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More on beef, food, farm life and economics.
98. June 10, 2014
My writing for this blog has become less frequent for the last couple of years because of the invasion of the shale drilling industry, which now occupies most of my free time. The oil and gas industry has been overpowering in the past, but the Marcellus has brought an invasion from a foreign culture with all the sensitivity and concern of an conquering army. Too much money, which makes it easy to lie, is the root of it all, and gullible politicians and businessmen, whose dreams are one dimensional and who misunderstand what it takes to make quality of life are the local princes who facilitate the invaders.
There is an article in the recent (July/August) Archaeology concerning the origins of domestic cattle. The event occurred 10,500 years ago in the Near East. It seems all our modern cattle descended from about 80 females. DNA extracted from the bones of 15 domestic cattle found at sites in Iran as far back as 8000 years ago to present day animals. Ruth Bollongino, a postdoctoral student at the University of Mainz in Germany , used the information with computer simulations to determine the size of the founding herd. It indicates that cattle were not widely domesticated over a large area, but rather the difficult task was performed by a few villages only.
97. June 27, 2014
Two items from Western Livestock Journal are telling an interesting story. The has been a continuing advertisement for some months for a manager for a livestock cow-calf project in Russia The requirements are high - the person must be Excel and Word proficient, and have had extensive experience and be willing to work as a member of a team which includes Russians, Australians Canadians and others. A second item is an article concerning the port of Galveston. The Russians are importing upwards of 50,000 live cattle a year. Other nations are now importing live cattle, too. It is a sort of renaissance for Galveston, since they went decades without shipping any cattle. Russia, a great importer of beef in years past plans to be 85% self-sufficient by 2020, the article says.
This seems to be reasonable to me. Russia has great steppes (plains) suited for grazing,and it will save transferring funds overseas (for them) importing beef. We hope the cows don't forget their overcoats, but probably they come from the northern great plains of the US, so are relatively acclimated.
96. January 2013
45% of the nation's corn crop went to ethanol to satisfy the Renewable Fuel Standard last year, according to the Western Livestock Journal. It has put cattle feeders in a bind, with corn now costing over $7, in contrast to the recent past when it was in the $3 -$4 range.
This is a really dumb move, because so much of our diet is based on corn and for other reasons to be mentioned below. The estimate of the National Council of Chain Restaurants is that this costs them $3.2 billion annually. Fast food restaurants absorb $2.5 billion of this.
The ethanol produced is lower in energy than petroleum products, attracts water and is hard on your engine (not stated by WLJ), and it is a fertilizer intensive crop. I read recently that peak phosphorus will occur about 2030, just 17 years away. Economic thinking is that a substitute will be found for most materials that become rare, but not so for a necessary element in plant growth. The complex reactions of biochemistry do not allow ready substitution. With the burgeoning world population there is a serious question about how they will be fed, not to mention their need for fiber and building materials.
A second major worry for cattle people is the drought. Beef production did not fall significantly last year because, although 1.2 million fewer cattle were "harvested" than the year before, weights were up. The number of breeding females is far down and the number of cattle on feed is down by 7-8%. Prices feeder cattle (going on feed) bring this up, but when converted to real money (allowing for recent fast inflation) even that picture is not good.
Much depends on the spring rains. The Mississippi river is so low barge traffic may have to be stopped this month, a huge disruption, because there is no way trains can substitute for barge shipment of bulk materials, even at ten times the cost. A tugboat hauling 15 barges carries as much freight as more than 200 rail cars or 1,000 trucks.
It is the fifth straight year of double digit culling of cattle herds and if the rains don't come this spring it will continue. In much of the West, rain normally comes in the spring, and far less follows in the summer months when cows are feeding their calves and need abundant food. According to the Huffington Post, ending the Midwest drought would take 12 feet of snow in time for a normal spring planting, according to scientists. And that wouldn't be a good thing.
95. I've been away
from this series for some time. Most of
my spare time has been directed to shale drilling.
Most of the things covered here and in my blog "Appalachian Farm" have to do with disorder, things that no one puts in our way, but are the result of biological competition with the systems we use to produce food. The systems we use to produce food are remarkably resilient - that is they withstand perturbations, insults, incremental competition, problems, very well. The farmer's effort is to manage these perturbations.
We now know for example, cattle were domesticated in one or a few close villages in the upper Mideast with a total of perhaps no more than 80 founding females. This was a fantastic achievement, an heroic accomplishment. Once this happened, though, think how the system has varied, with cattle in Europe starved through the winter is groups of one to five or six. Cattle with one set of disease, in India, suffering the heat and insects, the same in Africa, with a different set of diseases, cattle running almost wild again in the early Americas with a different set of diseases and insects, often in large groups with serious predator problems. All of this by people who had no knowledge base but what they could obtain by observation. Cattle raising is a pretty tough, resilient system. Much of the time it wasn't terribly efficient, but it survived some very difficult times and transitions.
What we are doing today in the developed world is tweaking it to maximum productivity with a relatively high knowledge base and very productive inputs, cheap energy and well developed manufacturing.
I will not belabor other kinds of food production, but the same is true of about any product you might think of. But the thing all farmers have and had in common is these perturbations are not moved by conscious intent. They are the result of the climate, of biological invasion of the cattle, from predators to insects to disease; also floods and draughts , all natural causes.
Mineral extraction has always been a threat. Pollution is the signature of mineral extraction all over the world and always has been. The Rio Tinto of SW Spain was polluted before the Romans got there in the 300's B. C. E. Rio Tinto is the name of a great, multinational corporation, too, that was formed to exploit the area in 1873 after being abandoned for centuries.
Pollution from mineral extraction is frequently intense, but is usually confined to a relatively small area and the waters that flow from the area. The most conspicuous exception is coal mining. Most people would be horrified by the damage done by deep mining in places like Appalachia, but most knowledgeable people do know what is going on in mountain top removal. These changes are on a geological scale - they affect whole rock formations over large areas. This is the result of intent.
The shale drilling initiative is an even larger threat. It. too, is moved by intent, and to get what it wants, it threatens to destroy the productive surface of the earth over thousands of square miles. Rocked drill pads everywhere, roads, and pipelines all over and destroyed aquifers here and there. It also threatens to ramp up global warming, because it threatens make it easy to increase carbon burning, not decrease it. Expert opinion now agrees global warming is a threat to the lives millions of people and the way of life of all who aren’t to able to find a refugium from the change.
Farmers and rural dwelling people in general can't do much to control this initiative. It springs from an abstract idea which is incomplete - it does not count the costs to the people affected, to their health, their property nor to the productivity of their lands. It categorically denies these considerations exist. It only counts gain.
This initiative obtains financial power from remote sources, it solicits capital world wide with the promise of large return, based at present on the abstract incomplete idea, but destroys its own market by over production. This financial power is spent liberally to obtain political power, to use the coercive apparatus of the state in its favor. It also spends liberally on advertising and other means of swaying public opinion, because there is vociferous, dedicated opposition from the injured.
The initiative has out produced its market and the price of gas is too low to justify production. This means resort to "hot spots" which contain liquids, more valuable and more carbon-rich as fuels than natural gas. With still more investment some of it can be transformed into valuable chemical byproducts. Still more investment is needed to build pipelines to ship the product to market.
The initiative is driven by profit at the investment end, rather than by profit at the production end. The idea sells that well.
This is like an invading army to rural people and those with environmental concerns. This similarity was first brought out by Range Resources communications director Matt Pitzarella, who spoke about “overcoming stakeholder concerns” and "insurgents" while talking about the fracking process at a Huston Conference. If you think about it, he was quite right. The foreign (to the concerned people) source of the initiative, the vast, impersonal investment, the number of people coming in, the high technology, the rigid hierarchy to control detail, the subduction of the local state political process to that hierarchy, like one continental plate sliding under another, the indifference at all levels to the welfare of the natives, the indifference to damage of other resources, the expectation of soon moving on to another place, are all quite military-like. All "get mine," to hell with the rest.
There is no sense of past experience with resource extraction, no sense of the future being affected by present action. There is only a present, with an intense need for immediate action, driven by the need to appear successful. Are the fees sufficient to pay for services provided by the state? To pay for such things as police, roads, emergency services? How will the wells get plugged? Can polluted aquifers be remediated? How will wildlife be affected? How will recreation be affected? Just how long will it take for forests to recover in the various disturbed areas? What will be the effect on agricultural production? How long will the boom really last? What about health effects? There is a lot of glossing over applied in the ideas sold to investors and the public.
Part of the reason the industry got into this position is that it is highly experimental in nature. George P,Mitchell labored with technology developed by the Department of Technology, a considerable part of it at Morgantown, West Virginia. Eventually he got it to work. After this, about a half a decade later, many companies jumped in and simply used the method without the usual scale up and research characteristic of developing a new method. The only concern was maximizing return. Environmental and health effects were not studied.
The experimental nature of shale drilling is pumping a variety of solutions underground in diverse strata, where the temperature is near the boiling point of water at the surface, and placing the solution under very high pressure, 10,000 pounds per square inch at the surface plus two-thirds as much again at depth. This changes the solubilities of compounds. Then bringing some of this fluid back to the surface where it is allowed to stand, evaporating volatile compounds, and eventually disposing of the residue by rather casual methods. By the time this is written in September 2012, much improvement over early methods of disposal has occurred. But no one analyses either solutions or airborne evaporates returning from diverse shales. Spills and animal contact occur, and human health claims abound.
Estimates of reserves in shale were obtained by the same methods used in the much freer flowing wells drilled in the past in sandstone and limestone. Prodigious early daily production allowed fantastic estimates of ultimate total production. However, it was discovered that production falls off rapidly and half or more of the total production of shale wells may occur in the first two years.
Public perception is largely based on releases from the industry and hard information is hard to get. High perception is part of the sales pitch objective to investors, legislators and to the public.
My own preoccupation with shale drilling was started by perception of the damage to be done by completion of the project. Then went through the deceptions practiced by the industry with regard to personal losses, to the subversion of government to serve industry needs. Finally the fragile financial status of the many
individual companies became apparent.
Very early I realized this was not a passive evil which would pass in time with no more than a decrease in efficiency, but an existential problem which demanded action on the part of the aware and fit. That's why I chose to become proactive.
2011 Two recent articles of interest to
those concerned with farming, rural life and science.
An article in Science, the journal for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, relates the discovery of increased man-made nitrogen deposition in recent years. The ratio of nitrogen 15 to nitrogen 14, which is stable when deposited, leaves a track in time which can be analyzed. This is referred to as "delta N." There is a more negative value for nitrogen from manufacturing sources than nitrogen that occurs in nature, so the mixture with biologically derived nitrogen can be tracked in time from datable sediments in lakes, tree growth rings and the like.
The ratio "delta N" is easily determined. It begins to decrease about 1895 and continues to this day. It is the result of two great changes in the last century: the use of internal combustion engines, which results from nitrogen in the petroleum derived fuel, and the manufacture of nitrogen fertilizer. The work being described uses datable sediments in lakes in the Rocky Mountains of the United States, and from the ice in remote locations around the Arctic, so as to avoid local effects.
Excess nitrogen fertilization is a problem in many intense farming areas, I read elsewhere. It is the cause of the "dead spots" in the ocean such as the one off the mouth of the Mississippi. Even Chinese farmers tend to apply as much nitrogen as will increase yield, without concern for runoff.
A graph of "delta N" is remarkably parallel to a graph of industrial nitrogen production and human-caused carbon dioxide production. Burning petroleum is a source of both carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
Science, Vol.334, 16 December 2011.
The other article is further from my usual interests, but is very interesting to those following the economic situation in the United States.
The usual explanation (perhaps I should say the most accepted explanation, or the leading explanation) for what people long called the "Great Depression" of the thirties was that banks did not provide "liquidity," enough loans to allow business to proceed in the usual way. There was a lot of money around, but it was not circulating.
Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel prize winning economist and former Chief Economist of the World Bank, says the real cause of the "Great Depression" was a dislocation of workers in agriculture which began after the first World War. By the 1930's millions had been thrown out of work by such innovations as better seeds, fertilizer, mechanization and better farming methods (read conservation). Many farm laborers lost their jobs and the income of active farmers dropped by one-third to two-thirds due to over production. Assets, such as homes and farms declined in value, and they couldn't borrow. Neither could farmers repay their loans with the reduced income. More than one-fifth of the population worked on farms.
Worse, they couldn't buy things, so industries that supplied them declined and laid off employees. In 1931 the unemployment was 16 percent. By 1932 unemployment was 23 percent. The stock market fell in 1929 and the banking crisis occurred in 1933.
My father had a dairy, delivered to customers, and let men "work off" their milk bills. My Aunt had a teaching position a mile and a half from the farm, so they got through. So, growing up I heard a lot about it.
Money just piled up with the well-placed. Very much like our present situation. Siglitz finds our present situation very similar. The problem is due to a dislocation in industry. Once again efficiency gains have displaced many people. Sending more menial kinds of work overseas has decreased the demand for that kind of work, but more training- intensive kinds of work are not filled. We are moving toward a more service-intensive economy, he says.
Today only 2 percent are involved in farming. That isn't going to change much. Today's problem is unemployed manufacturing workers - about one-sixth of the population a few years ago.
93. A thumbnail sketch of how livestock were marketed.
From ancient days animals were driven over the roads to near the point they would be consumed. The roads were usually very bad, especially in winter. Animals were self-transporting, and thus could be produced further from towns than grain or vegetables. Fat was considered very desirable in meat and, although it would have been fattest in the fall, animals could be butchered any time. In the absence of refrigeration, animals supplied a larger portion of the diet in winter or the dry season than when plant food was available.
This condition prevailed through the time of the American colonies and the early United States. Through the Civil War Era cattle, pigs, sheep and even turkeys were driven from thinly settled Appalachia to markets in Baltimore and Philadelphia. The author's greatgrandfather drove cattle from Hackers Creek in Upshur County to Baltimore.
