Drought, Climate and Agriculture. Like it or not, Change is coming.

Water is an increasingly precious commodity across the country, and lack of water has become an extremely serious issue in Southern California where a years long drought continues. I ran across this item over at Ag Professional’s website and while brief and far from in depth, it does talk a bit about the problems that are going on and the changes that are starting to take place.  California Drought is a U.S. Problem | Ag Professional

The ongoing drought in California is driving a lot of farmers over there into bankruptcy and causing others serious problems as they scramble to fight with cities and other users over an increasingly scarce resource. During his campaign Donald Trump claimed that there is no real drought in California and the other south western states, and he could bring the water shortage to an end if he was elected. But no, Trump is not going to end the drought by simply claiming it doesn’t exist. Even if the new administration changes or repeals existing water regulations, it doesn’t do you much good when there isn’t any water to begin with, which is the situation southern California and Nevada are facing.

With ground water being pumped out of aquifers at rates so high it’s causing the ground to sink, that wells are drying up wells all over that part of the state, and with surface water already being rationed, simply declaring there is no drought and blaming it on regulations is ridiculous. Sooner or later those aquifers are going to be completely depleted or drawn down so far that it is no longer possible to drill deep enough and build pumping systems powerful enough to deal with it.

Are there things that could be done to improve access to water? Sure. But it would take tens, even hundreds of billions of dollars in new infrastructure, new dams, new aqueducts, new pumping systems, etc. And even then they’d have to steal water from other parts of the country, suck rivers dry and pretty much ruin every river system they tap into in order to do it. From an engineering standpoint it could be done, but economically and politically? No state is going to stand by idly and allow it’s water be siphoned off to irrigate crops, water lawns and golf courses and fill swimming pools in states like California and Nevada.

Could the situation out there be solved some other way? Sure. But it would require change. And people don’t like change. The agricultural industry would have to fundamentally change how it works. Not just changing how they farm, but what they farm. Water intensive crops that require irrigation would have to go. Some types of agriculture, like dairy, would probably have to move elsewhere entirely. Consumers would have to get used to the idea of not having “fresh” produce of certain types available every month of the year. It would require a lot of changes that a lot of people don’t want.

And it isn’t just in California and the other states in the south west. How we use water, how we manage our water resources, is going to have to change. The changes are coming whether people like it or not.

When “Journalism” isn’t Journalism: The Rise of the Regurgitator.

 

We have reached a point in society where most of our news sources aren’t really news sources. The vast majority of websites you see out there that claim they are ‘news organizations’ are really no such thing. They have no actual reporters. They have no real journalists. They have no research staff. The have no fact checkers. They are – well, I suppose you could call them regurgitators.screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-8-47-35-am

If you browse through some of these ‘news’ sites, you’ll quickly find they have absolutely nothing that is actually new or original. What you’ll see is an endless string of references to material that does not originate with the site, but outside sources from traditional newspapers, magazines, and television/cable media, or even sources that have absolutely zero credibility like some wanna-be pundit on Twitter or Facebook.

What they do isn’t journalism, it’s – oh, harvesting, I suppose you could call it. They scrounge the internet for news items, studies, blogs, photos, twitter feeds, facebook posts, etc. for stories that they think will feed into the mindset of their readers, gulp them down, and then like mommy birds regurgitating food for their young, scurry back to their own website and puke it back out again, along with a liberal dose of outraged commentary, to feed their readers.

I’m sorry if that’s a bit disgusting, but that’s pretty much exactly what they do; they scarf down real news stories, digest them a bit, add some digestive juices to blur things, and then regurgitate it for us. Not in it’s original form, but twisted, half dissolved, semi-digested, warped, changed, all to suit the point of view of the website’s backers and to lure the ranks of the outraged and irritated so the website can push its political agenda or moral stance and, even more importantly, generate that yummy, yummy advertising revenue.

