Saturday, August 15, 2015

Midwest Farmland Prices Drop Again

Chicago Fed Ag Letter:

With the way markets are moving, expect the trend to accelerate over the winter and into the spring.

County Fair Weekend Links

Yep, summer's almost over.  The fair runs through Thursday, then school starts back up.  Here are a few stories to enjoy if you aren't eating fried foods or watching livestock beauty contests:

Hellbent, But Not Broken - SBNation

The Other Oil Boom - Texas Monthly.  Texas olive oil.

How the Midwest's Corn Farms Are Cooking The Planet - Mother Jones.  The headline is a bit alarmist, but it is always good to hear what folks on the anti-Big Ag side are saying.

A Muscle Drug For Pigs Comes Out of The Shadows - The Salt.  More resistance to Big Ag.

In Defense of the Cockroach - The New Yorker

One of the newest, most viable forms of clean energy could beat all other existing options - Business Insider.  Algae.

The California "Energy Miracle" - Priceonomics

The Lowly Lightbulb Outshines Solar And Wind On U.S. Power Grids - Bloomberg.  But don't take away conservatives' 130-year old lighting technology.

Evil but Stupid - n+1

A DuPont twofer: The Teflon Toxin - The Intercept, and Up in the Tower - Texas Monthly

The Midwest, Home of the Supermodel - The Atlantic

The Kansas Experiment - New York Times Magazine

Republican Presidential Contenders Flock To Iowa State Fair - Wall Street Journal and The Political Circus Is Coming To The Iowa State Fair - Bloomberg.  One reason to avoid the Iowa State Fair.  Another reason: the Iowa State Patrol seems to hang out on I-80 and harass anybody pulling a trailer by busting them for commercial truck violations (I know from experience).

The Geography of Profanity - Pacific Standard (and the source at Jack Grieve's Homepage).  Surprisingly, Western Ohio is a hotspot for the C-word.


Libertarian Paradise


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

There's Something In The Water

And that would be fertilizer. And algae. And microcystin:

A vast Lake Erie algae bloom returns, captured by a NASA satelite on July 28.

The citizens of Toledo, Ohio, have embarked upon their new summer ritual: stocking up on bottled water. For the second straight year, an enormous algae bloom has settled upon Lake Erie, generating nasty toxins right where the city of 400,000 draws its tap water.
It's a kind of throwback to Toledo's postwar heyday, when the Rust Belt's booming factories deposited phosphorus-laced wastewater into streams that made their way into Lake Erie, feeding algae growths that rival today's in size. But after the decline of heavy industry and the advent of the Clean Water Act, there's a new main source of algae-feeding phosphorus into the beleaguered lake: fertilizer runoff from industrial-scale corn and soybean farms.As I reported last August, the trouble is that freshwater blooms produce a toxin called microcystin, which can trigger nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe headaches, fever, and even liver damage. For three days last year, microcystin in Toledo's water exceeded federal limits, and the city had to urge residents not only to avoid drinking it, but also to use bottled water to wash dishes and bathe infants.
Toledo has since implemented an early warning system near its water intake for monitoring potential microcystin contamination in Lake Erie—one, it hopes, will prevent a repeat of last year's don't-drink-the-water event by giving the city time to run its carbon-filtration system when toxin levels at the source spike. The filtration system does work to push microcystin levels to below the legal limit, said Justin Chaffin, research coordinator for Ohio State University's Ohio Sea Grant program, which coordinates efforts to monitor the lake's algae blooms. The problem, he said, is that it costs thousands of dollars per day to run...
Toledo's fertilizer-haunted water supply is hardly an isolated case. Similar situations persist throughout the Corn Belt, from Ohio in the east to Nebraska in the west. To grow the great bulk of corn and soybeans that fuel our food system, the Corn Belt uses massive amounts of fertilizer—and it doesn't stay put. For example, Iowa's Department of Natural Resources has had to issue 131 advisories since 2006—and 17 so far this year—warning people to keep themselves and their pets out of lakes made toxic by these phosphorus-fed blooms. Ohio has eight such warnings active, apart from the drama in Toledo.
Then there's the related problem of another chemical fertilizer used on farms, nitrogen. It enters drinking water supplies in the form of nitrate, which can restrict the blood's ability to carry oxygen and is thus particularly hazardous to infants. Regular low-level exposure to nitrate has been associated with birth defects as well as cancers of the ovaries and thyroid. The waterworks utility of Des Moines, Iowa, claims to have spent $1.5 million since December 2014 keeping nitrate levels below legal limits, and claims it needs to invest as much as $183 million in new filtration equipment to battle the problem going forward. Back in June, Columbus, Ohio, had to warn pregnant women and babies to avoid the tap because nitrate levels had spiked above legal limits. The same thing has forced the Nebraska town of Prosser to warn its residents away from tap water for more than a year—and to raise $84,000 to put a reverse-osmosis filter in every kitchen.
Of course, the Corn Belt's fertilizer runoff doesn't just wreak havoc within the region. The great bulk of these pollutants make their way to the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi River, where they feed one of the globe's largest annual fish-killing algae blooms. According to the latest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projections, this year's version will be just "average" in size—blotting out sea life in area of some 5,400 square miles, roughly the area of Connecticut.
This is going to continue to grow as an issue, especially as larger yields require the use of more and more fertilizer.  Locally, we've seen the algae blooms in Grand Lake St. Mary's blamed on the massive concentration of livestock in the watershed, and the resultant manure runoff.  However, as this article highlights, I doubt that livestock agriculture is primarily to blame in the Maumee River watershed, or in a number of others in the Corn Belt.  This is one more issue farmers should get out in front of instead of continuing with business-as-usual (animal welfare and antibiotic use come to mind) until non-farmers get pissed off enough to kick them in the nuts.  However, I'm not holding my breath on that.