In the 1880's the railroad came in and the movement of cattle went over to the railroads. This was the time of the opening of the Far West and the great cattle drives brought herds from remote areas to the railroad to be delivered to the new Western cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha and Kansas City. Stockyards for selling cattle grew up around the railroad centers, and soon slaughter plants were located in the same areas.
In the East the railroads picked up cattle in rural places and delivered them to Baltimore, Philadelphia Boston and New York City. In the 1920's Lost Creek in Harrison County was the largest shipping point on the B&O Railroad between St. Louis and Baltimore. Photographs from the time show the hills were almost bare of trees, every acre was used for pasture and hay. Scales were available on many farms because middle men bought the cattle on the farms to move them to market.
In the middle 1930's trucks became available. Cattlemen built cattle chutes and shipped by truck to avoid the middle men. Markets grew up at points within trucking distance of the farms and ranches which produced livestock. Cattle were sold there to the firms that would slaughter them at distant points, or to individuals who would further finish them before market.
For several decades these markets were still located on the railroads, but after World War II another profound change occurred. Production of grain in the West increased to the point pictures appeared in the press of huge piles of harvested grain piled in the open. The demand for fancy, well finished meat was strong, so feed yards appeared to take advantage of cheap grain. The demand grew for "feeder calves," 350 to 600 pounds to supply these feed yards. The calves when finished went to "packing plants" whose location was determined more by economics than by the mode of transportation. "Grass finished" cattle continued to be available but considerably decreased in importance.
As time passed transportation again changed. The livestock trailer pulled by a pickup began to replace cattle trucks to move animals from the farm and ranch to the local market. The availability of trailer trucks adapted for cattle hauling replaced the railroad for moving cattle on intermediate and long hauls.
In the second decade of the Twentieth Century we are again on the cusp of change. The demand for liquid fuel is so great ethanol made from corn is much in demand. About half of the United States corn crop is being used this year for ethanol, some of it for export. Corn is very expensive because of great demand. There is increased demand in many parts of the world for good beef and other meat produced in the United States. The reputation of grass fed beef is again rising, it is now featured in many fine restaurants. It has health and fuel savings advantages. Local producer to consumer trade is increasing. It appears that another change is underway.
92. From the current Progressive Farmer: 70% of the farmland in the U. S. will change hands in the next 15 years, 640 million acres. We now have 2.2 million farms. The average age of farmers was 50 in 1978, but is now 57. The number of farmers over 65 increased 18% and those less than 45 decreased 21% in the five years from 2002 to 2007.
The accumulation of cash in the U. S. and Europe is driving race to buy farmland in developing countries. An estimate in the same source is that Brazil will receive $80 to $140 billion dollars. In January Adecofirma, a farming venture backed by George Soros raised $423 million in a public stock offering. It already owns 320,000 acres in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. It is in sugar cane. Agrifirma , a London-based company owns 100,000 acres in Bahia state and has an option to buy 66,000 additional acres. SLC Agricola went public in 2007 and now owns and leases 750,000 acres in six Brazilian states. It received a World Bank loan at 2.4%when other Brazilian farmers were paying double digit interest rates. Their officers say Brazilian land bought for $20 an acre in 1980 now brings $2000 an acres.
Although not mentioned in the short article, the same thing is going on in other parts of the world, Africa in particular, and with other sources of ready cash, including the oil-rich Middle East states. Native farmers are being driven off the land. My own comment is that we can look to a new rash of revolutions down the road 20 to 40 years from now, if not sooner.
91. [This year] In the U.S. alone, nearly 1,000 tornadoes have ripped across the heartland, killing more than 500 people and inflicting $9 billion in damage. The Midwest suffered the wettest April in 116 years, forcing the Mississippi to flood thousands of square miles, even as drought-plagued Texas suffered the driest month in a century. Worldwide, the litany of weather’s extremes has reached biblical proportions. The 2010 heat wave in Russia killed an estimated 15,000 people. Floods in Australia and Pakistan killed 2,000 and left large swaths of each country under water. A months-long drought in China has devastated millions of acres of farmland. And the temperature keeps rising: 2010 was the hottest year on earth since weather records began.
Oxfam, the international relief group, projected recently that food prices would more than double by 2030 from today’s high levels, with climate change responsible for perhaps half the increase.
... experts say that in coming decades, farmers need to withstand whatever climate shocks come their way while roughly doubling the amount of food they produce to meet rising demand. And they need to do it while reducing the considerable environmental damage caused by the business of agriculture.
90. An interesting item I came across is the Factory Farm Map at
Which points out the density of the principal kinds of livestock in the U. S. for the years 1997, 2002 and 2007, the most recent animal census years. Some would call it anti-animal industry, but I don't think so. Concentrating wealth seems to be an implicit objective of our economic system now, and specific laws to advancing that goal are in effect.
Only a tiny fraction of farmers get agricultural subsidies, and they go out in huge amounts to the favored few. This means that environmental problems are increased and food travels far further than it should. The average item on your table traveled 1600 miles to get there.
Thus far, the U.S. Geological Survey has identified 6,500 foreign organisms that pose a threat to habitats and wildlife in the United States. Invasives cost the U.S. economy an estimated $132 billion each year, often outpace rare and endangered species in competition for resources and can even harm .
The answer: eat 'em.
89. The world lost as much wheat last year  as was produced in France the previous year, and as much corn as was produced in Mexico. That is, a 4.9% drop for wheat and a 3.1 % drop for corn. Commercially important shellfish are also being affected by the gyrations of the weather.
Corn, Wheat, rice and soybeans account for about 75% of the calories we humans consume. Since 1980 there hasn't been any significant trend in rainfall, worldwide, But temperature has risen with many countries experiencing a rise above one standard deviation. (This is a statistical measure which might be roughly described as the average distance from the numerical average, taken year after year for a long time.) Rice productivity at higher altitude increased enough to offset decreased productivity nearer to sea level. This was not the case for wheat and corn.
The principal cause, however, has been the increased droughts in places like Russia, and the floods in Pakistan and parts of the United States. Changes in weather patterns is one of the major predictions of global warming. Countries like Russia and Canada may benefit from temperature increase, but massive relocation of production would be required.
The shellfish are affected by the increased carbon dioxide in the ocean. It is calculated that one-third of the industrial carbon dioxide humans have put into the atmosphere from use of fossil fuel has dissolved in the ocean, reducing the pH by 0.1 unit. This reduces the availability of carbonate ions, needed to build shells these animals live in. It has slowed down the development time and also made them more vulnerable to predators. Clams and scallops are the species of economic importance, but corral reefs around the world are also in serious decline.
88. My son Kurt sent me a description of Medieval farming in the northern part of Europe. What a hard life! Limited technology and low yields, all hand labor, huge payments to the Church and the Lord of the Manor.
In the winter they had to live on fresh-killed meat, what could be made from grain, such as porridge, a soup made of grain, and bread, along with some root crops that could be buried and cabbage. (Potatoes came from the New World after Columbus and caused a revolution. Previously, cabbage was the principle vegetable crop for winter use in North Europe.)
There were no paved streets, so everyone stayed inside from the fall rains until it dried out in the spring. Glass was too rare and expensive for windows for most folks, so windows were covered with doors. Immense amounts of wood had to be cut, with axes, of course, to get a family through the winter. The nuclear family was almost unknown, extended families lived together and the great estates might have almost a small city living together.
No clean water, just a common well, no sewage facilities, just cesspools. No real medicine, no lights at night but torches and the fire places. No way to fight fires, so whole cities burned down at times.
No law but the pleasure of the Lord of the Manor. There were frequent wars and widespread disease. Also famine if the weather went wrong or if the community was in the path of a war. There was no real transportation for anything as bulky as food, armies ate what they could steal along the path of marches. They were, in fact, limited as to how long the could stay in one place by local food reserves.
No learning occurred above the skill level, except religion. If anyone wanted to gain higher learning the had to go South to Moslem lands, where universities existed to teach law, medicine, elementary math, philosophy, music, and where one could find the culture of the Romans and India, filtered through Islam. There was a more advanced agriculture and architecture in the South, too. Christians had a bath three times in their life: at birth, when they married, and after they died, before going to the grave.
European life was short, difficult, uncertain. But out of it grew the principal institutions of the modern world.
87. When Bell Telephone Laboratories announced the invention of the transistor in 1948, the press release boasted that “more than a hundred of them can easily be held in the palm of the hand.” Today, you can hold more than 100 billion transistors in your hand. What’s more, those transistors cost less than a dollar per billion, making them the cheapest and most abundant manufactured commodity in human history. Semiconductor fabrication lines churn out far more transistors than the world’s farmers grow grains of wheat or rice.
From the American Scientist, March-April 2011
86. I haven't written anything so far this winter of 1010-1011. Our old house, built in 1873 or so had grown too large for two people in their 70's. The little house next door, built by our daughter Char and her husband James, in 1998, had grown too small for them and four children. The obvious thing to do was to trade. That happened in the fall, and we have been moving and fixing things since. The outside work has almost been stopped because of the severe weather, except for an hour or two of pick up work done when I feed the cows. We had timber cut summer before last and there is still a lot of picking up to do.
I am alarmed about the development of the Marcellus shale. The developers have done a good job of selling the benefits and it has turned into a "Gold Rush" atmosphere. So much so that over-production has occurred and the price of natural gas has fallen. Not for long, I'd guess, because there is a great demand to convert electrical generation from coal to gas and great demand for gas to be liquefied to be shipped overseas. The state oil company of Norway, for example, owns one-third of the largest company drilling in the Marcellus, and China another one-fifth. Half a dozen foreign nations are involved.
Everywhere the methods used in obtaining Marcellus gas are used there is a whole constellation of problems. Contaminated surface water, contaminated ground water, broken roads, endless pipeline right-of-ways, pump stations and plants to remove natural gas liquids are major problems. Workers come from out-of-state without their families ands raise cane when off work. Communities are burdened with the need for more police and health services, paid for by the public. Noise and air pollution are frequent complaints.
The prospect of a drilling pad for each square mile of the territory occupied by the Marcellus is terrifying. Our home county has 382 square miles and can expect 300 or more wells before the drilling is done. The change in the surface is geological in extent, and the whole thing will be over in 40 years, half a lifetime. The whole surface will be industrialized. I suppose that is why the exemption from the act making industrialists responsible for cleaning up their mess was written into the Energy bill of 2005.
85. According to those who have studied the matter, some 1,000,000,000 (one billion) of the Earth's population go hungry from time to time, and some of these all the time. The total population is now somewhere around 6,000,000,000. In the United States, the richest nation, at least 50 million of the 300,000,000 (three hundred million) population are ill fed, including 17 million children, as of February 2010.
84. A little reflection shows that our present way of living is dependent on availability of certain materials. Energy is the most talked about, but what else is there that we need that cannot be substituted with other materials? Being a farmer my thoughts long ago came to the vital plant nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Being educated as a chemist, I knew that nitrogen in the quantities needed for fertilizer for the world population can only be derived from natural gas, barring some new chemistry and energy source. Natural gas is not as abundant as coal, but is more abundant than oil. As long as the world population is large (And who wants to attempt to control it?) huge quantities of nitrogen fertilizer will be needed. Should we burn natural gas to make electricity, given the effect on future food supply?
Abundant potash for potassium seems to be around. I got wind of the fact that phosphorus supplies are limited years ago, but couldn’t put my finger on reserves versus use. It is a relatively rare element in the earth’s crust, but is widely dispersed. Modern industry, in fact any foreseeable industrial world, needs concentrated ores to process and make available its product. Phosphorus “ore,” rock phosphate, is available in only a few small spots around the world, some of them bitterly contested.
There is a small item in the May 15, 2009 issue of Science, a letter to the editor, by Michael Lardelli of the University of Adelaide, Australia, concerning the availability of coal, which also mentions and points to research on rock phosphate.
The article on rock phosphate is located at
(This article is easy to read, but has excellent references.)
The article is titled Peak Phosphorus and is written by Patrick Déry and Bart Anderson. It really deserves a look, because I cannot adequately summarize it here. For those lacking time to go to the article, or disinclined to labor through technical material, let me jump to the conclusions. Déry and Anderson were able to accurately predict the peak production of the rock phosphate at Nauru using the methods of M. King Hubbert, who is famous for correctly predicting the peak of oil production in the United States. According to Déry and Anderson, the peak production for the United States, the largest rock phosphate producer, was passed in 1988 and for the world in 1989. This means the likely rapid increase in price of phosphorus fertilizer.
The solution for agriculture is recycling nutrients, that is human and animal waste, as has been done for 40 centuries in the orient. Unfortunately, human and animal waste are not a good source of phosphorus. The phosphorus that goes into our bodies goes into our bones, and is buried with it. Some animal bones go to bone meal, but a lot of it is lost by the way we use meat. So, phosphorus is likely to come into shortfall first.
The principal problem with using human waste (if it is properly treated) is that heavy metals accumulate in what we produce, not from our bodies, but from our plumbing and industrial waste dumped in sewers. It can be used for a while, but repeated use causes the metals to build up in the soil with deleterious effect. Copper from copper plumbing and zinc from galvanized iron and solder, as well as lead, are three of the problems. Chromium from chrome plating shops is very serious. Plumbing using some of the modern plastics and elimination of industrial waste may eventually make treated sewage solids more acceptable for fertilizer.
83. The January 2010 issue of Archeology lists among its “Top 10 Discoveries of 2009” the earliest domesticated horses. The location is Botai, Kazakhstan, in Central Asia. The location is in the midst of endless plains which have bitter winters. The horses there are closer to domesticated horses than wild ones, with stronger lower legs, showing evidence of load bearing, and their teeth show signs of wear by bits. The time is 5500 years ago, established by dating teeth, bones and pottery. The pottery also showed traces of horse milk. Wild mares could not have been milked.
Another of the top ten is the world’s first zoo in the ancient Egyptian capitol of Hierakonpolis, also dated to around 5500 years ago. The zoo had over 112 animals including many that we would find in a zoo now. Probably it was not for public display, but to have available animals of religious significance, the expedition director said.
