Agriculture News April 18, 2011

1. Kudos to the DesMoines Register for showing us what a pickle the current ethanol policy has gotten us into: Planting season: High stakes sow seeds of anxiety across Iowa. Grocery shoppers could see meat prices soar because livestock producers – faced with frighteningly high feed costs – would further reduce their herds, resulting in another round of price increases for beef and pork. The U.S. Department of Agriculture warns that retail meat prices could increase as much as 7 percent this year, on top of 9 percent last year.

2. Policy picks winners and losers: Ethanol is dividing rural America. The corn farmer in me likes the prices, but the turkey farmer in me sees the real damage.” The chicken sector’s annual feed bill has nearly doubled since 2006 to almost 13-billion dollars. Testifying on behalf of the National Chicken Council, Michael Welch, President and CEO of Harrison Poultry in Georgia, said ethanol policy needs significant reform.

3. Here’s another unintended consequence of ethanol policy: Farmers urged to maintain Bt refuge – “There is a concern that as corn prices rise, farmers will be tempted to plant less of a refuge because having that Bt protection on more acres means greater yields,” he said. “At the same time, there are many Bt products that offer different types of protection, so it is more difficult to calculate a proper refuge.”

4. Plus, another loser, the catfish farmer and the restaurants which rely upon the product, story from the WSJ: Rising grain prices and cheaper imports have forced many domestic catfish farmers out of business, creating a shortage of American fish that has pushed prices up.

5. The ethanol policy leads to a snake eating its own tail as this Reuters article reports that “U.S. ethanol production fell again in the latest week, the government said on Wednesday, as high corn prices raised producer costs and high gasoline prices cut into demand for fuel.”

6. Drug-resistant bacteria found widely in meat – Meat and poultry sold in supermarkets may be widely contaminated with staph bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, according to a study released today. Researchers tested beef, chicken, pork and turkey from stores in five cities and found Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in nearly half of the samples. In 52 percent of those contaminated samples the bacteria were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics.

7. Super Corn Sought to Limit Nitrogen Use, Pollution – “I’m a believer that we will be able to fix nitrogen in corn some day and that it’s going to change the world,” said Nicholas Duck, head of corn and soybean research for Bayer CropScience. “That said, I think we are a long, long way from being able to understand how to do that.”

8. My friend, Joshua Brown (Reformed Broker), reports on the Agriculture 2.0 investor’s conference held last week in SanFrancisco.

9. Let Us Eat Fish – But there is little correlation between how many fish are caught and how many actually exist; over the past decade, for example, fish catches in the United States have dropped because regulators have lowered the allowable catch. On average, fish stocks worldwide appear to be stable, and in the United States they are rebuilding, in many cases at a rapid rate.

10. Novozymes ties up with M&G, Italy to construct cellulosic ethanol plant, to be commissioned in 2012 – Novozymes, the world’s largest producer of industrial enzymes, has tied up with Mossi & Ghisolfi Group for the supply of enzymes. Now M&G has commenced the construction of the world’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant at Crescentino, Italy. The plant will produce 13 million gallons (50 million litres) of ethanol annually from wheat straw, energy crops, and other sources of biomass. Both Novozymes and M&G will look at developing bio-based substitutes and a range of chemical intermediates.

11. China hopes to increase trade with Ukraine to $10 billion in 2012 – The parties also noted that in 2010 trade between the two countries grew by more than third (36%).

12. World Bank Food Price Index Up 36% versus Year Ago – How the World Bank is Helping – The World Bank has a multi-pronged approach to boost agriculture and food security. In the short term, the World Bank’s Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP) is helping some 40 million people in need through $1.5 billion in support. Already, more than 40 low income countries are receiving, or will receive, assistance through new and improved seeds, irrigation, and other farm support and food assistance for the most vulnerable people. For example, in Benin, fertilizer provided through these resources led to the production of an extra 100,000 tons of cereal. For the longer-term, the World Bank Group is boosting its spending on agriculture to some $7 billion a year from $4.1 billion in 2008.

13. Moving beyond subsistence farming in Sierra Leone – With funds from the European Union, Ireland, the Islamic Development Bank and Italy, 192 centres are being built and equipped with rice mills, cassava graters and drying floors, while board members and equipment operators are receiving training.

14. France hones in on second rank in wheat exports – France firmed its grip on second place in the world league of wheat exporters, estimating that shipments outside the European Union would surge by 29% this season, faster than previously expected.

15. Australia Can Expect Bumper 2011-12 Winter Wheat Crop.

16. Supply is exceeding demand in the international shipping freight markets these days driving down rates: Cheap freight, behind unusual crop deals, to stay – Costs of shipping corn from the US Gulf to the German port of Hamburg, for instance, have tumbled by 24% to $28 a tonne over the past year, and to China by some 21% to $58 a tonne, increasing the feasibility of transporting grain over greater-than-usual distances to importers.

