Saturday, August 9, 2014

County Fair Weekend Links

Our county fair started yesterday, so I'll be busy talking to folks I haven't seen in a year, soaking up farmer conventional wisdom and supporting the beer garden.  Here are some interesting stories:

The dark, disturbing world of the visa-for-sale program - Fortune.  Just in case you didn't think Illinois Democrats were corrupt as hell.

How Wall Street Tobacco Deals Left States With Billions In Toxic Debt - Pro Publica.  I'm not exactly sure what to make of this.  Richard Cordray is one of the smarter Ohio Democrats, who happens to be in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but it kind of sounds like he teamed up with investment bank scumbags to rip off investors.  In theory, it appears Ohio can walk away from this debt if the tobacco money doesn't materialize, but I could see Republicans rushing to bail out investors and blaming Democrats, although that probably won't happen for a long while, unless investment bank scumbags can convince them they can "cut their losses" right now.

Kansas bond rating downgraded after tax cuts - Washington Post.  On the other end of the political spectrum, Art Laffer and Trickle-down Economics (TM) fail miserably yet again.

'Peabody' wins fair's big boar contest at 1,273 pounds - Des Moines Register.  That is a big fucking pig.

The Prosecutor and the Snitch - Did Texas execute an innocent man? - The Marshall Project.  On the Cameron Todd Willingham case.  To answer the question, yes, probably a number of times.

Making Sense of the U.S. Oil Story - OilPrice.  This deserves a post.

The War Photo No One Would Publish - The Atlantic. From Gulf War I.

On Reaganolatry - Paul Krugman

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Big Butter Field of Dreams

Better than Big Butter Jesus:

KEYC - Mankato News, Weather, Sports -

God bless state fairs, their butter sculptures, deep fried foods and ridiculous corniness.


Hard to believe it's already been gone a week, but here's a tribute to the middle of summer:

JULY from Mark Mazur on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Early August Mid-week Links

A few interesting stories:

Mysterious craters are just the beginning of Arctic surprises - Salon

'Agri-Terrorism'?  Town's Seed Library Shut Down - Common Dreams.  "According to reporting by the Carlisle Sentinel on July 31, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture sent a letter to the library stating that the seed library violated the state's Seed Act of 2004.
While the Act focuses on seeds that are sold, Cumberland County Library System Executive Director Jonelle Darr told The Sentinel that there could also be a problem with seeds being mislabeled and potentially invasive, and noted that the Department indicated it would "crack down" at other seed libraries within the state."  Seems like a strange worry to me.

Using Rush Limbaugh to Teach the Civil War to 3rd Graders - Conor Friedersdorf.  Hey, what could go wrong?

Delays Persist for U.S. High-Speed Rail - NYT.  I just wanted to see train service between Cincinnati and Cleveland, but even that was too much for John Kasich (asshat).  Michigan did ok, though.

AGs from Iowa, 14 other farm states challenge EPA water rule - Des Moines Register. Ya know, because water quality related to agriculture hasn't been in the news lately. See also, The EPA Is Failing to Properly Oversee Hundreds of Thousands of Toxic Injection Wells - Pacific Standard.  This may be something farmers would want EPA to regulate.  It also is an indicator that I doubt EPA will be hounding farmers anytime soon for plowing or other 'normal farming activities.'  But don't try arguing about that with most farmers, because it will make your head hurt. Number of times the average farmer has ever dealt with EPA? Approx. 0.  But they are experts on the workings of EPA. (Also, fuck Farm Bureau, the goddamn overpaid no-good lobbyists)

How Increasing Income Inequality Is Dampening U.S. Economic Growth, And Possible Ways To Change The Tide - Standard & Poor's.  When S & P is noticing, it is a big deal.

In Canada, a Feud Divides the Irving Family Empire - WSJ.  Interesting piece on the dynamics of family businesses, and also a fascinating collection of industries.
K.C. Irving got his start in rural Bouctouche, where his father J.D. Irving owned a general store and a few small farms. He added gas pumps and a garage in 1924 and seven years later, seeing an opportunity in mass auto ownership, moved to Saint John to expand a lubricants business and open a Ford franchise.
From there, he bought or built out manufacturing, lumber, oil, shipbuilding, construction and trucking businesses, among others. He also built a media organization that still publishes all three of the province's daily English language newspapers and the majority of its English and French weekly language newspapers....
As adults they each ran a separate part of the empire, but operated as an integrated whole, buying from each other and gradually expanding the family's hold on the province's business. The oldest, James (J.K.), ran J.D. IrvingLtd , a conglomerate that would eventually include over 30 separate companies that range from potatoes to shipbuilding. It also includes a forestry business which currently owns over 1.35 million hectares of land, more than half a million hectares of which are in Maine. J.K. would also steer Brunswick News Inc., the family's media operation.
Arthur Irving Sr. went into the oil business, running a refinery that his son Kenneth would later expand into a 320,000 barrel a day operation with a chain of 800 service stations across Atlantic Canada and Maine.
The youngest son John (Jack) Irving, inherited radio station operator Acadia Broadcasting and the steel fabrication and construction company OSCO Construction Group.
Wow. That is a lot of stuff.

