Farm Catch Up

SNAP Program

The SNAP (food stamp) program has been in the cross hairs of certain parties for ages now. They haven’t been able to entirely eliminate the program because it would generate an enormous amount of public outrage. So they go after it with what I call “Death From A Thousand Cuts” (DFATC). DFATC works by going after a program by deliberately instituting rules and requirements that make it so difficult to apply for and get benefits that people just give up and don’t even try. Of course that’s not how the administration presents these changes. The changes are presented as being “reasonable”, cutting fraud, or even somehow “helping” the recipients.

The latest one to be proposed for SNAP is that the administration now wants to charge retailers fees for being able to accept SNAP that range anywhere from $250 – $200,000 depending on the size of the retailer. The amount would range from $250 for small retailers, up to $200,000 for large retail chains like Walmart. It doesn’t sound like much, but small retailers are already financially stressed, and this would just add even more to their cost of doing business. A lot of them are going to think it isn’t worth the extra cost and paperwork involved and will just drop participation in the SNAP program.

Be Careful What You Ask For

People in the ag industry are getting a wee bit nervous as the date for the administration to “renegotiate” the NAFTA agreement approaches. Mexico is a huge market for US agricultural products, and the administration’s near constant use of Mexico and Mexican immigrants as scapegoats hasn’t been doing much to make Mexico willing to cooperate with us. As the article linked to above says, “Farmers are hoping NAFTA can be updated without blowing up the trade agreement.”

Considering this administration is spending almost all it’s time trying to do damage control as one scandal after another hits the media, and that it it doesn’t seem to understand what NAFTA actually is, doesn’t seem to understand how it works, and doesn’t even seem to understand how trade agreements work, and that it regularly uses one of our NAFTA partners as a scapegoat, calling the people of that country rapists, drug dealers and “bad people”… Well, let’s just say this has the potential of blowing up in everyones faces.

The biggest issue for the US dairy industry is Canada. Canada has a dairy marketing system that actually works relatively well. Granted, a lot of people up there don’t like it, but it has kept Canadian prices fairly stable, kept dairy farmers reasonably profitable, and it has avoided the boom/bust cycle that the dairy industry in the rest of the world has been following for decades now. The US dairy industry would like to see that system totally destroyed, it seems, and force Canada into the same chaos we’re enduring down here.

Don’t get me wrong, the Canadian system has a lot of problems, but you have to admit that the system has kept Canadian dairy farmers largely insulated from the insanity going on in the rest of the world where, it seems, the business model is that if the market is flooded with way, way too much milk, the solution is to produce even more milk.

China to Import US Beef

Back in 2003 China banned imports of US beef because of incidents of Mad Cow Disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE). Although the ban was eventually lifted fairly quickly, China shifted it’s imports to Australia and South America, and the US has exported pretty much no beef at all to China. That looks like it will be changing. China’s imports of beef have expanded massively in the last five years, going from $275 million in 2012 to $2.5 billion in 2016. Needless to say the US beef industry would dearly love to get a piece of that market.

Wally Melons?

For decades we’ve been putting up with fruits and vegetables that pretty much don’t taste like fruits and vegetables. Those California strawberries may look beautiful, but they don’t actually taste much like strawberries. Or pears that are so rock hard you have to boil the bloody things to make them edible. And don’t get me started on whatever the hell it is supermarkets sell as “tomatoes”. I don’t know what those things are. They look like tomatoes, but they have the flavor and texture of drywall. Well, I’ve never actually eaten drywall. I mean that would be silly. But I suspect that if I ever did eat drywall, it would have that… Wait, what was I talking about?

Oh, yeah, melons.

Apparently Walmart’s melons are so bad that even Walmart hates them, and they’ve apparently done something about it. They’ve come up with their own variety of melon.

Wally world apparently worked with Bayer to develop… I was going to make a joke about an aspirin flavored melon, but that would be in bad taste, wouldn’t it… Develop a melon that can handle the stresses of shipping long distances, but still somehow manages to taste like something reasonably close to an actual melon.

It is not genetically modified, but was specifically bred just to satisfy Walmart’s specifications. Is it any good? I have no idea, and I’m not about to try one of the things.

