Still More Stuff!!

Taking a look at a very curious cell phone health scare, FDA’s approval of dicamba for two years, the farm bill, fish oil, vitamin D, farmland prices, and other, well, stuff…

 

Yet Another Cell Phone Scare

A significant number of people have been claiming cell phones cause cancer ever since cell phones started to come into common use. And every once in a while another “scientific study” is trotted out to support that claim. Invariably it turns out that either the study was badly flawed or the story was the result of some news reporter who didn’t know how to read a scientific paper, didn’t understand statistics, or was even just making stuff up.

images.jpgThe latest scare is the media claiming there is a study that “proves” cell phone use causes brain cancer. Even NBC apparently bit on this one. And all of these news reports ignore the fact that this study is, well, weird and it’s results highly questionable.

The study is real. You can read it yourself  here . And if you actually read it, which most of the news media didn’t bother to do, you’ll notice some very curious things which don’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense.

There were actually two studies, one of rats, one of mice, looking at the effects of exposing both groups to radio waves in the frequency ranges used by cell phones. The exposure began in utero, by exposing the mothers of the animals to RF (radio frequencies) before they were born, and continued during the entire study. They were exposed in a set cycle, 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off.

Now, of the animals who were exposed like this, the male mice, female mice and female2d418532a97bbb869201f29d4a1cad50.jpg rats showed no increase in cancer. None. But male rats, on the other hand, did, with a small percentage of them developing brain and/or heart cancer of a specific type.

Let me repeat that, the only animals that showed any adverse effects were male rats. Not female rats. Not male mice. Not female mice. Just male rats. Why did only the male rats develop an elevated risk for cancer? Why didn’t the mice develop cancer as well? Why not female rats? Don’t know. And the numbers of male rats that were affected were really quite low as well, down in the single digits. This is a very odd result and it makes one think there might have been something else going on here other than exposure to cell phone radio frequencies.

And here is another odd fact: The animals that were exposed to cell phone radio frequencies actually lived longer than those in the control group which were not exposed to RF. So on the one hand male rats had a slightly elevated risk of cancer, but at the same time all of the animals exposed to cell phone radiation lived longer? 

There are some very odd things going on with this study that need to be explained before one can draw any kind of conclusions from it. If you want to read a review of the study by a real doctor, go over to Neurological by Steven Novella. He takes a better and more in-depth look at the study and its problems.

And here’s another point. Despite all of the people claiming cell phones cause brain cancer, actual epidemiological data indicates that it doesn’t. We’ve been tracking brain cancers for decades, going back to many years before cell phone use became common. If there was a relationship between brain cancer and cell phone use, the number of cases should have started to increase within a few years of cell phone use becoming widespread. But it hasn’t. The incidence of brain cancer has been essentially flat for decades.

So why do these stories keep popping up? Money, of course. Scare headlines generate eyeballs on TVs and clicks on websites, and that means increased revenue for the hosting entity. And since things like editorial integrity, accuracy and common sense have long ago flown out the window in favor of profit at any cost, we get garbage like this.

Dicamba Approved by EPA

Despite all of the very serious problems associated with the use of the herbicide dicamba, it’s been approved for use by the EPA for the 2019 and 2020 growing seasons. While the agency and the makers of the stuff are touting new rules that will, they claim, reduce or eliminate the problems with drifting, the new rules aren’t much different from those in place during 2018 when more than 1 million acres of crops were damaged by the drifting herbicide. A lot of farmers who normally wouldn’t plant the GMO soybeans that are resistant to the herbicide it feel they are being pressured into paying for the more expensive seed just to keep their crops from being damaged by drifting herbicide from their neighbors.

Election Fallout: The Farm Bill

As usual, the Farm Bill has been languishing in the Congress for months now. The problem has been that the House wants to make dramatic changes to the SNAP program that, among other things, would require almost everyone except children and the elderly to work at least 20 hours a week in order to get benefits. The Senate doesn’t want anything to do with some of those changes, and there has been no real attempt at compromise between the two bodies. But now that the House will be controlled by Democrats come January, I think you’ll see some people trying to desperately get anything passed before the change over to prevent the Dems from having any influence on the bill.

