Category Archives: news roundup

Where to Get Quality Agricultural Information Online


Woman in Black Reading a Newspaper ~ Rik Wouters

Whenever I see one of those posts which lists “the best agricultural twitter voices” or “the top 10 sites for agriculture” or some similar theme, I think to myself that I shall never do one of those, because if I did, it would unfairly offend way too many deserving people and online publishers. So, this post is NOT that. Yet, I have spent so much time reading on the subject of agriculture -predominantly from online sources- that I’d like to share with you some of my favorites. It is frightening how rapidly the media and news world industries are changing. We really can’t keep up.

It is no secret that we suffer of information overload today. Writers are competing for the busy and news-bites-fragmented reader’s attention. I wish I still had the time to curate and provide readers with great articles like I’d planned. Many have emailed me asking about Sowing Seeds, the comprehensive news site I established late last year, and have told me how much they miss it. For those who are interested, I have gone to promoting articles I think are extra-good in tweets on Twitter, instead. You can see them in the Twitter scroll bar feed on the lower right-hand sidebar here.

Next, I’d like to point you to a few individuals and quality news sources that are available to all of us, sources that I find especially valuable or trustworthy. It is my hope that you find my list helpful as you swim and dive into this vast ocean which we call the internet.

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NPR’s The Salt: God forbid their budget ever gets cut… quality all the time, great articles.

Dennis Dimick’s tweets: @ddimick – the executive environmental editor for National Geographic. Many don’t know that he grew up on a farm and has an education in agriculture, which seems to be a main passion of his. He is a tireless tweeter and doesn’t miss a thing.

Michael Pollan’s tweets: @michaelpollan – Quality links from him, not overdone, what can I say?

Dan Charles: A very trusted source who writes for NPR and is a skillful analyst.

Tom Philpott: A great seasoned veteran sustainable agricultural writer for Mother Jones.

The DesMoines Register: Outside of the giants, this used to be, hands down, the best newspaper source of agricultural news, and it has saddened me to see that budget cuts over the past several years have greatly diminished coverage there.

The New York Times: Quality articles spanning a huge array of subjects are often sure to surprise, entertain, and inform the reader.

Mark Bittman: Great writer. Switched from food to covering agriculture a number of years ago (at the NYTs).

Nathanael Johnson: A relatively new agricultural writer for Grist, who is doing a super job.

Market to Market: Iowa State’s Public television show about agriculture.

Market Journal: The Univ. of Nebraska’s Public TV show about agriculture.

The WSJ: Finds the little known but important Ag story from time to time, sometimes with a great in-depth piece, other times with a newsworthy article containing great graphics. They have consistently and admirably opposed the industrial ethanol complex better than any other newspaper, although the Chicago Tribune has also done so.

The Economist: Features quality agricultural topics not infrequently, and is known for its fantastic but simple graphs.

Bloomberg and BBC: two more main stream news sources that do great pieces on agriculture.

HINT: Not everyone is aware that this site, Big Picture Agriculture, has a daily news feed under the tab up top labeled “Latest Ag News”, and there are also two news feeds on the lower right sidebar here. These are constantly updated and I catch some great articles that I wouldn’t otherwise see just by checking these daily. Plus, there is my twitter feed – on which I try to primarily stick with the subject of Ag news @bigpictureag .

Harvest Public Media: Quality, great, well-done…. kudos to them!

Tweets by Luke Runyon: Great quality Ag tweeter @LukeRunyon .

Chuck Abbott’s daily e-mails of agricultural news sponsored by the FERN.

National Geographic: Frequently includes great agricultural news from around the world; is currently doing a multi-month food series; and is great at telling the story of real-world farming by showing us quality photographs, such as those by Jim Richardson.

Policy Pennings: by Harwood Schaffer and Daryll Ray. Great analysis out of the Univ. of Tennessee.

The Contrary Farmer: by Gene Logsdon. This is one of the only “blogs” on my list. Gene is a great philosophical old farmer.

The Leopold Center: Iowa’s sustainability research center housing the great philosopher Fred Kirschenmann and my cohort who hails from the same farming region that I do and shares the same sentiments about it that I do, Mark Rasmussen.

UK Guardian: Great, great source of frequent food, agriculture, and sustainability articles.