What States Have the Most Government Workers? - Wall Street Journal.  Surprise! The highest percentage of government workers is in the plains states that hate government.  No wonder the Kansas economy suffered when Sam Brownback (asshat) cut taxes and cut government spending.

The Big F-150 Gamble on Aluminum

Fortune has an interesting piece on the big F-150 changeover to aluminum:

While a lot of attention has focused on outgoing CEO Alan Mulally’s One Ford plan to unify the global manufacturer, the automaker’s profits largely depend on a beefy truck that is sold only in North America and will never find a market in Asia or Europe. Not that it needs to. The F-series has outsold every other car and truck in the U.S. for more than three decades, a record of longevity that ranks in the hierarchy of superbrands like Coke and Marlboro. Some 33 million have been sold since the F-150 was introduced in 1950, twice as many as the Model T. If the revenue from the nearly 765,000 F-series Fords sold in 2013—$31.1 billion—were that of a standalone business, it would rank around 100 on this year’s Fortune 500 list. Ranked by profits, such an F-series business would place even higher.
The F-series has been the biggest beneficiary of the revolution in the pickup business. The increasing popularity of personal-use trucks has pushed average transaction prices to $40,000, and some high-end models—with luxury touches like stitched leather, heated and cooled seats, and LED interior lights—sell for more than $50,000. Vehicles that are mechanically simple, rarely reengineered, and sold in huge volumes, such as pickups, are automotive cash cows. Analysts figure that F-series trucks, with top-shelf trim lines like King Ranch and Platinum, generate gross profits of 40% per unit, or $12,000.
Trucks are ridiculously overpriced.  $12,000 profit?  People are stupid.  I also thought this piece was interesting:
At the Dearborn Truck Plant, one of two assembly plants where the F-150 will be built—the other one is just outside Kansas City—the company is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build and install new stamping presses and dies to produce the aluminum panels and replace today’s spot welders with rivet guns, advanced welders, and adhesive machinery in the body shop. With both plants currently producing the 2014 F-150, they will have to be taken down one at a time for a total of 13 weeks for refitting, depriving Ford of perhaps $2 billion in revenue.
Ford has guessed wrong on a new truck before. When the 1997 F-150 was redesigned from the ground up for the first time since 1980, it got uncharacteristic rounded styling—a “jellybean look”—that allowed for improved aerodynamics, a larger interior, and better fuel economy. Designed to “hit the hot buttons” of baby boomers, it sold quickly at first (1.1 million in 2001), but the style didn’t catch on, and Ford retreated back to a chiseled box look in 2004.
The main challenge with the aluminum will be manufacturing quality and durability.  That is a lot more manageable than style.  If they are going to fail with the move to aluminum, it will be because trucks fail structurally.  Otherwise, customers won't know the difference between the aluminum and steel.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Maumee River Watershed and Lake Erie Algae

Wired has a nice piece explaining the phosphorus issues in Lake Erie:
Maumee is the largest watershed in the Great Lakes system. It runs right through the Breadbasket of the Midwest, an intensively farmed area. Satellite views show thousands upon thousands of little boxes of green; the highly productive farms and fields of Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana.
The Maumee watershed is such productive farmland because it was once a swamp; the Great Black Swamp. Drainage tiles allowed removal of water from the surface of the soil, and made wonderfully rich swampland available for farming. Drainage tiles also collect up runoff and deliver it very efficiently to streams and rivers....
The problem is not as simple as “bad farmers”; farming best practices actually use fertilizer highly efficiently. Only about 2 percent of applied fertilizer is lost. The problem is volume; that many farms, golf courses, and suburban lawn owners applying fertilizer adds up, even if only a small amount washes off each allotment.
Chemistry plays a role as well; changes in the type of fertilizers sold make them more soluble (“bio-available“), and easier for plants (including algae) to take up and use. So while the total tonnage of phosphorous entering the lake is much smaller, the problem of too much phosphorous persists.
The Maumee watershed has to be one of the most intensively tiled and ditched watersheds in the country. Most of those ditches have little or no riparian area to provide a buffer from field runoff.  Then, there's this:
High amounts of rainfall create bursts of runoff and a sudden pulse of fertilizer. And extreme precipitation events (heaviest 1 percent of all rain events) are increasing; precipitation in downpours has increased by 37 percent in the Midwest since 1958. 
The Maumee watershed has some of the heaviest, most poorly drained soils in the United States, and thus will have greater amounts of runoff when high amounts of rainfall occur. Increased precipitation will result in even greater increases in runoff, as the soil can't hold any more water than it did when precipitation events were less intense.