Vitamin D Study & Fish Oil

For years now supplement makers have been pushing vitamin D and pushing it hard, making claims that range from the silly to the dubious to the downright dangerous about the stuff. And while D is important, do you really need to take a supplement at all?

Well, a 5 year long study says no. Vitamin D supplements did absolutely nothing to reduce the risk of cancer or heart problems or stroke. Zip. Nada.

Another study also looked at fish oil supplements and the results were disappointing there as well. Fish oil didn’t lower the risk of heart disease or cancer either. But here was a statistically significant lowering of the risk of heart attack. The lowering of risk of heart attack was especially noticeable among African Americans. They aren’t sure why but there is some suspicion that it might be because African Americans could be eating less fish than the rest of the population.

One good thing about the study was that it while it showed that D supplements did no good at all and fish oil supplements didn’t do very much, there seemed to be no adverse side effects from taking either of them at the levels used in the study. The same can’t be said for a lot of the other snake oil the supplement industry pushes.

The supplement industry is a pet peeve of mine. It scams people out of billions of dollars a year by selling products with vague promises that they will do something to help them, when, in actual fact, they do nothing to help people and can even be down right dangerous. Thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994  supplements are almost totally unregulated. Supplements are not approved by the FDA, are not tested by anyone except the manufacturer, and they don’t even have to prove they’re safe before they sell them. The FDA is specifically denied authority to regulate or test these products. The only time the FDA can step in is if there is evidence that a product has actually harmed someone. This means that ineffective and even dangerous products can be sold freely until it becomes obvious that people are being hurt by them.

Even more troubling is the fact that independent analysis of a lot of products discovered that what you see on that label may not actually be in the product itself, and that there could be a lot of things in there that aren’t listed on the label. When tested for content, it’s been found that a significant percentage of these products have inaccurate labels. Some had little or none of the “active” ingredient in them. A lot of them had fillers that were not listed on the label. Some were contaminated by things that were downright dangerous. Some had actual prescription drugs in them. Basically you don’t know what the hell is really in that capsule.

What it boils down to is this: If you eat a reasonably well balanced diet that is fairly heavy on vegetables and fruits, and eat fish once or twice a week, you don’t need supplements of any kind. You’re getting more than enough of the right nutrients to keep you healthy. The health claims made by these supplements, whether herbal or vitamins or oils or whatever, are completely bogus.

Farmland Prices Relatively Stable

I found this one a bit surprising. Prices for corn, soybeans and milk are horrible and don’t show any sign of improving any time soon. A lot of farmers are in serious financial trouble. Wisconsin alone has lost almost 500 dairy farms just this year. So you’d think that farmland sale prices and rental prices would be going down. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Prices have been stable and even creeping up a bit in some parts of the country. In this area farmland prices have been up about 4% overall. But as the article in that link over at AgWeb says, this isn’t going to continue. Farmers have been operating right on the edge, financially speaking for 3-4 years now. With corn sitting at around 3.70 on the commodities exchange (and cash price being quite a bit less than that), well, if you’re paying $200/acre rent or more to grow corn, you might as well not even bother.

In this neck of the woods land prices have been stable, even creeping up a bit, but that’s due to the big mega-dairy operations needing land for manure disposal. If they don’t have enough acreage to dispose of their manure, they can’t get operating permits, bank loans, etc.

Some of the rental prices I’ve been hearing of in this area are a bit ridiculous. One fellow told me his neighbor was renting a 20 acre parcel to one of the mega-farms for $600/acre. They crop it, yes, but they wanted it mainly for manure disposal. Now I’m not going to question the fellow’s statement, but, well, $600/acre is just crazy and I suspect he misheard that figure.

