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March 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.

A Question from the Suburbs

Mar 24, 2010
Mr. Phipps -
   I have been watching USFR since I discovered by accident it one Saturday morning when I woke up extra-early.  My friends think I'm a nut, but it's my favorite show; I take special delight in the closing line.  I am fascinated by the secret life of farmers, and what happens when the growing season starts late, or Brazil is having a bumper crop of something.  
   A question on my mind since last summer:  what do people talk about at Corn College? (corn, I suppose, but what else?)  Who goes there?  New farmers?  
   Is there a big difference between the farmers at the Farmers Market who wear sandals in the winter and sell obscure varieties of potato and squash and talk about worms, and farmers like you who sell corn?  Do you guys hang out together and talk about tilth and soil temperature, or is there a rift in the force?  Do the dot-com execs who have gone back to the land sit at a different table than the 7th-generation farmers?  Just wondering, and don't have any no-sandals farmers to ask but you. 
Heather Keenan Spruill

***Editor's Note:  John's response is as follows...

Heather:
   Thanks so much for watching and for your kind words.  We are noticing more feedback from non-farmers like yourself, and we hope help you understand what is happening in agriculture from as many angles as possible.
   The Corn College - which my son and I have attended - is more like a professional conference offering the latest research and frankly, a super time talking to other growers around the Corn Belt.  It's still developing, but has been very popular with young and experienced producers.  Read more about it here.
   I have spoken often about the growing divide between agrarian (farmer-market types) and industrial (me) farmers. One basic difference is agrarian producers grow products that have value because of the way they are produced - free-range, organic, grass-fed, etc.  The most popular feature now is "local". They are answering a market demand from consumers who want a different connection to the food they buy.
   By comparison, my farm is essentially in the business of harvesting solar power. Corn and soybeans are superbly efficient in this task, and like other industries we strive to maximize our profit by using every tool we can find to meet market demands.  Our products' values are based on their intrinsic characteristics - weight, protein, purity, etc. - not production methods.
   We need both systems, I think. Industrial producers bring immense of amounts of captured energy to be users to be converted to food, feed, fuel, and fiber. We follow all regulatory restrictions and carefully care for the land, or we do not prosper long. There is no real difference in our commitment to the land.
   That said, there is tension between the two systems.  There is little that is cute or quaint about my farm, despite its 7-generation history.  We don't have chicks and calves or much diversity - just corn and soybeans. However, when you are located far from population centers, the agrarian model simply doesn't work very well.
   My goal is to minimize the antagonism between these two camps.  There is too much segregation and misunderstanding now. The market will lead us both to the right answers, and consumers like you will send those market signals.
   Your letter has been very helpful in reminding me who we are visiting with each week. Please don't hesitate to ask more questions in the future.  Also, you can find more information at our website.
John



 

LOTS of Feedback

Mar 23, 2010
***The following viewer comments were received following the March 20-21, 2010 edition of U.S. Farm Report...

    Hey Bud, havent had time to watch lately as my schedule changes . I was wondering if anyone has advised you of the TERRIBLE  maple sapp harvest in New York this season???
    My brother and I are simple "home ,family & friends" boilers, but the commercials folks must be taking a HARD, MASSIVE, HIT.  We can continue to collect what little is running, but it's cloudy, low sugar and VERY LITTLE.  After a good, cold winter the warm spring didn't allow the cold, below freezing overnites we had last year to get trees "pumping".
   Yesterday I spoke to a small producer named Cornell, Owego New York and he shut down this past week and was cleaning up, DONE for the season .  Seems cultivated trees in valleys were FAIR as overnite temps were near or below freezing (with little or no wind), but on hillsides the temps were higher overnight. Jeff and I tapp both areas and found it so, and Mr. Cornell had similar results.  Just a thought for news .
Pops Howard 
Apalachin, New "YUCK"...Love the land , HATE the taxes


John,
   Our affectionate reference to the “firsters” in the field is “diesel fever.”   The people who are the most anxious to till in the mud are both fun and funny.
   I’m sure current tractors smoke less when started than the previous models, but we’ve had a lot of fun with the smoke caused by starting an tractor engine.  All we had to do was start the tractor, and our neighborhood “firster” Milt Sweat would come flying over the hill in his pickup to see what was going on, and to be sure he was not missing out on fun and tillage in the mud.
Dave Anderson
Overland Park, KS
(Off-site farm owner from Jamestown, Kansas)


***Editor's Note:  The following viewer feedback was received in response to the "Farm Report Mailbag" segment.  In advance of the viewer feedback we are posting a transcript of the segment...