Now I make no attempt to hide the fact that I lean towards the left side of the political spectrum, but even I have to admit that while the regurgitators fall pretty evenly on both sides of the spectrum, a lot of the left leaning sites are doing this. If you go to sites like Right Wing Watch or Raw Story, what you’ll find there is an endless string of “stories” that are nothing but regurgitated information from other sources, all selected to support and feed the anger and outrage of us lefties, along with large doses of comments by bloggers that support our feelings. If you switch over to the far right, you’ll find exactly the same thing going on.

I did a totally unscientific (and quick because I get bored easily) study and almost all of the “news” websites I have encountered are either entirely or mostly little more than regurgitators of other people’s work.

 

A lot of very popular sites do this. Joe My God, Right Wing Watch, TruthOut.  Raw Story, for example. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of actual original journalism over there. Their “reporters” scrounge the net for little tidbits, give us a couple of sentences describing it, and then utter their ‘oh my god isn’t this horrible we’re all going to hell’ commentary. It’s the same over on the right, even worse, I suppose. Mother Jones and Grist occasionally will publish something I’d call ‘original reporting’, but for the most part their websites are little more than regurgitators.

I find this ethically troubling, to be honest. A lot of these sites are entirely based on the work of other people, other organizations. They blatantly scoop it up and regurgitate it for their own readers. They generally give credit to the original, true, but still, they’re taking advantage of someone else’s work and contribute absolutely nothing except a bit of anger and outrage.

I suppose I’ve been guilty of this too. I’ve certainly used news stories I’ve read as a starting point for things I’ve written here, but I like to think that at least I’ve used that material only as a way of introducing something original.

 

Oat production slump to impact food market

Food companies that rely on supply to be impacted – granola lovers beware.

Source: Oat production slump to impact food market

It’s interesting to see how things change over the years. Once upon a time oats was a major crop here in Wisconsin. Almost every farmer grew it as part of their crop rotation program. It’s fairly easy to grow. Most of the grain went for cattle feed, with the stalks making an excellent bedding for cattle. We used it as a cover crop as well when we planted alfalfa. Alfalfa takes quite a while to get established, so oats were planted with it. The oats grew much faster, provided a cover crop for the new alfalfa plus we’d get a fairly decent crop of oats by the end of the summer. We grew it for both cattle feed and as a seed crop.

Almost no one grows it around here now any more. If they plant small grain at all, it’s always winter wheat here. Seeing a field of oats is so rare now that when we’re driving around the state in late summer and see some it’s almost a shock.

Oats has acquired a bit of a bad reputation around here. It is susceptible to a type of fungus known as rust, which can cause serious yield losses and adversely effect the quality of the grain. During a “normal” summer it wasn’t a big problem. But it seems we don’t really have “normal” hot, dry summers any longer. While our growing season has become significantly longer up here, it has also become more humid on average.

The price of oats doesn’t help much, either. Wheat generally sells for twice as much as oats does, so there isn’t much of an incentive for farmers to keep growing it unless they are under contract to a manufacturer to produce it for food. Right now oats is selling for around $2/bushel while wheat is going for over $4. At one point earlier this fall oats was down to around $1.70.

 

What Happened to the News Media?

The question I heard being asked most often during the recent election was; what the hell happened to the media? The almost universal opinion of most people seems to be that just when we needed the media the most to keep us informed, discover the truth, to keep things rational, it failed us totally.

The media blithely rolled along, repeating all of the lies, the innuendo, the misinformation, deliberately pumped up phony scandals. It gleefully turned casual comments and jokes into derogatory and misleading memes. It pounced on every conspiracy it could find. It magnified the silly and the ridiculous into clickbait headlines. It leapt upon phony stories from satirical websites or fraudulent sources gleefully and unapologetically.

Instead of helping to solve problems, the media became the problem.

But did it didn’t. Not really.