I am really glad my sister and I sold the farm when we did. We got out almost at the peak of the market in that area. If we’d waited another year or two to sell we’d have gotten $1,000 – $2,000 per acre less than what we did.

Farm Catch Up

It’s been a while since I did one of these so let’s see what’s been going on in the agriculture industry.


Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 5.43.30 AM.pngI’d be willing to bet there are a lot of people over at Bayer who are wishing that they’d never thought of the idea of buying Monsanto. Before Bayer completed its purchase of the company, it was already involved in a lawsuit in California claiming that RoundUp ™ caused the plaintiff’s (a school groundskeeper) cancer. The company lost and was hit with a $289 million dollar judgement against it. Bayer is trying desperately to get the judgement voided, claiming that there is little or no evidence to prove the product causes cancer and a lot of evidence proving it doesn’t.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, is facing dozens of similar lawsuits. There are apparently about 8,700 people in the US who directly blame the herbicide for their cancer, so Bayer could be in court for a long, long time over this unless the company can figure out a way to get out from under this.

Note: The day after I wrote the above item a judge in San Francisco has indicated she is inclined to set aside a $250 million punitive damage judgement against Monsanto and even reopen the case. In a preliminary statement the judge said the plaintiff’s lawyers did not present clear and convincing evidence of malice and suppression of information by Monsanto.


The Farm Bill – The farm bill has turned into more or less a very unfunny joke over the last few decades. It has less and less to do with agriculture and more and more to do with social welfare programs, especially SNAP (food stamps). Something like 80% of the funding in the so-called farm bill actually goes to the SNAP program, not to agriculture. So while the collection of laws and regulations that has become known as the “farm bill” does indeed deal with things like crop insurance, ag subsidy programs and other ag related programs, the vast majority of the money involved is funneled into the SNAP program.

This means that when it comes time to redo the bill, the political bickering gets intense and it’s gotten harder and harder to get the thing passed. It is currently bogged down over, surprise, disagreements over the SNAP program, and doesn’t look like it’s going to pass any time soon. You aren’t going to see any action on the FB until after the November elections, and there’s a good chance it could be pushed off into next year, which means the whole bill would have to be rewritten and the whole mess would have to start all over again.

One of these days I should really write an article about what the “farm bill” really is and how it was transformed from a collection of programs to help agriculture into a program where 80% of the funding goes to non-ag related support programs, and why there is so much resistance to splitting off the welfare related parts of the whole mess and making the farm bill really about agriculture again.


Sales of the abomination that is “American Cheese” are declining according to an article from Bloomberg over at AgWeb. As a friend of mine once said when confronted with so-called “American cheese” for the first time, “I don’t know what the hell that is, but it isn’t cheese.” A lot of people have said even less flattering things about the stuff, with some justification. With a list of ingredients that reads more like a chemistry lesson than something you should see in a food product, the muck was invented back in 1916 and was canned (yes, canned) and sold to the US government to feed soldiers during WWI. I’m not sure why sales are declining. Perhaps it’s because people are finally finding out that it doesn’t really taste like, well, much of anything, really. Except salt. Certainly it doesn’t taste like actual cheese. Perhaps they’re concerned about the fact that a lot of those ingredients in it shouldn’t be anywhere near any kind of product you put in your mouth. Or perhaps it’s just a trend. But whatever the reason, restaurants and even the fast food joints are moving away from the stuff and switching to actual real cheese for their products, and have been for quite a while. Except for McD’s and a few other fast food places, restaurants switched to using real cheese some time ago, substituting cheddar, swiss, asiago or blends of different cheeses for their cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, etc.


Sears Files for Bankruptcy. The Sears bankruptcy didn’t really surprise anyone. We’ve seen that coming for years now. The only really surprising thing is that it took them this lon to do it.

Why talk about Sears in a post about farm news? Well, if you grew up on a farm in the 60s like I did, Sears was the place you went for just about everything from work clothes to hand tools to car batteries to household items. I’m sure there will be (if there aren’t already) books and scholarly papers written about the decline and fall of what at one time was the biggest retailer in the country.

