Saturday, April 29, 2006

Watch Where You Eat

It was reported in yesterday's Kuwait Times that a well known bakery in the Hawally district was shut down for keeping the bread dough in a toilet to keep it moist. According to Hawan al Sadoun of the Times " (we) discovered along with the municipality that they leave the dough in the toilet. The baker was surprised to see the municipality. When he was asked about why he stored the dough in such an inappropriate location, he admitted that the humidity helps speed up the process and so he can meet demand. In addition, he kept the dough in the bathtub and used expired butter. The bakery was closed immediately and a KD 1000 fine imposed and charges are to be prepared for working with an expired health license permit. "


Friday, April 28, 2006

Cuba: Hungry for American Food?

It's reported in Business Week that Cuba-you know, that island that everyone in the Republican Party loves to hate-has agreed to buy $20 million USD in produce from Alabama's farmers. That comes on the heels of a $30 million USD buy from our sister state of Nebraska.

What this points to, if anyone in the Red State party is listening (and I believe they are not) is that Cuba wants and needs trade with the US. We're Cuba's natural trading partner, they're ninety miles from Key West, they need what our farmers have to sell, a lot of their relatives are here and we both dig baseball and boxing. What's puzzling is that the red states contain a large number of farmers who should have known better.

Nevertheless, the trade embargo against the Cuban state has existed for forty or so years, for reasons that are completely inscrutable to us and overtly anti farmer and anti business.

Perhaps the embargo exists because of relentless anti Castro agitation from some in the south Florida emigre population,who no doubt all think that when Castro's gone, they'll be able to set up shop just like back in the good old days of the Mob and Batista.

Lincoln Diaz Ballart, the Cuban American mouthpiece, actually sent a letter to all 4,000 or so county attorneys in the US asking them to arrest Fidel Castro if he should drop by on the way to the WTO Battle in Seattle a few years ago. I had it tacked to the wall in my office for the longest time. What a waste of $1,200 in postage-for grandstanding.

At bottom, what it shows is that a) Uncle just can't stand to have Castro thumbing his nose at the government in Washington, and b) Uncle doesn't have the cojones to take the emigres to task and stop letting them dictate self interested foreign policy from Festung Miami.

When Castro gets on Charon's boat, as he no doubt will in the not too distant future, it is not written in stone that political developments will go as the emigres expect. In fact there are a lot of people in Cuba who might differ with the horde of carpetbaggers-in-waiting.

The Cubans have also showed that if there's a choice, they know where they'd like to push their grocery cart, and that's here in the United States.

Let's ditch this idiotic embargo that damages America's farmers, throw open the doors and tell Cuba: Grab a place at the table-dinner's about to be served.

Agricultural Crime Enforcement

The Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Department is active in the fight against agricultural crime, offenses which are often unnoticed by our city friends or underreported due to manpower constraints out in the country. Charlse H. Bronson, the Commissioner, reporter in today's Sun-Herald that a pair of goniffs in possession of a trailer load of stolen fruit and produce were grabbed and lodged in the Nassau County jail on grand theft charges.

It is also reported that the Agriculture Law Department is instituting the ACTION project which was developed by Tulare County, California DA Phillip Cline and his dedicated staff. I dug into this subject a few years ago and it's heartening to see people taking the subject of agriculture related crime seriously for a change. The program tracks agriculture related crimes and shares information with law enforcement agencies. The Florida ACTION program, once it is up and running, will collect and distribute agriculture related crime information.

Good work, y'all. We could use it here in Iowa.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Wait! Wait! The Chicken Smugglers Are To Blame For Bird Flu!!!

It was widely reported that chicken smugglers going from China to Vietnam with chickens in their trousers could be a cause of the re-emergence of avian influenza in Vietnam. Officials in the Lang Son and Quang Ninh regions reportedly destroyed 40 tons of chickens (about 10,000 chickens) 126,000 eggs and 1,000 ducks being smuggled in from China.

And here I was thinking that the cause was chemicals, pesticides and hormones were the cause....silly me.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

That was what agriculture is all about-isn't it?

