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January 2010 Archive for U.S. Farm Report Mailbag

RSS By: U.S. Farm Report, US Farm Report

Comments, questions, opinions...this is your chance to speak out regarding anything and everything reported on U.S. Farm Report. Viewer feedback updated regularly.

"Houseless" Farmsteads and More...

Jan 26, 2010
***Editor's Note: John's recent commentary on "houseless" farmsteads continues to generate a great deal of reaction.  We are posting his most recent comments from the January 23-24, 2010 edition of U.S. Farm Report followed by viewer input...

Farm Report Mailbag:
   I THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE HELPFUL TO ADDRESS ANOTHER ISSUE RAISED BY MY COMMENTS ABOUT ABANDONED FARMSTEADS. THIS CAME IN FROM DWIGHT SHAFFER:   "I WAS HUMORED BY THE WAY JOHN TRIED TO MAKE US BELIEVE THAT THE NEIGHBORS LEAVING THE FARM WAS SOMETHING OTHER THAN "LAND HOG GREED".
   THIS IS A VALID CRITICISM, AND ONE THAT TROUBLES MORE THAN A FEW OF US. MY EFFORTS TO EXPAND OUR FARM CLEARLY MEANS ANOTHER PRODUCER WILL NOT BE FARMING THOSE ACRES. NOR DO I HIDE BEHIND THE EXCUSE EVERYBODY ELSE IS DOING IT. WE ARE NOT HERD ANIMALS. 
   FIRST, IT IS CRUCIAL TO REMEMBER THAT THE NUMBER OF FARMERS IS DETERMINED BY LANDOWNERS - NOT OPERATORS. HOWEVER GREEDY I MAY BE, I REQUIRE THEIR COOPERATION FOR ME TO EXPAND.
   SECOND, ADVANCES IN PRODUCTIVITY MEAN WE CAN'T FULLY UTILIZE AS MANY FARMERS AS BEFORE. EFFORTS TO SPREAD OUT THE WORK IN OTHER INDUSTRIES HAVE NOT BEEN PARTICULARLY SUCCESSFUL, AT LEAST IN THE U-S.
   THIRD, OUR REVERENCE FOR MULTI-GENERATION FAMILY FARMS NECESSARILY MEANS ENTRY FOR OUTSIDERS OR SURVIVAL OF SMALLER OPERATIONS WILL BE DIFFICULT. CHILDREN OF LARGE FARMERS WILL ENJOY TREMENDOUS COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGES.
   FINALLY, ONE PERSON'S GREED IS ANOTHER'S AMBITION. WHILE SOME EXCORIATE FOLKS ON WELFARE, I SEE FEW SUCH CRITICS OFFERING TO CUT BACK THEIR JOB TO MAKE ROOM FOR AN AMBITIOUS UNEMPLOYED WORKER ON THE PAYROLL.  IN THE DEVELOPED WORLD THE IDEA THERE MAY NOT BE ENOUGH WORK FOR EVERYONE IS SLOWLY GAINING A HEARING. HOW WE ALLOCATE EMPLOYMENT COULD BE THE TEST OF OUR ECONOMY IN THE FUTURE.

VIEWER REACTION:

      In a recent commentary regarding "greedy land grabbers" you mention that an established farm family will always have an advantage, especially with the decrease in farms.  While this is undoubtedly true one of the hidden dangers is that as an industry decreases in players innovations are inhibited.  It has been my observation that farmers only listen to each other and are very reluctant to accept any type of change until Homer, who farms down the road and everyone know is an idiot, prospers due to a new technology or a radical farming method.  It also seems that most farmers get their start by being born into a farm family or marrying into one, which brings me to my question:  are there any ways for a young college graduate with no family connections to start their own farm?
Sincerely,
Duane Rowlson
Wyoming, Michigan


Dear John,
   Carried to its logical conclusion, your argument sounds like justification to remove all constraints against allowing Shell Oil, Walmart, Total, or Toyota from taking over agricultural production -- as if there is zero value to society in having many families on smaller farms, supporting rural towns, schools, and churches.
Van


John,
   I have watched your comments about larger farms and fewer farmers, I'm 73 years old and still farm our small farm,I have seen many farmers hang it up and rent out their farms to the "big guy", I have also seen our small towns die, equipment dealers close up and chain store convenience stores drive out the family filling stations, livestock sale barns close,small hog producers go out of business, just to name a few all in the name of your so called "progress",look at the bigger picture and you can see this is not progress, it would be a lot better to have twenty farm families out on 500 acres each than one corporate farmer farming ten thousand acres,we need to work on finding ways to do this.
Al Barclay
Woodward, Iowa


Combine on the snow bank...