FARM REPORT MAILBAG:
    WE HAVE AN ENERGY RELATED COMMENT FROM BRADLEY WESTFALL FROM CHEERIO FARMS IN RUDOLPH, WISCONSIN.  "IT SEEMS THAT IF PRODUCTION CAN BE INCREASED WITH THE NEW TYPE FUEL CELLS BY BLOOM ENERGY, THAT METHANE FROM ANY SOURCE CAN BE UTILIZED FOR PRODUCTION OF ELECTRICITY CHEAPER THAN FROM ANY OTHER SOURCE. THE ORIGINAL INSTALLATION COST WOULD BE SO MUCH LESS THAN ANY OTHER TYPE EXCEPT WATER POWER."
    BRADLEY, THANKS FOR YOUR COMMENT. MANY VIEWERS SAW THE SEGMENT ON FUEL CELLS ON "60 MINUTES".  I HAVE BEEN BLOGGING ABOUT FUEL CELLS FOR SOME TIME, HOPING THEY WOULD BECOME FEASIBLE FOR FARMS, BUT SERIOUS TECHNICAL RESTRICTIONS STILL REMAIN.
    THE GENERATION UNITS ARE BEST RUN AT CONSTANT LOAD, NOT THE WILD PEAKS AND LULLS TYPICAL OF A SINGLE FARM. WHILE EXCESS POWER COULD BE SOLD BACK TO THE UTILITY, WHICH HAS PROVED TO BE TRICKY TO NEGOTIATE.  THE UNITS SHOWN ALSO PRODUCE SIGNIFICANT AMOUNTS OF WASTE HEAT. THIS IS FINE IN THE WINTER, BUT NOT MUCH USE IN THE SUMMER.
    RIGHT NOW THE ONLY FARMS FUEL CELLS MAKE SENSE FOR ARE THE SERVER FARMS WHERE BANKS OF COMPUTERS POWER THE INTERNET. STILL THE TECHNOLOGY IS EVOLVING, AND SUCH IDEAS OF DISTRIBUTED POWER GENERATION MAY YET BECOME REALITY FOR RURAL AMERICA.
 
VIEWER RESPONSE:
   Just a few comments...first of all, you can take the waste heat from the fuel cell and feed it into a secondary Stirling cycle engine to run another generator to recover a lot of that heat and convert it to electricity.
   In order to deal with the peak load issue you can use a bank of highly efficient batteries to store power on site to meet peak loads.
   If you purchase power from a rural cooperative instead of a big multistate power company you may find it easier to negotiate selling power back to the grid.  I have also found these to be more reliable than the big companies since they are customer owned.
   Finally you can take some of the CO2 from the fuel cell and feed it into greenhouses to accelerate the growth of young plants and use the water from the fuel cell to drink or to water the plants in the greenhouse.
   So, you have to think of the fuel cell as part of an overall system.  This is not unlike the Krebs or TCA cycle in human cells.  There are many steps which very efficiently metabolize glucose and oxygen into CO2, water and energy in the form of ATP (the battery).  In this analogy the fuel cells are kind of like the metabolic enzymes.
   Of course you can also add in wind energy or other sources depending on your finances and geographic location.
Very truly yours,
James W. Adams
Columbus, OH


   I have become a US Farm Report fan for about a year now. I watched your comment on fuel Cells with interest this morning and thought you were right on. I am retired from EPRI where I was an R&D project manager for 21 years (in Solar, Energy Efficiency and Electric Vehicles) EPRI has worked on Fuel Cells since the early 70's and much progress has been made however Bloom Energy has the hype of Siliocn Valley venture capitalist, so who knows were the truth lies. And you are right about the bias on sell back to the Electric Utilities. What you might enjoy is a new book just out called "Hybrid Electric Home", by Craig Toepfer, who is in my estimate one of the most experienced engineers on farm electrification espically small wind systems. And he give an indepth history of the early farm electrification efforts, espically those by Charles Kettering and his creation of the Delco-Light equipment for farms. It is facinating reading. Highly recommend it. There is also a web site.
Gary


   This past week John got on about the new fuel cells seen on 60 minutes and I admit, to use methane would be an expensive issue for farmers to convert their operation to BUT what "IF" a farmer had rights to his natural gas wells?  Those things that reside UNDER the land?
   My comment is for what John concluded to at the end of his segment.  Having too much waste heat in the summer from a fuel cell, Let's see: - use it for air conditioning.....YES, air conditioning.  Ammonia air conditioning systems have been around like FOREVER and use heat to cool homes, workshops, refrigeration, freezing, water coolers....what ever you would want to cool.
   Start an ice making business?  Also, how about using the heat for HOT WATER?  Anyone would like to save money in anyway possible.  Being narrow minded shows to me that you all are owned by the government.
   The more I watch (and I've been watching for 7 years) just proves to me that either your show is pushing the next government initiative or what ever vendor that sponsors your program wants pushed. I can see where a comment like that is the "seed" that gets in peoples minds to kill a grand idea.  Sad, very sad. 
   I wish you all the best as you TRY to do better.  How about this as your next closing quote: 
"Do or do not. There is no TRY." ~ Yoda ~
Pete Tokarczyk
Snowville, VA

A Plea to Speak Out

Mar 17, 2010
After visiting Ankeny, Iowa, for the U.S. Departments of Justice and Agriculture workshop on antitrust issues, it is clear that farmers have an opportunity and obligation to speak up about monopoly power in agriculture.
 
