Farm Catch Up

I haven’t done this in a while, so let’s see what’s going on out in the farming world.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 6.25.36 AMButter Tumbles In Europe:  Wholesale butter prices have plummeted by almost 10% from September in the EU, and have dropped by 20% overall from the high point. The market for butter and butterfat was the only thing that was driving improved farmgate milk prices in the EU. There was a very modest reduction in milk production, but that quickly reversed as milk prices began to improve, and from what I’ve been seeing milk production is on the rise once again.

Butter prices in the US dropped a bit, but are still pretty strong, about 20% or so higher than they were a year ago.

I’ve been hearing the price on powdered skim milk in the EU has dropped precipitously because they can’t get rid of the stuff.

Basically it looks like a return to the old boom/bust cycle. As soon as prices start to get even a tiny bit better, dairy farms begin to ramp up production, glutting the market with product, and pushing the prices back down again.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 8.58.56 AMSargento Expansion: The company is expanding again locally. It’s adding another 40,000 sq. feet to it’s facility here in Hilbert after a major 70,000 sq. foot expansion just a year ago, and will be adding another 150 jobs here. Sargento is privately owned, employs about 2,000 people, and produces cheese, snacks, sauces and ingredients for the food industry. It had net sales of well over $1 billion last year. Starting wages for most jobs are going to be in the $18/hr range I’ve been told.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 7.58.59 AMDicamba Battle Continues: Monsanto and it’s partner in the dicamba herbicide controversy, BASF, continue to claim that thousands of acres of crops that were damaged by dicamba drift wasn’t their fault. Arkansas alone had more than a thousand complaints of crops damaged or killed by dicamba drifting away fro the sprayed areas into fields that were often hundreds, even thousands of feet away.

This situation has been going on ever since Monsanto and it’s partner in this, BASF, brought their dicamba blend herbicides to market to use with Monsanto’s dicamba resistant soybeans. Dicamba has always had a problem with volatility and drifting, meaning the product goes into vapor form very easily and can drift far beyond the point of application. These new formulations were supposed to cure that problem, but the problem with drift seems to still be a serious issue. Ever since these products came to market there have been reports of tens of thousands of acres of crops and ornamental plantings being killed or damaged by the herbicide.

Both companies have been blaming everything but their products for the problems. Arkansas banned Monsanto’s version of the herbicide and only BASF’s was permitted for use in the state, and the reported damage is so bad some states are thinking of banning the product completely. Monsanto is currently suing Arkansas over the ban. Monsanto is also criticizing scientists who are coming forward to point out problems with the product that date back to the first tests of the dicamba blends, and claim that the company’s testing of the product was seriously flawed and failed to point out the dangers of the herbicide.

Now BASF is claiming that the damage is because farmers have been using illegal forms of dicamba, and not it’s product at all. The company claims that it only sold about half the amount herbicide that would be needed to cover the acreage that was actually sprayed.

The whole thing is a complete mess, with lawsuits either in the works or already heading for the courts, lots of finger pointing, bizarre conspiracy theories, and even one murder attributed to the issue.

Not So Great Pumpkin Controversy: If you’re the FDA, a squash is a squash is a pumpkin. Its all pretty much the same. So that orangey brown gunk you dump out of that can to make your pumpkin pie isn’t really, well, pumpkin. Pumpkin is Cucurbita pepo while what you’re mostly getting in that can is Cucurbita maxima, a different variety of squash. The problem is that real pumpkin doesn’t really work very well for a lot of the things we eat, like pie.

Personally I can’t stand the stuff, the pumpkin pie fillings and all that. I love squash. There’s nothing better than a slow roasted butternut or acorn squash with a bit of, oh, apple baked with it, a little brown sugar, some butter, a touch of salt. It is amazingly good. But pumpkin? No thanks. I’ll pass on that pumpkin pie and head straight for the mincemeat. Although come to think of it mincemeat doesn’t really have meat in it either any more, does it?

And don’t get me started on the abomination that is “pumpkin spice”.