Jan 22, 2010


Grand Rapids, MI: January 20, 2010 – Thanks to a break in the weather, and a good set of tracks for the combine, we finished the 2009 harvest season!

Two New Letters...

Jan 19, 2010
John, 
   Your mail bag response showed a level of gracious humility with an acute perception of farming reality.  Rare in life, rarer still in journalism, whether from a conservative or liberal viewpoint.
   Utilizing skills learned from family, 4H, and FFA I raised sheep that partially paid my way through college during the triple double era (late 70s - early 80s) for interest, inflation and unemployment.  Many farms were lost during this time.  I am fortunate my parents were able to survive through those times; however, I know of many who did not.  I can’t help but wonder if the current economic climate parallels the late 70s/80s.  Albeit inflation and interest is lower; and yet, I perceive a national economic storm brewing.  Not because of the recent banking issues but rather because the average American worker can no longer afford to buy the products they produce while their own corporate executives achieve even greater bonuses. Ten percent of Americans earn fifty percent of the income. 
    Does one corner of a field produce 50% of the yield?  Of course, it would stand to reason, that portion of the field deserves 50% of the home grown “fertilizer”?  Again, thank you for comments and for your weekly thoughts.
Jay Kottke, CPA, MBA
Eagan, MN


   I'm not a farmer, living in a higher density populated area near the nations capitol, I miss the years when I lived in productive lands.  I enjoy watching the show.  You are carried on WBFF 45.1 here in the Baltimore/DC market.  Since I've converted over to Over the Air DTV I'm happy to find programs such as yours being broadcast over the air.  I love Baxter Black, John's comments, and the ability to remain aware of the challanges and successes of America's Farmers.  Many in my area forget the significance of Agriculture in our Nations significance in the world as a whole.  Thank you for your work!
Glenn Bock
 
 

A Bad Smell Rising in Iowa

Jan 18, 2010

   Our local elevator has a million bushel corn pile rottingWhat will/can they do with this corn? It's black and gummy. When the wind is out of the south I can smell it at my house,  4 miles away. There doesn't seem to be any dialog about it. I would presume it's garbage? But apparently it is being trucked out so will it end up being blended into animal feed? I'm afraid to buy dog food if that's the case. What about horse feed and chicken feed? It can't possibly be safe no matter how little is blended. What are they doing with it?

Toni Pralle
Latimer, IA

Bullish on Ear Corn

Jan 14, 2010
John, 
  I'm not so sure you should discount the idea of ear corn. The equipment manufacturers are always having to change what they produce, so that is little reason not to change our equipment away from combines. Lets face it, the combine of 2070 will probably not look like the combine of 1970 anyway. So we have to rebuild cribs, maybe they can be improved and how many of us would be put back to work. All the manufacturers produce is more expense computerized stuff that breaks every year away. And so far for, what I see what I see to collect the cob behind the combine looks like a New Idea 4 row picker with a wagon from the distance.
Stan Ford
 