For most folks we know, agriculture is ultimately about eating-what and how much seem to be the salient measuring sticks for folks who believe in eating as something more than a boring and frustrating refueling exercise.

To the sad looking, scrawny women I see in the market pushing a cart containing a lonely stalk of broccoli, a pint of skim milk and some unidentifiable Healthy Choice entree (it isn't and there isn't one), pass this by, it'll only make you more miserable. As Louis Armstrong, the trumpet wizard, once said to a person who asked him to describe jazz, "Lady, if you have to ask, you'll never understand it."

Where was I? Oh yes......

Dr. Marvin Harris, the cultural anthropologist, has written a book called Good to Eat, which is an interesting disquisition on why it is that people eat the things they do, and it is presently on order for yr. ob'd servant so as to review the subject with an agricultural law degree under my belt, as it were.

I wonder what Dr. Harris would make of the supersizedmeals website. I am sure he would have trenchant and witty commentary. For our friends in the cattle industry, take heart-this is proof that the Dark Forces of the Diet Nazis are taking a few hits below the waterline.

Chicken Farmers to Blame For Avian Influenza

It was reported yesterday that something called The Network for Consumer Protection in Pakistan has determined that the cause of the spread of avian influenza that everyone's been talking about for the last two years is-you guessed it-large scale production of poultry in confinement operations. This, it is said, will destroy small scale poultry production on the farm that provides meat and income for large numbers of indigenous farmers.

Also associated with this trend is the use of growth promoting hormones and antibiotics which, it is speculated, diverts energy that could have been used to enhance immunity in the service of rapid growth.

Well. I'm glad we got that out of the way.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Blame Game

It was reported in Reuters recently that the European trade commissioner Mandelson blames the impasse in the current WTO negotiations on-who else?-the Americans. This comes with a twist that separates it from the more common America bashing that is the European's favorite way of entertaining himself when all else fails and Le Figaro has already been used to wrap last week's salmon.

What Mr. Mandelson is objecting to is the United States proposal that would cut agricultural subsidies in half. Mr. Mandelson says that such a thing would make farming impossible in Europe. He points to Brazil and India, two of the group that is pressing the more developed world to reduce or eliminate farm subsidies as the worst offenders in their tariff structure that discriminates against imported manufactured goods such as automobiles and chemicals.

What Mr. Mandelson does not seem to want to face up to is that farm subsidies of the "get paid under the table or off the books" kind we've got in Europe and the U.S. do keep world market prices artificially low for some commodities, with the result that small farmers in underdeveloped parts of the world cannot make back the cost of production on their product.

We often joke cynically about it here that this fellow or that one is "farming the government". The same holds true for the European farmers whether they are people like Jose Bove or not.

It's time to fairly give farmers in the developing world the ability to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, as it says in the Book. That much is only right. And the way to do that is to wean farmers in the US and in Europe off the government teat.

Sharing the Wealth in an Iowa Biodiesel Plant

We may not be Saudi Arabia here, but we are starting to see a lot of activity in the alternative fuels programs that are seeking to capitalize on the abundant crop resources and skills of Iowa farmers and the technicians and engineers who are involved in such projects.

Although production of ethanol from corn is not the most efficient way of producing the stuff, one thing that we do get is high quality feed in the form of dried distiller's grains and solids (DDGS). DDGS is a high protein feed that actually has its nutritional content improved by the addition of yeast and yeast residue. Likewise soy based biodiesel produces the familiar oilseed cake and soy protein for hungry humans as well as animals.

So when something comes along that'll improve the efficiency of the process, we have to take notice, particularly in this day of $75 per barrel crude oil.

A biodiesel plant that is planned for Cherokee County in north west Iowa will be fueled by pelletized biomass from the local landfill, with substantial benefits in improved efficiency. Every BTU that can come from local resources lightens the burden and lowers the cost for the rest of us. The facility is to undergo construction and come on line in 2008.