That’s it for now. Well, actually there’s probably more but I’m getting bored and MrsGF is making deep dish apple pie and I need to go peel apples.

As always, comments are welcome or you can email me at old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com

If I got the email address right this time.

 

Farm Catch Up

Stories you might have missed about food, agriculture, and the ever popular ‘stuff’, along with occasionally snarky commentary.

Coffee Linked To Not Dying!

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 2.14.11 PMOoo, coffee — that delightful, delicious beverage that both pleasures the taste buds and enlivens the brain, oh I feel so sorry for those of you who drink tea. (Come on, you tea drinkers know what you’re drinking is lawn sweepings soaked in tepid water, right?)

Anyway, now that I’m done annoying the tea drinkers out there (you know who you are), let’s get on with this.

That headline up there is not clickbait. It’s true. According to a study published actual real live doctors from an actual research facility and published in an actual science journal (not the Flintstone’s Institute for Advanced Studies of Sciency Stuff and Flat Earth Society where most of the congress apparently gets its science information) you have almost a 20% less chance from dying from just about anything if you drink coffee. Well, probably not getting hit by an asteroid or something like that. They mean heart disease, stroke, cancer, that kind of thing. If you click the link it will take you to an article over on The Guardian and you can get the links to the actual study from there.

Missouri Bans Dicamba

Missouri joined Arkansas in issuing an emergency ban on the sale and use of herbicides

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soybeans damaged by dicamba

containing dicamba after it was learned that more than 200,000 acres of non-GM soybeans were allegedly damaged by the product. The Arkansas ban was approved by the Governor’s office and will go into effect on July 11, and is in effect for 120 days. The Missouri one doesn’t seem to have a specific time limit, but the agency involved in Missouri said it hoped the problems could be resolved and the ban lifted yet this growing season.

Dicamba has always been difficult to work with. It turns to vapor and can drift for extremely long distances. Non-GM soybeans are extremely sensitive to the product, and even a tiny amount can damage the crop, so any kind of drifting is a serious problem. Monsanto has claimed that it’s “VaporGrip” version of the product cured the problems when used properly. But it doesn’t seem to be working very well.

So, you ask, what dos Monsanto say about all of this? Glad you asked.

They’re blaming everyone else, of course. In an interview over at CropLife, a Monsanto spokesperson blamed everyone and everything except, of course, it’s product. Farmers spraying at the wrong time of day, having residue from other products in the sprayer’s tanks, not following proper procedures, using the wrong spray nozzles, spraying in windy conditions. And all, of course, without offering any proof that any of this actually happened.

More Chlorpyrifos Controversy

Five states (and I’ve heard several more are in line to do it too) are suing the EPA over it’s decision to permit the continued use of Chlorpyrifos, a very nasty pesticide that is known to cause serious health problems, especially in children.

I mentioned this before. Last year the EPA determined that chlorpyrifos was dangerous, and public health organizations, doctors and other health care professionals have been pushing for it to be banned for years. The EPA was going to ban the stuff at last.

But then along came Pruitt and he claimed the stuff is just fine and dandy and that they had real actual “meaningful data and meaningful science” to prove it. Associated Press, other media, and health officials have repeatedly requested the EPA provide them with the data, but the EPA has refused to respond to any of the requests.

I don’t like being a cynical old bastard, but I get the feeling the EPA hasn’t provided it yet because they have interns locked in a back room somewhere desperately trying to write something sciency enough to fool the average reader into believing this stuff is “safe”.

Oh, I should point out that DOW, which makes chlorpyrifos, contributed $1 million to Trump to fund his inauguration, its CEO is supposedly good friends with him, and it has spent over $13 million “lobbying” various politicians in the past year.

Commodities Markets Are Weird

If you followed my old blog on Tumblr you know I’m fascinated with the agricultural commodities market and how it functions. Or, rather, how it doesn’t function, because it’s often so screwed up it’s laughable. Often what’s going on in the futures markets seems to have little to do with reality. Like right now.