   John, you remind me of some neighbors I have been privileged to have had over the decades - I really have enjoyed them, even tho I didn't agree with every idea they came up with.
 RE: the piece on the advisability of returning to ear corn harvest - I do agree with the premise that we spend a LOT of money in drying a crop that could largely be dried by some modern version of the old 'natural' ways.  I do not expect that it would wind up looking like the way that Al & I did it as kids in Indiana a few years back.
   I do not mean to imply that you don't understand ear corn harvest and handling, but I do submit that the 21st century version would not necessarily look and act like the mid-20th century process that we remember.  For that matter, I greatly suspect that the ear corn process that you remember was WAY more streamlined than that of you father's generation?
   I submit that if the advantage of having the cobs [& maybe some of the shucks, etc] as a feedstock for biopower is able to stand on its own economic merit, then we as an industry will figure out the details.
   As some are fond of pointing out -"follow the money" - if it works in such fashion that it helps pay the bills, farmers will figure how to make it work.  After farmers decide what they want to accomplish, the machinery industry will make it available.
   For decades now, several have touted cellulosic as the 'ideal' for ethanol feedstock.  Most of the loudest 'touters' predicated their support for such stuff as a 'free lunch';  talk of using currently non- or low- productive land and by using some funky sounding grass or other poorly defined magic would convert that previously marginally useless land into the Garden of Eden - oh, yes, all this at no cost and no maintenance!  What a deal!  All that had to happen was for someone - read 'farmer' - had to produce, harvest, and deliver this magic to the public.  No thought was given to the nuts and bolts, which explains why cellulosic ethanol is 'just around the corner - in the next few years', and has been for about 20+o years so far.
   You may have noticed a recent article that cited a university study that gave swithchgrass the nod as the preferred biomass grass species. The article also said that they were using supplemental fertilization - a point I had not seen before in the grass-to-biomass-feedstock discussion.  What?  No free lunch? I'm aghast!
   Do I believe we'll get to feasible cellulosic biopower?  Yes, but I also believe the technology to surmount the objections to ear corn harvest will be easier to adapt.  This is long, but one more observation - you mentioned that you would need several times the storage space for your current operation; some time back you suggested that the 'old' shelled corn storage you had was so inefficient that you really needed to do away with it in favor of more modern, efficient facilities.  Is that any different that going to a modern version of an ear corn handling system?
   Incidentally, a bushel is technically a volume measurement - 1.25 cubic feet for all except ear corn, which is 2.5 cubic feet to accommodate for the cob volume, so that the yield of shelled grain would in fact be 1.25 cubic feet.  The assumed [ and [pretty close rule of thumb] was 80%.
   I will bore you no longer.   Please tell Al 'Hi' from a classmate he is kind enuff to say he remembers.  
May God Bless America!
Larry Whinery [AG '59]
Huntington, IN 46750

A New Batch of Letters

Jan 13, 2010
Editor's Note:  The feedback below was received following the January 9-10, 2010 edition of U.S. Farm Report...

Letter #1:
   I don't know one case where the people who previously owned a now-empty farmstead felt "freed-up" to leave their home. The many cases of men who committed suicide when they were forced off the farmstead do not suggest
that they felt "freed-up."
   Most farm wives who work in town (as well as at home) to keep the dairy operation going, don't feel "freed-up" when finally they have to sell the place. Closed country schools and churches don't appear any more "freed-up" than the empty farmsteads do.
   Perhaps today's children who have become accustomed to cell phones and driving themselves to school in town
do feel "freed-up" when they go off to college enroute to eventual urban lives -- until the nostalgia hits them in their 40's (too late).
   If you ever thought family farms were good for America, then the dead farmsteads and the clear trend they describe
should grieve your heart.
Van

Letter #2:
  I listened to your commentary on 1/9/10 on KCRG [Cedar Rapids, IA].  Yes, there aren't near as many farmers as we once had due to mind boggling increases in productivity. I'd have you consider the question "Once the people have left the farm, where do they go and what do they do?" Of course they go to the city but the question "What do they do?" still remains.
  Many sources note that China must create tens of millions of manufacturing jobs each year for the folks leaving Chinese agricultural land. Here in the US, there aren't many folks left on the farm period. Since our manufacturing economy has turned into a service economy, a job is hard to find and a living wage is like finding a diamond on a gravel road.
  I'd have you consider that US agriculture is a subset of a nation.....and that a subset of the world community. As the world forces more and more people into the cities from the countryside, the larger question of "What will they do?" continues to grow......and rest assured it will affect US agriculture. 
Uncle Bob


Letter #3:
I was humored by the way John tried to make us believe that the neighbors leaving the farm was something other than "land hog greed". We witnessed this in our area last fall. A young family dairy operation was forced to pay a high price for land, which the dairy was located on and they had been farming for a few years as renters. The land was auctioned off and a large farmer bid them up to a very high price. Don't tell me that this isn't the case in more places. John did make an effort to make the large operators feel right in what they have been doing, and will continue to do, by saying the previous tenants or owners went off to pursue their bigger dreams. In most cases a neighbor offered more rent or offered to buy the place forcing the party to have to go to pursue something else. Tell me how much is enough. Look in the want adds and usually one can find a young fellow wanting a farm to get started on.