The Perennial Plate: This is an amazingly well-done series by Daniel Klein, who has traveled to many countries of the world to show us how they eat and farm. I wish that I had time to go back and watch every single one.

The Splendid Table: Lynne Rossetto Kasper keeps us up to date on books and agricultural subjects through American Public Media.

Jason Bradford keeps a fine, but occasional, blog over at his company’s website, FarmlandLP.

Resilience.org, the “new” Energy Bulletin: Focuses on eat local and permaculture topics.

R Squared Energy: written by engineer Robert Rapier, great on future energy transition issues, and great on biofuels commentary, too.

I find that some of the best news comes from local TV news stations and smaller regional newspapers, too.

It goes without saying that the agricultural journal publications are also obviously good at what they do – sites like Brownfield, Agriculture.com, Feedstuffs, Progressive Farmer, and Capital Press. You can’t beat Mother Earth News for its down-home articles and projects, either. And many of the agricultural colleges have sites and blogs that provide great information, too.

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I’ll end my list here, but by no means are these the only sources of agricultural news (or writers or tweeters) that I appreciate. Know that I’ve composed this impromptu list on a cool and rainy Boulder Sunday, which makes it even more likely that I’ve left off somebody important.

Finally, I hope you like the new web design – so far. (Part involves a background which you probably can’t see on your iPad or cell phone.) Friends suggested to me that the old one was too simple and boring, and I took that suggestion to heart. I’ve also added a tab of “recent posts” up top.

If you have any favorite Ag sources that you’d like to add to this list, I encourage you to post them in the comments below.

Starred News Items from Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily (March 2014)

A month ago, I began to do a monthly recap of my starred news items (those which I have deemed most noteworthy) over at Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily.

Here are my top 3 picks from this past month:

#1.
My favorite is this game-changer, that Amazon could come to dominate grocery, too. After reading the New Yorker’s Cheap Words article last month, which is sobering in the way they approach business – like a machine solely driven by algorithms, along comes this article stating that Amazon looks like it is set to cannibalize the grocery stores. Online grocery sales may eventually account for around half of grocery sales in the developed world, and the online grocer will become the cheapest source with the most selection.

• Ocado sees opportunities from Amazon move into groceries. By Emma Thomasson. (Reuters)

#2.
And this month’s second favorite pick was from the USDA. In this study, they conclude that GMO seed systems are not netting the farmer any more money, and in some cases, yields of GMO crops are lower than conventional seed varieties. The conclusion questions the environmental consequences given the low advantage outcomes of the large adopted use of GMOs in the U.S.

• Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States. By Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo, Seth James Wechsler, Michael Livingston, and Lorraine Mitchell. (USDA)

#3.
And my third pick is this from DTN’s Marcia Zarley Taylor, who tells us that not all corn growers made a lot of money during this recent five year bull run. The bottom 25 percent of growers only made on average, 27 dollars per acre because of high input costs, but crop insurance did help their bottom lines. (I have a piece in the works on this same topic. Stay tuned.)

• Not all corn producers enjoyed profits during this remarkable bull run. It’s all about cost control. By Marcia Zarley Taylor. (DTN)

Next-up, are the rest of the “starred” articles from over the past month in no particular order:

• Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight? The degradation of soils from unsustainable agriculture and other development has released billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. But new research shows how effective land restoration could play a major role in sequestering CO2 and slowing climate change. By Judith D Schwartz. (e360)

• This is an excellent commentary on greenhouse emissions, future trends, fallacies and misconceptions about energy use, and a better plan by the chief climate change adviser for Royal Dutch Shell. By David Hone. (Project Syndicate)

• PHOTOS: Low times on the high plains, photographs from Eastern Colorado. These are poignant and tell quite a story. (Denver Post)

• Researchers find high-fructose corn syrup may be tied to worldwide collapse of bee colonies. By Bob Yirka. (Phys org)

• GREAT CHARTS: It Takes How Much Water to Grow an Almond?! Why California’s drought is a disaster for your favorite fruits, vegetables, and nuts. By Alex Park and Julia Lurie. (Mother Jones)

• U.S. GMO crops show mix of benefits, concerns from a new USDA report. By Carey Gillam. (Reuters)

• Psychology, not rationality, explains why many people fear GM foods. By David Ropeik. (Cosmos mag)

