said that we can’t predict it. He came right out and said that when the end happens, we’ll never see it coming.

So ignore that little voice in the back of your head that’s saying but what if he’s really right? maybe I should cash in my 401K and have one last party. The 23rd will come. No planet is going to hit us.

And you jackasses in the media? Just stop it, all right? Just stop giving free publicity to the loonies, nut cases, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxers and the people who think you get ebola from wind turbines. When you run across that kind of stuff, just chuckle and go on past.

Oh, and while I got you media scam artists here, stop with the shark crap already? We’re sick of sharks, all right? More people are killed by cows than sharks. Seriously. More people are killed by their own cuddly dogs than sharks. And did you hear about that woman who was eaten by her own cats? Why wasn’t that plastered all over your stupid tabloids? Of course not, because it wasn’t a shark. If a shark had been involved you’d have been all over that one. But no, a few bucks slipped to you in the middle of a parking lot by the cat lobby and poof, you make it all go away, don’t you? Sharks are cuddly, lovely animals who respond positively to affection. Like my shark Leroy. See? Aww, isn’t that cute? He wants his nose robbed. Here Leroy… No. No, Leroy, my arm is not a chew toy, Leroy. Now stop that right now, Leroy… No. Let go… EEAAGGEEHHHHAAAA!!!!!

 

Catching Up

IMG_0702The pears have just started to ripen, something we always look forward to. Alas, it hasn’t been a good year for pears. Normally we end up filling five gallon buckets with the things and giving them away to anyone we can talk into taking them, but this year we’re going to be lucky if we get more than a few dozen. The weather this spring when it was putting out flowers was not very good. We were getting cold days, lots of rain, and not a single bee in sight. I think it was the lack of pollinators that caused the drastic cutback in production this year.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. When that tree is in full production we have far, far more pears than we can deal with. We give away all that we can, eat what we can, and, alas, the rest end up as compost.

This particular type of pear doesn’t hold up well for canning or freezing. They are best eaten fresh, just after they turn ripe. And dear lord, they’re good. Sweet as candy, juicy, with a lush, melt in your mouth texture. The ones in the basket are still too green to eat but they’ll start to turn yellow in a few days.

One problem we have is trying to pick them before they fall. Wait a just a bit too long, and they’ll hit the ground and because of the soft texture they turn to mush from the fall. So you have to try to pick them just before they turn.

Now I love peppers, but I prefer the milder ones. Poblano peppers are probably my favorite. Just a touch of warmth to them, with a rich, slightly smokey flavor. I’m fond of jalapeno  peppers as well, but that’s about the upper limit of my tolerance for heat.

IMG_0703So how we ended up with these guys, I have no idea. The little red ones… Dear lord, they’re hot! When they were green they were tolerable and had a fairly good flavor, but now? Just cutting one in half sends out fumes that make the eyes water, and those little yellow ones are almost as bad. MrsGF, it seems, didn’t label the seedlings with great accuracy last spring, if at all, so we had no idea what we were going to get until they started to produce fruit.

The yellow ones are even worse. Just cutting one up makes my eyes start to water and my nose burn. I cut one of the yellows up last night and talked EldestSon and YoungestSon into trying them, after I took a bite myself to prove they weren’t all that bad. Apparently my tolerance for hot peppers has increased over the years because they both thought they were pretty bad. Not to the point where you’d run to the fridge for the milk, but darn close.

Addendum: I just found out that the yellow one is apparently a golden habanero pepper with a heat rating of up to 350,000 scovilles. Wow… Jalapeno is only about 5,000 scovilles. Yeah, that’s a bit hot.

I need to make sure we only put in poblano and sweet bell next year, and maybe one or two jalapeno.

MrsGF pointed out that it seems that the only veggies that grow really, really well here is the stuff we don’t really like, like the super hot peppers, eggplant and the like, while the stuff we do like a lot, gets eaten by bugs or doesn’t grow well. That’s an exaggeration of course, but some years it does seem that way.

IMG_0689We’re very fortunate in that the town has an outstanding composting program that it’s been running for years now. We’re even more luck in that we’re just a couple of blocks away from the compost site. The guys have been busy sifting the newest batch of compost and it’s ready to go. After cleaning out the garden spaces I’ll be making regular runs down here with my little trailer to take advantage of it.

IMG_0686Last weekend I proved to myself that I’m still a 6 year old at heart because seeing this thing in the parking lot at the grocery store made me grin like an idiot. Yes, the Weinermobile. Oscar Meyer has been running these for a lot of years, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one of them close up.

I should point out I’m not a big fan of Oscar Meyer products. And the free hotdog I snagged reminded me why. A pale pink tube that tasted mainly of salt and artificial smoke flavorings and one of the most unappetizing colors I’ve ever had the misfortune to see.

IMG_0697Then we woke up to the sound of our street being reduced to gravel. Literally. Big road grinder moving slowly back and forth in front of the house grinding the pavement and everything else in it’s path into dust as they prep for repaving a section of the street. Loud? Oh dear… Sounded and felt like a 747 was landing in the backyard. They’ve been prepping for this for weeks now, replacing sections of curb and gutter and driveway aprons.

IMG_0699We’re hoping they get this done soon. Right now the road in front of the house is pretty much nothing but dust. We get a lot of big trucks through here and there is a patina of dust over everything. It’s getting more than a little annoying.

Let’s end this with some roadside flowers. Clumps of these have popped up along the backroads around here all over now and they make a brilliant display when you stumble over them.

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The great nutrient collapse

The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention. Source: The great nutrient collapse

I don’t lead off these epistles with links to outside sources very often, but this one at Politico, of all places, is a wee bit scary and it’s something that effects all of us because it’s about our food.

So here’s the background: We’ve known for some time that the nutrient density in the plants we eat has dwindled over the last century. Concentrations of minerals, vitamins, etc. in plants has been shrinking. Our produce, on average, now has fewer nutrients per kilo of plant material than it had when the measurements first began. It’s been assumed that there were two reasons why.

First, our farming techniques have changed drastically over the last hundred years. We’ve moved to “industrial” farming, which relies on heavy applications of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. By dramatically altering the environment the plants grow in, we’ve also alters the chemical composition of the plants.

Second, over the centuries we’ve bred plants to grow faster, produce more fruit or grain, and to produce fruits that last longer after picking and which are tough enough to tolerate rough harvesting and shipping conditions. When selecting plants for these traits, we’ve often ignored things like the nutrient content of the plant and flavor. So we’ve ended up with plants that produce fruit that can be stored longer, is easier to harvest, etc. but which is lower in nutrients and flavor.

But that isn’t all that’s been going on, it seems. Apparently increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere seem to have played a significant role in decreasing the nutrient levels in plants.

Maybe… The thing is, this is difficult to test for. The testing requires extensive, difficult to accomplish, and rather expensive experiments, and while there are scientists who would like to do the testing, it has been difficult to get funding to actually do it.

As of right now I don’t think the science is actually settled. The preliminary testing that has been done tends to support the belief that increased atmospheric CO2 levels can indeed result in lower nutrition levels in the plants. But there is still a lot we don’t know. We also don’t know how serious of a problem this may be. A  lot more testing and experiments need to be done to answer all of the questions that need answers.