Sincerely
Dwight Shaffer


Letter #4:
Dear Mr Phipps, 
 
   I believe the shrinking number of people in our rural / agricultural work over the past 100 or so years has indeed "freed-up" people for other endevours.
    They have gone on to give us numerous financial crises / wars / recessions / ever increasing taxes / iron grip on our schools and newspapers / 2500 page laws  / never ending regulations to the point of near dictatorship in the US.
I say: THEY SHOULD GET BACK TO THE FARM !!!
Jay Moore
Wentzville, MO

Letter #5:
Hello,
        My name is Bill and I am an "ol farm boy" from the "Great San Joaquin Valley".  My interest is in what is being done about nutrition and farming. Our country's health is dependent on it. Insurance companies, HMOs, doctors etc are all profiting from the ill health of our country. "The future of medicine is nutrition".  The problem is that our food doesn't have the nutritional value it use to have because farmers are paid for "tons and bushels" not nutrition. This is directly related to our country's poor health as we are rated 47th in the world in longevity and very bad in first year survivability of children. This is the state/statistic of nutrition in our country. One can read the Senate document of 1936 stating that the trace minerals that relate to body health that were in our soils are no longer there.
     Just as the "ground floor" movement started with "organic" farming "nutritional" farming needs to move forward and create a new movement that pays the farmer for nutritional food/commodities. The rancher/dairyman animal raiser checks the TDN of his commodities in order to raise/grow healthy animals and make a profit.. It is everyone's responsibility to make sure our food is nutritional and not anemic. If people knew the difference in the nutritional value of our food 40 or 100 years ago compared to now there would be a wake up call. Farmers would be paid more for getting all the minerals back into the ground so the crops could absorb them and have healthier, tastyer and longer shelf life foods.
    Pull up your USDA composition of foods reference and check the nutrient value of the staples/vegetables in the 1950/60s and then look at the values today. Calcium is depleted 75% in some commodities. This is horrendous, Also realize that calcium, magnesium are the bulk minerals when in deficiency are related to so many dieses.
   If you need anymore references to health and nutrition feel free to contact me, I would like to be part of this movement. References to consider; Dr Joel Wallachs lectures on soils and nutrition, and the history of nutrition relating to the Egyptians and other races. 90 essentials including 60 minerals Senate Doc 236 in 1936 stating the condition of our soils USDA composition of foods 1940 and 2008.  University studies backup all this information and should be made public. 
Thank God for American Farmers!!
Regards,
William Hamel
 

LOTS of Letters...Continued...

Jan 08, 2010
Editor's Note:  The following comments came in following the December 26-27, 2009 & January 2-3, 2010 editions of U.S. Farm Report...

LETTER #1:
A couple of months ago we heard quite a bit about man made global warming and how the world needed the U.S. to hurry up with cap and trade so we could measure our carbon usage and be charged accordingly. Now that the wind chill is -20 over half the country I haven't heard that much about it. Two questions: 1) what proof is there is really man made global warming or for that matter  any proof of global warming at all.2) Does anyone wonder, as I do, if God isn't trying to show us who is really in charge after all.
Sincerely,
Dennis Tucker
Rogersville,MO

LETTER #2:
You have had two people on saying there is no inflation . They must have a large amount of desposable cash around .I do agree that people not working have closed their check books , because their empty . They also must not grocery shop as . every week prices have gone up.In some cases as much as 60% . True some items have been on sale but all in all anyone that has to eat has been paying more . At the end of the month we are running out of money. 

James Roger Jones
K8JJ
Submarine Veteran
 
*LETTER #3:
   Your hosts stated on today's RFD show that market movements are influenced by now three items (i) supply (2) demand (3) hedgefunds and their allocation. How long will farmers have to wait until it is recognized that these hedge funds create instability and market swings of $ 1.00 per bu in bns and 40 ct/bu in corn within couple of days is not a health situation. When will it be recognized that these hedgefunds are running this market to the detriment of the commercials and the farmers/livestock raiser. Commerce can not operate in this environment is instability where prices move in nano seconds. We need STABILITY otherwise we are held hostage by these rough traders!
Regards, 
Herb Putz  

*LETTER #4:
Dear John,
   The reason we have a surplus of milk is not because the dairy farmer is being compensated properly. We are not even covering the cost to produce it. The reason is because of the economy in the world and the lack of buyers for the product and also the fact that the check off dollars could not even stop the down sizing of the containers that yogurt and ice cream are sold in. With the 8 oz container. If the consumer bought 12, they bought 96 oz. With the 6 oz container, they only buy 72 ounces. That is a difference of 24 ounces. That is loosing the sale of 3 of the 8 oz container of yogurt and the consumer would need to buy 4 more of the 6 oz containers to equal the sale of 12 of the 8 oz containers.
Sincerely,
Bob Huestis