It is popular these days to blame Amazon for the failure of retail stores, but even as early as the 1980s the company was showing signs of serious problems. The quality of the store branded products it was selling began declining. Craftsman hand tools which had been of good quality and came with a lifetime warranty, became less polished, less well made, and that famous lifetime warranty which had always been a major selling point for them, disappeared. The company seemed to lose focus. It moved into areas that made no sense. It started selling glasses. Portrait studios began popping up in the stores. The stores started to look more and more shabby as the company tried to cut costs, and Sears’ reputation declined rapidly. The only thing its cost cutting measures did was drive more and more customers away. And the worse its financial situation became, the more strange the decisions of management seemed to become.

The purchase of Kmart (I’m not really sure who bought who, if Sears bought Kmart or Kmart bought Sears. Not that it really matters) was pretty much the last nail in the coffin, really. Who in the world thought that a failing company buying a retail chain that was in even worse financial shape than it was made any kind of sense at all?


Weather – Up here in the midwest the weather has been, well, odd. By Oct. 9 we’d already had more rain than we normally get in the entire month, and it still hasn’t stopped. We’ve had rain every day for the last 14 days or so and we’re getting a bit tired of it. Soybean harvest should be almost done by now, but a lot of fields are still standing because the farmers can’t get their equipment in the fields without burying their combines in mud.

Over in the Dakotas they got hit with a snowstorm that dumped 5-9 inches of snow on them right in the middle of soybean harvest.


E-15 On The Way – The administration announced it was going to approve the use of E-15 fuel (15% ethanol blend) during a campaign rally in the midwest. While it’s been approved for limited distribution during certain times of the year already, it will, apparently, now be available all the time. While some corn farmers (and the ethanol makers, of course) are cheering the decision in the hope it will boost corn prices, a lot of other people don’t think it will have much of an effect, if any, on corn prices in the long run.

There are a lot of problems with the whole ethanol fuel idea. It isn’t a very good fuel, it isn’t really very “green” as far as the environment is concerned, it’s a government mandated program so it can be ended overnight at the whim of congress, and, when it comes down to it, it’s a dead end technology. The future of the automobile appears to be electric. Once Tesla proved it was possible to make a vehicle with a realistic travel range at a fairly reasonable cost, the big car makers began to jump on board and now just about all of them have at least one EV or they’re going to be coming out with one soon. I suspect that the next vehicle I buy will be an EV. I’d probably already have a Tesla if they had a normal dealer network where I knew I could get the thing serviced.


Dicamba Lawsuit Coming Up – Monsanto put it’s dicamba resistant seed line on sale a year before the government approved the dicamba blend herbicide Monsanto intended to be used with the new seeds. Apparently that didn’t stop some farmers from using regular dicamba with the new crops, resulting in widespread damage to adjacent crops and other plants. The problem with dicamba is that it vaporizes easily and can drift over very long distances, causing widespread damage. So, of course, there are lawsuits. The first of these is coming to trial in October of next year. The plaintiff blames Monsanto (now Bayer) for the damage, claiming that the company should have known that as soon as it started selling the dicamba resistant seeds, farmers were going to use unapproved mixtures of dicamba on the crops.

While I think Monsanto should not have started selling the new seed lines until the herbicide blend was approved, as far as I can tell the company did indeed warn farmers, seed dealers and herbicide applicators that there were no legally available dicamba blends approved for use at that time with the new seeds. The damage was caused by growers and applicators who illegally used dicamba blends that were not approved for that use at that time. So I don’t know how Monsanto can be held responsible for that damage.

But that being said, there are serious problems with even the approved dicamba blends of herbicide. Even the approved blends seem to be drifting over long distances, damaging tens of thousands of acres of crops. While the company continues to claim this is due entirely to improper use by the applicators, states and the feds are putting ever increasing restrictions on the use of the stuff, and some states are thinking of banning it entirely.

