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August 2008 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block, AgWeb.com

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

Best Practices

Aug 29, 2008
Last week, I was in the “heartland,” on the farm in Illinois, walking in the corn fields, checking population and ear size. I was also in Western Iowa where the corn and soybeans could make a record yield.

I don’t know if the national projected yield increase will prove to be accurate or not, but it is clear that things look a lot better than they did a month or two ago.

There is no business that is more uncertain and risky than this business of farming. We are subjected to so many variables that are out of our control. We face draught, floods, disease, pests, and market swings every day.

With all of that in mind, I am always impressed with the resilience, creativity, and how progressive this industry really can be.

We’re going to raise a big crop and meet the demand in spite of the hazards we have faced.

A friend said to me, “Okay, so the corn on your farm is good. How about the pigs?” I said, “They are happy.” He questioned, “How do you know they are happy?” My answer, “You walk into a barn and the pigs all turn their heads and look at you and then go ‘boof boof’ and run around and play and come back and stare at you. They are happy.”

Farmers take good care of their animals. If they aren’t comfortable and, yes -- happy, they won’t gain and go to market on time. Healthy well-treated animals produce healthy products.

Farmers today are using the best practices in growing their crops and raising their livestock. The practices are science-based. We don’t need animal rights extremists to tell us how to raise our pigs or calves or chickens. Also, we need to continue to use all the new technologies in growing crops. That’s the only way to stay ahead of demand.

Hats off to the American farmer!

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

Listen to the broadcast here.

Ten Days In Europe

Aug 21, 2008
Back from Europe. I was in Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, and Germany the last 10 days, riding a bicycle through the picturesque countryside. Beautiful, manicured fields of wheat, corn, potatoes, sunflowers. Europe has a very good crop. The corn has received optimum rainfall; maybe a little too much for the wheat. Some farmers are having a little trouble with their wheat harvest because of the wet weather. I estimate their corn yield at 200 plus bushels per acre. Pretty good!

We spent 3 days in Brussels. That is the headquarters of the European Commission. The Commission estimates the barley yield up 5 percent, corn up 20 percent, wheat up 10 percent. Romanian corn production is estimated to be double what it was last year. France and Italy are registering big increases.

These are impressive numbers. It is no accident. In a free economy, high prices encourage more planted acres and with reasonable weather you get more production. European farmers have lived with a 10 percent set aside for years. But this year – no set aside. It is the European version of planting “fence row to fence row.”

All of this sounds familiar. We have a big crop here in the United States. Corn should be a record yield. Our prices have come off their record high – just like Europe. Our farmers are in a positive mood. So are the European farmers. One difference – we complain about $4.00 gasoline. They pay more like $10 or $12 per gallon.

Looking back, it was a wonderful trip. Enjoying beautiful fields of growing crops, farmers harvesting wheat, baling straw, cattle grazing, fat sheep munching green pastures. That’s what I’ll see next week when I walk the fields and check our own corn down on the farm in Illinois. I’ll report to you what I find.

Until next week, I am John Block back from Europe.

Listen to the broadcast here.

Sustainable

Aug 18, 2008
I’ve come across a lot of whacko ideas over the years but here’s one that is outrageous and maybe even dangerous. The Wisconsin-based Leonardo Academy is promoting what they call a standard for “sustainable” agriculture. It will be a voluntary standard to help marketers and buyers identify “sustainable produced” products.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “sustainable” as being able to “keep in existence,” to “prolong.”  OK. That’s not so bad. Certainly we’re all in favor of “sustaining” mankind, of “prolonging” human life. But this is where their definition begins to stray. They intend for their standard to address environmental, social, as well as economic issues.

As a farmer/rancher/producer, you will qualify as sustainable if you use organic practices and pay workers a living wage. In addition, GMO crops are prohibited.

As if that isn’t enough silliness, in their definition, they intend to consider the farming operations carbon footprint and sequestration efforts relative to global warming.

Let’s go back to their definition. They want to “sustain” life. But their standard is a recipe for the demise of humankind.

If we want to “sustain” life, we need to produce enough food. That is scientifically and practically impossible if we don’t employ the best production technology. Genetic engineering increases production by 20, 30, maybe 50 percent. We can’t feed the people without it. We have no choice but to use commercial fertilizer. Norman Borlaug has it right. He said, “Improved seeds are the catalyst that ignited the green revolution and mineral fertilizer is the fuel that powers it.”

The standards advocated by the Leonardo Academy kill “sustainability.” They are talking about going back to subsistence farming. We’re not going there because we don’t want to starve half the world’s population. Only the rich would survive.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

Listen to the broadcast here.

You Be The Judge

Aug 07, 2008
You be the judge. In 3 months, we will elect a new President. Your choice will be between John McCain and Barack Obama. Their positions on issues important to farmers and ranchers and rural America are becoming better defined.

John McCain – I have known John McCain for 25 years. He was a loyal soldier for Ronald Reagan. In recent years, he has become more of a maverick.

Barack Obama – he’s a new kid on the block. He doesn’t have a lot of votes on issues but he appears to be pretty liberal.

Neither one of the candidates know very much about agriculture.

Issue No. 1 – Farm Bill – John McCain is more critical of the bill than Obama. He thinks it spends too much money -- not just to farmers but remember, 80% of the spending goes to nutrition and other programs.

Trade – McCain is a free trader. Obama has been very critical of our trade agreements, suggesting they should be rewritten.

Estate Tax – McCain wants to exempt the first $10 million from tax and tax the rest at 15%. Obama would keep the exemption at $3.5 million for an individual with the rest taxed at today’s rate of near 50%. That’s not relief.

Energy – McCain supports all classes of energy but he would limit the amount of government subsidies. And that includes the subsidies supporting ethanol. McCain wants to lift the ban on drilling off our coasts, while Obama is resisting that.

McCain wants to build nuclear power plants. Obama says no, not now.

Both candidates say they want America to be energy independent. I don’t know how we can do that if we reject drilling where we know there is energy and refuse to build nuclear power plants.

Stand back and look at the candidates. What is their philosophy?

What I know about John McCain is that he is no fan of the nanny state. He wants less regulation, less spending, and less taxes. That’s John McCain.

I think Barack Obama would be more inclined to regulate and spend money – more willing to depend on the government to intervene and fix the problem. That’s the basic philosophy of his party. You may think that is the way to go, or maybe not. These candidates are very different in philosophy, age, experience, and background.

You be the judge.

Let me know what you think. You can reach me at jblock@ofwlaw.com.

I am John Block from Washington.

Listen to the broadcast here.

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