• Agriculture: Steps to sustainable livestock. By Mark C. Eisler et al. (Nature)

• John Deere Reveals ExactEmerge Planter.(Precision Pays)

• ECONOMIC: An Aggressive Fed Faces Criticism on Wall Street. By Peter Eavis.(NYT)

• Proposed tax code changes could cost agriculture $4.8 billion and reduce borrowing capacity. (AgriPulse)

• How much meat is too much? By Bee Wilson. (LRB)

• Water conservation’s other benefit: It’s a power saver – the energy needed to move agricultural water exceeds the electricity used by everyone in SanDiego. By Catherine Wolfram and David Zetland.(LATimes) [k.m.: This piece was published several days after I wrote up the energy used to move water in California story on b.p.a.]

• The Iowa Corn Growers Assn doesn’t care for the linking of crop insurance to conservation compliance. Here’s their list of druthers. By Ken Anderson. (Brownfield)

• It seems that non-GMO vitamins aren’t available to fortify non-GMO cereals, which means non-GMO cereals are missing nutrients. By Julie Harker. (Brownfield)

• According to this article, on paper it would seem the lobbying is down in D.C., however, that isn’t true – it’s just gone underground. By Lee Fang. (The Nation)

• Farm bill refigures agriculture funding, but money still flowing to aid farmers. By Joseph Morton. (Omaha W-H)

• Here are the 50 products that won this year’s AE50competition for Ag innovation and biological engineering. PDF. (ASABE)

Finally, as you have hopefully noticed, posts have picked up again here at Big Picture Agriculture. Here are the three most popular posts from Big Picture Agriculture (as guaged by social media buttons) this past month:

• 2035 ENERGY INFOGRAPHIC FROM BP WITH GLOBAL BIOFUELS PREDICTIONS

• HOW MUCH ENERGY DOES CALIFORNIA USE TO MOVE WATER?

• ANOTHER AMAZING FACT ABOUT THE DUCK

Please help me out by continuing to spread the word about Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily; a very kind and appreciative thank you to those loyal readers who promote these sites on social media – because I need all the help I can get(!); and, lastly, how I wish todays farms looked like the left half of the poster above.

Cheers!

Recap of the Month’s Starred News Items from Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily

This post contains a list of the past month’s starred news items from over at Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily. (Starred items are those which I have deemed more noteworthy.) Since some of you have requested an RSS Feed for the new site, and there isn’t one, I thought I would do this once a month, until I figure out a better system.

My favorite of all, from this past month, is the first one on the list, a wise commentary by David Horsey about the follies of our human race which make unreasonable assumptions about Mother Nature, and our dominance over Her, using the story of weather, water, and agriculture in California’s San Joaquin Valley, along with his very clever cartoon.

• California’s severe drought exposes civilization’s thin veneer. Don’t miss the great CARTOON, too. By David Horsey. (LA Times)

With so many headlines out there about the farmbill, it is easy to become confused, or led to a mediocre story. The following are the ones I felt had unique and higher quality information:

• The $956 billion farm bill, in one graph, plus an overview of the rest of this new farm bill. By Brad Plumer. (Wa-Po)

• VIDEO and transcript of interview of Bloomberg’s Alan Bjerga on PBS Newshour about the lobbying behind the scenes of the farm bill…. follow the money. (PBS Newshour)

• What is in the 2014 Farm Bill For Sustainable Farms and Food Systems?(NSAC)

• A Trillion in the trough – Congress passes a bill that gives bipartisanship a bad name. (Economist)

And, next, are the uncategorized remainer:

• According to this NYTs article, Midwestern farmers are hedging their all-in corn bets by adding a few lucrative acres of apple trees or vegetable hoop houses. Some of their children are returning to the corn farms to grow fruits and vegetables profitably on part of the property. By Michael Moss. (NYT) This is the stuff my dreams are made of, although I’d guess the numbers are very, very low.

• Top 10 agricultural law developments of 2013. By Roger A. McEowen, Director, ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation. (Western Farm Press)

• Here is the inside story about how GMO-free corn and soybeans are produced and distributed in the U.S. Midwest. By Dan Charles. (NPR)

• Now We Know: Ethanol Caused the 2008 Financial Crisis and the Little Depression. By Brian Wright. (Uneasy Money) Note that I don’t exactly agree with this because I think the laxity in banking regulations, subprime mortgages, and fed actions are what caused the financial crisis, but it’s good, and makes a point, because many still don’t understand the impact that this U.S. ethanol policy has had on the world’s Ag systems and ripple effect upon global commodities.