Well, that’s enough of that. You’re probably getting as bored as I am already😜

Farm Catch Up

Well, I’m bored, I haven’t written much here of late, so let’s take a look at what’s been going on in the ag world recently.

Dicamba Issues Abound — The controversy over Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide blends and those approved under license, XtendiMax, Engenia and FeXapan, continue to have problems and generate considerable controversy, complaints and legal issues. Minnesota and other states have instituted restrictions on when, where and how the herbicides can be uses, new federal restrictions regarding training requirements and new application restrictions, etc. Other states have issued wide ranging restrictions as well.  Even Mother Jones has gotten into the act with an article about the drawbacks of the product.

The companies involved are fighting back, blaming anything and everything for the fact that over 3.5 million acres of crops were allegedly damaged by the herbicide drifting away from the application area this past year. They’ve been claiming farmers are spraying the product with the wrong equipment, failing to follow the proper application techniques, etc. They’ve even tried claiming that famers are illegally spraying non-approved types of the herbicide. In one case one of the companies involved tried to get a member of the board that regulates herbicides in one of the states involved removed from the board.

Words Are Worth MoneyThe University of Arizona did a study of how consumers react to the term “natural” on meat labels and found out pretty much exactly what you might think: that people who know what the term means were unwilling to pay more for meat labeled “natural”. In the study half of the people involved were told the legal definition of the term, and half were unaware of what the legal definition was. They found that those who did not know would pay $1.26 more for steak labeled “natural”, while those who did know wouldn’t pay more.

Under USDA definitions, all fresh meat, even hamburger, can be labeled as “natural” as long as it does not contain artificial flavors, colorings, chemical preservatives or other synthetic ingredients. So basically if you’re paying more for a package of steak or roast labeled “natural” you are being scammed.

What it boils down to is that a lot of these companies will use any  kind of marketing tricks they can to fool you into paying more for a product than you should.

Meat Tax Coming? — Methane and carbon emissions from cattle raising operations makes up almost 15% of the total production of greenhouse gases, and the production of cattle is projected to increase by 70% over the next fifty years or so. So some people are considering taxing the production and sale of meat to try to reduce the reduce greenhouse gas production from cattle. There are serious talks going on in some countries to institute tax policies similar to those used to curb tobacco in order to reduce production and consumption.

Frankly this seems a bit silly to me. The two largest producers of greenhouse gases are electric power plants and motor vehicles. The amount of methane and carbon dioxide produced by cattle hardly makes more than a blip on the charts when compared to that. So I’d think that if they were really serious about greenhouse gas reduction they’d be going after those two sources far more vigorously.

Corn Acreage Shrinking — It looks like farmers are finally beginning to cut back on the amount of corn they’re raising in response to poor prices. USDA is predicting that for the first time in years the number of acres of soybeans will equal or even surpass the number of acres of corn being planted in the US. Corn prices on the Chicago Exchange never went much over $3.75 or so at the peak, and have been sitting at the $3.50 or lower level for some time now. And, of course, the commodities price generally isn’t what the farmer gets for the corn. They often get considerably less than that. When you add in other costs like storage fees, etc. farmers are often getting a lot less than the commodities price.  A awful lot of farmers out there are just barely breaking even on corn this year.

Some people are pinning their hopes on China increasing their imports of corn. China has been drawing down it’s huge stockpiles of corn over the last year or so, and some are taking that as a sign the country will begin to import more corn. But continuing to produce corn in the hopes that China might increase imports sounds like a great way to end up bankrupt.