17. Paraguay expects record soyabean production – Paraguay’s 2010/11 soya harvest was projected at a record 8.4m tonnes, 1m tonnes above the start-of-season estimate, the Agriculture Ministry said today. The forecast would put the small South American country’s soy production 12.3% above last season’s record output.

18. Ukraine. French AgroGeneration is going to double its farmed land area in Ukraine by 2013 – The Paris-based agricultural company AgroGeneration specializing in grain and oilseed production intends to expand its farmed land area in Ukraine by 50 Th ha (to 100 Th ha) by the end of 2012, said Charles Beigbeder, the company’s president, on April 5. “Now we have achieved a balance, although this was a very hard problem for us. It is difficult to work in Ukraine. In addition, a large-scale drought hit last year. However, the plans remain unchanged: to lease lands in Ukraine or buy agricultural enterprises and increase the overall area to 100 Th ha,” he noted.

19. New Mexico’s 2010 chile crop saw its lowest yield in nearly 4 decades – New Mexico’s 2010 chile crop was the smallest in 37 years, according to a report released this month by agriculture officials. In all, some 8,700 acres, both red and green, were harvested across the state, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. That’s about 29.3 percent less than the previous year and 74.7 percent less than an all-time high reached in 1992. Mostly to blame for the declining acreage is an increase in foreign chile competition, said Gene Baca, with the New Mexico Chile Association and vice president of Bueno Foods in Albuquerque. … The statewide crop was valued at $41.6 million in 2010, according to the statistics.

20. Montana Hutterite colonies diving into commercial salmon farming.

21. Flax returns to the Willamette Valley in fertile land that once grew grass seed – A collaboration of like-minded farmers is converting grass-seed farms to grains, beans and edible seeds…

22. Global Grains Trader Glencore to go Public – As widely anticipated by market analysts, Switzerland-based commodities trader Glencore has announced its intention to become a public company, saying in a regulatory filing it plans to sell a 15 to 20% stake to pursue further acquisitions from London and Hong Kong.

23. Iowa will have the world’s largest turkey hatchery: Up to 50 million turkey eggs will be hatched at the facility annually when it’s at full speed within two or three years, Kenyon said.

24. Sugar Cane Fertilises Its Own Soil – As well as an environmental activist, Tavares is also an agronomist and a producer of honey, which he exports primarily to Asia. He is now forced to look for honey in other states, since the sugar cane invasion and subsequent loss of forests has driven the bees away, decimating local honey production. “There were 2,500 beehives in Ribeirão Preto 30 years ago,” he said.

25. Michigan embraces indoor shrimp farming – Today, Russ Allen is looking for a way to build a shrimp Rouge Plant — a pollution-free, recirculating facility that could breed, grow, process and ship a million pounds of shrimp a year. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Allen, who spent 23 years establishing outdoor shrimp farming in Central and South America, has been raising shrimp indoors in Okemos since 1994 at his Seafood Systems research facility. He closely guards his proprietary technology from other companies and scientists around the world who also are racing to create the first successful, commercial-sized, indoor shrimp-growing system. … To make that possible, Allen said, he needs $10 million, which he has been trying to raise for at least four years. … “We can build another empire doing this. It’s not the return in the next five years. It’s where we’re going to be in 20 years.”

26. These next two items demonstrate an increasing trend related to high food prices – theft. The NYTs reports on tomato thefts due to high prices: Late last month, a gang of thieves stole six tractor-trailer loads of tomatoes and a truck full of cucumbers from Florida growers. They also stole a truckload of frozen meat. The total value of the illegal haul: about $300,000. And this BBC video shows how one UK farmer protects his flock of sheep from theft, by painting them orange. Lifestock thefts are up 500% there.

27. This BBC Video talks about the rate of dangerous farming accidents.

28. Grain bag recycling project launched. This story out of Saskatchewan is important since grain bags are gaining in popularity throughout the world. What is happening to this plastic when it is discarded?

29. From NPR: Sweet and powerful, honey has been used since the time of ancient Egypt to treat everything from diarrhea to open sores, yet it fell out of favor in the last century as antibiotics became all the rage in medicine. But now, as patients all over the world increasingly suffer infections with MRSA and other drug-resistant bacteria, honey is getting another look from mainstream medicine. Microbiologist Rose Cooper of the University of Wales Institute has been on the cutting edge of honey research for the last few years. But her report this week at a big microbiology conference that just a tiny amount of Manuka honey seems to help fight MRSA — at least in a petri dish — is creating a bit of a buzz.

30. Great Ag blog I’ve discovered lately: National Young Farmers Coalition.

"Volatility and Record Risk in Agriculture?"