*LETTER #5:
Dear Mr Phipps,
   I was supprised to hear that you think Global Warming is a non event sponsored by the political left wing. My valley used to get  two feet of snow two or three times a year.  The snow kept the bark beetle in check..no longer.  The fir and pine are dying.  This has nothing to do with politics just climate disruption.  I noted you also seem to be in favor of removing all plant material from the corn fields for use as fuel. Stripping the fields will force farmers to rely on chemical inputs and leave the farmer at the mercy of chemical producers. A poor idea for the future of agriculture. 
Will Etherington
Cascade Home Inspections
Selma, Oregon

*LETTER #6:  
Mr. Phipps,
    Lets get one thing straight; whatever the EPA does to promote and deal with the idea that man has caused the slight warming of climate is going to screw the American farmer.  Sure, the higher price of corn due to a huge amount being used for ethanol production can be perceived to be a benefit.  However, the higher price of corn has the downside of increasing the cost of producing meat and thus decreasing demand for it at the retail counter.  Another downside to using ethanol for motor fuel is that one uses more gallons of that fuel than petroleum based fuel due to the lower heating value per gallon of ethanol compared to gasoline.  Our Otto cycle engines are devices for converting heat into mechanical motion.
   Likewise, using soybean oil as feedstock for Diesel fuel is worse than a joke.  When I went to start my combine this fall I lost three days of harvest time, a cost of $505 to get a stuck injection pump overhauled and a $175 bill to the local John Deere dealer to remove the pump.  I called the dealer on Tuesday about the problem and it was Thursday before he could get a mechanic out to remove the pump which I needed to have done because I could not see the timing marks.  That three day loss of bean combining time has left me with nearly thirty acres still in the field.
   If "going green" is such a wonderful thing, then rather than clubbing the shrinking productive part of the economy into using "alternative fuels" the smart thing to do would be for government, at all levels, be mandated to cease using fossil fuels in any form.  This mandate should include the executive branch, all of the legislative branch and all of the judicial branch and all of their employees.  With government being such a large part of the economy this would do far more to "reduce green house gasses" than the mandates being placed in private citizens.
     I could just gag when I see nit-wit Al Gore bloviating about how we should reduce "green house gasses" when he just flew half way around the world in his private jet from his huge home in Tennessee.  When I see him being pulled around the country in a horse drawn carriage, wood smoke coming from his chimney and travel to foreign lands in a sailing vessel I will believe that there is a serious problem with global warming.  As I sit here contemplating going out at sunrise in sub zero temperature to thaw out a frozen water tank and look over corn and soybeans still in the field due to a cool, wet growing season I find it hard to buy the idea!
David Snider
Minier, IL

LETTER #7:
Hello John,
   I just finished watching US Farm Report on December 27.  It is always interesting how people are coming with contraptions to harvest corn cobs to make ethanol for fuel.   Well I have a NEW IDEA.   My NEW IDEA is a machine that picks the ears of corn off of the stalks just like a combine except it doesn't remove the kernels of corn from the cob. Instead it loads the ears into a wagon for transporting to storage. We store the ears in a building that is specially designed to allow air, powered by the wind, to flow through between the ears of corn.  This allows the corn to dry slowly but naturally.  I then use the propane gas that isn't used to dry the corn to heat my house in the winter. Then after the corn is dry we use another special machine to separate the kernels from the cobs and loads them in a truck or wagon.  This makes the corn available for sale or for feed for my livestock and the cobs are available for use as beddding for my livestock or they can be burned in my stove that heats my shop.   Now some people will tell you that this is an old fashioned way of  gathering corn cobs but I know that it is a NEW IDEA.  It says so right on the machine.                   
Paul  Betz
Compton,  Illinois


LETTER #8:
   Watched Baxter Black's comentary regarding being an American.  This was the most profound report I ever heard.  IT moved me very much.  I wish I could live up to this model being born in America, which I was.  This report puts us in a frame of mind reminding all of us what it means to be a proud American citizen.  Thank for airing this and reminding us all. 
Dennis Schoonbeck 
Norton Shores, MI

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