3 Picks: SD Cattle Catastrophy, Japan’s Groundwater, Sustainable Barn


Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) Catastrophic Early Snowstorm Kills Thousands of Cattle in South Dakota: By Chet Brokaw. “‘It’s the worst early season snowstorm I’ve seen in my lifetime.’ Early estimates suggest western South Dakota lost at least 5 percent of its cattle. Some individual ranchers reported losses of 20 percent to 50 percent of their livestock.’ …”

2) Japanese Municipalities’ are Creating Initiatives to Conserve Groundwater: By Junji Hashimoto. In Japan, where they have been using more groundwater since the 2011 earthquake, farmers and municipalities are working together and creating ordinances to use groundwater in conjunction with monitoring recharge rates. Through methods of cooperation, and a recharge calculation formula which reduces water fees when greater amounts of groundwater are recharged, they are smartly planning for the future.

3) UK’s Award-winning eco-build slashes thousands from farm’s running costs: “…by combining modern technology with traditional materials like sheep fleece and straw, it is possible to create a sustainable rural building that not only has a very low carbon footprint it is also saving many thousands of pounds in running costs. … Materials used in the construction and for running the building were sourced from the fields of the Allerton Project farm, including straw for the walls and sheep fleece for insulation. Wood chip harvested from the estate’s own woodland provide fuel for the biomass boiler to heat the hot water and the thermostatically zoned under-floor heating. Rainwater is collected for the toilets and showers, while sixteen roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels provide electrical power to the building…”

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

Photo credit: Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

How are our Agricultural Exports Doing?

I have been a fan of the fine job that Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer do in analysis and writing over at the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee, in Knoxville. This fall they have been writing about the changing role that U.S. agricultural exports are playing in the increasingly competitive global market. Below, I’ve republished their entire writing about corn, followed by links to their articles about the export situations for soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice.

Corn exports: A case of unrealized expectations and farm policies that did not deliver

Corn is, without a doubt, the most important crop grown by US farmers and yet for the 2012 crop year US corn exports are projected to be a paltry 715 million bushels, the lowest level since 1970. In addition, for the first time since 1970, wheat exports exceeded corn exports.

The short explanation for this situation lays blame on a severe drought in the major corn production areas in the US. The longer explanation is a bit more complicated than that. The drought is just part of a larger story that has played out over the last half-century.

In 1960, US corn production was just under 4 billion bushels, nearly the same as non-US corn production (all years are harmonized to a standard crop year that that begins in what closely corresponds to the US fall harvest in the named year and ends at the beginning of the next crop year). By 2010, US corn production had tripled to 12.5 billion bushels before falling to 10.8 billion bushels in 2012. During that same period, non-US corn production increased to 20.3 billion bushels.

While both US and non-US yields nearly tripled between 1960 and 2010, US harvested acres increased by 14 percent. At the same time, non-US corn harvested acres increased by 79 percent, accounting for the lion’s share of the gain in production, relative to the US.

World corn exports as a percent of domestic consumption was 7.2 percent in 1960. By 1975 world exports had jumped to over 16 percent of domestic consumption and remained above that level until 1982 when it fell to 14 percent. In the years since 1982, corn exports relative to domestic consumption have remained below 16 percent, falling to 10.7 percent in 2012.

At 275 million bushels in 1960, US exports were an almost half of world corn exports. In 1972 US corn exports jumped to 77.9 percent of world corn exports and remained above 70 percent for sixteen of the next twenty-three years. In five of those years, the US share of world corn exports exceeded 80 percent, including 1995. With the drought in 2012, it was the non-US exports that stood at 80 percent, a level unseen in the preceding 52 years.

The 1970s was a time of unprecedented growth in US corn exports. Growth continued into in the early 1980s, but fell sharply in the mid-1980s. While the US share of world corn exports was relatively high off-and-on over part of the period after the mid-1980s, there has been no upward trend in US corn exports during the last 28 years.

Non-US corn exports on the other hand have expanded greatly, reaching 1 billion bushels in 1999 and hitting 3 billion bushels in both 2011 and 2012. In 2012, for the first time, the US was not the world’s largest exporter of corn, falling to third behind Brazil and Argentina. As recently as 1998, Brazil exported just 315 thousand bushels, compared to 965 million bushels in 2012.

Clearly, corn production and exports are subject to long-term trends. For production, the trend has been decidedly upward in the US and elsewhere in the world. Increases in technology and the rate of adoption of new technologies have the potential to keep this trend going.

So what does all this tell us?

Beginning with the 1985 Farm Bill, the US has pursued policies thought to be consistent with getting grain exports—corn exports specifically—back on an upward trend similar to the 1970s. Those efforts have been doomed to failure in large measure by the steady increase in corn acreage in the rest of the world. Furthermore, additional future increases in worldwide corn acreages will be coming from places like Brazil, not the US. Also, the rate of increase in non-US corn yields may well accelerate in the future.

The US will continue to be an important player in the corn export market. But declarations and farm policies predicated on the expectation that corn exports will be the primary driver for a prosperous US agriculture are no more likely to deliver in the future than they have over the last nearly three decades.