USDA came out with it’s crop status report, and it’s the worst that they’ve issued since the 2012 drought, with only 65% of the corn crop rated at “good” or better, and only 62% of the soybean crop rated “good” or better.

Now during the drought, corn and soybean prices skyrocketed, with corn pushing the $8/bushel range for a time. So you would naturally think that a report that bad would push the prices up, right?

Well, no. After the report came out, corn prices fell by about 5 cents a bushel, and soybeans dropped more than 12 cents.

Apparently what drove the morning price down was that the report wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be.

Bureaucratic Run Around

More on the dicamba front: BASF, which has partnered with Monsanto to produce the special dicamba blend that was just banned in Arkansas and Missouri after enormous numbers of complaints about crops damaged by the herbicide, is trying to pull a bureaucratic end run around the ban by applying for something known as a “special local need label”.  This is a special permitting system that allows the use of a pesticide that normally cannot be used, because no other pesticide would be effective. Basically it was originally intended to help during emergency situations where there was an infestation of some pest that threatened to wipe out a crop, and only a non-registered pesticide would work. If you want, you can read the information about that whole process here.

Considering dicamba has damaged literally hundreds of thousands of acres of crops as it has drifted across the countryside, it seems that problem here is dicamba, not the weeds it’s supposed to control.

What The Hell Is Milk Anyway?

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 7.42.36 AMThere is a lot of fighting these days over the definition of the term “milk” when it comes to products being sold to consumers, specifically over the use of the term in describing drinks made with various nuts and beans. I.e. “soy milk” and “almond milk” and that kind of thing. Even USDA isn’t sure, and is using the word “milk” in much of it’s literature when referring to these products.

I can certainly understand why the almond industry wants to use the term. It’s because calling “almond milk” what it really is, isn’t exactly appealing. If they labeled it accurately, they’d have to call it “97% water with a few ground up almonds, emulsifiers, stabilizers, gums, flavoring agents, coloring, added vitamins and minerals and preservatives and you’d get more nutrition from just eating five or six actual almonds than drinking this stuff beverage”.

Try fitting that on the label on the bottle.

Rural Internet Access

For anyone living out in the country internet access is a major problem. There are various schemes and scams floating around that claim they will bring high speed internet to rural residents, but most of them are never going to get anywhere for various reasons.

Why won’t the ISPs connect rural customers? Cost, of course. It would take ages for them to make up the cost of connecting everyone outside of cities and towns. The same thing happened with electricity and telephone back in the day, the providers wouldn’t hook up rural areas until the government pretty much forced them to and paid a lot of the costs associated with it. And in this current political climate, well, a prominent Wisconsin politician (Sensenbrenner) is on record as saying that no one actually needs internet in the first place, thus illustrating that he hasn’t a clue as to what life is like out here in the real world.

The problem with most of these schemes is that they rely on some type of radio communication, either types of cellular networks, microwaves, or some kind of extended wifi system. And the fact of the matter is that we don’t really have the spectrum available to make these schemes work. The radio spectrum is so severely overcrowded now that cellular companies are paying billions of dollars for access to a few frequencies to expand their networks and improve their systems. So exactly where they’re going to squeeze in these new services is problematic.

The other problem is that some of these systems are already being tested or are even already in use in limited areas, and they don’t really work very well and they aren’t really all that fast. We have a kind of microwave system in use around here serving residents that live outside of the wired system, and it has some serious issues. Heavy rain and snow disrupts service, speeds slow to a crawl during ‘prime time’ when many people are trying to use the system, and most of these systems are very expensive, have some very serious data caps, and have lots of other issues associated with them.

Yet another problem is that what the feds are calling “broadband” isn’t really broadband by anyone’s definition. The US has some of the most abysmal internet speeds of any first world country. The ISPs here have been concentrating on throttling back usage, restricting bandwidth, charging utterly ridiculous amounts of money for going over artificially created caps so they can cram ever more paying users into an already overloaded system, and not investing any of that money in improving the infrastructure or in extending their coverage. The result is that US speeds are about half of what they are in the UK, the EU, Japan, Korea, and even the metro areas of China.