82. According to one source, the United States put enough grain into transportation fuel last year (2009) to feed 330 million people at the world standard rate . It has increased the world price of grain. 330 million is about the population of the United States.
81. One of the most important things for agriculture that happened the past year not mentioned in the usual farm papers was the arrival of several farm animal genome studies. The one nearest to most of us is the genome of the cow, published in the journal Science for the 24th of April, 2009.
Cattle, Bos tauros (European type cattle) and Bos taurus indicus (India derived breeds), are not closely related to humans in their genetics, compared to many other species. They are of interest because they are specialized for converting low-quality forage into energy dense fat, muscle and milk. Bos tauros were domesticated 8,000 to 10,000 years ago in the Near East. There are presently about 800 breeds. This variability allows study of genetic and useful traits, including milk production, economic gain and tenderness. The most detailed sequencing was done on a Limousine, and comparison made to other breeds.
Cattle have 26,835 genes, including about 22,000 genes responsible for coding proteins, somewhat more genes than humans. It was observed they have many more genes for lactation and immunity than humans. The greater number of immunity genes may be the result of the huge number of microorganism species in the rumen (which present greater opportunities for infection) or due to the herd life habit of cattle. Another important difference is that in humans passive immunity is gained by placental transfer, but in cattle it occurs by ingestion of immunoglobin IgG in colostrum. Core metabolism is very similar among all mammals
A second article in the same issue studied genetic variation in breeds. It conclude that variation was at least a great in cattle as in humans, in spite of constraints imposed by domestication and breed development. European and Indian type cattle diverged 250,000 years ago and the Indian type have somewhat greater genetic diversity. European breeds are now so standardized they might have been breed from 200 to 300 cattle 200 years ago. This is believed to be due to breed selection pressures and subsequent selection for milk or beef. Loss of diversity should be of concern to animal breeders, the authors suggest. Statistical evidence shows some of the highest selection pressure was in the genes affecting double muscling, milk yield and composition, and intra-muscular fat content.
The genome of the horse, Equus caballus, was published in November. The horse was tremendously important most of recorded history for transportation, draft animals and for warfare from before the time of Alexander the Great to World War II. Equus caballus is now primarily relegated to recreation, but the species of interest to science and medicine because so many of the diseases of man also occur in horses.
Horse DNA is more similar to human than Cattle DNA, and we share many communicable diseases and at least 90 hereditary diseases with them. The most detailed sequencing was done on a Thoroughbred with comparisons to most of the world’s other horse breeds, including American quarter horse, Andalusian, Arabian, Belgian draft horse, Hanoverian, Hakkaido, Icelandic horse, Norwegian fjord horse and Standard bred. The horse genome is smaller than the cattle and human genome, but larger than the dog genome. One of the remarkable characteristics of the horse genome is how few chromosomal rearrangements there are between it and the human genome.
A second article shows that horses were domesticated in and around Kazakhstan some 5500 years ago. Colors developed rapidly after domestication as the result of selective breeding by ancient farmers.
Other articles have been published on sheep and swine.
Why so much sequencing of genomes? The cost of sequencing is going down very fast and the machines and mathematical methods needed to interpret the billions of bases involved are now coming on line. It is still very expensive, however. The horse genome cost about $15 million. The information derived from sequencing is well worth it, however. The information is useful for improvement of the animals economic worth and for advancements in medicine. The over six billion people on the earth depend on animals for a significant part of their food, particularly for high quality protein. Identifying the genetic basis of heredity disease, and the mechanism for resisting infectious disease, is a major step in correcting these ills in humans.
80. The roof blew of our machine shed early in the summer, so we had some timber cut to provide funds for a new machine shed. I have been very busy cleaning up tree tops left in the pasture and later completing the shell of our Cover-All building. This significant statement I want to include, but have several subjects I want to get to later when there is time.
Nearly 40% of the food supply in the United States goes to waste, according to a new study, and the problem has been getting worse. "The numbers are pretty shocking," says Kevin Hall, a quantitative physiologist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) in Bethesda, Maryland.
It results from restaurants providing large portions (so every one will be satisfied) then discarding the remains less hearty eaters don't want, from affluent people not eating leftovers at home, waste in preparation and so on. At the same time we have hungry people in the U. S.
Accoring to the USDA, some 50 million Americans, 14.6%, had "reduced food intake" which disrupted their eating patterns at some time during the year. 50 million people were too poor to be able to have a good diet all year, many of them with small children. Reminds you of the England of Dickens, doesn't it. But it's not written about in the media.
79. There is an editorial in the August 10, 2009 Western Livestock Journal concerning the achievement of the Cow Herd Appraisal Performance System (CHAPS) in North Dakota. The function of this program is to improve herd performance. It has been in action since 1963.
The data set kept by producers is very extensive, beyond what we can discuss here. Suffice it to say the principal goal is to improve “pounds weaned per cow exposed to the bull.” This, times the price received, is the income received by the producer from his calves.
Some of the statistics from the article: the average producer in the program exposed 218 cows, resulting in a 93.5 percent pregnancy rate and a 90.9 percent weaning rate. The calves were weaned at an average of 189 days weighing 565 pounds. For every cow exposed the CHAPS producers weaned 505 pounds of calf.
The detailed data allow the producer to modify the genetics and management of his herd to gain further improvement.
78. I came across an old Forbes article I had saved from November 2003 that will have some interest to my readers. It is entitled “This Land Is My Land.” The subject is the ten largest landowners in the United States.
The authors begin by quoting the line Scarlett O’Hare’s father uses in Gone With the Wind: “Land is the only thing that matters, because it is the only thing that lasts.” I was fascinated with the novel in my high school days and remember it from then. I’ve come across it many times since, including several just since the present hard times began.
The nation’s ten largest landowners (six years ago) owned 10.6 million acres, one of every 217 acres in the country. The number one landowner is Ted Turner, 1,800,000 acres in 10 states, with income from buffalo, farm, minerals, timber and $5M from hunting and fishing fees.
2. Irving family, St. John, New Brunswick. 1,600,000 acres in Maine and 2,000,000 in Canada. Timber.
3. Archie (Red) Emerson, Redding CA. 1,500,000 in CA. Timber.
4. Singleton family, Santa Fe, NM and Beverly Hills, Ca. 1,200,000 acres in CA and NM. Cattle.
5. Pingree heirs, Bangor Mane. 960,000 acres, Maine. Timber.
6. King family heirs, Kingsville, TX. 900,000 acres in FL and TX. Cattle, farm horses, tourism.
7. Reed family, Seattle WA. 770,000 acres in CA, Or and WA. Timber.
8. Allyn Ford, Roseburg, OR. 750,000 acres in CA, OR and WA. Timber.
9. Lykes family, Tampa, FL. 640,000 acres in FL and TX. Citrus.
10. Dolph Brisco Jr., Uvalde, TX. 560,000 in TX. Cattle, farm and minerals.
The original article can be found at
It contains details on how the land was acquired, and valuation of the land.
In closing, this quote from Ted Turner, "I'm doing things as natural as I can and trying to make some money at the same time," he says. "I have the same credo with my land as I had with my business: He who profits most serves the best."
A reoccurring theme in this blog is that land ownership tends to result from investment from sources of income other than cattle farming. From this group the King family may have held onto theirs with cattle income, but it was acquired in a very raw condition by money earned by the boating enterprise of the original King.
77. An article in the Guardian claims China has more internet users now, 337 million, than the United States. In fact, that is more than the POPULATION of the US, which is given as 307.2 million as of July, 2009 in the CIA Handbook. Another article I found later identifies the source of information to be the China Internet Network Information Center.
China’s population is over 1.3 billion, so internet users are 25.5 percent. The US “penetration” of internet users is more than 70 percent, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
76. P. S. A few weeks after writing article 74 I came across a great, very detailed article in Scientific American on line.
It is written at a level that any high school graduate would be able to understand.
75. One of the wrenching possibilities for production agriculture is that it will be held accountable for its share of greenhouse gases. (Much of the dollar value of agriculture is involved in collection, processing, distribution and research.) According to a recent Progressive Farmer article, agriculture accounts for 15% of the carbon dioxide produced, one third of the methane, and 70% of the nitrous oxide. Never herd of nitrous oxide? It comes, in part, from the use of fertilizer and certain soil management techniques, and is 296 times as effective a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. Methane is over 20 times as effective as carbon dioxide. These three gases are the principal sources of warming.
According to the Energy Information Administration, 84% of the Greenhouse Gas Emission is carbon dioxide, 8.6% is due to methane and 5.4% is due to nitrous oxide. It appears that the mitigation possibilities in agriculture are greatest for large operations.
However, soils have the potential to remove 10 to 15% of the annual production of greenhouse gases. Forest lands also remove large quantities of greenhouse gases. The worst case would be to have production agriculture held accountable for its formation of these gases, but no consideration given for what is removed. According to the Progressive Farmer article the Senate version of the 2008 Lieberman-Warner Bill would have raised corn production costs $60 per acre by 2020, rice by $110 and cotton by $119.
74. A little reflection shows that our present way of living is dependant on availability of certain materials. Energy is the most talked about, but what else is there that we need that cannot be substituted with other materials? Being a farmer my thoughts long ago came to the vital plant nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Being educated as a chemist, I knew that nitrogen in the quantities needed for fertilizer for the world population can only be derived from natural gas. Natural gas is not as abundant as coal, but is more abundant than oil. As long as the world population is large (And who wants to attempt to control it?) huge quantities of nitrogen fertilizer will be needed. Should we burn natural gas to make electricity, given the effect on future food supply?
Abundant potash for potassium seems to be around. I got wind of the fact that phosphorus supplies are limited years ago, but couldn’t put my finger on reserves versus use. It is a relatively rare element in the earth’s crust, but is widely dispersed. Modern industry, in fact any foreseeable industrial world, needs concentrated ores to process and make available its product. Phosphorus “ore,” rock phosphate, is available in only a few small spots around the world, some of them bitterly contested.
There is a small item in the May 15, 2009 issue of Science, a letter to the editor, by Michael Lardelli of the University of Adelaide, Australia, concerning the availability of coal, which also mentions and points to research on rock phosphate.
The article on rock phosphate is located at
The article is titled Peak phosphorus and is written by Patrick Déry and Bart Anderson. It really deserves a look, because I cannot adequately summarize it here. For those lacking time to go to the article, or disinclined to labor through technical material, let me jump to the conclusions. Déry and Anderson were able to accurately predict the peak production of the rock phosphate at Nauru using the methods of M. King Hubbert, who is famous for correctly predicting the peak of oil production in the United States. According to Déry and Anderson, the peak production for the United States, the largest rock phosphate producer, was passed in 1988 and for the world in 1989.
This means the likely rapid increase in price of phosphorus fertilizer. The solution for agriculture is recycling nutrients, that is, human and animal waste, as has been done for 40 centuries in the orient.
73. From the Midwest AGNet, Posted: Feb 23, 2009
"In case you missed it, USDA has just forecast a devastating 18.1-percent decline in net farm income for 2009 when compared to 2008. This catastrophic reduction will impact America's farm and ranch families at time when the economy as a whole is in serious trouble.
"A separate recent USDA forecast shows net farm income per farm household from on-farm sources at only $4,144 (or about $345/month) and that 95 percent of the average farm household's income comes from off-farm sources. Farm and ranching families, just like so many other Americans, may face the most challenging financial times since the 1930s."
You might want to read
72. We took a brief time out to visit my sister in Lexington, Virginia recently. (April 16, 2009) There were a lot of restored log houses along the way. In one place we saw telephone lines like the ones we had on Jesse Run when we first moved here in 1962. They had uninsulated wires strung on glass insulators, supported by cross arms. There is still a lot of rail fence around Monterey, Virginia.
The cattle appeared to be out on pasture everywhere, but some were receiving supplementary hay. It never fails to impress me how many cattle there are. Of course, there are a lot of people, too, and they require a lot of food. We eat something like 67 pounds of beef per person per year in the U. S.
71. Item from The Independent newspaper, United Kingdom. “After 46 years of shoveling farm subsidies to its richer, more polluting farmers, France yesterday took a historic step towards a greener and fairer European agriculture policy . Paris announced that from next year it would confiscate 20 percent of the billions of Euros of European taxpayers money paid to its ranch-like cereals farms and divert the cash to hill farmers, grazing land, shepherds and organic agriculture.” The ten largest French farms now receive an average of $865,000 (US money), the smallest farms receive the equivalent of $865.
Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union began to encourage this sort of shift four years ago, and France is the last nation in the EU to do so. Some French cereal farms receive as much as a million dollars (U. S.) annual subsidy. They will loose 20% of the EU cash.
The money will be used, above all, to help struggling beef, sheep and goat farmers and to encourage the slowly gathering movement towards bio or organic agriculture in France. The principal beneficiaries will be in the Alps and in the central, western and southern parts of the country. France already has the fifth-largest acreage of non-chemical or organic farms in the EU, but only two percent of French farmland and vineyards fall in this category.
Know of any other country that is behind France in rewarding small, environmentally sound farms with subsidies, rather than huge petroleum and large machine operated farms?
70. Occasionally we like to try something different in the food line, so we picked up some “Crab Dip” at the grocery store the other day. I used some in a sandwich for lunch and my wife ate some with crackers. As we were about to throw the container away, I noticed the huge list of ingredients on the label. Get this:
Ingredients: Imitation crab (fish protein | pollock and/or pacific whiting), water, potato starch, sugar, egg white, wheat starch, soybean oil, sorbitol, contains 2% or less of the following: king crab meat, salt, wheat flour, modified tapioca starch, artificial and natural crab flavor, rice wine, wheat gluten, cellulose, carrageenan, hydrolyzed corn protein, sodium tripolyphosphate, tetrasodiumpyrophosphate, autolized yeast extract, natural flavor, color added), dressing (soybean oil, egg yokes, water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, whey powder, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, distilled vinegar, sodium casienate, nonfat milk, modified corn and wheat starch, onion, mustard flour, salt, sugar, lactic and citric acid, mono- & diglycerides, soy lecithin, molasses, xanthan and guar gum, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate [preservatives], spices, dehydrated garlic, caramel color, sodium citrate, dipotassium phosphate, propylene glycol algenate, locust bean gum, calcium disodium EDTA, anchovies, extractives of spices, paprika, sodium carbonate, silicon dioxide, carrageenan, natural and artificial flavor, tamerind), Neufchatel cheese (pasteurized milk and cream, skim milk, cheese culture, stabilizers, [carob bean and/or xanthan and/or guar gums]).