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Soybeans: US export trend is up, share of world exports is down

In contrast to corn where US exports have generally been flat since hitting a peak between 1979 and 1981, US soybean exports have generally trended upward over time. The US exported 5.8 MMT (million metric tons) of soybeans in 1964, passed the 10 MMT threshold in 1969, the 20 MMT threshold in 1978 falling below that level in 7 of the next 27 years before passing the 30 MMT level in 2006 and the 40 MMT level three years later in 2009. With a drought reduced crop, 2012 US soybean exports were 35.8 MMT….

US wheat exports down by nearly half from 1981 peak while non-US wheat exports have doubled

US wheat production stood at 1.4 billion bushels in 1960, dropping to 1.1 billion bushels before taking off as the export boom of the 1970s began to surge. By 1981 and 1982, US wheat production had reached 2.8 billion bushels, double its level just 20 years earlier. And farmers and politicians alike thought that ever-expanding exports had solved the “farm problem.” Since then US wheat production has leveled off remaining in the 2.0 to 2.5 billion-bushel range as producers sought more profitable alternatives….

Most US cotton production traditionally went to domestic mills, now it goes abroad

During the last half century, cotton production has had its share of ups and downs; though this year’s cotton production is expected to be near what it was fifty-plus years ago. Cotton demand has also been variable, but what is most striking is the shift in where the cotton is utilized, that is, processed. Traditionally domestic demand in the form of purchases by US cotton mills dominated US cotton demand, but in recent years export demand has become as dominate as domestic demand used to be….

US is the 4th largest rice exporter; each of the 3 largest rice exporters export more than US produces

US production and consumption of rice have increased markedly over the last half-century, but compared to Asian countries, the US plays a bit-role in world rice production. Most of the rice consumed in the US is domestically grown, though less now than years ago….

3 Picks: Sustainable Cities, Floating Farmers Market, Freshii


Food Gardens, Channels, Vertical Farms – Shanghai Sustainable Masterplan

Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) Cities are on the front lines of climate change: By Stephen Leahy. “With the backing of their residents, many cities and towns around the world are becoming cleaner, greener and better places to live by banning cars, improving mass transit, reducing energy use and growing their own food while adding public and green spaces. “Getting cities right solves many problems,” Register said. Cities are truly ground zero for action on climate change, protection of ecosystems, biodiversity, energy use, food production and more because that’s where most people live today, he said. Cities consume about 75 percent of the world’s energy and resources. They are directly or indirectly responsible for 75 percent of global carbon emissions…”

2) Floating farmers market to revive historic trade route: By Amy Langfield. “A trade route used by the Mohawks, missionaries, fur traders and colonists will take a step toward revival this weekend as the Vermont Sail Freight Project embarks on a 330-mile journey downriver, stopping at historic river towns along the Hudson. They’ll pick up cargo from 30 farmers and sell it at pop-up markets on its way to New York…”

3) Freshii saves energy, water, and chemicals: By Dan Rowe. “Freshii is unique in that they use no dishwashers, hoods, ranges or ovens, reducing the footprint left by their restaurants. To eliminate the need for dishwashers, they have opted for 100 percent biodegradable food-safe mixing bags to create their salads and custom rice/noodle bowls, which in total—including the production and transportation of the bags to Freshii restaurants—use less than five times the electricity of even the most energy efficient dishwashers…”

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

About the Photo: Part of the Sustainable Urban Masterplan for Shanghai, this image shows the channels with pedestrian and slow traffic lanes on the right, and urban food gardens on the left. The channel transports water from vertical farm to vertical farm, cooling the city and being filtered through various plants and organisms along the way. Two vertical farm buildings sit in the background, these farms supply sustainable energy, fresh water and food to 50.000 people in a range of one kilometer around their center. The open lower floors of the tower in the middle serves as a community garden, where residents can grow their own spices and specialty crops.

3 Picks: Foreigner Farmland Holdings, China Buys Ukraine Farmland, Bananas


Photo by Luxt Design @FlickrCC

Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) USDA Releases Annual Report of Foreign Investors of Ag Land: “The data gathered through Dec. 31, 2011, indicate that foreign investors hold an interest in 25,715,588 acres of U.S. agricultural land, which is approximately 2 percent of all privately held U.S. agricultural land, and 1 percent of all land in the U.S. The total foreign-held U.S. agricultural acres as of the last report, dated Dec. 31, 2010, were 24,224,807, resulting in an increase of 1,490,781 acres.”

2) China Buys Ukraine Farmland: “As overseas investments go, this one is pretty huge. China is buying up to 3 million hectares of farmland in Ukraine, an area the size of Belgium. Two state-owned firms will take over the land in the eastern Dniepropetrovsk region to grow crops and raise pigs for consumption back home.”

3) Going Bananas: Bananas have been the best-selling item at Walmart for several years. And, a company in China is switching from oranges to bananas, as less land is needed and there is a faster turn-around by banana trees. “Asian Citrus, which operates 100 square kilometres of plantations, said that it was replacing some its 4.2m orange trees with banana palms, and moving into grapefruit and “possible other fruits”, to reduce its reliance on a single crop. The move follows a year in which orange output from one of its three plantations, Hepu, tumbled 23%, hurt by a replanting programme and an “extensive infection” of citrus canker, which causes premature fruit drop.”

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.