In a lot of ways the meeting was a dog and pony show. More time was given to academics and politicians than farmers.
 
When it was time for farmers to speak, most panelists had left the event, including elected officials. Farmers traveled from North Carolina, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, and across Iowa, but the agenda only gave us an hour at the end of the day to speak our mind. We deserve more time at the microphone. This is especially true for issues related to seed, which was only a small part of the discussion, even though concentration in seed is getting worse and has led to much higher prices and less choice.
 
But there is still time to weigh in. I encourage farmers to come forth and push for fairness in agriculture. Christine Varney, Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust with the U.S. Department of Justice, asked us to give information for battling these monopolies. We need to do our part and provide solutions. (You can email comments to agriculturalworkshops@usdoj.gov.)
 
For example, the government should reinvest in public cultivar development so we have alternatives to expensive seed varieties and technologies dominating the marketplace. And as a number of farmers expressed at the meeting, utility patents should be revoked on plants to better support innovation and restore farmers’ rights.
 
We the farmers are stewards of the land. We wrote the first laws of this country and are now asking for help from Washington. Do we want a future where we ask, “Will the last farmer please turn the light off in the barn?”
 
David Runyon, Geneva, IN
 

A Movie Idea

Mar 12, 2010

   A good movie about farming - it's called "The Girl from Paris" (2002 - Not Rated).  The movie deals with the tougher, grittier aspects of farm life.  They slaughter a pig in the first five minutes, and the financial viability of farming is a constant theme.  It's a nice story of people struggling to stay in farming.
   Interestingly, the movie is French with subtitles.  It's available from NetFlix.   Your viewers might be interested.
Lee Lohman
Fairfax, VA

 

 

 

Lots of Letters

Mar 08, 2010
Editor"s Note:  The following viewer comments were received following the March 6-7, 2010 edition of U.S. Farm Report...

#1:

Mr. Phipps and Associates,
   My next door neighbor died in a Grain Bin accident last week in Southern Minnesota, Waseca, trying knock down corn that was frozen to the bin walls.  The loss of Jim Eaton is tragic as he was one of the kindest hardest working men I have ever known.
   Telling the farmers and grain elevator workers to stay out of the bins seems to not be working as there have been several incidents in Southern Minnesota this year.   Maybe one of your journalists could research the safety equipment available and do a report.  Maybe one of your listeners has come up with an innovative safety equipment design that they could share.  You reported a couple of weeks ago about an auger system that a listener had designed.  Maybe you can find more ideas?  In order to operate efficiently, it seems what they really need is a safe way to work inside the bin.
   I am thinking an electric winch and harness with local and remote wireless controls may work.  The wireless remote would be controlled by a spotter who could take over remotely at the first sign of trouble.  Just a thought.
Regards,
Bill Junge

#2:
   I am a farmer in eastern North Carolina.  We raise corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans, tobacco and grain sorghum. There has been a bunch of turmoil in the tobacco industry this year.  Some of the issues facing growers now are declining contracts, FDA regulations, and smoking bans.  Tobacco companies have consolidated contract stations from Florida to southern VA. There seems to be little publicity on tobacco as a cash crop and the people who raise it.  The only thing you ever hear is about the negative effects of cigarettes and not about the generations of farmers that have worked all of their lives in this crop or the North Carolina economy that was built by tobacco money.  I think this would make a good subject for you to cover.  Let me know what you think. I really enjoy the show and watch it every weekend.
Josh Roberson 
 
#3:
   When I was growing up my father who was an early student of organic farming used to save seeds from a particularly good fruit or vegetable to plant next season.  He would spread the seeds out on newspapers to dry.  We had a large black cat who liked to sleep on top of the seeds.  I'm not sure if there's anything scientific here but it always seemed like seeds which had been incubated by the cat germinated and grew with better yields.
    So if all else fails perhaps you should get some barn cats to sleep on your seeds before planting.
Very truly yours,
Jim Adams
Columbus, OH
 
#4:
  
It seems that if production can be increased with the new type fuel cells by Bloom Energy, that methane from any source can be utilized for production of electricity cheaper than from any other source. The original installation cost would be so much less than any other type except water power. Google and Ebay are two companies already utilizing the new type fuel cells. These fuel cells which can utilize any combustible gas could revolutionize electrical production. Go to web site www.bloomenergy.com for up to date information that is more detailed than seen on TV.
Bradley Westfall
Energy Efficient Products Sales & Cheeri-O-Farms
Rudolph, WI

All Kinds of Comments & Questions

Mar 01, 2010
***Editor's Note:  The following viewer comments & questions were received following the February 27-28, 2010 edition of our program...

