What Tom Vilsack Didn’t Say this Week. Plus, More Agriculture News.


Corn Crib by Jamie Wyeth. 1964. Watercolor. Wikipaintings.

Below, is a selection of recent agriculture-related news.

Kudos to Duane Hovorka, the director of the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, for an excellent opinion piece in the Lincoln Journal Star about the frenzy going on to tear up marginal grasslands and other habitat to plant more soybeans and corn, and the farm bill which needs to do more to protect the land.

Australia is doing research on the important ongoing subject of automation in agriculture. (Great photo included.)

What Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack DID say this week that made major headlines: He chided lawmakers to act on the farm bill and said that the reason they haven’t is because rural America is “becoming less and less relevant”. What Vilsack DID NOT say: The reason rural America is becoming less and less relevant, losing population, aging, and increasing in poverty is because of the policies which he promotes… larger and larger farms, two monoculture crops, and the destruction of natural areas. Aesthetic values play a large role in where people want to live.

India has the most livestock in the world, followed by China. India is opposed to changing their agricultural practices for climate change, which was being discussed in Doha last week.

Climate change offers hope for agriculture on Greenland.

Rice farming in Louisiana shares the economy of scale that grain farming does. Now, even with the value-added crayfish crop, it takes a farmer 4,000 acres to turn a profit when it used to require 400 acres.

Here is a chart that shows the growth of palm oil production since 1990. Ever larger palm oil supplies have suppressed global vegetable oil prices, particularly through meeting demand in China and India.

BP is investing $350 million to expand the production of sugar cane ethanol in Brazil.

Sorghum ethanol may be ready to take off now that the EPA has qualified it as an advanced biofuel feedstock under the Renewable Fuel Standard. Refiners will seek the RINS credits and the crop uses one-third of the water that corn does.

My recent post criticizing Jeremy Grantham’s doomerism about humanity starting to starve in 20 years because of running out of potash and phosphate fertilizers was widely read. However, well-known agricultural writer, Tom Philpott, and Business Insider, among many other sites promoted Grantham’s Nature piece. Now, I’m glad to see that the respected Canadian Environmental Professor, Vaclav Smil, took down Grantham’s article, too. While I have a great deal of respect for Philpott’s writing overall, NPK pessimists might note that in 2010 Philpott warned that natural gas was becoming increasingly scarce for making N fertilizer. But we do all agree on one thing and that is that sustainable farming methods need to be adopted which use fewer fertilizer (and other) inputs.

Macquarie warns us that wheat futures for next year’s crop are overvalued by nearly 50% and corn prices are on their way to the lowest level since 2010.

Good headline: EPA Renewable Fuel Standards Cost Wendy’s $174 Million in Costs. (There was a lot in the news this week about high prices of food in many nations, especially meat, dairy, and eggs — the consequences of you-know-what policy.)

A University of Colorado led team has won a $9.2 million grant from the DOE to manipulate E.coli to produce low-cost biofuels.

ENERGY: A team at Princeton has come up with a plan to produce synthetic fuel instead of corn ethanol which would be a blend of liquefied coal, liquid natural gas, and non-food crop biofuels.

ECONOMICS: Ken Rogoff writes about a fascinating debate in which he participated against Garry Kasparov and other great thinkers, related to a forthcoming book. One side said that the future limits of innovation are lessened due to a leveling off following the industrial revolution and the other side claimed that future innovation limits are being constrained by the aftermath of the recent financial crisis.

China is making progress on fighting desertification, through investment.

A severe drought in northeast Brazil is wiping out cattle.

In Mexico, the building of an aqueduct during a time of drought pits agricultural users against industries.

PLEASE NOTE that posting will be lighter over the academic calendar break which this site loosely adheres to.

Written and compiled by K. McDonald.

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