We have this impression that the news media is supposed to be some kind of watchdog, that it’s supposed to only publish the truth, that it’s supposed to call our attention to corruption, lies, misleading information, to cast light into the dark places inhabited by politicians and corporations. It is this concept that some call the fourth estate, the idea that the news media is some kind of watchdog, a guardian..

But the news media has never been that. The news media has a long and sordid history of manipulating information, spreading misinformation, taking things out of context, and doing it deliberately. The media has helped to foster conflicts and even wars, destroy reputations of innocent people, manipulating public opinion… And if you don’t believe that, just start doing some research. A few minutes running searches on Google is all it takes to discover that what is going on today is nothing new.

I know a lot of people who are laying the blame for Trump’s rise to power on the media and its failure to accurately report the facts. And there are certainly valid reasons to criticize modern media. But it isn’t anything new. The media has always done this. Either for profit, to push some political agenda by the owners of the media outlet, to pander to politicians…

But the fake news stories, quotes taken out of context, attempts by biased owners to manipulate public opinion? That’s been going on for as long as there has been a media.

And as for who is to blame, well, it’s us, really. The media is in business for one reason, for the most part: to make money. And they’ve learned that the easiest, least expensive and most profitable thing to do is publish the garbage they publish. Because we buy it. We click on the clickbait headlines, we gulp down millions of words written about ridiculous celebrities who don’t matter in the slightest. We’d rather read about who got who pregnant or who got a breast enlargement or who is divorcing who, then about things that really matter.

So if you’re looking for someone to blame, it’s not the media. It’s us.

Glad I’m Not Farming Anymore

I really liked farming, but I’m rather glad I’m out of the business these days, especially when I see headlines like this one over at agweb.com:

Betting the Farm and Losing: Banks Seek Collateral as Debts Rise

The financial situation for a lot of farmers is pretty stressful right now. Farm income is down 42% from what it was in 2013, farm land prices are dropping and they’re predicting land prices could drop 20% or more over the next couple of years. Corn prices are less than half what they were in 2012, cattle and hog prices are down 38%. Corn and soybean inventories are going to be at the highest level in something like 30 years. The University of Illinois says many farmers in the state are going to be losing about $28 an acre on their corn, and while soybeans are still profitable, they’ll be lucky if they make $67 an acre this year compared to $229 back in 2010.

The situation isn’t good when you look at the financial data. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City is reporting a decline in the financial health of farmers. They have less working capital, are having to resort to taking out loans just to meet operating expenses. In the Midwest banks are reporting that about 22% of farmers will have a negative cash flow for 2016.

As usual the farmers who are getting hit the worst are the young ones who are just starting out or have only been in business a few years. They don’t have the land base or the credit history to get enough capital to buy equipment or to even continue operating.

Farming is a difficult business at the best of times. And it operates under financial conditions that pretty much no other business faces. How many companies would invest huge amounts of money in infrastructure, equipment, land, buildings, labor, etc. when they have absolutely no idea what their product will sell for when it finally gets to market?

That’s the situation farmers face. Farming is a long term proposition. You invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in tractors, combines, planters. You spend tens of thousands of dollars on seed. You invest huge amounts of money buying or renting land. Invest tens of thousands of dollars in labor to plant and tend to a crop.

And you have absolutely no idea what that crop is going to sell for because you have no control over the markets. You could have a boom year like we had a few years ago when the drought drove commodity prices up through the roof, or you could lose your shirt because prices on the commodities markets fell. You can make predictions, run models, listen to the experts, make educated guesses. But in the long run you’re depending on a market that has so many variables; weather, political climate, disease…

I miss farming, but I am glad I’m not doing it any more.

Walgreens is suing Theranos for $140 million

Source: Walgreens is suing Theranos for $140 million – The Verge

The whole story of Theranos is a cautionary tale that illustrates that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.