   I watched your show this morning and you had an article about a home made auger used to breakup corn blockage and also talked about using a ladder across the top of the bin with a safety harness.  I would like more information on the homemade auger as I am concerned with safety.  My son-in-law and daughter experience similar problems with corn silage in their silo which has an automatic feeder installed.  How can I get the information as shown on  your program this morning?
   I am not a farmer, just a farmer wife father and I make it a habit of collecting different tools which I give to them.  My son-in-law has been able to put many of them to use on the farm and probably would not have had them otherwise and finds them very valuable.
Fred “Ken” Decker
Candor, NY
***Editor's Note:  CLICK HERE for more information on Stan's corn borer...

John,
   Further comment on grain bin safety.  I  only have one grain bin and I have a stirator in that bin which I can operate to break up a plugged discharge point in the middle of the bin.  This does not require any one to enter the bin.  It will also break up a hot spot or a crust on the top.
Ben Carpenter 


John,
   I watch the U.S. Farm Report Program every Saturday morning and enjoy it more every week!  My love for the farm and country living has never wavered! In 1960, when a beautiful young lady came along and captured my heart, I left my parent's farm, got married and then children, college, seminary, thirty six years of pastoral ministry and then retirement.  Staying active singing in the choir and teaching an adult Sunday School class every week.
   Through your program my love for the farm continues to grow!  The last two programs have really been on the cutting edge!  Keep up the good work and "do even better next week."
Norm Glassburn
Retired United Methodist Pastor

P.S.  "Out there" is New Mexico?  I will check out Baxter Black's website and hope to find out........


   I like the church salutes that you give and the map that you provide to let the viewer see where the church is located in the state. 
SUGGESTION - On the old tractor tales, could you not have a MAP like the one for a church, to let the viewer see about what part of the state that person is located?  I enjoy this segment. Some of these towns are small and unknown to your viewers.
Thanks,
George Hall



   Whereas it may be of necessity that a farmer might need to haul manure on snow covered ground, I think it extremely unwise to paste pictures of such actions on your broadcast.  Our image is tough enough to defend!!!   Dennis Spangler 
New Berlin, PA


Dear People,  
   As a rancher in Guffey, CO I must take exception to John Phipps'  comment that taxes are down for most ranchers/farmers.  Our property taxes and other taxes just keep going up and further the Bush Tax Cuts will expire at the end of 2010.  Also, many taxes are hidden as "fees."  In CO the Governor increased all vehicle and trailer license fees.  A average rancher has 4 or 5 trailers, thus these are really huge tax increases.  Further, when I enter a state park, the fees are up and it just goes on and on.  I do enjoyh your farm  report an d I watch it every Sat morning.  Drive on!   Robert Zawacki
Old Bob The Cheerful Malcontent 

***John's Response:
OBTCM:
   I agree.  If you listen carefully, I made reference to federal income taxes only (I added it adlib) - not all tax burdens.  Since I was speaking about the federal deficit, I thought the decline in federal revenue was the salient point.  Besides, given the state of local/state finances, those taxes have got to zoom upward, I would guess.
Thanks for watching.
John

Hi John,
    I happened to watch your program this morning. First of all, I would like to complement you, on your professional appearance.  As always, it's perfect. You represent the farm populace very well.
    I am of the opinion like your self, that we are heading into a period of deflation, rather than the opposite.  I watch the US Treasury debt auctions quite closely, last week the Treasury sold 120 billion  at extremely low rates of return. 
Ten years ago, an offering of this magnitude would have broke the market.  Yet this caused barely a ripple.  Obviously, the big buyers are of the opinion that this is a favorable return, or they would not have participated. The herd is many times on the wrong side of the situation.  I thought Greg Hunt expressed himself very well.
    I have traveled extensively thru out the world, both on business and for pleasure, I remember quite well being in Japan in the late eighties, how prices were, and what they are now.  Being the worlds second richest nation, they are a major player in GDP.  Yet they have suffered from 20 years of severe deflation, so it can happen, even to us.
    I also remember the Brazil exchange rate of 4000 Real  to 1 USD in 1985, and their 285 % inflation rate, yet today, they are doing well!!!   This is my observation, for what it's worth.
Sincerely,
James A. Lomont
New Haven, IN

Al,
   Your analysts were on the soapbox today about deflation fueled by Walmart report of lower sales.  If my memory serves me correctly, earlier in this recessionary cycle, when others were reporting declines, Walmart was reporting increases, which told me that peple were being more conservative with there spending.  I just wonder, where are Walmart's sales compared to before this all started?
Respectfully,   
Jerry B. Williams
Carmi, Illinois

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