The feds definition for “broadband” internet for rural areas is even worse than what it is in urban areas, about 10 meg/second. So you can forget about making that conference call to work if your kid is playing WOW or your dear spouse is down in the basement watching PornHub.

Manure Rules

Wisconsin is finally doing something about the very serious contamination of wells by

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 2.45.57 PM

Why is she wearing a mask? If you had to pose in a swimsuit with a bunch of cows, you’d probably wear a mask too.

manure from farming operations. I’ve mentioned before that we have had problems with well contamination from farm runoff, especially in Kewaunee County, were it’s estimated that 30% – 40% of the wells are contaminated. It hasn’t been widely reported, but the problem is so bad that local organizations, schools and others have been giving out drinking water to local families because of the widespread contamination of the wells up there.

The state is going to be issuing new rules that will finally put some restrictions on when, how and where farms can spread manure. Hopefully this will help.

Okay, okay — I know that photo has nothing to do with the story. But if I come across a photo of a person in a swimsuit, wearing a mask, standing with a bunch of cows, I’m going to put it up. I can’t help myself.

 

70 Percent Chance Dec. Corn Futures Hit $4.40-$4.50 – Corn – News | Agweb.com

As

Source: 70 Percent Chance Dec. Corn Futures Hit $4.40-$4.50 – Corn – News | Agweb.com

I read this item over at Agweb twice and I still don’t understand why she thinks there’s a 70% chance corn could go over $4.40. She doesn’t give any data to actually back up that statement in the article. I hate items like this where some “expert” comes along and makes a specific statement, and then the report doesn’t give any reason why.

As of right now I don’t see any indication corn is going to go that high barring some kind of significant weather event or similar wide spread problem. We have massive amounts of corn still in storage from last year’s harvest, planned corn plantings for this year are down only slightly from last year… There basically is no pressure at all on the market to move the price up significantly.

At the moment, China has drastically cut back imports of corn to try to draw down it’s own stocks, and has increased production. There seems to be no increased demand for US corn anywhere, really. Ethanol production is relatively flat, we have grain storage facilities full to bursting with last year’s crop, weather has been relatively good… There doesn’t seem to be any reason for corn to go up almost $1 a bushel over the next few months. So why does she think it’s going to go up? Don’t know.

Farm Catchup

Time to get caught up with what’s been going on in the farming world.

Elderly Corn

China has a problem with corn. As in it has too much of it. It’s been sitting on a large amount of stockpiled corn for years now, and it needs to get rid of it because some of this has been sitting in storage for ages now and if they don’t get rid of it soon it’s going to be unfit for even animal consumption. Agrimoney posted a story indicating China is going to start dumping a lot of it’s aging corn on the market beginning May 5. Some of this stuff has been in storage since 2012. The country has had a problem with this for some time now, and there are rumors flying around that the quality of this stuff is marginal at best. China has been working to make their grain markets less dependent on government support programs and to draw down massive amounts of grain that they have in storage. The result has been a huge drop in the import of grain, especially corn. Chinese corn imports in March were 91% lower than they were a year ago.

GM Corn Saving Lives?

My opinion of genetically modified crops is mixed. I believe the science that proves that the GM crops in use currently are generally safe and that consuming them does not cause health problems. But GM crops have other issues associated with them that are problematic. Like the fact they don’t really improve yield at all, that they lead to the development of herbicide tolerant weeds and that in the long run, GM crops modified to resist weeds and things like the corn borer are little more than stop gap measures that will ultimately fail… The list goes on and on.

But there is one GM crop that could genuinely be of benefit. Aspergillus is a type of fungi or mold that produces aflatoxin, which is not only a carcinogen, but can also cause stunted growth in children and damage immune systems. And it causes liver cancer. It can be found in all kinds of things; peanuts, walnuts, the list goes on and on. Aflatoxin is especially a problem in corn. Corn that is harvested wet, stored improperly, can easily be hit with this stuff, and it can be very nasty.