Contains: Pollock, pacific whiting, anchovies, crab, wheat, egg milk soy.
Well, isn’t that interesting? Sounds like the contents of a wastebasket doesn’t it? – maybe a food chemists wastebasket? It’s as near making something out of nothing as making a hot dog. If you don’t know about hot dogs, have someone tell you about them that has worked in a factory where they are made.
You wonder about some of the things. Is the silicon dioxide just sand that didn’t get washed out of the fish residue? Why starch from so many different sources: potato, wheat, tapioca, corn? What does rice wine contribute? What the heck is propylene glycol algenate? Does it come from Alge? Neufchatel cheese in imitation seafood? And three different phosphates! Calcium disodium EDTA would be used to take up harmful heavy metals. Too much regularly would be harmful. There are at the least 18 manufactured chemicals, not agricultural origin substances. The gums (6 mentioned) would reduce the wateriness of the mixture, I suppose.
But there is 2% or less of king crab meat present! Good idea for "Crab" Dip.
It didn’t taste bad at all. Nevertheless, we decided Crab Dip is one of the things you can try once, but best not do again. As Charlie Brown, the character in the comic strip would say,“Yuugh!”
69. One aspect of our beef business most of us do not think about is the value of byproducts. They contribute a significant part of the value of each animal we sell. One of the casualties of the present economic situation is the loss of value of byproducts. In the Feburary 2, 2009 Western Livestock Journal an article by Steve Kay discusses what has happened in the last few months.
Top selling steer hides sold for $68 at the end of August, but are now bringing only $37. This is due to decline in demand for leather. Since there are few tanneries left in the United States, the U. S. livestock producer has to compete with Brazil (which has more hides to sell than the U. S.), and others, selling in the world market. Leather is used not only for shoes, but in the automobile and furniture businesses and has many small volume uses.
The value of by all byproducts, which include such things as bone meal, pharmaceuticals, industrial oils, hair (for felts, plaster binder, upholstery) and more, contributed $12.12 per hundredweight this summer, and is now in the neighborhood of $6.94. This difference reduces the value of a 1300 pound steer by $41.86.
68. From the Los Angeles Times an Associated Press article dated February 12, 2009
Israel is relaxing its blockade ( at the request of the Dutch government) of the Gaza Strip to let through 25,000 carnations headed to Europe for Valentine's Day. But the head of the Gaza flower growers' association said that was "nothing" compared to the 40 million flowers a year that came out of the territory before the blockade.
The flowers will be Gaza's first exports in a year. Israel has blockaded Gaza since Hamas militants seized control of the territory in June 2007….
"We are afraid of losing our reputation in Europe and are afraid to plan ahead."
67. Today, Feburary 5, 2009, I was driving along I-79 almost back home, when it occurred to me that I had forgotten one old saying concerning guns. Several of these are covered in Chapter 51, Number 13.
I failed to include “loaded for bear” which meant thoroughly determined
to do something, even, over prepared for something. Today if you are
going to shoot large game, you use a large diameter bullet. In the
days before cartridges you couldn’t use a large diameter bullet, but
you had the option of using more than one bullet in one loading, and
using more powder than usual for large animals. In effect, you loaded
for the game intended.
The main effect of a gunshot is not due to the round hole which allows blood to flow out but to the destructive force of the energy released. E = mv2, where E is energy, m is mass (or weight) and v is velocity. Velocity is much more important in destroying organs and disrupting blood vessels, so the evolution of military rifles has been toward smaller, higher speed, bullets. The pioneers used mostly .50 caliber rifles. By World War I and II it was down to .30 caliber, and now they are using .270 caliber rifles in warfare.
The higher velocity allows a flatter trajectory, too, but the energy delivered is as great. One of the most dangerous weapons is only .22 caliber, but fires at an exceedingly high rate, allowing successive bullets to enter the same hole. It can even shoot through heavy metal by successive bullets heating and softening the target material.
66. One bit of information about Israel’s attack on Gaza that might be of interest to farmers concerns
agriculture. Gaza was starved for years before the attack, everything
that came into Gaza, absolutely everything, came through Israel, where
Israel businessmen were able to take a cut – food, medicine, fuel,
parts and most of the water and electricity. Gaza had about 44,000
acres of farmable land, which was farmed intensively, mostly by hand.
Gaza has a population of 1.4 million, packed into 139 square miles, one
of the most densely populated spots on earth. The Israeli
army managed to destroy between 35% and 60% of the agriculture
industry. Although international and local officials are still
gathering figures, they believe that scores, perhaps hundreds, of wells
and water sources have been damaged and several hundred greenhouses
have been leveled, as well as severe damage to the farmable land.
As well as the physical damage done by Israeli bulldozers, bombing and shelling, land has been contaminated by munitions, including white phosphorous, burst sewerage pipes, animal carcasses and even asbestos used in roofing. In many places, the damage is extreme. In Jabal al-Rayas, once a thriving farming community, every building has been knocked down, and even the cattle killed and left to lie rotting in the fields. Decrease in vegetable production is a major worry. (From an article carried in The Guardian.)
65. There is an article in the December 12 issue of the journal
Science, Published by the American Association for the Advancement of
Science, concerning food safety. Since I once taught Analytical
Chemistry, the substance of the article particularly appealed to me.
People are demanding “perfect safety” for their food by testing for contaminants. There is no simple “test” for safety. The problem may lie at the source, where the foodstuff comes into existence, somewhere along the chain of manufacture or at the point of preparation. Or even from packaging somewhere along the line. Another difficulty is that there must be a test for each possible contaminant. Some tests, particularly for living organisms, such as Salmonella require several days to complete, because they have to allow for growth of the microorganism. All are expensive. Since there are many points of origination, chains of manufacture and points of preparation, testing costs can become large.
64. December 2008. The credit crisis and general economic situation
world wide is affecting the beef business. Domestic beef sales are
holding up well, considering, but exports have declined. Beef prices
are “inelastic,” meaning a small decline in demand produces a large
drop in price. Compared to some other commodities, beef must be
consumed not long after production. Like other commodities, beef has a
futures market, and when the economy looks bad the futures price for it
goes down. This went down precipitously late in the fall.
Acccording to Steve Kay, writing in the December 1 Western Livestock Journal, cattle feeders lost $173 a head in October, and averaged loosing $113 a head for the past year, the largest loss on record. Feed lots have placed nearly half a million less cattle in the August to October quarter than last year. It hasn’t been so good for feeder calf producers, either, particularly later in the season. We receive less in terms of real money (corrected for inflation) than we did in 1962, when I began farming.
63. I took about 500 pounds of farm and home trash to the landfill this morning, and I was reminded of Chapter 14, “What happened to the Dairy Business.”
I had to put on a hard hat, and a little day glow green vest to unload
the truck. A few months ago when I had taken a similar load, I drove
to the site where it was to be thrown off. The man operating the
compactor (sort of a bulldozer with steel wheels) gestured for me to
dump at a certain spot, but I couldn’t understand his directions, so I
got out and walked over to his machine. He got very excited. “Do you
want me to get fired,” he yelled. “You have to stay within twelve feet
of your truck.”
The industry is being eaten alive by government regulators. I am sufficiently familiar with coal stripping to know it is, too. Fortunately for the people in these industries, the demand for their product is so great they can’t be put out of business, like small Wet Virginia farmers were.
I’m sure it wasn’t the intent of the legislators to lay such an inefficient, odious burden on any industry. They tried for a high level of safety. It is the bloated government agencies that are maximizing the regulations beyond what is efficient. The “chairborn” rules writers make a visit to a few work sites, and write rules for months afterwards, a set that applies to all worksites, no matter how large or small, no matter where located, and no matter what the background of the workers or the type of equipment used. The workers, no matter how experienced, have no voice. The inspectors are always stretching their authority, “on the make” to climb the government career ladder.
62. Sales of agricultural land in third world nations is booming, according to the Novemeber 22 Guardian. Rich nations that have capitol to invest are buying land in poor third world nations that need the money, particularly in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. Sales run to hundreds of thousands of hectares, and at least one lease is for a million hectares. (The hectare, the metric system measure of land, equals 2.47 acres.) The products produced include corn, palm oil, rice, soybeans and other staples. It is expected that small farmers will be driven out and farming will be adapted to mechanization.
The Guardian quotes Carl Atkin, a consultant at Bidwells Agribusiness, a Cambridge firm helping to arrange some of the big international land deals, who says, "These deals can be purely commercial ventures on one level, but sitting behind it is often a food security imperative backed by a government." Several Middle Eastern governments and Asian governments and corporations are involved.
Terms of the contracts are not released, and there are worries about the small farmers now in these areas. If they are turned into workers on what was formerly their own land, labor management difficulties may offset the advantages of scale gained by owning the large tracts. Not to mention movements for revolution.
61. An article in the November 19 2008 Guardian states that America has “One in every 32 adults is currently on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole. There are more prisoners than farmers . There are more prisoners than there are Lutherans. There are more prisoners than there are Native Americans. The United States currently has a higher percentage of our population in prison than any other nation.”
60. In the aside “ Beef Production per Cow ” we mention an article which says 180 million 1955 cows would be needed to provide the beef our 100 million cows produced at the time the article was written. Now, toward the end of 2008, ethanol production is using a tremendous amount of what was once cattle feed grade corn. Pasture feeding of cattle and efficiency has assumed greater importance. The September 29 Western Livestock Journal has an article by a North Dakota State University Extension Specialist claiming a program in that state has achieved a weaning weight of over five hundred pounds for each cow in the program, including cows which did not breed and those that lost their calves . One herd reached 560 pounds per calf in 189 days. The end of improvement is not in sight!
59. One thing that didn’t get into the book was a fact given me by Jim Stutler, who helped so much with the chapter on FFA . His family is descended from the settlers, too. He told me that at one time flat boats carried grain from the West Milford region to Pittsburgh. These were wide, shallow boats, which were floated down the West Fork to Fairmont, which flows into the Mongahela river and down to Pittsburgh. Most of the year the river would have been difficult to navigate, so the trips must have taken place in the Spring on high water. These trips must have been heroic adventures, considering the troubles the boatmen could have gotten into.
58. An article in The Telegraph, a newspaper published in London and available on the net
reports that human TB has been found which invalidates an old theory of how humans first got the disease.
Previously it was thought that humans caught the disease from bovine cattle by drinking the milk of infected animals. Recently, TB infected remains were found in a New Stone Age village, now underwater in the sea off Haifa, Israel. They were dated at 9000 years old, before cattle were domesticated. DNA of the TB showed it was definitely human TB, not bovine TB.
Apparently widespread TB began to occur when humans began to live in villages. Bovine TB is now thought to have evolved separately.
57. According to the film Crude Impact , 17% of the energy used in the United States is used in the production, transportation and preparation of food. The average distance food on the U. S. table moves is 1200 miles. Think of this in the context of petroleum cost and its coming scarcity.
56. Two stories about coyotes worth repeating. I have two groups of hunters, one from Pennsylvania and one from the neighborhood here at Jane Lew. I talked to one of the Pennsylvania hunters a few weeks ago, getting ready for hunting season. He told me one of the Pennsylvania group had seen a whole truckload of coyotes in a good size Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources truck not far from where they live. The only reasonable assumption for that many in a DNR truck was that the PDNR intended to turn them loose.
One of my West Virginia hunters said a buddy of his stopped to help a unmarked, stalled panel truck just South of Weston. The driver was friendly, and in the course of helping him get started, they went around to the back to get a tool. When the truck was opened the hunter’s buddy saw it was full of cages of coyotes. He casually asked the man about them. His story was that Nationwide Insurance had brought them up from Texas, and intended to release them in West Virginia. The reason was to reduce the number of automobile crashes caused by deer, the panel truck driver said.
I had an accident in the Wheeling area about 20 years ago and learned that Nationwide was keeping statistics on the number of auto accidents caused by deer, so the story sounded reasonable to me.
I am all for a very strict law about introducing non-native species. I dread the thought of bringing in elk – they don’t know what a fence is, and that would be the end of the cattle business. I heard on the news the other night that so many people have bought baby pythons for pets and then turned them out in the wild when they get too big that pythons are getting established from Florida to the Carolinas. Another that bothers me locally is a certain type of ornamental grass that grows over six feet tall, you see it in several places now in the wild in this Central West Virginia.
55. This is the pit on United Coals shown in the book in Chapter 32 illustration 8, after reclamation, in September 2008.
The land is backfilled and reshaped to approximate the original curvature of the hill. What we see is a “nurse crop” of rye, which is ripe, and showing through beneath it is a stand of clover and grass coming on. Looking straight down, at this point the ground can be seen through the grass (like the arid West) but it has a good start and will completely hide the surface in a couple of years (like the rest of the humid East).
Several of the hilltops in the background are leased to Anker Energy Corporaion.
54. Brazil became the world’s largest beef exporter in 2004, mostly grass-fed beef, although they are developing grain production and feedyards to compete with U. S. higher quality beef. Australia is second. Brazil’s main market is Russia, the Middle East and the EU, along with Hong Kong and the Philippines. Their herd is 170 million head, expected to increase by 13 milllion or more in ten years, with the result that exports will increase 32%.
The U. S. is expected to increase exports of high quality beef by 80% in ten years, mostly to South Korea and Japan. Imports of lower quality beef will increase also, but slightly.
The U. S. Reaction against Russia because of the short Georgia war will likely cause Russia to withdraw from the recent trade agreement to allow imports of high-quality U. S. beef. Brazil can easily absorb the demand.
53. An article in the New York Times of August 25, 2008 relates a sad story of the Florida Citrus Business . They have been invaded by a foreign insect which carries a bacterium capable of wiping out the entire industry in ten years or so.