Death on the Farm II

It was reported earlier this week by the Register that there was another fire at a another hog confinement operation in Iowa in which better than 400 hogs were killed by a fast moving fire that started when an electric heater malfunctioned. This is the second occurrence of this type in as many weeks.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again: if you don't have the skills of a commercial electrician, for heaven's sake leave the job to the professionals. Hire a reputable commercial electrician in your community.

He or she will thank you for supporting the local economy. After you've made the necessary repairs and your farm's electr9ical system has gotten a clean bill of health, do your hogs a favor and have the electrician over every few months to look over any new installations or equipment that's been giving you trouble. Even if it's only to pour the electrician a cup of coffee. It's money well spent. Livestock that the dead hauler takes aren't of much use to anyone.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Another one bites the dust-Pinova goes out

It has been reported that there is now no commercial source for turpentine produced in the United States, as the Pinova division of Hercules International has decided to quit the business. This was reported by Jon Kramer, maker of Kramer's Wood Improver, beloved of antique furniture fans all over the country. Jon is currently trying to negotiate purchases of turpentine from Brazil, but the quality and reliability of this source seems uncertain at best.

Kramer notes that at one time, there were varietals of turpentine, each with its own distinct characteristics and uses, but with the decline of the naval stores trade, this too may pass out of existence.

I remember as a small boy my father would take the entire family swimming at Crandon Beach. In those days, ships would swill out their bilges in the harbor, and it was normal to come home with specks of tar and bunker oil. Grandfather would say "OK, let's get you cleaned up." and would produce a quart of turpentine and some rags, and I'll never forget my first whiff of the resinous essence of southern pine stumps.

Let us fervently hope that some enterprising folks in our South can create a niche market for small scale turpentine production and maintain a great American tradition for the future.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Death on the Range: Update

According to a report published in the Register today, Iowa DPS agents have stated that the 150 head of cattle that died on Doug Wedemyer's feedlot a few days ago were not the victims of bad feed. The cattle were poisoned, and it remains to be seen who or what was responsible.

However this case plays out, the caveats about making sure of your feed quality remain in full force and effect. We'll update the story as details emerge.

Cattlemen 1, Tyson & Cargill 0.

It was widely reported this morning that a jury returned a verdict against Tyson Fresh Meats, Cargill, and Swift fir 9.25 million dollars in an extensively litigated class action lawsuit involving application of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

In Schumacher v. Tyson Foods, Inc. , CIV 02-1027 (D. S.Dak. Apr. 12, 2006) it was alleged in the complaint that the the USDA's mandatory cattle price and boxed beef price information that was published between April 2 and May 11 inclusive had been erroneously reported as being substantially lower than prices actually were because of a software error. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants knew that this was so but used the information to underpay the plaintiffs by a substantial amount of money. This, they contended, was an unfair practice specifically prohibited by the Packers and Stockyards Act and which gave rise to a private right of action.

The jury agreed, and rendered judgment for the plaintiffs against Tyson, Cargill and Swift, but found no liability on the part of National Beef, the remaining defendant.

FYI:You may read about this *somewhere else*. You heard it *here* first.

Don't Drink the Water I

The Associated Press reports that large numbers of dead hogs have been dumped in the Fujiang River in eastern China. It is as yet unknown what the cause of the mortality is, but some think that it is an as yet unreported outbreak of streptococcus that led to the porkers' demise.

People have been advised that the water from the river is safe to drink if boiled-but that is what we here in Iowa call 'soup', and we'll pass on that course, thank you.

German Gardening: Alles in Ordnung?

Today's Der Spiegel has an interesting piece on the Germanic passion for gardening on the rururban fringe.

Large numbers of folks from the cities can rent a small plot for a small fee, put up a garden shed, and proceed to organize a small corner of the world to their liking.
The Schrebergarten movement is not a new one, and such affairs are seen on the outskirts of cities all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

What's interesting for the Germans is that this is a matter of nine, count 'em, nine pages of comprehensive legislation that makes absoultely sure that public gardens are managed with an attention to detail that is classic anal retentive as only the Germans can do anal retentive. Untidy and disorganized gardening is not, as you may have guessed, well received.