America: Hub of Innovation - Coal Mining Edition

A 30-year-old mining technique is becoming all that’s keeping a group of U.S. coal producers from joining their competitors in bankruptcy.
Coal, already locked in a battle with cheap natural gas, now faces federal environmental rules that threaten to reduce its share of power generation to the lowest in 66 years. Companies from Illinois to Northern Appalachia are responding by leaning more heavily than ever on longwall-mining, a technology that’ll be used to produce a quarter of America’s coal this year, up from 19 percent in 2013....
“People ask me all the time, ‘What’s the new mining technology that saves coal?’” Jim Stevenson, director of North American coal for consultant IHS Inc. in Houston, said by phone July 31. “It’s the longwall. It’s the proliferation of this 30-year-old technology that’s keeping coal coming out of these basins.”
30-year-old technology, huh?  Well, not exactly:
The technology, which evolved in Europe in the 1960s and was improved in the 1980s, is emerging as a bright spot for an industry battered by sliding prices, environmental regulations and increasing competition from natural gas.
I'd love to know the number of "new technologies" that originated in Europe years and years ago.  It seemed like every article I read in Engineering News-Record that talked about a project using a new construction method mentioned how it had originated in Europe thirty years before.  For as arrogant as we are about how our unfettered capitalism unleashes amazing innovations, I just don't see it in civil engineering.  This is another example of that.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Corn Crop Shows Stress From Rain


Daily infrared images of U.S. farmland captured by satellite indicate worsening conditions for this year’s U.S. corn crop, according to one data-analysis company.
Domestic corn production will be 13.34 billion bushels, Descartes Labs forecast. That’s down 6.4 percent from last year and also less than the 13.53 billion-bushel forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last month.
National corn yields are seen at 164.9 bushels an acre, down from its 168-bushel forecast last month, the Los Alamos, New Mexico-based company said. That’s also lower than the USDA forecast of 166.8 bushels from last month.
Problems caused by excessive rain from Nebraska to Ohio in June and July are clearly seen on computer-generated maps, said Chief Technology Officer Steven Brumby.
“The numbers have moved, and more than normal this year,” Brumby said in an interview Friday. “The full effect of the wet weather has yet to make itself known. The yield is probably headed lower.’
A theoretical physicist, Brumby is a co-founder of the company, which started as a project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2007. Descartes analyzes images showing farmland to a resolution of 1/5 of an acre (0.8 hectare).
‘‘We can see what’s happening to the crop without having to go out into the fields,” Brumby said. “We are using time, space and color to see plants change.”
Descartes isn’t alone in forecasting a smaller crop than the USDA. The average estimate of 31 analysts and trading firms in a Bloomberg survey last week was for 13.332 billion bushels.
On Wednesday, the USDA issues its first estimate of this year’s crop, based on farmer surveys and field-based observations from 1,800 locations.
We've dodged several of the big rains this season, and crops around here look pretty good, although some fields look pretty shaky.  Overall, we'll probably be pretty well off for this year compared to how areas north of here are.

A More Perfect Union

A Major Jackass

When your brother is running your state into the ground and you are the black sheep of the family, you are really fucking up:
Undulating fields of crops and livestock-dotted pastures are the domain of a trigger-happy bully who brags about a political cloak of invincibility keeping him beyond reach of the law in faithfully conservative Linn County.
Adversaries say he has woven a liquor-infused tapestry of fear colored by intimidation, abuse and lies. The saga features stalking, death threats, trespassing, drive-by gunfire, massive explosions, cattle theft, loan defaults, hit-and-run driving and marital strife. Linn County Sheriff’s Department files bulge with complaints about him.
There is trepidation among acquaintances to speak freely, a point accentuated by the number expressing nervousness about reprisal if they were candid. There is genuine fear.
Descriptions of events offered by those willing to speak out converge to reveal a potentially lethal menace. Neighbors allege some in law enforcement responded to cries for help with degrees of indifference or favoritism.
Locals aware of the dynamics shake their head in dismay. In a place where people honor the Second Amendment and revere the self-defense castle doctrine, there is astonishment no one has been gunned down.
Folks in direct path of this prairie hellion pray for an end to what some coined “neighborhood terrorism.”
So far, their nemesis has found no reason to relent.
Not when your name is Jim Brownback and you are a brother to Sam, the most powerful politician in Kansas.
Parker farmer Ben Katzer, who lives near Jim Brownback, said the governor’s younger brother didn’t hesitate to rub salt in wounds he inflicted on others by boasting: “Nobody can touch me.” Others have heard similar pitches. Linn County Sheriff Paul Filla witnessed Jim Brownback invoke the governor's name like body armor, but said it didn’t carry weight with him. Amid one conversation, the sheriff said, Jim Brownback declared, “ ‘I’ll just call Sam.’ ”
Wow, what a gigantic asshole.  It takes a special kind of idiot to make Sam Brownback look like the less dangerous sibling.  It's hard to read much of the article because it is so cartoonish.  Of course so are Jim Brownback's brother's economic policies.  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

August 7:

Full Moon, Full Earth
Explanation: The Moon was new on July 16. Its familiar nearside facing the surface of planet Earth was in shadow. But on that date a million miles away, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) captured this view of an apparently Full Moon crossing in front of a Full Earth. In fact, seen from the spacecraft's position beyond the Moon's orbit and between Earth and Sun, the fully illuminated lunar hemisphere is the less familiar farside. Only known since the dawn of the space age, the farside is mostly devoid of dark lunar maria that sprawl across the Moon's perpetual Earth-facing hemisphere. Only the small dark spot of the farside's Mare Moscoviense (Sea of Moscow) is clear, at the upper left. Planet Earth's north pole is near 11 o'clock, with the North America visited by Hurricane Dolores near center. Slight color shifts are visible around the lunar edge, an artifact of the Moon's motion through the field caused by combining the camera's separate exposures taken in quick succession through different color filters. While monitoring the Earth and solar wind for space weather forcasts, about twice a year DSCOVR can capture similar images of Moon and Earth together as it crosses the orbital plane of the Moon.

Oil Producers Push For Export of Crude

Wall Street Journal:

Big voices in the oil industry and Congress now support a move that would have been unthinkable not long ago: opening the U.S. oil industry to exports.
The U.S. has long pushed for liberalized trade, with U.S.-produced crude being the biggest exception since the shock of the 1973 Arab oil embargo led Congress to ban oil exports under nearly all circumstances. The only other U.S. products banned under the same regulations are a type of tree found in Western North Americacalled Western red cedar and live horses for slaughter shipped by sea.
The House now looks likely to vote as early as September to lift the oil-export ban, with Senate action anticipated early next year, which would mark a milestone few saw coming...
Thanks to the fracking revolution, the U.S. is no longer the energy-dependent nation it was for most of the past 50 years. Oil production since 2007 has shot up more than 80% to 9.5 million barrels a day. The U.S. still imports a lot of oil, but the share of petroleumfrom foreign sources, 27%, is at its lowest level since 1985, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The U.S. is already exporting more than a half-million barrels of crude a day to Canada, the biggest exemption under the ban. That is 14 times as much as in 2007, but still just 5.2% of U.S. oil produced a day.
More than a dozen oil companies, including Continental Resources Inc., ConocoPhillips Co. and Marathon Oil Corp. , and several top lawmakers, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) and House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), contend that allowing unfettered domestic oil exports would eliminate market distortions and streamline U.S. petroleum production. The Obama administration hasn’t taken a public position on the issue.
I expect consumers will raise holy hell about this, and it may get kicked to the side, with Congress targeting the ethanol mandate instead.  That would really kick Corn Belt farmers while they are down, but outside of the grain farmers, there just isn't a fuel ethanol constituency.  Keep an eye out for this the next couple of months.  Tea Party darlings like Jim Jordan have no love for the ethanol mandate, and they may just screw the farmers who vote them in.  But you get what you vote for.