I just watched your editorial on agricultural measurement on RFD TV. I found myself yelling at the TV, "Yeah, right on!" You are absolutely correct that our measurement system is confusing, but more importantly, self defeating.
When I was in grade school, up through 5th grade, the only measurement system I was exposed to was the "standard" U. S. system; pecks, bushels, rods, furlongs, fathoms, etc. Then toward the end of 5th grade, our teacher told us about this other system, used by every country in the world except the U.S., in which there were just 3 units (meters, liters, grams), and to scale up or down, all you did was multiply or divide by factors of 10. I am still angry that the existence of the metric system was presented to me so late in my schooling life (and I just turned 60 this year).
In 1982, I read Dan Morgan's book "Merchants of Grain," which covers the world food storage and transportation system. Morgan writes extensively about Cargill, Continental Grain, Bunge, Louis Dreyfus, and Andre. The book contains many references to bushels, but most references are to "tonnes" (metric tons). This led me to believe that the conversion of American farming to metric units was a "done deal." But, your editorial points out that there is still significant resistance. "Merchants of Grain" contains a quote that may be of use to overcome the resistance. Socrates said, "No man qualifies as a statesman who is entirely ignorant of the problems of wheat." One of the biggest "problems" is how a harvest is measured.
One last thing. A few years ago, NASA lost a spacecraft at Mars because of a misunderstanding between two engineering groups -- one group thought a particular measurement was in feet and the other thought it was meters. The misunderstanding was only discovered during the investigation of the disappearance of the spacecraft. Confusing and self defeating to the tune of millions of dollars.
I enjoyed your weekend report on Ukraine. I have been in Ukraine since
1994. From 1994 until 2003, I was there every summer working with a
friend doing custom harvesting. We had combines and also sold machinery.
In 2003 I started farming in Cherkasy oblast. By 2006 we had 7,00 ha.
In the spring of 2006 we sold our farming enterprise to a large company
and then began to work with them to grow to 300,000 ha. I was
responsible for starting all new farms and getting them to use western
methods in farming. Now I am working with some Dutch people to get involved again with just
The reason I write is to just give you some highlights of what is
actually happening now in Ukraine. The past 3 years has seen a lot of
money and companies buying up the leases on large tracts of land. They
are all having the same problems. Plenty of money, plenty of business
knowledge, severe shortage of farmers that know how to farm. Most are
relying on the local agronomes to do the farming. Since the crash of
capital last September there has been a general problem all over
Ukraine. This spring has seen dry weather and freezing temps, causing
the rapeseed to die. Winter wheat lacks fertilizer and chemicals. There
will be a lot of barley planted because it grows cheap.
Last year corn was the big item, but a lot stayed in the field because
it cost more to dry it then they could sell it for. In November corn was
$50 metric ton. For Ukraine to get going again will take a lot more money and more
expertise. Little farmers ( 100 to 1,000 ha.) generally lack access to stable
capital and fair interest rates. The large companies are more like the
old Russian style agronomy. The decisions are made in large offices and
the leaders do not get their hands dirty and really do not know how to
If Ukraine would make money available to the small people, I think
that they would see in 5 to 10 years a real farm boom. These little
farmers love the soil, and would make a good job of it if given some
govt. long term loans. Unfortunately this will not happen.
All of the things that were taken over during the switch from socialism
to capitalism (factories, mines,utilities, etc.) were stolen by the
powerful. The only thing left to steal is the land from the little
villagers. That is why you will find out that almost all of the members
of the Rada ( US senators equivalent) have farming operations.
When you farm over there you have to get leases signed from the locals
into your control. They were easy and cheap to get 5 years back. Some
just for coming in and beginning to farm the fields. 2006 and 2007 saw a
number of companies formed and getting the lease rights to large tracts.
For most of these companies it was to have the right to purchase the
land when the laws are changed to allow this. It got to be so
competitive that they started to buy from someone that had organized a
village $300-500 per ha. just for the lease rights. Some even went to
$1,000 per ha. Now with the crash, you can get land again for free if
you will farm. Now this is just to have the right to get the lease. You
will still pay to the little ladies in the village a yearly fee for
renting. Usually a ton of wheat per Pie, which is around 4 to 5 ha.
Jeffrey L. Rechkemmer