Screen Shot 2017-12-20 at 7.33.13 AMChicken Suits — No, not that kind of suit. The legal kind. Both California and Massachusetts are being sued over regulations they’ve instituted regarding how chickens (and other farm animals  as well in the case of Massachusetts) are raised. The regulations require chickens (and in the case of Mass. other agricultural animals as well) from which products are derived for sale in the state, must be raised according to certain minimal humane standards. The plaintiffs claim that the regulations dramatically increase the cost of eggs and that it will cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars, and that the cost of eggs nation wide has increased as much as 5% because of it. A claim I view with considerable skepticism. Locally the retail price of eggs is at almost an all time low. They’re going for about $1.00 to $1.28 per dozen at most retail outlets around here for standard, non-organic “generic” brands, and I’ve seen them as low as $0.79 and even less.

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.

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

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 6.29.22 AM
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.

 

Dicamba – What’s The Problem?

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 7.58.59 AMIn the last Farm Catch Up I talked a bit about the herbicide dicamba and noted that Arkansas regulators had already banned Monsanto’s brand Xtendimax of herbicide blend that contained the product and were considering a ban on the other one that was approved for use with Monsanto’s Xtend line of seeds, Engenia. “Procedural irregularities” prevented the Arkansas State Plant Board from passing an emergency ban on June 20, but I should have waited a couple of days because on June 23 ASPB passed a 120 day emergency order banning in-crop use of dicamba.

Someone pointed out to me that a lot of my readers aren’t in the agriculture business and may not know what the whole problem is, and that it would be a good idea to give a better explanation of what’s going on and why this is so important to so many people. So here goes

Super Weeds

That’s where it all starts, of course: super weeds, the ones that have been developing resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in herbicides like RoundUp. Everyone knew that as soon as glyphosate and the GM crops developed to work with it were released, weeds would begin to evolve resistance to the herbicide. That’s just the way nature works. Guidelines for usage that would help to prevent this, or at least slow it down, were developed even before the products were released for general sale. But everyone knew it was just a matter of time before “super weeds” started to pop up and spread. The fact that the guidelines and safeguards were largely ignored didn’t help much, either.

So now we’re faced with glyphosate resistant weeds that are spreading all across the country. So a new magic bullet needed to be found, and they picked dicamba.

Dicamba has been around for a long time. It was first discovered back in 1942 and has been used to control brush, legumes and cacti. It was also used along fence lines and roads to control brush. Some formulations have been used for weed control on lawns, golf courses, etc. for decades as well. It was never used on crops because it was highly toxic to commercial crops.

Dicamba has some serious issues, not the least of which is it’s tendency to drift over large areas beyond the treatment area.

Monsanto decided that dicamba was an excellent solution to the problem of weeds that were resistant to glyphosate, and developed it’s Xtend soybean plant, which could tolerate both glyphosate and dicamba. It developed a new formulation containing both glyphosate and dicamba.

Monsanto developed what was supposed to be a complete system, it’s new GM soybean coupled with the new formulation of glyphosate and dicamba. The new formulation was supposed to cure the problems dicamba had with easy volatility and wide spread drifting. The company claimed that if used according to its guidelines and with the proper equipment, the issues with the herbicide would be eliminated.

Well, there was one big problem right off the bat. Monsanto started to sell the GM seed before the government had approved the use of it’s new herbicide blend. This led some farmers to dump dicamba on their fields even though the government had not yet approved any form of dicamba for use on crops. Without the special low volatility formulation and without using the proper equipment, dicamba spread widely, damaging or destroying tens of thousands of acres of non-Xtend soybeans, it is claimed. Oh, and somebody got shot and killed over it, too. A heated argument between farmers over alleged damage to crops ended up with someone getting killed.

Well, the new formulation of herbicide is now approved, and things don’t seem to be doing much better for either Monsanto or the other company that makes the new herbicide. There are reports popping up all over the place that the new herbicide, even when used exactly according to the recommendations, is drifting all over the place. In one case it’s alleged that it drifted more than a mile and a half. In Arkansas alone there have been around 250 reports of damage caused by herbicide drift.

As noted at the beginning of this, Arkansas has already instituted a ban on Monsanto’s formula, and the government is now issuing an outright ban on all dicamba use on cropland because of all the damage reports.