Here in the US and other first world countries corn and other food crops are tested for the the stuff, but that’s not the case in other places that don’t have the resources, the money, or the expertise to do the testing.

They’ve developed a modified variety of corn that resists the development of the toxin in the corn kernel. Aspergillus can still develop, the the toxin itself will not get into the kernels of the corn.

The early test results are very promising, but they’re going to have to hook up with someone who can afford to foot the bill for large scale testing of the modified crop and go through all of the regulatory paper work and testing.

It wouldn’t just help poorer countries which can’t do the testing. Farmers have  huge amounts of corn rejected because of testing positive for the toxin, so a variety of corn that didn’t develop the toxin would be a significant financial benefit.

Weed Wars

I ran into this item over at agweb.com: When Will the Herbicide Cavalry Arrive? It talks about herbicide resistant weeds and new chemicals to kill them and all that stuff. The usual kind of thing that reads like a PR piece written by the chemical companies. But if you scroll down a bit over halfway through the piece, you’ll find a somewhat different tone when someone, finally, utters the phrase “we’ll never spray our way out of the problem.

And we won’t. Sooner or later the pests will develop resistance to whatever chemical solutions they come up with and the problem will come back just as bad, probably worse, than it was before. They go on to praise two Australian “innovations” that attach to the combine to capture weed seeds before the combine can blow them back out onto the field.

It’s certainly a good idea. Any weed seeds you can capture at the combine aren’t going to germinate the next year to infest your crops. But innovative? Hardly. Similar technologies have been around for decades. Back in the late 1950s our old Massy Harris combine had a device mounted on it that did something similar. It collected the weed seed that would have been blown back out onto the field or gone into the grain tank with the oats and dumped it into a feed sack attached to the back of the combine. At the end of the day we’d have bags of the stuff. It certainly wasn’t 100% effective, but every weed seed it did collect was one that wasn’t going to cause a problem the following year.

Will these devices be helpful? Hell yes, if they ever get them into production and farmers buy into the idea.

I’m not sure why the process went out of favor. I think our combine was the last one I ever saw that was equipped with it. I suppose people figured why bother when all we need to do is just spray. Just blow the weed seed out the back of the combine and let the chemicals deal with it.

School Lunch Controversy

You’d think that one thing everyone would agree on is that school kids should be fed lunches that are safe and healthy, right? But you’d be surprised. Opinions range all over the place out there, from people who think parents should be responsible to feeding their kids and the schools shouldn’t be serving any food at all, under any circumstances, to those who think schools should be feeding kids everything; breakfast, lunch and dinner.

And as for what schools should be serving, well, it’s turned into an utterly ridiculous and totally unnecessary political fight that started the moment the Obama administration announced new rules to insure that what kids were being fed in schools was, if not actually good for them, at least wouldn’t actively harm them. There is absolutely no doubt that we eat too much fat, too much sugar, too much salt, too much processed food and we don’t eat enough vegetables, fruit and whole grains. The new rules were intended to help deal with that, and from the moment they were even mentioned, the fight started because, well, Obama, and as far as certain politicians and special interest groups were concerned, anything coming out of the Obama administration was automatically the spawn of Satan.

As the current administration works to roll back or eliminate everything that it’s predecessor did, it’s been going after the school lunch program as well. The ag secretary announced in a self promotional fluff piece that reads like it was written by the food processing companies and backed with “information” that either isn’t true, is misinterpreted or cherry picked, that they’re going to “make school meals great again” by rolling back the Obama era nutritional guidelines, and allow schools to return, at least partly, to serving kids little more than junk food disguised as a meal. Restrictions on salt, fat, sugar, serving increased amounts of vegetables and whole grain breads and fat free milk are all being rolled back

One of these days I need to do an article about the school food service system. I’ve been involved in it either directly or indirectly for decades and some of the crap going on in that system, well, it’s scary sometimes.

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.