Public gardening isn't nearly as common in the U.S., although it does exist here and there, and where it does, it is a pleasant pursuit. Of course, it brings with it the problems that gardening in one spot over an extended period of time does, such as pests and plant diseases.

It's hard to be a meaningful organic gardener in such circumstances, as my experiences having a plot in the Long Beach public gardens demonstrated. The tobacco mosaic virus that was rampant there killed off most of my melons-the only thing of such construction that prospered were the spaghetti squashes, which grew pretty fast before the virus fixed its death grip on my little plot. The other pest, which caused me to be evicted, was the infestation of fig beetles.

I arrived one day to minister to my charges and was astounded to see that a neighboring plot had been completely overrun with large iridescent beetles about the size of a quarter, who were busy devouring everything in sight. They were in the process of making short work of my plants, and you could actually see the surface of the corncobs wiggling ans the hungry bugs rooted around underneath to find something to eat.

After several emergency phone calls to the managers went unanswered, I took matters into my own hands and bought some Sevin, which is a fast acting insecticide that dissipates in about 7 days. I sprayed my plot and the adjoining offenders, and stopped the fig beetles in their tracks.
Two days later I got a nastygram from the people who hadn't bothered to answer my phone calls, telling me I'd officially been booted out of the garden.

Of such is the kingdom, as they say. I'm not sorry I did it.,1518,410799,00.html

Death on the Farm

It was reported that more than 2,300 hogs were killed in a fire that swept through a Franklin County, Iowa hog confinement operation. Of the four confinement barns, only one could be saved and it is expected that more animals will die from smoke inhalation. The Franklin County sheriff said he thought that the fire was caused by a malfunctioning piece of machinery used in cleaning.

It bears reiterating that someone is going to be out a lot of money here, whether it's the insurance company or the consumer by way of higher prices. The ISO Pork people have lost the use of a valuable facility and the increase that the hogs would have brought. In all likelihood some people will be out of work for a while.

Fires spread fast in timber frame buildings with open plan interiors. It is a good time to think about fire suppression and your plans to deal with a fire should one break out in your facility. It's mandatory that the electrical system and its attendant appliances be in good order. If you have the skills and the understanding, now is the time to survey the electrical system in your barns and make sure it is in good working condition. Use some honest self appraisal of your skills-if you do not have the ability or understanding, hire a reputable electrician in your local community to do this for you. Your critters will thank you.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Death on the Range

It was reported by WHO last night that 150 head of cattle had died on an Adair County, Iowa feedlot owned by Doug Wedemeier last weekend after consuming their morning repast. It is suspected that the cause of their demise was contaminated feed. According to the report I viewed, the feed was produced on Wedemeier's property.

For our city friends, this represents a loss for someone of around $150,000. You'll pay for it in higher insurance premiums and more expensive beef.

Unless this is a repeat episode of industrial contamination that we see every so often, it's most likely mold metabolites such as aflatoxin that are the culprit.

It bears repeating:

Secondary market feed ingredients that you do not know the provenance of can be a witch's brew of trouble for you and your cattle. On-farm storage of feed and grain that you are using to feed your cattle has to be managed properly with special attention paid to conditions of molding and heating. Buying grain that has an excessive level of aflatoxin with the idea of blending it down is problematical because the toxin is not necessarily evenly distributed through the product-there are hot spots.

As a practical matter, I did a lot of research on the subject a couple years ago, with an eye toward publication. Ultimately that work did not come to fruition. Perhaps it's time to dust it off.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Echoes From the Past: 110 Per Cent Not Guilty?

I know, I know, this is supposed to be an ag law blog but this is interesting stuff.

It is reported today that as Jeff Skilling began his much awaited testimony to set the record straight in the Enron trials, he declared "I am absolutely innocent" and "I am innocent of those charges and will fight those charges until the day I die." or words to that effect.

It's awfully similar to the plea of one Orenthal James Simpson, he of the Bruno Magli shoes and the basket of lame excuses. At least the Juice had the sense to stay off the stand. Skilling either has a self preservation instinct deficit or he's going down and is trying to sink a three pointer from the field at the buzzer.