The insect is the Asian citrus psyllid, and scientific name, Diaphorina citri . The bacterium is Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, and the name given to the disease is “yellow shoot disease” or “greening.” The disease prevents the flow of nutrients to shoots, causing the fruits remain green, and to be lopsided and biter.
The disease has been known in China for a little more than a century, and it was recognized in Florida in 2005. Already it has destroyed 8,000 acres of the Indian River citrus region. The USDA projects that virtually all the state’s citrus will be infected in 7 to 12 years.
The industry has diverted its advertising revenue to research. The effort is underway to use genetic modification to confer bacterial resistance. Although GM will be controversial, it may be GM citrus or not at all. About 100 plants have had inserted material as of the writing of the Times article.
In China some resistant trees have been observed, which may provide genetic material that will revive the Florida industry. In Vietnam there has been success with interplanting citrus and guava. The guava gives off compounds that repel the psyllids. This is being tried in Florida, too. In South Africa a method has been developed to grow trees close together, manage them intensively for heavy crops at an early age, so the effort will pay for itself before the trees die. This is also being tried.
Disease is a hazard in an Ag business. One of many.
52. This one is just for fun. There is an article in the Los Angeles Times of August 26, 2008 that says some researchers in the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany have been studying cows in the satellite pictures put on the web by Google Earth. They have looked at 8,510 cattle in 308 herds, and they find that two of every three are oriented in a north-south direction.
It is known cows prefer to face uphill, to face into a strong breeze to minimize heat loss, and to orient themselves broadside to the suns rays when it is cold and still, but this is a new phenomenon. Many animals have a magnetic sense – bats, whales, fish and birds, and some rodents. The sense of direction in these animals is based on small particles of magnetite (a crystalline iron oxide) in a special organ in their brains. Such an organ is not known in larger vertebrates.
The article states: “What the benefit could be for cows, however, remains a mystery. It might help them find the way home, experts said, or perhaps it is simply a vestigial sense that is no longer used for any purpose.
“ Furthermore, the authors noted, no one has examined cows or deer to determine whether their brains contain magnetic particles.”
Our thought is: not of use in animal husbandry, but one of those interesting facts that sometimes come up in science.
51. The Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology is developing a robotic suit to assist in the labor of tending small plots . Japan has little high quality land suitable for agriculture, most farming is done on small plots of soil derived from volcanic rock. Also Japan has the oldest farmers in the world, average age over 70.
“ The article cited below says: ….. the vast majority of Japanese farming still requires extensive manual labor. Planting, tending, and harvesting fruit and vegetables can be back breaking work…..
“ The new power assist robot suit was specifically designed to multiply the productivity of workers using it, while minimizing the strain on their waist, hips, and arms. The suit includes 8 motors on its rigid ABS resin (a hard plastic) frame structure and weighs 18 kg (just under 40 pounds), yet carries most of its own weight and places a minimum load on the operator.
“ The team faced several design obstacles including miniaturing the suit to make it easy to wear and operate in the field for long periods; the development of custom sensors; and movement, torque, and rate control of the motors and linkages to match the operator. The latter was of the utmost importance since if the suit didn't operate with fluid, natural movement then the operator(s) would always feel that they were fighting against it.”
50. Milk products use began 2,200 years earlier than experts previously believed, according to a brief report in the National Geographic News (on line) for August 11, 2008. Scientists have found the residue of milk fats from cheese, butter and yogurt in unglazed ceramics dating from 8,500 years ago. They believe liquid milk was not used at these sites.
The location was Northwest Turkey, which has “higher rainfall and greener grazing” better suited to production of cattle in herds. Previously, scientists had the idea that sheep and goats were the first producers of milk, from evidence known to be 2000 years after this time. As you go toward the Middle East from Northwest Turkey the climate is drier and there is less evidence of dairy.
Richard Evershed, professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom, was the lead investigator. He says the appearance of pottery and the use of cheese, butter and yogurt go hand in hand.
49. Second from same source. In England scientists studying Stonehenge, the 5000 year old monument consisting of 45 ton upright stones arranged in a circle with capstones on some of them, have learned people came there from great distances, and brought cattle from home to feed themselves. They learned this by studying the ratio of Strontium-87 to Strontium-86 in teeth of the cattle, which remain in the ground. The Strontium ratio varies from place to place in England and Scotland, and cattle incorporate a small but measurable amount of the element in their teeth. Imagine driving cattle for your food to a religious camp one or twice a year!
48. A couple of articles in the June 27, 2008 Science (a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) are just too good to pass up. The first is entitled “Get on line, little dogies.”
An expert in robotics named Daniela Rus, visited an Australian ranch which used helicopters to herd 24,000 cows across an area the size of Vermont. One of the biggest problems was fences, so she invented a collar to keep the cattle where the cowboys wanted them. It is a GPS headset that makes noises when the animal gets out of the area where it is assigned. Sounds like roaring lions and sounds like crashing trucks were used, but barking dog sounds worked the best. If this is ignored, the cow gets a shock.
Rus and fellow researcher Dean Anderson are now working in New Mexico on a system that will move cows from pasture back to the barn, too. The collars can also be used to record movements and other behaviors. They plan to add webcams and heart rate monitors to gauge animal stress levels.
47. From the WV Department of Agriculture publication The Market Bulletin, for March 2008:
Agriculture is America’s #1 export .
About 17% of raw U. S. agriculture products are exported yearly.
46. The reasonably astute viewer of the economic situation realizes that the increase in price of fuel, food and supplies is not the result of an increase in demand alone. In substantial part it is due to the decline in value of the dollar . The decline is due to various causes beyond our reach to explain here, but generally it is due to poor management, both on the part of the government and individuals. Suffice it to say that to buy $100 dollars worth of consumer goods in 2000 requires somewhat over $124 today, in 2008.
One of the many results of the rapid decline of the dollar is that speculators from all over the world are pouring their dollars into commodities like oil and oil products, agricultural commodities, minerals and such. These commodities are not around long, but, unlike the dollars used to buy them, do not decline in value, but rise. This forces up the value of commodities, and the finished products made from them.
It also makes it impossible for the institutions holding the physical commodities (grain elevators, for example) to accurately predict the prices which the commodities will bring when time comes to use them, information of great value to buyers who will actually use them in production. To “price grains for future delivery” to cattle feeders, for example. In the case of oil, at the time it was bringing $90 a barrel, according to some experts, $20 to $30 was a “speculative premium” above what the oil was worth based on supply and its eventual use. This “speculative premium” is extracted from the ultimate consumer for the benefit of the speculator.
45. Recently I read that every calorie of food eaten in he United States requires 10 calories of energy in the form of fossil fuel . We all understand the importance of transportation, first of the food itself, also transportation of materials going into it (like fertilizer and pesticides), and the transportation of workers to the field and to the processing plant, then to the store that sells it, and for the consumer to pick it up at the store.
It is a little less visble that natural gas is the primary input for nitrogen fertilizer; that a vast amount of energy is required to extract rock phosphate and convert it to phosphate fertilizer by use of sulfuric acid; and to extract potash for potassium fertilizer.
Farmers are feeling a bind of high cost of inputs this spring (2008) as gasoline approaches $4.00 a gallon and fertilizer is triple what it was a few years ago, but it is likely to get much worse. And so is the price of food!
44. A few days after writing the last entry, I went by the County Agent’s office for soil analysis kits. I had to wait for a few minutes, so looked at the literature and picked up the pamphlet written by Homeland Security titled Bioscurity for the Farm . That’s one area where little has changed in 50 years. It could have been written almost exactly as it is in 1954, when I first worked (as a enlisted man, at a very low level) in Biological Warfare at the Chemical Corps School at Fort McClellan, Alabama. The advice consists of good general disease management and common sense. No tricks to it, no big cost, no high tech.
43. A recent issue of Science announced that rinderpest , a formerly disastrous disease of cattle, has nearly been wiped off the earth. The cause is a Morbillivirus, so the rinderpest virus is closely related to the measles and canine distemper viruses. Like them, it has a single strand of RNA, rather than the usual double strand. Death rates during outbreaks are usually extremely high, approaching 100%. The disease is mainly spread by direct contact and by drinking contaminated water, although it can also be transmitted by air. There is no useful treatment.
Like smallpox, rinderpast is now largely confined to a few vials saved so if there is an outbreak again somewhere in the word, scientists will have samples to make vaccines with. However, there are a few pockets not declared rinderpest-free in the South of Eastern Africa.
Initial symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, and nasal and eye discharges. Then sores appear in the mouth, the lining of the nose, and the genital tract. Acute diarrhea, preceded by constipation, is a common feature as well. Most animals die 6-12 days after the onset of these clinical signs. Its elimination was brought about by vaccination and elimination of affected animals. Dr. Walter Plowright was awarded the World Food Prize in 1999, for developing a vaccine against rinderpest. The Global rinderpest Eradication Program, run by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, has been active since 1993, and set its initial goals for eradicating the disease by 2004. It is now believed the goal will be achieved by 2010. In much of its former area, vaccination has been discontinued.
Rinderpest never got to the United States, but it was familiar in much of the rest of the world, causing famine in areas that depended heavily on beef or sheep for food, or cattle for draft animals. My experience with Biological Warfare over fifty years ago causes me to recognize that it would be an excellent agricultural attack agent against bovines and related animals. Susceptibility is high in all populations, it is highly contagious, death is rapid. Vaccine is not used now in most areas, and is no longer produced in quantity. Working against its use, however, the virus is fragile, being particularly susceptible to heat, desiccation and sunlight.
42. Friday I went to Jane Lew to pick up a sick grandchild at school. At the truck stop I met a truck with 74 wheels coming in off the Interstate. The tractor had steering wheels in front, like all trucks with three sets of duals. This bridged over to an articulated carriage with three sets of duals on the front half and three sets of duals on the back half. This carriage had a platform above it, with hydraulic controls to move the articulated sections. This was bridged to a platform in the middle to carry the weight. (The truck had no load when I saw it.) This platform was bridged back to another articulated carriage, but this one had a man on the platform working the rear hydraulic steering controls. Behind the carriage was another set of three duals on a beam which would allow it to move up and down as the road required. It was not clear, but I suspect it was rigged with hydraulics so as to maintain the proper weight on the final three wheels.
41. The story in Chapters 13 and 14 continues to work itself out. As you will remember the dairy farmers in West Virginia were crowded out. By now the industry has collapsed all over the country to relatively few operations, mostly in the far Northern States and California. I saw two 4000 head dairies in California when my wife and I visited her relatives there in 1961. They were owned by a Portuguese immigrant who bought desert land and later had it converted to splendid farm land by irrigation. My wife and I visited Hawaii in 2002. By that time the good land developers who ran the state had driven out the last dairy, which our guide pointed out as we drive by. Milk in 2002 in Hawaii was over $6.00, more than three times the cost of it at home, because it had to be imported from the main land. The way they drove them out there was with a law which allowed someone to move next door to a dairy, complain about the smell, and the dairy, which was there first , had to move or go out of business.
Now I read the story is about to reach the final reductio ad absurdum of “private enterprise.” The billionaire financier George Soros is about to start half a dozen 5000 cow daries! Granted, a 5000 cow dairy might make a whimsical hobby for one of the richest men on earth. (After all, Louis the XVIth and his Queen, Marie Antoninette, had their dairy, Hameau , on the grounds of Versailles. They would retire there to enjoy the simple life on occasion, just before the French revolution.) But half a dozen dairies owned by a financier means there is money in it. Oops! Up goes the milk price again! With private enterprise like this, who needs socialism?
40. In the first month of 2008 what sailors call a sea change occurred in the cattle industry. This is best illustrated by the change in tone from the January 7, 2008, Western Livestock Journal to the February 4 issue. On the 7 th , Pete Crow’s article is entitled “A Sea of Meat.” In it he reports the production of 26.4 billion pounds of beef, 21.9 billion pounds of pork and 36.4 billion pounds of chicken. Pete says, “It was really quite a year for the cattle business; everything was rolling along great.”
The prices were good, he says. That is true if you look at dollars. But if you consider the inflation, not so good. It takes $122.58 today to buy what $100 would buy in 2000, just eight years ago. The dollar has lost some 22% of its value, nearly one-forth in eight years. Pete talks about 1993, when the supply of beef was low. Live cattle then traded for $76.80. It doesn’t sound like much, but it translates into $112.19 in 2008 dollars. The price for live cattle isn’t mentioned in Pete’s column, but at Meat Buyer’s News it is given as $91 to $92 for that week. So cattle were selling for 82% of the 1993 real dollar price in 2008.
Now to the sea change. In the February 4 issue of the Western Livestock Journal, in Kay’s Korner, written by Steve Kay, is a discussion of packing plants that are closing or reducing the size of the daily kill. Tyson closed it’s plant at Emporia, Kansas. Tyson, he says, figures a reduction of capacity of 10,000 to 14,000 is in order in the entire industry. Tyson claimed to be loosing $36 per head in the October-December quarter, or $85 million total. Excess capacity in the feeding and processing sectors were built when total cattle and calf numbers exceeded 130 million head, dwarfing today's 96.7 million head
Drought, the shift of corn production to production of ethanol, and the general increase in cost of almost all inputs to feeder calf production has discouraged increase in the size of the nation’s cow herd. According to the USDA, there were 338,000 fewer beef cows in the U.S. at the end of 2007 than at the end of 2006, and herd liquidation has occurred in 10 of the last 12 years. A year earlier, the USDA reported a drop of 103,000 cows during 2006.
Cattle numbers in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Australia are flat to declining. It appears that the increased demand for grain world wide has resulted in change from grain to pasture production. In spite of this, beef is getting less expensive in terms of real dollars.
39. The 8 th of February, 2008, Science (Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) has a fascinating series of articles on urbanization, the movement of rural populations to cities all over the world. I have noted above that the world urban population has become larger than the world rural population sometime in 2007. In 2010, Tokyo will be by far the world’s largest city, with over 33 million residents. Mexico City will be second with 20 million, New York-Newark will be fifth with 18 million. There will be hundreds of cities with over a million in China alone and also in India, which will have the world’s third largest city, Mumbai, formerly called Bombay.
The urbanization trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. By 2030 experts expect the world to be 70% urban, in other words 70% of the worlds population will live in cities. The number of children per family decreases when people move to a city, so growth rates are expected to slow considerably by that time.
Cities are concentrated points of use of raw materials, energy and food. They also generate huge amounts of waste, heat and sewage. I have read elsewhere that the world could not sustain its present 6.6 billion population without fertilizer. It is now extensively used wherever farming is done. How will the earth carry the additional 1.6 billion projected for 2030? Particularly when cities and other development continue to reduce the 13.3% of the world’s surface which is suitable for agricultural production?
Perhaps the most interesting article of the series was the one on food production. Well designed greenhouses use as little as 10% of the water used by conventional methods and 5% of the area. The article talks about “skyscraper farms” and “rooftop farming” and use of food plants in glass front skyscrapers. One researcher claims that a 30 story one block skyscraper could raise enough food for 50,000 people. For comparison the entire population of Lewis County (WV) is about 17,000 and of Harrison County (WV) about 70,000. The upper floors would grow hydropontic crops, the lower floors would house chickens and fish that consume the plant waste from above. There is now a floating greenhouse on the Hudson River that grows fruits and vegetables with solar power and recycled water.
The rooftops of New York could grow enough vegetables to feed the city, where the residents eat about 220 pounds of vegetables a year. One of the most unusual ideas is to grow food plants between layers of glass on the outside of skyscrapers. Many of them have two layers of glass now. The second layer helps with control of the heat. In summer they have to have shades. The plants between the glass layers could serve as shades and could benefit from the building’s heat in spring and fall. If kept on conveyor belts the plants could be tended from small areas and would not interrupt offices for plant care. Vegetables are most adaptable to this type of agriculture. Grain, orchard crops and cattle are less adaptable.
The ultimate goal is to recycle as much as possible. Fertilizer has a one way trip through the human digestive system and into a sewer and sewage treatment plant. Presently sewage is not used for fertilizer because there is a very serious problem with the quality of sewage. It contains metals from pipes and industrial disposal, pharmaceuticals, detergents and so forth. Eventually, a means must be developed to safely reuse the nutrients in sewage, just as metals and plastics must be recycled.
38. Our four-wheeler (see Chapter 52 )was stolen in the night of January 11th . The thief came up our driveway, under the pole light and coasted it down the hill some 40 or 50 yards to the road. There was never any trace of it. We talked to contacts through the neighborhood, reported it to the police, informed all dealers in the area (the thief would have to get a new ignition switch, since they are not keyed like) and our neighbor, Steve Cronin, who works at Middletown Tractor, put it on the John Deere stolen registry.
It has been an education for me. Four wheelers are one of the most popular items for theft. There is great demand for ATV’s, and many are stolen to buy drugs. One dealer I talked to in Elkins had had three stolen at once. At the present time, no title, no license (and largely no tax) arrangement in West Virginia encourages theft. So many are used for recreation and their adherents are so avid that working ATV’s are hardly thought of.
Our insurance company, Farm Family, came through with 60% of the purchase price on February 4, after four years and five months, a little over 1700 running hours. We located a similar used one in Southern Maryland, which we brought home the 17 th of Febuary, 2008.
The Buck model was advertised as a “work utility vehicle,” but a problem with the front brakes showed up, and it was withdrawn from the market just a month after we bought ours. The front brake hose could be pulled loose from the a-frame where it was attached, with consequent loss of the brake fluid, resulting in failure of the brakes. It was never put back on the market. I judge brake hoses would not be a problem for us, since a visible indicator is on the handlebars four inches from one’s right hand. Our new John Deere Buck does not have the low space between the handle bars and the seat, so one is obliged to kick one’s muddy foot up over the machine, like getting on a horse. Wife Esther no longer plans to use it.
The 15 th and 16 th of February Paul and James, their sons Dan and Tristan, both ten, and I visited the National Farm Machine Show in Louisville, Kentucky. What a wonder it is! Tractors and implements, specialized equipment like the high sprayers used in row crops (which are driven by hydraulic motors in the wheels), seeds, tools, computer systems for farm use, insurance, you-name-it. Probably forty percent of the crowd was women, more Mennonites than I have ever seen in one place in my life, and a lot of Orientals in suits. That, I suppose, is because of the large amount of farm equipment now manufactured in Asia.
There was one tractor in the 400+ HP class that couldn’t be hauled over the road without disassembly. Large machines are an American specialty, the only tractors now made in the U. S. They use duals front and rear and are capable only of pulling equipment and pumping hydraulic fluid. All other functions are in the trailing equipment. Another notable item was a pinkish lavender manure spreader with a capacity of six or eight bushels, suitable for pulling behind a garden tractor. Designed for ladies unfortunate enough to have to “muck out” after their horses, I suppose. One item I picked up literature for was a chain saw operated by tractor hydraulics. It was on a piece of square tubing that could be attached to one’s loader to cut high branches over roads and around the edge of a field. Another great American show is in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I am told.
The world’s largest farm machine show is Agritechnica, held biannually in Hanover, Germany. Europe uses more farm machinery than the United States, is a center of innovation and exports to much of the rest of the world. One of the noteworthy tractors on display there was the Pope’s tractor. It is a large white Fiat bearing the papal coat of arms. “The Pope relies on the tractor to tow and place the platform for his regular Wednesday general audiences in St. Peter’s square in Rome,” according to the Farm Journal.
37. Jack Lanham was over today to discuss the possibilities of stripping some coal on land that I have walked over, but do not own. Jack was the pilot of the plane that flew me down from Kent, Ohio, to Jesse Run when R. N. White stripped the farm here (Chapter 29, Coal II) . He is still mining coal at the age of 76, operating a back hoe larger than the Popa Joe (Illustration 32-1) on the same job where I took that picture in 2003. It is a Caterpillar rated at 16 cubic yards, whereas the Papa Joe is 9 yards. Jack has been in the coal business since he was 16. To start he lied about his age to get a job driving a coal truck. It was the usual size truck then, but carried less than half the coal his present backhoe takes out in one bite.
Then the coal was shipped on trains far to the North, but now it is all hauled in trucks to the nearest electrical generating plant, Haywood Station. Some of the power goes as far as Columbus, Ohio. Environmental regulations have been an increasing burden for the entire stripping era. The government wants energy and pulls for it with one hand, Jack says, but wants environmental protection, which pushes away the coal, with the other hand. It is a very difficult business. The tax the miner now pays for each ton sold is more than a ton of coal was worth much of the time Jack was mining.
Ralph and Bud Sutton recently sold their company, United Coals, Inc., to Jeff Goldizen, but the operation hasn’t changed much. Jack has a short drive to work. His cab is very convenient and comfortable, about 24 feet above ground. The “hoe” has a 1200 horse power engine that requires 600 gallon of diesel fuel for each work day. Jack says his “competition” for moving dirt is four D-11 dozers.
36. Yesterday I went to the 2008 West Virginia Cattlemen’s Association Annual Convention and Beef Cattle Short Course . One of the interesting talks was by Dr. Jason Evans, a WVU Agricultural Economics professor. His talk was an analysis of the future prospects of the beef industry, which is primarily the cow-calf sector in West Virginia. It is a very uncertain time, he said, so predictions could not be projected very far into the future (in fact, were limited to next year only) nor could they be relied on to any great degree. Drought was one factor, and the governmental thrust into biofuels was another.
Huge acreage is required to produce even a slight fraction of the nation’s energy needs. Some increased acreage would come from the Conservation Reserve, but generally the increased production would come from increasingly marginal lands. In any case, forage will become increasingly important in beef production, and breeding for more efficient gains will take increased importance.
Some new (to me) humor by West Virginia farmers : (1) Where I live in Pendleton County it is so near vertical you have to farm both sides to make a living. (2) Where I farm in Clay County it is so steep, if you want a level spot to check your oil, you have to make it.
35. At the end of Chapter 50 in the Aside, I confided in the reader my interest in looking at the hazardous chemical signs on trucks on the Interstate . The reader will remember I compare it with bird watching. When I see a number I don’t recognize, I look it up in my little book.
Today I got a real “prize,” 1068, phosgene. It is January 14, 2008 and I was driving south on 79, between Weston and the Rest Area north of Burnsville.
Phosgene was used as a poison gas at one time, during World War I, part of what it’s military advocates then called “A higher form of killing.” Most phosgene is used in making polyurethane and polycarbonate plastics, and most of it is generated in the plant where it can be incorporated in the plastics without being transported.
Like most poison gases, phosgene is an easily evaporated liquid, boiling at 45 degrees Fahrenheit at one atmosphere pressure. The vapor is three and a half times the density of air, so it lays low to the ground, an important characteristic or war gasses. Its effect is to react with skin and mucus membranes of the nose, lungs, mouth, eyes and genitals to cause terrible irritation. The victim drowns in the fluid that forms in the lungs reacting to it.
This was a good day to move the stuff, since the temperature was below its boiling point. There would be less pressure in the containers, and if they break it wouldn’t evaporate as fast as on a warm day. One can imagine the truck going over into one of those valleys along I-79, containers breaking and the yellow liquid running down the hillside, slowly evaporating, filling the valley with vapor.
You wonder what, if anything, they tell the driver. May be, “If you can get loose from the wreckage, run like hell up hill.”
34. The House of Representatives recently passed energy bill that calls for 36 billion gallons of ethanol to be produced annually by 2022. Only 15 billion gallons are to come from corn, the only method now in use. The other 21 billion are to come from sources to be developed. Cattle industry spokesman are complaining about the effect on the cattle industry, and leaders from the less advanced countries for see an increase in the price of food to poor people in those countries.
Scientists and the scientifically inclined have known from the earliest mention of the ethanol that it has a severe disadvantage. The distillation of alcohol from the fermented solution is very energy intensive. For every four gallons of alcohol (ethanol) produced, three gallons of alcohol must be supplied to get the alcohol distilled out of solution. The process is only 25% efficient in terms of energy.
Even with the 51 cents per gallon subsidy on fuel ethanol many of the new companies that started up to produce it have delayed plans to build or have even stopped construction, based on profitability. A little over a year ago it brought $4.50 a gallon, but in December 2007, when this is being written, the price is $1.50. On the other hand corn has risen rapidly and now stands at $4.20 a bushel. Two years ago it was $1.86. The yield of alcohol is about 2.8 gallons per bushel.
So much ground, some 10 million acres, had been taken out of soybeans for the ethanol market, that soybeans rose to $12.48 a bushel, due in part to strong export demand and in part to biodiesel. Now it looks like many of them may go back into corn. Soybeans produce, on the average, 42 bushels per acre and corn 153 bushels, although much higher yields of both are common.
The cattle market is being affected profoundly. Packers are in a “blood bath,” according to the Western Livestock Journal, and are slowing production. It is expected that feeder calves will bring less compared to yearling cattle. Winter pasture is very valuable and mostly tied up.
Each bushel of corn (56 pounds) converted to ethanol produces 18 pounds of dried distillers grain, which can be fed to cattle, but it has problems, too. Some can be fed wet by operators near the source, but it spoils rapidly. For more distant users, even more energy is required to dry it to 10% moisture, so it can be shipped, further reducing the energy efficiency of ethanol. It has high boron content, so must be fed with restraint, not the entire ration of the animals.
There is strong competition between corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice for the top crop land, because they all very much in demand now that the world is becoming so urbanized. Industry provides dollars for imports. The tropical rainforest is being cleared for crops and all over the world crops are being pushed out to poorer agricultural soils. We may have reached the point were we can see that only the steep, the dry and the excessively wet land will be used for cattle, as foreseen in the Aside titled “The Cattle Business” at the end of Chapter 13.
33. More on land ownership . In 1991 Just about 82% of the farmland sold in Iowa went to existing farmers, about 12% went to investors and about 5% went to new farmers. By 2007 that changed to 60% to existing farmers, 35% to investors, and 3% to new farmers. The average value of farmland in the same time went from a little below $2000 to about $4000, according to Iowa State University extension. See 16. above.
32. The West Virginia Farm Bureau magazine has an article about the most recent report of the most recent American Farm Bureau Marketbasket Survey. Food prices raised 2% in the third quarter of 2007 alone, 7% in the previous year. Milk, 14% for the quarter, and milk products lead the way, due to foreign demand. (See last paragraph, item 15. I have read other venture capitalists are going into dairy since.) Half of the items checked held steady or declined. Animal products showed the greatest decline: pork, 7%, sirloin tip, 3% and ground chuck and eggs down 1% for the quarter.
Of all the ag products produced in WV only apples rose, by 35% at the stores checked. The farm share of the food dollar has dropped over time. In the 70’s the farmer received about one-third of the consumer dollar, and now it is 22%.
31. December 4, 2007. Today the world class British newspaper, The Guardian, had in article in its American edition about the world demand for grain . World stocks of grain carried over from one year to another have been declining for five years. (I have read elsewhere that the “Green Revolution,” the increase in production per acre of grain has been over for 20 years.) The cause is the rapid rise in demand for grain for biofuels. Also, the improved economic situation in the orient, where increased income for individuals translates into demand for more and better food. Economic growth in China has been 11. 5% in the last nine months alone
There have been protests about food price increase in Italy, India and Mexico. The export of rice has declined in India, Vietnam and Ukraine, making the impact particularly severe in rice-eating areas, but corn and other foods are also affected. Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Britain has called on Europe to reverse its initiative for biofuels.
30. December 2, 2007. Yesterday the Japanese student mentioned in the Aside at the end of Chapter 53, A war story, 50 years later , visited us. He plans to go to medical school and visited another Salem years professor, so we suspect he was ginning up his references for the application. We didn’t have time to go out on the farm, but had Locust Hill Farm hamburgers for lunch. Today I am reflecting on the many foreign students I have talked to about the farm, and the many I have shown the farm. Naturally, most of the people I have met as a teacher were urban types, including the several foreigners among them.
I have met and befriended Vietnamese, Iranian Jews (there is a large number of Jews living in Iran even today), an Arab or two, Indians and Chinese galore, a very nice newly married Polish couple, two Germans, a Sweed, and the Japanese students in my final class at what I think of as Salem College, now Salem International University. I have always talked farm to them by way of making conversation, and many have been brought over for the grand tour of the farm.
Over half of the world’s people live in cities today and not a single one of the foreigners I have known has ever lived on a farm. (However, I have known of maybe two or three young people who came from European farms and one from Australia to live on an American farm for the experience. And my nephew married a girl whose father is an Egyptian petroleum engineer who owns and manages a farm in Egypt.) I put together how many of these visits there have been, and the pleasure of those visits, for us and for them. For all these people the only farm they have ever known is in West Virginia, USA! And the only farm family they have known is ours! We have derived much satisfaction from these visits, and think it has helped international relations, too.
29. An article in the November 8 Western Livestock Journal concerns a report by Credit Suisse, a world class bank and investment institution, on the future of world agriculture. They believe that global food production needs to grow at 2.5 percent just to keep pace with the dietary needs of the expanding population . When growing biofuel production is taken into account, that figure must be raised to 3.3 percent. “The bad news is that grain and oilseed production has been lagging consumption over 20 years, even before the recent boom in biofuels demand,” the report says. If targets set by various governments are to be met, 12 percent of the world’s arable land will be required. (See 22. above.) Stocks of grain held over from one year to another (a safety factor against drought and disease) are falling. The U. S. corn stocks are the lowest in 35 years. Food prices will surely rise.
The report also sheds light on developments in China. Although the population expansion has been slowed, China has become a great manufacturing power. This has brought wealth, and with wealth, a demand for better food including more meat. China became an importer of soybeans several years ago, importing 20 million tons in the first nine months of this year. They exported corn this year, but are expected to become a net importer in the near future as their animal agriculture increases. However, double cropping wheat and corn is overworking the soil.
China exports high labor, high value agricultural crops and imports land intensive crops like grain and oilseed which can be grown in less densely populated countries with large machines. However, the labor advantage declines as rural Chinese move to the cities. In 1979, 82 percent of the Chinese population was rural, in 2000 this had declined to 64 percent, according to the article. The Chinese government expects this to go down to 50 percent in the next 20 years.
28. We sent the calves to the Weston sale yesterday, October 20, 2007. We’ve never had such large calves. Eleven of the 43 were yearlings and the average of all was 586 pounds ( no medical intervention, except vaccinations ). We had two below 400, and six between 4 and 500, so most were in the 500 pound range. I think two things were the cause. One was the good Red Angus bulls we have from Beckton Ranch, near Sheridan, Wyoming. Beckton has worked hard on getting heavy weaning calves while keeping moderate size in their cows. Most of the industry has allowed the weight of cows to go up (and the feed requirements for the cows) to get larger calves at weaning. (Birth weight is an independent variable, you can have low birth weight and heavy weaning weight.)
The other was the dry season. Fortunately, our cattle population was down. We had plenty of grass, and the two weeks of rain late in the summer revitalized what had been pastured off previously. I have noticed in years before that cattle do well when it is relatively dry, if they can get all they want to eat. I remember many years in the distant past (late 60’s and early 70’s) getting as many as five calves rejected from the feeder calf sale for being too small, even when there was excess grass. Everyone else’s livestock has improved tremendously in the last 40 years, too.
We had “fun” getting them on the truck. We can get the cattle into large lots the night before the calves to be sold are separated from their mothers. In these lots they follow herd behavior, individuals don’t make decisions on their own. Then we put them into small pens to handle, and this is where their indvidual disposition comes out. This time we had a wild bull calf (we missed getting him in to castrate in the spring) and a wild heifer. They are, no doubt, descended from the Limousine bull mentioned in Chapter 24 . He was slobbering, had his head and tail up and got to the place he would attack anyone in the pen. We had to bring in the tractor with the bucket on the loader. Finally we coaxed him into the smallest pen, just before the chute, and I moved the tractor up so the bucket closed the gate, it wasn’t a neat job, and when I got back out of the tractor he came for me. I couldn’t get out of the way and he hit me in the abdomen, tossed me up in the air and I came down on my right hip. Fortunately he didn’t come back for me when I bounced up, and I got back into the tractor.
A little more coaxing and he went back into the small pen with the wild heifer. This time I did a better job of pinning the gate with the bucket. He wouldn’t go into the chute so the young adult generation brought long boards which reached across the little pen and reduced the area available to them. First the heifer went in and then the bull. He walked down the length of the chute and onto the truck without coaxing when he got started. The bull weighed 800 pounds, over four times my weight. The hip hurt seriously late in the afternoon, but doesn’t bother me at all today.
28. This summer (2007), when I am 73, we are having many days in the mid-90’s, running on into September and October. I can’t work 8 hours in this heat. We have “two suit days.” I come in at noon and shower, change work clothes, eat and nap, and then go out again in the late afternoon and work again. This necessitates two showers a day and two changes of clothes, hence the name “two suit days.” I recall talking to India Indian graduate students at Kent State University who told me people there work out in the sun at 130 degrees. How they do it, I will never understand!
One of the characteristics of Indian public works projects at that time is they did it with labor, including women and children, rather than with large machinery. It is the government’s policy to support the poor, rather than to raise capitol, import heavy equipment, and petroleum. In the 60’s road cuts and fills, dams and construction was done with many people carrying dirt in baskets, rather than machines. This avoided great masses of people without jobs, without income, with idle hours – a source of political unrest.
27. Sometimes its is the incidental things in an article that are most interesting . The September 3 Westeren Livestock Journal has an article about 60 millions pounds of pork being sold to China by Smithfield Foods, Inc. That is about 1200 trailer truck loads. Good news for the pork producing areas of the Midwest. It happens that the Chinese use more pork than any other kind of high protein food. They have more than 500,000,000 hogs. (Yep! All those zeros are right.) Which produce “nearly twice the pork of their nearest competitor the 27-nation European Union.”
(For over 4000 years the Chinese have had the world’s most intensive agriculture. They do it by using the byproducts of one production system to feed or fertilize other systems. If you get the chance to read about the way they do it sometime, it is well worth your trouble.)
The Chinese are having trouble with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), also called “Blue Ear” disease. They admit to having lost 100,000 hogs this year and a million last year. Smithfield Foods stock rose after the sale and hints that more sales may be in the offing. “…in spite of Smithfield’s own troubles with disease in company-owned hogs, with circovirus and swine fever outbreaks in large operations in Romania . (Italics added by this author.)
The purchase was made by COFCO, China’s largest oils and food importer/exporter. Pork had risen from $3.50 to $4.00 for one-half kilogram (1.12 lb) in one month.
26. My son-in-law, James Atha, tells me that he recently read that farmers are now the 8 th or 9 th most respected occupation .
25. Farming no longer top employer world wide. My son Kurt has pointed me to an article which shows that Agriculture is no longer the economic sector which employs the most people, world-wide. Key Indicators of the Labor Market, a compilation of information about how labor is employed, is published every two years.
The report says, “ In recent years agriculture has lost its place as the main sector of employment and has been replaced by the services sector, which in 2006 constituted 42.0 per cent of world employment compared to 36.1 per cent for agriculture. Although textbook theory suggests that economic development entails a structural transformation with a shift away from agriculture to the industry sector, this no longer seems to be reflected in reality. Instead of moving into high-productivity, high pay jobs in the industry sector, people are moving directly into the services sector, which consists of both high- and low-productivity jobs, but has many with low pay.”
Agriculture was invented in the Near East about 8,000 BC, so this is the first time in 10,000 years that less people, world-wide. have worked in agriculture than in some other sector of the economy. The reason it has lead so long is that farming immediately produced vast increases of population in agricultural areas. However, it was very labor inefficient, producing only small excess of food to support other kinds of workers. These other kinds of workers have built up as a portion of the total work force as agriculture has become more efficient , especially in the last century.
It is worth noting that in the same ten years, the manufacturing section hardly grew, increasing from 23.8% to 24.9%.
The time of
My Deutz tractor purchased earlier in the summer was supposed to
have a loader, but none was available at the time. It came to the
dealer in late August. The dealer, Larry Hypes, Rainlle, picked up the
tractor and it was returned from Rainelle with the Quicke loader
August 19. According to the label it was manufactured in Ulea,
Sweden on August 2. That means it made the 5000 mile trip across the
ocean, to the dealer and to my farm in 17 days!
23. Biofuels August 2007. Agrofuels, produced primarily from corn in the U. S., but from sugar cane cane in Brazil and oil seed rape, soyabeans, palm oil and various other plants elsewhere is raising the cost of food to the poor, and in some places is damaging the environment, According to an article in the Guardian newspaper (UK). The UN World Food Program, which feeds 90 million people with U. S. corn calculates 850 million people are undernourished around the world. World Food Program's cost has risen 20% in one year. The article states food has gone up 11% in India, which has a huge biofuels program, and tortillas have increased in price by a factor of four in Mexico, sparking a protest by 75,000 people. In China the plan to increase planting of corn for ethanol has been stopped, because pork has risen in cost by 42% last year alone.
22. Nature of cattle business, size and concentration of feeding operations . In the Summer 2007 Farm Journal in an article by Bob Price he says, “Widely accepted data from Steve Kay’s Cattle Buyers Weekly indicate the top 10 feeding companies in the U. S. – involving 62 feedyards – have pen space for 3.2 million head of cattle. Then he goes on to say, “There are definite economies of scale in these large operations – but only if they stay full….Assume each of these… turn their inventory twice a year…. More than 3000 head of cattle need to come into those feedyards an hour….Each and every hour for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks of a year….This is only about one-fourth of he cattle fed in the U. S. each year.
21. Coal and royalty and mining rights in Illinois and elsewhere . The second is an an article from the January, 2007, Farm Journal. I learn that there is considerable opposition in Montgomery County Illinois to long wall mining. Longwall mining removes all the coal, leaving no posts to support the roof. As a result, eventual subsidence of the farmed surface may occur and certainly capture of streams by rerouting water down into the mine which resurfaces elsewhere. The company which wants to do the mining promised economic boom, of course. In Illinois some 60% farmers own the subsidence rights, so the coal company must deal with the surface owner (if it happens within the lifetime of the company) but some 40% of the farmers do not own the subsidence rights and have no recourse. Legally, their ship is pretty well sunk.
In a referendum against longwall mining, rural voters were 2 to1 against the mining, but the town voters were enough for it to allow the mining to occur.
The following is something I have known for some time: In Australia the farmers own the surface deep enough to set fence posts, but no further down. What is further down (what has value as minerals) belongs to the government. In socialist countries, the farmer has no “ownership” of the land as we would recognize it.
Just as we humans can be convinced to throw away the assets of liberty for present security, we can be convinced to throw away property rights for substantial mineral present income, damning the perpetual income from the soil.
Subsidy to farming,
Chapters 19 and 20. This is one of two items from free farm magazines. There are a raft of free farm
magazines, some of them dedicated advertisements for a particular
line of tractors, or such, and some that are free because the
advertising revenue is enough to pay for subscriptions. In the Agco
Advantage for Summer 2007 there is an article about a man in Kansas
who runs a “diversified 2200 acre cattle and crop farm” who also
teaches eighth grade history. Sort of blows the mind doesn’t it?
This is a rather extreme example of subsidizing the farm with other
income. Think of the work that man does!
19. Chapters 36 and 53 On the 24 th of July, 2007 I visited Dane Williams to give him a copy of the manuscript (the last of 6 I have distributed to older readers, these had the larger type needed for internet) and we discussed several of the topics in the book. I learned that Booth Bond’s house had running water from a spring on the hillside above the house. Doubtless they did not have an indoor toilet or bath, but may have had a kitchen sink with an outside drain. This would have been a great convenience to Rebecca and the daughters who were cleaning and cooking. It would have facilitated taking baths, too. The water must have been heated on the wood cook stove, but the water wouldn’t have been drawn outside and carried in. The water probably was heated essentially to boiling, meaning a smaller volume of it would have “seasoned” the larger volume needed for a bath. The masonry walls that typically support the outside walls of a house were built under each internal wall, too. The space under the floors was more than a crawl space, enough to get around under the house to work on floors, and such like.
Dane also told me that some of the money borrowed by my Grandfather, T. M. Bond, to buy the Lost Creek farm was borrowed from “Aunt Doc,” Grandfather’s sister mentioned in the Aside after Chapter 36. She did not have an affluent life style, physicians at the time typically didn’t, but she must have acquired some reserves.
18. Chapter 41 The durian is a $1.5 billion crop in Southeast Asia, I read in the 13 July 2007 issue of Science , the Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is pollinated by a fruit bat that is an endangered species. It is considered the most delicious fruit in the world, but does not ship well.
17. Chapter 15 I read within the past few weeks that Chinese agriculture is moving rapidly away from traditional “night soil” to chemical fertilizer, increasing the demand for the world’s already very valuable phosphate and potash mineral deposits, and nitrogen fertilizer, which is one more thing made from petroleum. June 25, 2007, the statement was made on the program Earth and Sky on Public Radio: If everyone on earth lived as well as Americans, it would take five earths to supply the raw materials. A few months ago I read on a bottle of apple juice that it contained apple juice concentrate from China. All those 1.132 billion people (CIA World Fact Book) to feed and they are sending apple juice to us! They have 18% as much arable land per person as the U. S. On June 26 I read in the Exponent, the local newspaper, that Pennsylvania apple growers are now worried about apple production from China displacing their fine eating apples! And on June 27, I learn from ABC Evening News that over half the vegetables in the world are grown in China. They have 73% of the U. S. garlic market, and ship much broccoli and other vegetables to the U. S.!
16. Nature of farming. The 15 June 2007 Science , the Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, carries an article on “Sustainable development of the Agricultural Bio-Economy,” that makes some observations relevant to our discussion. The article concerns the monoculture of the principal crops such as corn, soy beans, cotton and wheat. The environment is stressed with the present level of production, with the effect of soil erosion, fertilizer pollution and reduction of biodiversity. The foreseeable surge in production due to demand for corn for ethanol fuel and soy beans for biodiesel will make matters worse. The following statements are made: (1) “Recently, market-based agricultural policies have resulted in large payments to farmers and landowners to make up the difference between low commodity prices and costs of production; between 1997 and 2006, producers have received 30% of their net farm income from direct government payments. (2) “Farm size has increased, and few people are able to enter farming, harming rural communities socially and economically. In the corn belt states such as Iowa, over half the land is owned by absentee landowners, which makes implementation of conservation practices more difficult.
Let’s pause a minute to reflect. What is going on here is simply the financial return to farming is large enough for a land ownership layer to be inserted between the farmer-operator and the return from farming! This is just the opposite of the historical process I observed in item 8 of this section. The expected return on investment is large enough the buyer invests in land rather than in manufacturing or infrastructure enterprises.
The absentee land owner is a rent-seeker, and his ownership is subsidized by the federal government, because of the payments . (Nice deal if you can get it, right!) And the absentee owner is only interested in his short term return on investment, he is not interested in preserving the productivity of the land for the next generation, nor pollution, nor costs down stream, etc. Bad policy!
Another statement by the author of the paper is, “Current federal programs and policy on environmental quality in agricultural landscapes mainly subsidize retirement of land from active production.” What he suggests is a program that allows production and simultaneously provides for conservation in the landscape. Europe is ahead because they have a much more dense population and lack the vast expanse of excellent farmland we Americans have in the Midwest and South.
In the June 2007 Beef magazine, Joe Roybal quotes economist Richard Brock, “While corn went into the high $3 in the cash market, few growers benefited to the full extent because of early selling, Brock says. It is landowners who have benefited the most from the ethanol juggernaut – with cash rents having doubled since January. In fact, he expects the grain boom to accelerate consolidation as owners of smaller farms who are pondering retirement pencil out the profit and decide to rent or sell out. We are rapidly moving toward the 3,000 to 5,000-acre units in grain production as the average.”
He goes on, “In addition Brock says more outside money is coming into U. S. agriculture than ever before.” Brock also notes that John Deer stock is up, although sales do not justify the move. Brock says, “It’s all anticipation at this point,” driven by the booming grain market.” And this is all due to large government subsidies for the production of ethanol. (Italicized my comment, STB)
15 . Doyle Kittle Chapter 16 Dane Williams, who is several years older than I told me a story about Doyle that occurred before I was born. Dad had a pair of young horses, about four years old, that were not completely broken and inclined to run off. One day Doyle was harrowing a field and they broke away. They went through the next fence West onto O. B. Bond’s place, and on through the next fence onto Susie and C. E. William’s place, Dane’s mother and father’s place. They came to rest in a newly sprouted cornfield, and milled around in it for a while before Doyle could catch them. The corn was ruined. The Williams boys fixed the fence. Dane said Dad sent Doyle with the horses and harrow back over to William’s as soon as he got home, with the object of reharrowing the field so it could be replanted.
14 . Haystack . In Chapter 9 there is a drawing of a haystack as we made them in West Virginia around 1950. I remark I had seen very similar stacks in pictures of Eastern Europe. In the May 12, 2007 Guardian newspaper (from England via the net) there is a picture of haystacks in Romania. It has a detail I forgot to mention. One of the stacks has several rails propping it up. Sometimes a stack would start to slip over and we would have to put rails against the side to keep it from slipping over. (Romania seems remote to most folks, but my daughter and son-in-law visited there in 1997 to play with West Virginia Wesleyan’s Jazz Band.) They said in the article that hillside land (which looks rather like West Virginia with high mountains in the background) is not fenced, but is common property of everyone.
13. Energy input vs. energy output. In Chapter 32 I pointed out that strip mining takes about one-third as much energy input in the form of petroleum as the energy of the mined coal. By way of comparison, the production of ethanol has an input of 73 percent of the energy produced. The reason is that fermentation of corn takes place in a water solution. It is very energy expensive to distill the ethanol from the water solution to obtain the concentration needed for fuel. The fuel must be fairly free of water, unlike alcoholic beverages, which typically contain less than 50% alcohol.
12. On cattle rustling, etc. In the aside at the end of Chapter 13, I mention that almost the only stolen goods that can be sold locally for the full value is livestock. The following is a brief excerpt from a well-known Internet source.
Special Rangers with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) recovered or accounted for about $5 million in stolen livestock and ranch equipment in 2006, TSCRA reports.
The cadre of 27 TSCRA law enforcement officers are commissioned as Special Rangers by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. In 2006, these "cow cops" investigated 1,045 cases in Texas and Oklahoma. Working with federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies, they recovered or accounted for 3,716 cattle, 144 horses, 10 trailers, 18 saddles and 414 miscellaneous items with a total market value of $4,878,722.39.
- Burt Rutherford, From Cow-Calf Weekely, March 23, 2007
11. Cattle in various countries world wide. Chapter 58, the aside. More on cattle world wide, from Beef magazine, January 2007. The largest cattle poplations: India, 340 million; Brazil, 180-190 million, growing at 5 million a year; China,140 million; U. S., less than 100 million; European Union, 85 million; Argentina, 50 million; Australia, 40 million; followed by Russia, Mexico and Canada.
In China hardly anyone owns more than 2 or three cows, in India they are often free-roaming in cities. Only in the U. S. is grain feed beef the norm, although Australia has the capacity to feed about 1 million on grain.
The price of live finished cattle in some representative countries is: U. S., $86/cwt; Australia, $60/cwt; Chile, $46/cwt; Uruguay, $42/cwt; Argentina, $39/cwt; Brazil, $35/cwt; Paraguay, $32/cwt.
10. Some more farm history. Chapter 20. We found out as the book was completed that Vaughn Barnette, who had laid up the blocks for the addition we put on in 1992 had also laid up the blocks for the basement and had taken out the chimney on the right side. He is now ninety-some.
9. More on the loss of honeybees. The March , 2007 Market Bulletin has an entire article on taking West Virginia bee hives to California to pollinate the almond crop and an article on intensive management of hives to avoid the bee diseases. The management article emphasizes the importance of judgment, as opposed to following exact formula rules. (Added later) In September it was becoming widely known that Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (for the country where it was first discovered) was probably the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. It might have come from Australia, after a decades long ban on shipment of bee material from Australia was lifted. The Australians disclaim it, because although the virus is present there, it doesn’t cause Colony Collapse Disorder. It may be that bees weakened by varroa mites predispose colonies which also have the virus to collapse, or possibly it is other stressors which make the virus so potent.
8. Wealth generated from owning land. Appendix, item 1. under “Other changes affecting farming” I use the phrase “ownership of land ( as opposed to operating land ) was still generating some wealth,” which might require some explanation. Obviously, I think, if there was no return or advantage or benefit from owning land, no one would want it, a situation hard to imagine, because there are many non-monetary benefits from owning land. What I am talking about here are exclusively the monetary benefits received by the owner, who has little or no other interest in the farm. The monetary return to the land comes from the use of land, and in that time (before WWII) return was sufficient that some one could afford to own it and rent it out to a second party, the tenant, to operate . The first party had little interest in managerial details, just in collected the rent, and the second party had no interest in long term management of the farm, only in extracting what he could year by year. Persons like the first party are called rent-seekers in economic theory. This arrangement results in no good for the future. It is not good for the operator, not good for the community and certainly not good for the long term farm productivity of the land, and it is bad for the environment.
As the return from the land diminished and competition from other producers who had better means of production (think here of the opening of the West), and as alternative income opportunities appeared for the second party, return to the rent seeker declined to the point the large land holdings were sold off here in West Virginia. At least part of the incentive for the second party to own his own land was that he had reason to manage in such a way that the soil and the fences and buildings were improved increasing the return in the long run. It “paid to own your own land” and manage carefully when the return from operating the land was less.
This is a little hard to grasp, perhaps.
The monetary returns from casual farming are now so low that much of the land has gone into uses that produce less income over the long span of time, because there is insufficient return to motivate the operator. These other uses include private hunting reserves, forestry (produces a crop no more often than once in 30 years) and residential use. The latter produces substantial return when it is sold, but the new use generates huge externalities (cost of public services, such as water, sewage, electricity, phone, ambulance, school bus, cost of transportation for going to work, shopping and everything else, and environmental damage such as destruction of habitat, trash along roads and water contamination). These externalities are almost all paid for by others through taxes and diminished potential of the environment and go on forever. The huge sum generated for the seller and the developer, and the new, higher taxes, belie the true cost. The future goes on forever , (a concept more easily understood by an old man with some grasp of the past than it is for someone whose time concept is tied to returns in terms of the cost of borrowing and lending money). The land never goes back to farming. It may get abandoned as slums, but it never goes back to production of food and fiber and low external cost.
7. More on dug wells. (Chapter 33) My Kennedy grandparents had a dug well in their backyard which was unused in the times I can remember. However my mother told me once that her father faithfully washed down the walls of the well each year. He would draw up a supply of water to use in the house, and a supply to use in washing down the walls, and work his way down into the well, washing as he went. It must have been a tight fit and dangerous.
All the old wells developed moss, which tolerated the dampness and dark and other plants to a lesser degree. The rocks lining the well were laid up with no mortar, and were carefully paced so the soil replaced around the outside held them together. They, in turn prevented the soil from caving in and filling the well.
6. Branded beef. Chapter 54. Today Feburary 21, 2007, while finishing up formatting the book, I was in the Krogers at Eastpointe in Clarksburg. They carry only one branded beef, Laura’s Lean Beef. What attracted my attention was the cubed steak at $4.99 a pound. About ten feet from that was unbranded cubed steak at $2.99. A little further away was Laura’s Lean Beef hamburger at $4.49 a pound. With in five feet of this was Kroger’s least expensive hamburger at $1.79 and three feet from this was a better grade of commodity hamburger (not branded) for $1.99. To be fair, Laura’s hamburger was also marked 4% fat, and the lowest priced hamburger was in an opaque wrapper so you could not see it, and in five pound or one pound quantity. It was marked 25% fat. The $1.99 pound hamburger, also 25% fat, was packed in cardboard trays with plastic wrap, so the buyer could look at the product. Research has shown that those who purchase beef are strongly influenced by the color of the product. Light, bright red beef is preferred to darker brownish beef, which comes from oxidation, resulting from exposure to air.
The reader will be aware that the price differential between the branded and unbranded beef would provide considerable motivation for the company to produce a specialized product. However, the expense of advertising, especially to get the branded product accepted at the beginning, and the effort to maintain sufficiently unique product characteristics to keep the product differentiated in the customers mind is a problem. Laura’s Lean Beef does this by requiring producers which supply them to use animals sired by Limousine bulls. This breed is known for low fat, also the animals finished for them must be carefully fed in the feedlots to assure enough fat for good taste, but not too much.
There are other brands, some of them associated with the Angus breed. These try to distinguish themselves by taste, which is associated with interleaved fat (fat between the muscle fibers) and youth of the butchered animal, and some are now tested with a device which measures the force needed to penetrate the meat to a certain distance with a specified probe.
Some low fat commodity hamburger is produced by mixing in ground beef from lower grade animals, or imports, with normal hamburger. Some stores have offered lower fat hamburger ground from more expensive cuts. Since it is more expensive, such product will almost certainly be labeled according to the cut from which it was ground.
5. The plight of honey bees. (Chapter 7) In 2007 still another honey bee disease, called Colony Collapse Disorder, became well known. So far, the disorder has been reported in at least 22 states. Some commercial beekeepers say they have lost more than 50 percent of their bees to the disorder. This disease is characterized by foreign fungal and bacterial attacks on the hive and suppressed immune reactivity on the part of the bees. Ordinarily, when a colony becomes depleted it is attacked by bees from other hives and insects, raiding the honey stores.
4. Touchy medical stuff, avoid if you are priggish. (Chapter 36, the aside at the end) This concerns personal hygiene and is a little touchy, but I am going to have out with it. Our degree of knowledge about sexual matters has increased a lot in the last century. At one time in the remote past humans made no connection between intercourse and pregnancy. The natives of Australia had not made the connection before European discovery of Australia. Today almost everyone now knows that a woman’s vagina is susceptible to infection by E. coli, the most abundant bacteria in the colon, but that was unknown until about 100 years ago. Aunt Doc taught the women of the family to wipe the backwards the area around the opening of the bowels, and to wipe forward the area around the opening of the vagina.
3. Mine Wars. (Chapter 30, the aside at the end) If you don’t agree about violent methods being forced on the miners in West Virginia, read the history of the West Virginia Mine Wars, see the movie “Maitwan,” consider the role of the Pinkertons. Half the state was involved, and it is so grievous nobody has the guts to put in the history books. The Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars, Ed. Ken Sullivan, published 1991 by Goldenseal Magazine, is another good source.
2. When they began to buy flour instead of growing wheat .(Chapter 41) Grandmother and grandfather Kennedy would have bought flour (instead of using locally ground wheat) for the first time about 1905 to 1910. When my grandfather retired to the house in Lost Creek he lived several years in and died in, he told me he remembered cradling wheat on that same land in his youth.
1. More on the original big trees of Appalachia . (Chapter 38, the aside at the end, concerning big trees of the original forest) My son-in-law James Atha, brought home a book from the Bridgeport Public Library titled “Tumult on the Mountains,” subtitled “Lumbering in West Virginia 1770-1920.” It concerns the removal of the forest for agriculture and for timber. It is a story of dreadful waste and big industry set loose without restraint. However, many huge logs are shown. Figure 11 is a picture of “probably the largest tree cut by lumbermen in West Virginia.” One log in the picture is marked 13 feet diameter, 16 feet from the base.” It was a white oak. Details on the book: McClain Printing Company, 1964, L. C. Card Number 64-16974.
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Copyright © 1998, 2006, 2008, 2011 S. Tom Bond (stombond at hughes.net)