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October 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.

Animal Agriculture

Oct 30, 2008

Keep your eye on this. It could have serious long-term consequences for animal agriculture in t his country. Next week, a California ballot initiative will be voted on that would prohibit the confinement of laying hens, veal calves, and sows. Cages and crates – no more.

The critics pushing the ballot measure want to wipe out what they call “factory farms.” Back to the “horse and buggy” days.
We can’t feed the world population without using modern farming methods. When I was a boy, we had 20 or 30 hens that laid eggs. They ran free in the grass pecking and eating off the ground. I know – I gathered the eggs every day and fed the chickens. We had turkeys and pigs and cows to milk (by hand). I was so happy when my dad sold the cows. I learned a lot – a great way to grow up. But we didn’t have the productivity and efficiency to compete and produce in today’s modern agriculture industry.

A victory in California for the animal rights advocates will –
1. Increase the cost of food;
2. Open the door for other states to follow the California example and impose restrictions on livestock farmers; and
3. In the end, put us out of business and then our only alternative will be to import our chicken, our pork, our veal.

They want to tie our hands and dictate to us how to farm.

Thousands of jobs will be lost.

Food safety will be compromised. Chickens outside are at risk of getting bird flu. Is our food supply going to be safer with chickens pecking in the dirt and their own waste? I have been in modern chicken houses. They sound cheerful to me – all singing and clucking.

This initiative is driven by wealthy elitists that have very little understanding of how modern agriculture works. The simple fact is, unless the animals are comfortable and content, they will not produce efficiently. Unhappy animals are a money loser.

Let’s hope that sound science and common sense can top emotion in this critical vote.

Listen to broadcast here.

Food Prices

Oct 23, 2008

Isn’t it a little hard now to blame the higher food prices on corn-based ethanol? All spring and summer, the food manufacturing companies pointed their finger at corn going to fuel and used that as an excuse to jack up their prices.

But now, corn, soybean, and wheat prices are cut in half from their summer highs. Food companies are raking in record profits. Corn is cheap again. This week, I was on the combine harvesting that golden grain. WE have a near record crop in this country this year. All the complaining and finger-pointing at high grain prices has proven to be a convenient excuse for food companies to raise prices. Bread prices climbed 20%. Hershey announced a 10% price increase last week. I don’t think cocoa competes with corn for crop land. Food companies are out-performing the sick stock market. Kellogg’s and General Mills and Nestle profits are up more than 10%. Doesn’t sound like the food companies’ bottom line has suffered.

Since high grain prices were the reason for raising food prices, maybe lower grain prices could be a reason to reduce food prices. Of course, we know they won’t do that.

I’m not really critical of the food companies for making money. They do a terrific job. Our cost of food in this country is the most reasonably priced in the world. With all the noise about expensive food – over all, we’re just looking at about a 5% increase.

My bone to pick with the grocery manufacturers is that they funded a major campaign to discredit ethanol, blaming the food price increase on ethanol, and then used that as an excuse to raise prices.

The market will have to sort all of this out. Farm costs are up too. The cost of raising a bushel of corn next year is estimated to be double what it was 2 years ago. We are applying nitrogen now to feed next year’s crop. It costs double what id did a year ago.

The food industry in this country does a great job. I just think we should avoid a family fight.


Listen to broadcast here.

Corn Harvest

Oct 16, 2008

This week, I was driving our combine back and forth harvesting 8 rows and watching that golden grain flow into the hopper. What fun! It was especially fun to read the monitor – 230 bushels per acre, 24 percent moisture. Back and forth auguring into the big grain wagon. Never stopping. We are grateful to have an excellent crop.

Appreciating the abundance of quality food here in the U.S. brings to mind the hungry and starving in many other nations around the globe.

In 1979, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization created World Food Day to draw attention to the hungry of the world. This week, we celebrate World Food Day and the efforts of those organizations helping to feed the hungry. A special compliment to the World Food Program that leads the way feeding millions of the underfed.

There is plenty of food in the world. It doesn’t always get to those who need it. We will have no trouble producing the abundance needed if farmers globally adopt the new technology that we use here on our own farms in this country.
I look at my corn plants – healthy, an ear on every stalk, consistent population, standing like trees. Beautiful. How did this happen? The American farmer has led the world in adopting new technology to increase yield.

When I was a boy, we didn’t have chemicals to kill the weeds. The corn was weedy. The root worms damaged the roots cutting back yield potential. Corn bores drilled holes in the stalks. Some stalks fell over and some ears fell to the ground. Then, along came chemicals to help control the root worms and corn bores and weeds. That made a big difference.

Today, the corn we have been harvesting is even better. A lot better. Through genetic engineering, we don’t have to use chemicals to control the pests. Our genetically engineered plants reject those root worms and corn bores. The only way to get optimum production is to protect the plants from yield robbers so they can product at full potential. We do this today using far less chemicals than we used to and far less than in Europe where they still won’t accept genetic engineering.

How else can we feed the world? How else can we help to fuel the world if we are not progressive in our farming techniques?

Thanks to John Deere and Monsanto for leading the way.


Listen to the broadcast here.

U.S. Vs. Russia

Oct 09, 2008

We have too much on our plate. Everything cannot be a priority. We have a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, security concerns in Asia, nuclear threat from Iran and N. Korea, a huge budget deficit, a weakened economy, energy security worries; and now, somehow we just can’t control Russia.

Russia invades Georgia just when it looks like that country might be invited to join NATO.

I think we need to reevaluate our relationship with Russia. Let’s take that one problem off the table.

We all remember when Earl Butz sold grain to the old Soviet Union. We remember the Carter grain embargo. I worked to get that embargo lifted and signed a long-term grain agreement with the Soviet Minister of Trade. The Cold War ended and the Soviet empire disintegrated.

But now, Russia is rich with oil. Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev are very popular with an 80 percent approval rating. Finally, PM Putin, with his invasion of Georgia, is saying to us: “You are beating me up and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Let me explain. After the Soviet Union collapse ending the Cold War, President George H. W. Bush and President Clinton promised that NATO would not be expanded into former Soviet empire territory. But we did. NATO added Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic – all of Eastern Europe and some Baltic States. Now, we are reaching for Ukraine and Georgia. Proud Russia is not happy to be encircled by NATO.

We have further angered Russia by insisting on putting a missile defense system in Poland. We say it is defensive to protect against an Iranian missile attack. But Russia sees it as a threat.

Finally, we pushed to separate Kosovo from Serbia against Russian protest. This gave Kosovo independence. That is the precedent that suggests that the North of Georgia could separate from Georgia and become part of Russia. We have pushed and pushed and now Russia is pushing back.

With all the challenges we face, I think it is time we seek a truce with Russia. We don’t need Georgia. We’re not going to fight Russia. Let Russia have a diminished sphere of influence. We need Russian help to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambition and North Korea. We don’t need Russia playing “footsie” with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and selling him arms. Both the U.S. and Russia would benefit from a strong global economy and stable military relationship.

Listen to the broadcast here.
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