Fine words coming from Mr. Skilling. I expect some serious memory lapses when the G gets him on cross. This will be most interesting. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Hormel Reaches Packer Feeder Settlement With Iowa

It is reported in the Register today that Hormel and the Iowa AG's office have reached a settlement agreement that may leave intact the Iowa packer-feeder prohibition. In the settlement agreement, Hormel will get the ability to acquire more hogs from Iowa farmers and process more pork, while agreeing to a contract producer's "Bill of Rights" which grants producers a private cause of action regarding those rights.
Among the salient features of the agreement are a cap on required investment over the contract value, a bar on requiring binding arbitration, a bar on finishing hogs in Hormel owned facilities for five years, a two year purchase requirement of 25 per cent open market hogs from independent producers and a 90 day notice of closing any of Hormel's four processing plants in Iowa.
Apparently the state and the large pork integrators are in the process of reaching something of a modus vivendi with respect to the packer feeder prohibition. Agreements of a similar nature are envisioned with other integrators who wish to operate in Iowa, according to Steve Moline of the Iowa Attorney General Farm Division.
Whether this serves the long term interests of Iowa farmers is yet to be seen, but the history of vertical integrators is not a pretty one, if we can learn anything from the past forty or so years in the poultry industry. Also, whether the integrators will keep the bargain they've made or are already burning the midnight oil trying to lawyer their way around it is as yet unknown.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Rebuilding Iraqi Agriculture

One of the lesser known parts of the Iraq puzzle for a lot of us has to be the efforts that are going on behind the scenes to rebuild Iraq from the bottom up.

It's curious that an administration that stood four square against doing much for the poor folks in its own cities and on the reservations, and family farmers in places like Iowa more or less let itself get stuck with the job of rebuilding a moderately sized middle eastern country. A country, I might add, with a checkered past and no great love for officious intermeddlers from the more developed parts of the world.

Of course, the administration did not think any of this was going to happen when el Presidente declared "Mission accomplished!" back in 2003 on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln, but facts proved to be stubborn and unyielding.

Well, nevermind. It's similar to what my old man used to say when I came home with some knotty mess of my own making. He'd look up from his newspaper and tell me "You broke it-now fix it." That's the message America is getting from the rest of the world, and if anything the rest of the world would likely add "Be quick about it too."

One of the things we can and are doing that can actually win friends and influence people in the middle east in general and Iraq in particular is in the field of agriculture. We know a lot about it, we have the most productive farmers in the world, and we in farm country are always ready to pitch in and help folks out-and worry about who gets paid later on.

Thus it is that the fine folks from USAID in cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture are working with Case-New Holland and Massey Ferguson to train Iraqi mechanics and rehabilitate large quantities of inoperable agricultural equipment in that country. Better than half of Iraq is involved in farming and agriculture, and time was when the country was the breadbasket of the region.

But bad administration, official corruption, interminable warfare and internal terrorism all played their part in damaging a once productive farm economy. Lest we forget, Iraqi boys bleed as red as our own. Many are the modest Iraqi farms where an old mother and father wait in vain for their sons to walk up the hot dusty road to the place they called home so long ago, to drink from the well in the courtyard and sit in the shade and tell of the places they'd been.

Productive and remunerative farming will help a lot of people out of poverty in Iraq, and if they are like most folks we know, they will never forget who it was that picked them up, dusted them off, straightened their collars and said "You'll do just fine. Let's get to work, we've got crops to plant and critters to raise."

Re-engineering Iraq: Power and Light

I've recently come across an extremely interesting article that I am just starting to delve into. It was published in the IEEE Spectrum, written by a fellow named Glenn Zorpette, and it is entitled "Re-engineering Iraq". It speaks volumes about the difficulties that working folks are facing every day in that land, particularly with re-establishing a modicum of civilized life in the form of infrastructure that works at least half the time.

I shall have more to say on this subject, but in the meantime Mr. Zorpette's excellent article is available online at: