A Luddite Day Seeger Valentine

♥ Pete Seeger (left), singing and playing banjo, for Valentine’s Day party to mark the opening of the United Federal Labor Canteen. Date: Between 1935-1945. Library of Congress.

Pete Seeger died earlier this year at the age of 94. He supported the environment and the family farmer and appeared at the 2013 Farm Aid Concert where he played “This Land is Your Land”.

(Today is Luddite Photo Day at B.P.A.)

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!

Duck Sex

Ok, so this is a pretty respectable site, eh??

Not much x-rated.

Until today.

No, I wasn’t surfing the ‘net for duck porn, someone actually sent this link to me. You see, I meet with some awesome ladies for coffee on Saturday mornings, and we recently had a discussion about ducks, about eating ducks, about childhood memories about ducks, and about a pond in someone’s backyard here in Boulder where snapping turtles regularly eat the ducks swimming on it. Life eats life. Life is cruel. Get used to it.

Following that discussion, I received an email from one friend in the group who loves science, who sent me the link (below) with this note:

No one ever told me this fact about ducks – did you know this !? Is this something to share with our coffee group?

The video is simply titled “True Facts About the Duck”, which I’d have to say is an understated title.


I never knew these amazing facts about the duck. !!! How about you?

Photo © Andrea Westmoreland

Agricultural Predictions, Concerns, and, What’s New?

Desk calendar. Roy Lichtenstein. 1962.

To help kick off the new site, I didn’t post much in January, so today, I thought I’d recap the month from behind the scenes here. Again, the feedback I’ve received on Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily has been very positive and I do hope that each of you are using it as the great resource that it’s meant to be.

First off, a couple of new things.

1) I’ve added my personal twitter feed to the right sidebar here at Big Picture Agriculture since posts here will be less frequent. This will keep some updates to this site for those who don’t do twitter and want to check in occasionally on what I’m tweeting. (Twitter is the only social media that I do.)

2) Realizing that a fair number of readers value a little commentary, I’ve added a small commentary box to the upper lefthand corner on Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily. I plan to have fun with this and keep the space pithy, snarky, and at times, personal and off-topic. I will be changing this frequently.

3) I’ve recently changed the link font color scheme, also, on Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily — with black links and an orange hover color. Over time, I will see if I can change the color of the visited links, as the set-up has some complications for doing that at present. I might also see if there is some way to add a small comment box.

For those who’ve requested an RSS feed, I’m also looking into the possibilities.

About the crash.

No, not the stock market. My computer. For those who’ve read my commentary box this past week, I’ve written about my computer hard drive failure that happened with no warning whatsoever. Since my computer was only three years old and was working perfectly, I expected a warning, and so was…. you guessed it… unprepared. For the second time, I’ve tried to go Apple as a replacement, and this time looks like a charm as I’m loving the software and solid state machine. (Before my last computer purchase, yes, the one that died, I came home with a defective iMac and was extremely disappointed with Apple’s technological support service related to that situation, enough so to give up on them at the time.) Anyway, I lost my photos, and all my off-line Chrome apps that I was keeping a ton of info on. With a little luck, my local super-super-nice Geek Squad is retrieving the photos for me right now. You’d think I’d have known better by now than to live so dangerously.

For the second year in a row, Johan Oppewal at Boerderij, the largest farm magazine out of the Netherlands, has interviewed me for their January issue, asking my impression of what the year 2014 will bring in U.S. agriculture. This has been fun for me, as I couldn’t imagine a nicer person asking me questions over the phone for an hour from across the Atlantic, and his English is so impressively better than my Dutch. Readers here might enjoy knowing what I said. If so, it follows in the box below…

• We have a situation with depressed farm incomes this year because ag commodity prices have fallen, and we will get a ripple effect in falling farmland and rent prices. Will corn meet input costs?

• The GMO food labeling debate which is on ballots in 20 states following Hawaii’s move… How will it play out? How could that change agriculture in America? (Johan finds this interesting because attitudes are loosening up on this issue over there.)

• How will the farm bill change, which is to be passed in January 2014? We are pretty sure it will drop direct payments and increase the crop insurance program. Farmers need to know so they can plan accordingly and policy is everything.

• The looming severe drought in California: Only 5% of water will be granted to farmers next year under current conditions.

• Ongoing loss of CRP (conservation reserve program) lands in US. — 1.6 million more acres were lost last year after it had already shrunk by 25% in the previous five years. Farmers are farming the ditches, removing fences to farm, ploughing down trees to farm, and farming the hillsides. This, too, is a result of government policies creating an economics that encourages plowing everything under. Will that policy continue?

• Our military, the biggest consumer of petroleum in the nation, is stepping up the efforts to use biofuels for fueling the navy in an alliance between the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Defense. This, along with exports of ethanol, could help keep up the corn demand if the EPA mandate levels change.

• Global markets (other nations) are gaining market share in corn and soybean exports.

• As in your country, high tech farming continues to advance, precision ag, sensors, and the study of drones. As these industrial farm methods gain, they are being used in conjunction with more sustainable cover crops.

• Organic production is becoming economically competitive. The demand is there. Right now organic soybeans, or edamame beans in our grocery stores are imports from China!

• Irrigation continues to go strong, with not enough protection for depleting groundwater and aquifers. New systems continue to be installed, however they are also becoming more efficient.

• Farmers organizations are trying to improve their image through advertising. (like this Superbowl commercial from one year ago). Johan found this “odd”.

• California nut production is going crazy, China is importing our almonds and walnuts. The industry uses transported commercial honeybees from all over our nation, which is a set-up for a very abnormal bee situation.

• Diets: More and more consumers and foodies are shunning wheat products and going gluten free. The most popular new diet in America was the paleo diet this past year.

• The big farms keep getting bigger, and rural areas continue to depopulate, with the average age of the farmer around 58.

• I expect that the use of biotech methods to increase crop yields is a huge growing trend for the future, for example, Monsanto recently partnered with Novozymes for seed coating products.

• This year livestock farmers should do better because of lower feed prices.

• Long-range trends possible: Given right policy and for climate and dietary reasons, US crops could branch out from the predominant corn and soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice into more sorghum, barley, oats, sunflower seeds, dry peas, lentils, canola and peanuts and other crops, and if California loses water and is in a long term drought like those seen historically, other regions might start producing more of the vegetables and other crops known to be from California. ALSO, Canada is growing more corn and soy, as their industrial farming expands due to price incentives created by biofuels programs, and, in part, due to climate change.

Environmental Journalists.
I was also honored to have Dennis Dimick, Environmental Editor of National Geographic, ask me to weigh in with a few of my ideas about what the emerging headlines in environment and energy will be in the future, with an emphasis on agriculture, food, and water internationally, for his preparations to appear on a panel of six journalists at the Woodrow Wilson Center in DC last week. In my response, I gave him four topics of concern, and I’ve put them into the box below.

• The Middle East: In many of their nations, the population is exploding. They have energy to export and money, but they don’t have enough water or food. More and more headlines from there discuss their planning and researching on how to provide water and food for their people. They are putting great effort into this subject. In a few days, there is a huge sustainability/Ag conference in Abu Dhabi drawing innovators from around the globe to discuss the future of growing food sustainably through innovation. (As a wild idea, I wanted to go to this but found out too late, and didn’t get funding.) They also have global water conferences, continually look into methods of desalinating water, growing food in desert greenhouses, and they acquire land in other nations to help with their food security. The Middle East’s geopolitical situation is ever so fragile for so many reasons. The Strait of Hormuz carries oil out and grain in, so forbid it ever becomes impaired. The globe’s rapidly growing energy demand is becoming more and more complicated, with growing renewables, and our fracking technology, which will eventually be expanding around the world, has implications for their future long term energy export prices. Saudi’s domestic economic and their own energy demands are rising, so to meet their needs, they really need high oil revenue. And as the U.S. appears to be stepping back from its previously strong defense there, the question is whether new nations like China could step in more. Recently, on Sowing Agricutural Seeds Daily, I included this amazing news item: GCC countries plan to build a 2,000 kilometre pipeline costing $10.5 Billion to move water from Oman to Kuwait.

• The pollution in China will start becoming more of a target of concern of other nations (if it isn’t already). A recent PNAS study reveals that on some days, Chinese pollution contributed as much as 24 percent of sulfate concentrations over the western U.S., and that China has 16 out of 20 of the world’s most polluted cities. (No hypocrisy intended, as we import our goods from China which lead to much of this pollution.) Last year, China approved the construction of more than 100 million tonnes of new coal production capacity, or, six times more than a year earlier and equal to 10 percent of U.S. annual usage. Given that, and increased coal to liquids and gas plans, and the knowledge that they’ve polluted much of their land for food growing and much of their water, too, now we hear that rich younger Beijing citizens want their children to be able to live outside of China because of pollution.

• This drought in California is scary from an ag perspective and could lead to ugly fights between farmers (nut and vine growers want priority over lettuce and vegetable crops, for example). It could lead to higher food prices, changes in trade, or, relocation of some of the crops they are known for.

• Complexity of more and more technology is an ongoing concern… Is it saving us or will it bring us down? As my computer failed this week and I saw the insanity that goes on inside the Apple store, and, also know that we are trying to automate cars and tractors and gather more and more data from EVERYTHING, I really also worry about a serious technological failure on the horizon because of power failures, terrorism, solar flares, or who knows what, because more and more, technology is embedded into our food, ag, and water systems. Finally, there is a human element here that is in question philosophically.

• These are the negatives. I also see tons of positives happening…

Also, I received an inquiry about my availability to be on a panel at the BIO Convention in SanDiego this summer, but it is looking unlikely at this point.

(Earlier, I turned down an invitation to speak to a waterfowl hunting group in Wisconsin in March, about the loss of CRP land and policy related to that issue.)

Other than that, had a very interesting visit with a relative visiting Colorado on a ski trip who is an EE computer whiz/geek and suddenly finds himself a new northeast Nebraska farm landowner through inheritance (farmland inheritance is a quite a story in itself these days and he has quite a tale to tell just about that). He’s weighing and confronting the realities of being a conscientious absentee landowner who wants both to use sustainable methods and see some profits, too. This is a fascinating subject, as it is no doubt echoed across this nation, with, for example, more than half of farmland rented in many Iowa and Illinois counties according to 2007 USDA data. Sometime, I hope to make a post about this, and I’m proud to say that this family has been keeping up with what I write in this space in helping to sort through Ag issues.

Finally, good luck to local friend and reader B, and congratulations on his new farming venture as he finalizes an acreage purchase here in Boulder County this month. I’m looking forward to my tour of the property and will have the fun of adding my two cents to what his permaculture landscape planner says about using perennials to produce food, fiber, or beverage. That, too, just might be featured in an upcoming post someday.

Stay warm and safe. Spring is on its way judging by some recent Red Winged Blackbird and Great Horned Owl activity nearby. We’re having a mild Colorado winter this season with abundant Rocky Mountain snowfall, which is good, given the drought in the western U.S.

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.


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