There is a report at of a meeting involving 75 bankers and lenders from across the state of Texas for the “91st annual Agriculture and Rural Affairs Conference.”

Of particular interest was the summary of the comments by Mark Pearson, host of “Market to Market,” who presented his global outlook on agriculture:

While there is some economic recovery and an improving consumer confidence, he advised the audience to watch China’s military and economic actions, the growing youth population in the Middle East, industrial developments in Africa and the increasing world demand for food and agricultural products. Lenders will need to understand what is happening in the world and not just the U.S. agriculture sector in order to maintain their businesses and be prepared for changes in this current market environment, Pearson said. “We are in volatile times and that’s not going to change. As agricultural lenders, never before has your expertise been in such demand,” he said. “If you are in any sector of agriculture, you are facing record risk today.”

Does that last line sound extremely bearish, or is it just me?
K. McDonald

Regional Focus: Uros Islands of Peru’s Lake Titicaca and the Uru People

photo: flickr
Woman cooking in the Uros Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru.

The Uros are a pre-Incan people who live on forty-two self-fashioned floating islands in Lake Titicaca Puno, Peru and Bolivia. They form three main groups: Uru-Chipayas, Uru-Muratos and the Uru-Iruitos. The latter are still located on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca and Desaguadero River.

The Uros use bundles of dried totora reeds to make reed boats (balsas mats), and to make the islands themselves.

The Uros islands at 3810 meters above sea level are just five kilometers west from Puno port. Around 2,000 descendants of the Uros were counted in the 1997 census, although only a few hundred still live on and maintain the islands; most have moved to the mainland. The Uros also bury their dead on the mainland in special cemeteries.

The Uros do not reject modern technology: some boats have motors, some houses have solar panels to run appliances such as televisions, and the main island is home to an Uros-run FM radio station, which plays music for several hours a day.

photo: wikipedia

The Uros descend from a millennial town that according to legends are “pukinas” who speak Uro or Pukina and that believe they are the owners of the lake and water. Uros used to say that they have black blood because they did not feel the cold. Also they call themselves “Lupihaques” (Sons of The Sun).

The purpose of the island settlements was originally defensive, and if a threat arose they could be moved. The largest island retains a watchtower almost entirely constructed of reeds.

The Uros traded with the Aymara tribe on the mainland, interbreeding with them and eventually abandoning the Uro language for that of the Aymara. About 500 years ago they lost their original language. When conquered by the Inca empire, they had to pay taxes to them, and often were made slaves.

The larger islands house about ten families, while smaller ones, only about thirty meters wide, house only two or three.

The islets are made of totora reeds, which grow in the lake. The dense roots that the plants develop and interweave form a natural layer called Khili (about one to two meters thick) that support the islands. They are anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top constantly, about every three months; this is what it makes exciting for tourists when walking on the island. This is especially important in the rainy season when the reeds rot much faster. The islands last about thirty years.

Each step on an island sinks about 2-4″ depending on the density of the ground underfoot. As the reeds dry, they break up more and more as they are walked upon. As the reed breaks up and moisture gets to it, it rots, and a new layer has to be added to it. It is a lot of work to maintain the islands. Because the people living there are so infiltrated with tourists now, they have less time to maintain everything, so they have to work even harder in order to keep up with the tourists and with the maintenance of their island. Tourism provides financial opportunities for the natives, while simultaneously challenging their traditional lifestyle.

photo: wikipedia
Uros’ Food, Diet, and “Agriculture”

Much of the Uros’ diet and medicine also revolve around these totora reeds. When a reed is pulled, the white bottom is often eaten for iodine. This prevents goiter. This white part of the reed is called the chullo (Aymara ). Like the Andean people of Peru rely on the Coca Leaf for relief from a harsh climate and hunger, the Uros rely on the Totora reeds in the same way. When in pain, the reed is wrapped around the place in pain to absorb it. Also if it is hot outside, they roll the white part of the reed in their hands and split it open, placing the reed on their forehead. In this stage, it is very cool to the touch. The white part of the reed is also used to help ease alcohol-related hangovers. It is a primary source of food. They also make a reed flower tea.

Drying fish in the sun

Local residents fish ispi, carachi and catfish. Trout was introduced to the lake from Canada in 1940, and kingfish was introduced from Argentina. Uros also hunt birds such as seagulls, ducks and flamingos, and graze their cattle on the islets. They also run crafts stalls aimed at the numerous tourists who land on ten of the islands each year. They barter totora reeds on the mainland in Puno to get products they need, such as quinoa and other foods.

Grinding corn

Food is cooked with fires placed on piles of stones. To relieve themselves, tiny ‘outhouse’ islands are near the main islands. The ground root absorbs the waste.

source: wikipedia