The whole thing is a real mess at the moment. Lots of finger pointing, lots of accusations, even conspiracy theories. I heard one farmer claim that the drift problem is deliberate. He claims that the company knew this was going to happen, wanted it to happen, because it would force farmers to buy the GM seed from the company because even if you didn’t use the new herbicide, drift from neighboring farms that did would wipe out your crop unless you used their beans.

I haven’t seen reports from other states about this situation. If I do I’ll pass them along. Right now it’s a huge mess and the only people who are going to be profiting from any of this seems to be the lawyers.

Dicamba

Let’s talk about herbicides. It’s almost the time of year when we’ll start seeing the spraying equipment hitting the fields around here, so let’s talk about herbicides, one in particular called dicamba. And if you read the agriculture press, you’ll be seeing articles like this one that warn of the pitfalls of using this old-but-new-again herbicide:  Caution Lights Ahead For Dicamba Use | Ag Professional. (And before you ask, yes, there are already dicamba resistant weeds out there and one experiment showed it took one type of weed only three generations to develop resistance to the herbicide. <read that article here>)

Now I should point out that dicamba has been around for a long time. It was developed back in the late 1950s and has been on the market ever since. It’s used to control broadleaf weeds and brush. What’s new about it is that Monsanto has developed a line of dicamba resistant crops such as soybeans which can tolerate the herbicide. With these crops being resistant to both glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUP, and dicamba, the hope is that this double dose of herbicide will help to control weeds that are resistant to glyphosate alone.

But there are, as always, problems.

The first of these is dicamba itself. It volatilizes easily, going into vapor, which then moves over large areas. It also is subject to drift while spraying. The droplets from the sprayers can drift over large areas as well. This combination of easy volatility and tendency to drift makes it troublesome to work with because it can spread over large areas, killing or damaging plants well outside of the area being treated. In order for dicamba to be used in the way Monsanto wanted, special blends and compounds had to be created to help prevent the easy volatility and drift of the product so it wouldn’t contaminate adjacent fields.

Monsanto decided to sell its Xtend seeds before the herbicide blend it was designed to work with was approved by the government. The result was that farmers who should have known better planted the seed, and then used dicamba blends that were not approved for use, and tens of thousands of acres (some estimates are in the hundreds of thousands of acres) of crops were damaged or killed by the drift from the herbicide. There are currently lawsuits going on against Monsanto claiming the company is responsible because it released the Xtend seed before the accompanying herbicide blend was available, and Monsanto should have known that some farmers would use dicamba illegally.

The new legal blend is now available, but even that isn’t going to solve the problem. There are a whole host of restrictions, requirements and warnings adorning the labels of the new herbicide. It can only be used with a particular type of sprayer nozzle, has to be applied no more than X inches above the weeds, has to be used at a certain point in the weeds’ life span, the wind can be no more than 10-15 MPH… The list goes on and on. All of the warnings and requirements indicate that this new “safer” blend isn’t all that much safer than the original form of dicamba was.

And in the long run dicamba is going to end up being just as useless in controlling weeds as glyphosate is becoming because as that article I linked to at the beginning points out, weeds will quickly become immune to it as well.

I keep wondering how much longer we can keep this up, concocting ever more toxic and complex blends of herbicides to try to control weeds, when we know that it is, at best, a temporary fix and that the weeds will eventually become immune to even that.

Meanwhile over in France the government has been trying to push things in the other direction, trying to get agriculture away from the ever increasing reliance on herbicides and pesticides. France <story here> has set a goal of cutting the use of pesticides of various types by 50% over the next ten years through the use of alternative methods of pest and weed control. How successful the program has been is a bit questionable, but studies have indicated that farms could significantly cut their use of pesticides and herbicides without a loss of income. But it would require some significant changes in farming practices.

Can we get away from this apparently never ending cycle of herbicide/pesticide resistance? We’re going to find out and in the not too distant future because the current situation simply cannot continue indefinitely.