Theranos was the golden child of Silicon Valley investors. The company and it’s founder Elizabeth Holmes claimed it was going to revolutionize the medical testing industry with it’s revolutionary new testing technology. Instead of health care professionals having to draw huge vials of blood for testing, Holmes claimed their new technology could do exactly the same testing using only a couple of drops of blood from a finger prick. The company sucked up hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital. The company claimed that it’s testing procedures could do almost 200 different tests in its online documentation. Walgreens jumped on the bandwagon, signing a contract with Theranos to provide medical testing, and began offering testing is dozens of it’s pharmacies.

And then it all fell apart. US regulators issued a letter stating that Theranos’ testing “pose immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety” and could cause “serious injury or harm or death to individuals served by the laboratory” after inspections of one of the labs turned up major problems. FDA was also beginning to scrutinize the company. The company, which had never made it’s proprietary testing technology public, said it asked a prominent research hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, to compare Theranos technology to traditional techniques to prove it worked. But the clinic in question said it hadn’t done any such work, and added that “we are not consultants”.

In May Theranos voided data from thousands of tests that had been done over the previous two years. Unfortunately long after people may have used that data to plan medical treatment based on the testing.  Walgreens terminated its relationship with Theranos and shut down the testing sites it had set up in stores in Arizona.

Other troubling information began cropping up. Like the fact that Theranos had only one test that was actually approved by the FDA. It was selling its other tests through regulatory loopholes. The Wall Street Journal discovered the company wasn’t even using its own technologies for testing. It was using traditional testing equipment made by other manufacturers.

Theranos clinical labs have been shut down and those employees fired, its CEO is banned from operating laboratories for two years. The company is being investigated by prosecutors and in addition to being sued by Walgreens, it is also being sued by at least eight patients and one of its own investors is suing it for fraud.

That doesn’t seem to have bothered it’s founder, Holmes, in the slightest. Holmes is pushing yet another blood testing device the company calls a minilab, about the size of a computer. The claims for this one are more modest than for it’s original technology which they claimed could do 200 tests. This one will only do 40. The Wall Street Journal challenged that claim as well.

 

 

Agrimoney.com | Revival in US milk prices to continue, says Dean Foods

 

Source: Agrimoney.com | Revival in US milk prices to continue, says Dean Foods

This is one of those situations where I don’t know where they’re getting their information because what they’re saying here isn’t what I’ve been reading in the ag news.

Dean Foods seems to be trying to claim farmgate prices are going to go up significantly, that US dairy exports are robust and growing, and that the markets are giving off “buoyant signals”.

But well, no, the market is doing no such thing, and there seems to be no indication that we’re going to be seeing any kind of significant increase in farmgate prices in the US any time soon.

While milk production in NZ and the EU is trending down a bit, here in North America it has continued to rise significantly, with significant numbers of new cattle being added to milking herds and continued increases in milk production. Texas was up about 11%, Minnesota and Wisconsin were up about 2% or a little less. Overall US production is around +1.2% to +2.3%, depending on the numbers you believe, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign that’s going to stop.

As for cheese, yes, there was a blip in the cheese price last week, but that happens all the time, especially as we get closer to major holidays, and we haven’t even begun to make a dent in the truly massive amounts of cheese and butter already in storage. The USDA’s recent purchase of about $20 million in surplus cheese (if I remember the number right) didn’t even make a dent in the amount of cheese in storage. And as of this morning, cheese prices have already started to fall again, down 6 cents over the weekend.

And the statement that “foreign buyers are lapping up” US dairy products is, aside from being a horrible pun, simply not true. Exports of dairy products actually dropped 2% in September.

There is always an uptick in prices this time of year as we approach the holiday baking season. Cream, cheese and butter prices almost always begin to rise around this time of year as retailers and suppliers try to cash in on increased demand. It’s a seasonal blip that doesn’t really indicate any kind of significant improvement in the market.

Maybe Dean foods is just trying to make investors feel a bit better about the fact that Dean’s profits fell by 28% last quarter?