Finally, the depth of the Western Basin plays a big part in the algae problem:
Lake Erie is different from the other Great Lakes because it’s so shallow. The western end of the lake (where Toledo is) has an average depth of only 24 feet. The water warms quickly, and it’s a great place to live if you’re a blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). Say, toxin-producing Microcystis. Microcystis has the ability to control its buoyancy; it can sink or rise to the top of the water at will to chase the sunlight.
These are some of the exact same issues that caused massive problems at Grand Lake St. Mary's, except the problems there were magnified by the massive population of livestock, and the immense amounts of manure applied to the land in the watershed.  Farmers have to become very proactive on this issue if they want to avoid the heavy hand of regulation.  In other words, we have a short time to get our shit in gear, or the government will be forced to bitch slap us.

Crazy Fracking Economics - Sand Edition

Wall Street Journal:

Frackers are expected to use nearly 95 billion pounds of sand this year, up nearly 30% from 2013 and up 50% from forecasts made by energy-consulting firm PacWest Consulting Partners a year ago.
It can take four million pounds of sand to frack a single well, but several companies are experimenting with using more. Companies like Pioneer Natural Resources Inc., which recently received a ruling from the U.S. Commerce Department allowing it to export unrefined ultralight oil produced from shale formations, are finding that the output of wells is up to 30% higher when they're blasted with more sand. About a fifth of onshore wells are now being fracked with extra sand, but the technique could expand to 80% of all shale wells, according to energy analysts at RBC Capital Markets.
That's great news for sand miners, but it's heating up competition between energy buyers and other big industrial users.
U.S. Silica Holdings Inc., one of the largest industrial-sand companies, has already raised prices for some frack sand, and it said recently that it would also start charging 10% to 20% more for the finer grades of sand typically used to make glass and various industrial products as it diverts some of this supply to oil producers. The best sand is dubbed Northern White because the round crystal, which can withstand serious heat and pressure underground, is found in states like Wisconsin and Minnesota. The company expects demand for sand will be at least 25% higher than supply for the rest of this year.
"Northern White is in short supply, so people are using basically whatever they can get their hands on to complete their wells," said Michael Lawson, a spokesman for U.S. Silica.
Oil companies' insatiable appetite has even generated renewed interest in second-tier deposits of lower-quality brown sand in places like Texas and Arkansas.
I was looking at my mother's IRA statement back in April and saw that she held U.S. Silica, which was up 40% since she had bought it in October 2013.  I figured with the fracking demand that it made sense to take a gamble on it, so I bought some.  It's up nearly another 40% since April. I've had similar results with Trinity Industries, which makes railcars.  With all the talk of replacing the old DOT-111 rail cars, Trinity has seen a 90% price boost since last September.  I don't know how long this run will last, but I'll probably hang on for a little while yet.

However, I really can't for the life of me understand how you can use 5 million gallons of water and 4 or 5 million pounds of sand to frack a single well.  Those numbers are just mind-boggling.  It sure seems like a use of resources we'll eventually regret spending.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The San Juans. Proven Here.

The San Juans. Proven Here. from Yeti Cycles on Vimeo.

NASA Photo of the Day

August 1:

Tetons and Snake River, Planet Earth
Image Credit & Copyright: Babak Tafreshi (TWAN)
Explanation: An alluring night skyscape, this scene looks west across the Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA, Planet Earth. The Snake River glides through the foreground, while above the Tetons' rugged mountain peaks the starry sky is laced with exceptionally strong red and green airglow. That night, the luminous atmospheric glow was just faintly visible to the eye, its color and wavey structure captured only by a sensitive digital camera. In fact, this contemporary digital photograph matches the location and perspective of a well-known photograph from 1942 - The Tetons and The Snake River , by Ansel Adams, renown photographer of the American West. Adams' image is one of 115 images stored on the Voyager Golden Record. Humanity's message in a bottle, golden records were onboard both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft, launched in 1977 and now headed toward interstellar space.

Obamacare (Kynect) Impact in Kentucky

From Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth:

This is what Republicans want to get rid of.

