Author Archives: K. McDonald

About K. McDonald

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In the Bigger Picture…

6 Recommended Agricultural Links ○ ○ ○

⓵. Conservation Stewardship Programs (CSP) have gained 9.5 million acres this year.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

⓶. There has been a lot in the news this month about how U.S. Ag policy works to promote larger and larger farms. I especially liked this.

by Traci Bruckner, Center for Rural Affairs

⓷. … and this PDF document/study investigates the subject of farms getting bigger here in America.

By Daniel A. Sumner, Journal of Economic Perspectives

⓸. Yes, you can make money with agroforestry in Iowa, especially if you grow Aronia berries, Christmas trees, chestnuts and elderberries.

From the Leopold Center at Iowa State

⓹. Robotics continues to take over on farms, but it is a mystery to most of us. Here’s a quick look at a carrot harvester in action.

from Odd Simple American

⓺. For those who would like an agricultural charitable gift idea, you might consider giving to Kiva. You can even start with a small donation and add to it monthly. This helps small global farmers who are struggling to pay for supplies like fertilizer, and 95% of the loans get paid back.

Thanks to reader “D” for submitting this idea.

These links were selected by Kay McDonald. For continually updated news about agriculture, please utilize the news feeds on the right sidebar here, and on the “Latest Ag News” tab above.

Old Image: Pawnee County Nebraska Conservation Planning Group 1960

Conservation farm planning group meeting to develop and revise their conservation watershed projects and accelerate the application of land treatment measures. December 8, 1960. Pawnee County, Nebraska, 9 miles North of Pawnee City. Photographer: D.E. USDA Soil Conservation Service. NRDC Photo.

(Note that Thursday is Luddite Photo Day at B.P.A.)

Bring Back Diverse Farms for Economic Resilience

Today’s post is republished by permission from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Its main point is that more diverse farms are also more resilient economically. Coming from a farm that had livestock, I know the demands involved, however, if policy helped promote this resilience through diversity on the farms (instead of monoculture farming), then we’d see healthier meat production, smaller farms, and more vibrant rural areas. It would help fix much of what is broken in today’s policy.—Kay M.

The recent news from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that farm incomes are down — and expected to recede even more after several years of high incomes linked to historically high crop price — shines a light on something that NSAC has been talking about for many years.

NSAC has long advocated for federal policies that encourage diverse farms that grow crops and raise livestock because diversity leads to more stable farm incomes. This is the case because when the price a farmer can obtain for one crop or one type of livestock is down, another may be up thus evening out the extreme ups and downs that can happen from month to month or year to year across all sectors of farming.

That statement is no less true today than at anytime in the past.

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently estimated that crop receipts are expected to decrease by 12 percent, mostly attributed to a continuing decline in the price of corn and soybeans, the two most widely grown row crops. This while income from livestock is expected to rise 14 percent on strong prices for cattle and hogs. The projected increase in livestock receipts more than fully offsets the drop in crop receipts.

As a result of crop price declines, ERS has forecast that farm incomes will drop 21 percent in 2015. This is at least partially attributable to the fact that by the year 2000 less than 10 percent of farms had chickens, milk cows, or hogs.

A diversified farm that raises both crops and livestock can weather the current decline in commodity prices based on increased income from the livestock side of the operation.

While conventional monoculture advocates have tried their best to build a federal subsidy and crop insurance system that reduces the risk of relying only a corn and soybean to near zero, farm incomes are still going down as crop prices go down.

This is why diversity is still a good risk management policy. Today, and for as long as livestock prices stay up a diversified farm that resisted the urge to tear up pasture to chase $8 dollar corn is likely doing better than their neighbor who did not.

NSAC advocates for, and will continue to advocate for federal policies that support diverse family farms, which support a healthy environment, a fair and just food system, and strong rural communities.

Original article here.

Reinert Interview: Opinion on Ethanol and What Would Be a Better Octane Booster Choice?

Today is the eleventh and final post in this Monday series of subjects covered during my summer 2014 interview of Bill Reinert, recently retired energy engineer for Toyota who played a key role in the development of the Prius and then assumed the role of future transportation planning of alternative-fueled vehicles at Toyota. See his full bio here. –Kay M.

K.M.: Years ago you said, “Using ethanol for fuel is like electing the dumbest kid in school as Class President.” Do you still stand behind that statement?

Reinert: Yes, I still stand behind that statement. Ethanol has remarkably destructive properties in your gas tank, especially on cars and engines that aren’t driven very much, like seasonal boats. It is hydroscopic so it absorbs water and the water gets throughout the fuel system and dirt or debris that’s normally in your tank gets emulsified. That gets plated out in your fuel system and your car runs very poorly. This has been documented time and time again, and it’s especially bad for cars or applications that aren’t designed for high levels of ethanol. It really has no upside and when we consider all of the damage that it does to our ecosystems, it is done for no good reason. I don’t believe anybody in the scientific community or at the Department of Energy (DOE) is seriously looking at bioethanol from corn except for the politicians.

I don’t think people realize how much energy is in oil and gas, and the amount of acreage necessary to make even small replacements is huge. And cellulosic ethanol, by the way, is a dream that will remain a dream.

K.M.: Ethanol got its window of opportunity as a methyl teriary-butyl ether (MTBE) replacement, because MTBE was added to gasoline to help prevent air pollution and then it was discovered that it was a water pollutant and a carcinogen. Now, ethanol advocates like to tell us that we need ethanol as an octane booster in our gasoline. Are there good alternatives to ethanol that might be used as octane boosters instead? What would you pick?

Reinert: I’d pick the bioethers. They’re not water contaminants and their half-life in the troposphere is very small. With a little more study I think they can make a contribution in improving the cetane and the octane of the fuels and thus allow us to use them in the most advanced engines that we have right now. The trade off with ethanol as an octane enhancer is that it’s hydroscopic and I would never make that choice, plus it has such a giant footprint. In comparison, we can make these ethers pretty quickly and pretty easily.

The bioethers, dimethyl ether (DME) and diethyl ether (DEE), are synthesis gases made from waste products. Since they’re not a fermentation product like corn ethanol is, all of the carbon gets turned into fuel whereas in fermentation, only the carbon that is converted into sugar gets used for fuel. DEE can be used in gasoline engines as an octane enhancer and DME could be used to increase the cetane of diesel, or, it could replace diesel altogether.

Octane boosters help prevent pinging in the advanced gasoline engines since we’ve increased the combustion pressure so high that the fuel pre-ignites. This means that new gasoline engines have started to resemble diesel engines.

And in order to reduce the nitrogen oxide emissions from the diesel engine, we are reducing its combustion ratio, making it more like the gasoline engine. However, this produces soot, which DME can help to prevent.

I’ve had some wonderful conversations with Steve Chu and others at the Department of Energy and what they want is a drop-in gasoline replacement. Ideally, we would be given optimum specifications, or fixed properties, for gasoline and diesel. There would be multiple pathways to arrive at those specifications, such as through syngas. This could be done through a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant. The fuel you’d want to pick in the end would be the one with the lowest societal costs. This is what we really need to be doing, but unfortunately, we’re not doing it.

To see last week’s interview subject on the best ways to power cars, including the pros and cons of using batteries, hybrid technology, ICEs, or fuel cells, click here.

I hope you have enjoyed this series for the valuable resource and the wealth of information that it has provided. Today marks its final day.