• New study maps carbon footprints, comes to some surprising conclusions. By Jonathan Thompson. (High Country News)

• INFOGRAPHIC: Our Food and Agriculture in Numbers. PDF (FAO)

• Mark Rasmussen, director of the Leopold Center, writes about farming fencerow to fencerow in the Midwest.(Leopold Center)

• Brooklyn Whole Foods integrates 20,000 square foot greenhouse by Gotham Greens, on its roof. (The Star) I starred this because it just seems to make so much sense.

• Soil, Weedkillers And GMOs: When Numbers Don’t Tell The Whole Story. By Dan Charles. (NPR)

Finally, expect Luddite photo day to reappear later this week. Cheers!

Update on the New Site

Overall, response has been very positive to the new Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily site. Thanks to all of my friends here for helping me promote it and spread the word, and for the helpful notes and comments, as well. It is no surprise that it appeals especially to certain readers —I think writers, researchers, and investors— and less to others, namely those who have hung out here mainly for my commentary and analysis.

I continue to feel strongly that following this new emphasis is the best use of my time, and that it is what is needed most today. It feels really right to me.

Thanks also for the comments and suggestions about the site. In the past couple of days I have tweaked the header subjects for the columns, so that, I think now they are grouped more logically, plus you no longer need to scroll down so far to get to the the USDA reports section. I’ve also started to put a small green asterisk next to those posts which I feel are especially valuable. FYI, I’m planning to leave links up for three or four months before they will be dropped off the bottom.

For best ease of use, I suggest that you open links in new tabs, so that it doesn’t disrupt your reading of headlines. (There are a number of ways to do this.) One reader called this important subject to my attention.

For this (BPA) site, expect a “lite” version going forward, but the overall emphasis and style shall remain similar, for now.

Please continue to help spread the word about the new site, and, as always, I welcome your feedback and comments. Thanks, loyal readers.
Kay M.

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PHOTO: Sculpture “Thinker on a Rock” by Barry Flanagan. Photo by Cliff @ Flickr CC.

Agriculture News Links – December 16, 2013


Paul Signac: The Pine, Saint Tropez, 1892-1893 ~ Oil on Wood ~ Hermitage, St. Petersburg

USDA, Navy Expand Farm-to-Fleet Biofuels Program (Farm Futures) Note that Vilsack sees the Navy as a consumer of biofuels “regardless of what the EPA may or may not do.”

Oil Seen as Main Driver of Ethanol and Grain Prices in UN Study. By Rudy Ruitenberg. (Bloomberg) AND Ethanol blends carry hidden risk. By Mike Williams. (Phys.org) AND Bill Would Axe Corn Ethanol Mandate. (Reuters)

New FDA ‘Rules’ Not Likely to Reduce Antibiotic Use On Farm. By Beth Hoffman. (Forbes)

Farmers Hoard Corn as Prices Drop. By Tony C. Dreibus. (WSJ) AND China rejects fifth US corn cargo in a month, citing GMO strain. (RT)

● FARMLAND: Canada’s CPPIB to buy farmland portfolio in Saskatchewan. By Euan Rocha and Rod Nickel. (Reuters) AND Iowa Farmland Values Hit a Record High. By Andrew Martin. (Bloomberg)

Two crop scientists from China are accused of trying to steal rice seed samples from a biopharmaceutical research facility in Kansas. By Bryan Thompson. (KMUW-Wichita) AND Three Chinese men charged with stealing U.S. seed technology. By Carey Gillam. (Reuters)

● ENERGY: New oil boom lurks in Denver-Julesburg Basin. By Mark Jaffe. (Denver Post) (Don’t miss the sentence, “Those old wells are perfect pathways for pollutants.”)

● ECONOMIC: Stagflation is not our fate — unless we let it be. By Lawrence Summers. (Wash-Post)

Progress Report: I’m very pleased to say that the new sister-site of Big Picture Agriculture is coming along and should be up and running in a couple short weeks. In the meantime, I shall keep you in suspense …stay tuned.—Kay