Farmers Overreact to HSUS. Again

Missourians already have the constitutional right to religion, speech and guns. On Tuesday, they could make a novel addition to the State Constitution: the right to farm.
A proposal known as Amendment 1 will be taken up in a statewide vote on Tuesday, leaving Missouri poised to change its Constitution to guarantee the rights of its people to “engage in farming and ranching practices.”
The right to farm hardly seems threatened in Missouri, one of the leading agricultural states, with nearly 100,000 farms producing crops including soybeans, corn and wheat.
But a coalition of state farming groups and major agriculture corporations have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to take aim at the Humane Society, which led a successful fight in 2010 to regulate inhumane dog-breeding practices in Missouri.
Backers of the amendment are wary of laws that have passed in other states, like California, where voters in 2008 approved roomier living conditions for hens, and Oregon, where a rural county’s ban on genetically modified crops was overwhelmingly passed in May.
While the amendment would not affect federal laws governing agriculture, its possible effect on local and state laws is unclear.
“There is a lot of uncertainty with respect to how the amendment would actually work in practice,” said Erin Morrow Hawley, an associate law professor at the University of Missouri who specializes in agricultural issues. “You could see a state law challenged based on this constitutional amendment. But the biggest aim is to prevent new state laws coming in from outside the state. The idea is to create another legal tool to stop that.”
The debate over the proposed amendment has roiled Missouri for more than a year, with supporters saying it would end what they see as meddling by outsiders in its business practices.
Opponents have protested that the amendment would be a boon for large industrial farms that would like to avoid potential laws controlling their treatment of animals or the environment, allowing them to pollute the land, extend the use of genetically modified crops and freely experiment with the use of antibiotics in livestock, a trend that has concerned scientists.
Farmer privilege is going to undermine the standing of agriculture with the general public.  Farmers are already exempt from most regulation, but getting overly aggressive, especially toward HSUS has tended to backfire on farmers.  The more modern husbandry practices get publicity, the less support they have in the general public.  Expect HSUS to be in a better negotiating position after this vote than before it.  However, if this passes, expect constitutional amendments on the ballot in other Midwestern states.

Expect More Pressure On Farmers After Toledo Water Debacle

From a story earlier in the spring:
The gooey muck she’s talking about is blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, which, when it’s overfed by fertilizers in the water, can grow into blooms that are dangerous to drink or even touch. In recent years cyanobacteria has poisoned multiple pets who drank from the lake, and last summer it shut down a water treatment system in a township near Toledo...
Stepien explains that the Maumee River, a large river that runs through the middle of Toledo and into the bay, carries fertilizer runoff from up to 150 miles away. The Maumee Bay is a particularly warm, shallow part of the lake, and as runoff gathers, the algae becomes a well-fed monster.
But this isn’t some mysterious green goblin. Stepien says the problem can be traced primarily to phosphorus, an ingredient in commercial fertilizers that’s also found in manure, and sewer overflows from municipal water systems....
Most of the area that drains into the Maumee River isn’t golf courses or suburban lawns: it’s farms. There are miles and miles of them — mainly corn, wheat and soybeans — from Toledo all the way up the Maumee River and its tributaries, which extend into Indiana and Michigan.
“We could argue back and forth about is it urban, is it yards, is it agriculture, is it municipal water systems,” says Tadd Nicholson with the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association. “I prefer to say it’s all of those things.”
Corn has been booming recently due to ethanol production, so farmers are planting to the very edges of fields, and at least some of them are laying the fertilizer down thick. But Nicholson says the corn industry is producing more corn per acre while also using less fertilizer than it did a few decades ago. In other words, corn can’t be solely to blame for the resurgence of algal blooms. And, like Glorioso, he says education and voluntary programs to reduce runoff are as beneficial for the industry as they are for the lake.
“If we can show farmers how to minimize phosphorus runoff, it’s not a hard sell, it’s something that we are very motivated to do,” he says.
It’s worth noting that over-applying fertilizer isn’t against any laws in Ohio, and agriculture in particular has long been exempted from aspects of the Clean Water Act; the industry has also pushed back against water quality regulations for runoff. There’s a bill pending in the Ohio legislature that would require agricultural users of fertilizer to apply for a permit. It has the support of the Ohio Farm Bureau, but not the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association. And even that law is not really a set of rules but a required educational program. In Illinois, a 2010 law restricting the use of phosphorus in fertilizer exempts farms and golf courses.
The Maumee River and Wabash/Grand Lake St. Mary's watersheds are two of the most degraded and heavily farmed watersheds in Ohio.  It is no surprise that they have the worst issues with cyanobacteria.  They both are heavily channelized with little to no filter strips between the water channels (ditches) and crop areas and nearly no vegetation.  Farmers hate regulation, but if we don't get our shit together, we're going to get a lot of it, and deservedly so.  Hopefully, the 'do not drink' order is an overly cautious move to protect the public because the cyanobacteria issue is a poorly understood safety risk.  Even if it is, it is a wake-up call that farmers must heed.