Weather Worries Push Prices Up

Weather concerns in the US have been slowly pushing grain futures prices up on the commodities market. Hard red spring wheat, used for bread, has been hurt by dry conditions in large parts of the US grain belt. And while there is rain in the forecasts, it’s felt that much of the crop is too far along for rain to help much at this point. One of the concerns is the protein content of the wheat. They want a protein content of at least 10.2% and it looks like large amounts of the crop is going to be coming under that level. Hard red spring wheat hit $6.45 at one point, the highest it’s been since 2014, before going to 6.41. From what I’ve seen they’re claiming the spring wheat crop is the worst it’s been in almost 30 years.

Weather concerns have the markets a bit nervous right now as the climate can’t seem to figure out what it wants to do. Here in my part of Wisconsin we’ve been abnormally wet. In other parts of the grain belt it’s been abnormally dry, with parts of the Dakotas going through drought. Corn finally has been seeing some significant movement in prices, pushing up to 3.83 as of this morning.

Mergers and still more Mergers

It seems that every ag company is trying to buy every other ag company these day. The Bayer/Monsanto merger is still in the works, with Bayer trying to sell off bits and pieces of itself so it can claim that its takeover of Monsanto won’t reduce competition. Of course it won’t. (I wish there was a “sarcasm” font, don’t you?) Of course it will reduce  competition. That’s the whole point behind these mergers, to get rid of competition and increase the market share and profits of the new company that emerges after they have merged.

Anyway, Bayer is trying to sell off it’s Libertylink genetic modification trait, it’s glufosinate weed killer, and maybe it’s garlic and pepper seed operations and some other bits and pieces it hopes will satisfy regulators. BASF and Syngenta are supposed to be interested.

Meanwhile Syngenta itself is the target of a takeover. It’s being bought by China National Chemical Co, owned by the Chinese government. DuPont is selling parts of itself off in order to try to merge with Dow Chemical.

Will any of these mergers and buyouts actually help farmers as the companies claim? Of course not. The only people who ever benefit from these mergers are the lawyers, corporate executives who cash in big time on bonuses and stock deals, and a handful of investors.

Glyphosate Study Craziness

Glyphosate, commonly known as RoundUp(TM), was ruled to be a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization, despite the fact that it has been throughly studied for decades by dozens of organizations and scientists and they’ve found no real link between the herbicide and cancer. Even the European food Safety Authority, one of the most cautious and paranoid out there, didn’t find a link.

But WHO and IARC, the International Agency for Research on Cancer which is part of WHO, came to the conclusion that it was “probable”. Why?

This is where the story gets very, very strange. A fellow named Aaron Blair who led the IARC’s review panel on RoundUp, knew of a large study which indicated the herbicide did not cause cancer. If that study had been included in the data given to the IARC it would almost certainly have determined that glyphosate was not a carcinogen.

So why wasn’t that study included? Did Blair not know about it? Well, he did know about it. It was his study. He knew that if the study was included glyphosate would ruled to be not a carcinogen. He admitted that is a sworn deposition, as well as admitting that if that data had been included IARC’s analysis would have been significantly altered.

So why did a scientist deliberately withhold the results of his own study from IARC’s analysis? Because it hadn’t been published yet, he said. And that it wasn’t published yet because it was “too big” to put in a single paper, he claimed.

 

Stupidity Roundup

Let’s face it, a lot of the things we do are stupid. They just are. There is no rational reason for some of them, a lot of good reasons why we shouldn’t do them, but we do them anyway. So let’s take a look at some of the stupid things we do.

And yes, before you ask, I’m bored again otherwise I wouldn’t have come up with such a ridiculous topic

Daylight Savings Time

It’s that time of year again when we shove the clocks ahead an hour in the spring. The insanity that is daylight savings time has been with us for many decades now, and while there might have been some valid reason for it back in the 1940s when we were in the middle of a world war, any rational reason to hang on to this ridiculous practice, if there ever was one, ended around the same time WWII did. Bloomberg has a neat little article about the fact that daylight savings time doesn’t help anyone and actually harms a lot of people so if you want to read it click here for the link thingie.

The argument that it somehow saves energy is completely bogus. When Indiana finally switched to daylight savings time in 2006, the state actually used more energy than it did before it adopted the time change. When you add in the spike in car accidents, other accidents, heart attacks and other adverse effects directly linked to the time change, there is simply no rational reason to support it and a lot of reasons to get rid of the damned thing.

So absolutely no one benefits from the twice a year time change. A lot of people are harmed by it. It doesn’t save energy. It is just a plain bad idea.

But we keep doing it anyway.

There was a bill in the state legislature here to try to get rid of it. It was promptly dismissed as being ‘trivial’ and not worth the valuable time of the state’s politicians. The same politicians who found the time to declare the polka the state dance, put through a bill to declare sandy loam as the state dirt and… Well,  you get the idea.

Butter Wars –

The butter war has been heating up in Wisconsin long after most people thought a ceasefire had been signed decades ago. Wisconsin’s agriculture business is enormously important, especially the milk business, and over the years the state has done some rather curious things to try to promote and even force people to use dairy products like butter. It was, for example, illegal until around 1967 to sell margarine in Wisconsin that was colored yellow. Well, to be fair you could, but it was subject to such a heavy tax that it made the product very expensive to buy if it was colored. Only margarine that was uncolored could be sold without being heavily taxed in the state, and since margarine is not exactly very appealing looking when uncolored, it didn’t help sales very much. Some makers of margarine, in an attempt to get around the law, sold margarine in plastic bags with a capsule of yellow dye inside. You emptied the yellow dye into the margarine and then kneaded it in the package to distribute the dye through the product. That was finally lifted in 1967, but anyplace that serves food to the public is required to serve butter to people unless they specifically ask for margarine. You can cook with margarine in the back, you can offer margarine packets along with butter packets at the table, but if you pre-butter toast or bread, it’s supposed to be done with real butter.

Well this time the kerfuffle is over Kerry Butter, an imported butter from Ireland. Now Kerry is a very fine butter. The stuff is excellent. I’ve had it myself. It’s way, way too expensive for me to buy it, you pay a pretty stiff premium for it, but it’s very nice, tasty butter. But because it isn’t graded the way state law claims it should be, it’s illegal to sell it in the state. Wisconsin is the only state that requires this type of grading. You can read about the whole thing here at Wisconsin Public Radio.

Snake Oil – 

There are a lot of scammers out there trying to steal your money by making phoney health claims about their products that it’s hard to know who you can trust any more. But every once in a while one comes along that’s so utterly ridiculous that even the government figures out what’s going on and steps in. You can jump to the Iowa Attorney General’s press release about it by clicking here. There is apparently a company out there that claims it makes a “drinkable” sunscreen, along with other “drinkable” products that do everything from “stabilizing bacteria levels”, whatever that means, to curing infertility, reducing hair loss and preventing acne.

There are two companies involved, Osmosis and Harmonized Water, both apparently owned by someone named Benjamin Johnson of Colorado. The companies produce a line of products that are… Well, they’re water, really. That’s it. Water.

But it’s special water…

The water is allegedly put through some kind of machine called a “harmonizer” that somehow imprints “frequencies” on ordinary water. The “drinkable sunscreen”, they claim will, with just a few squirts on your tongue, protect you from UV radiation by “generating scalar waves above the skin” before it even touches you, and you can buy a tiny little bottle of the stuff for about $40.

Scalar waves are one of the darlings of the “alternative medicine” and “free energy” conspiracy theorists and the like. You can build your own special transformer to make “scalar waves”. It’s not hard to do. You can pump a huge amount of energy into such a transformer and accomplish, well, nothing, really except covert your electricity into heat. These “scalar” devices basically produce two electromagnetic fields that cancel each other out and produce heat and nothing else. But an enormous mythology has developed about them that includes Soviet Union super weapons, weather changing devices, mind control devices.

I won’t go into all of the nonsense that some in the “alternative medicine” world have conjured up, but it involves “supercoil DNA” and mobius coils inside of your DNA that generates “scalar” waves… If you want to delve into it, wear your hip boots because the bull shit gets really deep, really fast. There is supposedly a “scalar wave laser” out on the market that uses “quantum cold laser rejuvenation technology” that can be used to cure, well, everything, it seems. From what I’ve seen these things are little more than the same lasers used for reading CDs and DVDs in a hand held package, and if you want to buy one they’ll set you back about $3,500 for what is basically a bunch of parts out of some DVD players that cost about twenty bucks. It’s also supposed to cure goat polio.

But I’ve gotten off topic here, haven’t I? The Iowa AG is going after the company for various reasons, including the fact “Doctor” Johnson hasn’t been able to practice medicine since 2001 because his license was yanked, that there is absolutely no evidence this stuff does anything at all, that the “testimonials” were largely written by people who sell the stuff themselves or have some other financial interest in the company… Well, the list goes on and on.