Corn Prices and Falling Cattle Numbers

I’m a devotee of Market to Market, Iowa Public Television’s farm program. Because Idaho PTV broadcasts it at the ungodly hour of 6:30 a.m. on Saturdays, I seldom see it on TV, but I can catch it on the internet anytime, and even see episodes I’ve missed.  To get in the spirit of the thing, I suppose that by 6:30 I should already have been up and out to check the sheep, or something. Oh, wait, I used to do that during lambing season — and at  midnight, at 2, at 4….it was enough already.  And my in-laws in Illinois, who actually do grow corn, are on the Redneck Riviera this time of year, so they’re not sitting at their kitchen table in their John Deere caps at that hour of the morning, either.

My favorite part of the program is the last segment, where one of several rotating commodities experts pontificate on whether it’s time to sell that big pile of corn that we all have in our backyard silos — fraught with tension, these discussions.  Will prices rise or fall?  Time to buy some puts?  Fun, especially if you have no money invested yourself.  My favorite gurus are Virgil Robinson, Sue Martin, and Tomm Pfitzenmaier.  I love Virgil because he predicted the big run-up in grain prices back in 2008.  I like Sue because I can imagine being her, if I’d been born with better career sense.  Virgil always thinks prices are rising, and Sue always thinks prices are about to fall, so if you alternated acting on their advice, you’d probably break even.   Tomm Pfitzenmaier — well, I just like his name.

So what are these experts saying?   I’ll paraphrase the last few episodes.  Cotton first: where prices have been screaming higher and higher for months and are now over $1.60 a pound.  This after years and years, decades really, of prices between 40 and 60 cents a pound, prices that effectively held down other fibers, like wool. Some of this was due to the subsidies paid to American agribusiness to grow cotton, one of the most soil-draining, pesticide-intensive crops ever.  And it’s not like we actually even make anything from our cotton anymore: we apparently ship almost all of it to mills in Asia.  But the subsidies caused overproduction which in turn bankrupted poor cotton farmers in Africa.

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Biofuel Grasslands Better for Birds Than Ethanol Staple Corn, Researchers Find

Biofuel crops can be a big threat to wildlife, or not, as this article shows-

Biofuel Grasslands Better for Birds. Science Daily.

Judge halts USDA’s cattle-grazing plans on Conservation Reserve Program lands

The Conservation Reserve Project has removed many millions of marginal and sub-marginal lands from agricultural production over the last 20 years or so. It has had an enormous beneficial effect on water quality and wildlife habitat in some places. Southeast Idaho, where I live is one of the most important places to benefit.

On the other hand, the monetary payments to these nonproducing farmers have been enormous. As George Wuerthner has pointed out many times, the land could have purchased and become public land easily for the amount of money paid to the owners who voluntarily sign up for this program.

Another one of the irritating aspects of the program is the tendency for various Administrations, including the current one, to open these lands to grazing where there is a drought, or in the present case, simply high food prices. This pretty much defeats the expensive CRP’s purpose.

Fortunately, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour has just issued and injunction that could stop the renewed grazing on 24 million acres of CRP lands around the U.S.

Story in the Seattle Times. The injunction ordered Tuesday by U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour could affect 24 million acres of conservation lands across the country.

And here is some potentially very bad news. Farmers are pressuring to be let out of their CRP contracts because of the artificially high price of corn that has been created by mandates to produce ethanol from corn. USDA Rule Change May Lead To Crops on Conserved Land. By Joel Achenbach. Washington Post.

These lands were taken out of production because they are generally hilly with soils that flow away with the first rain. Corn is one of the very worst crops in terms of erosion. It is plain to see that corn simply cannot hold the soil in place. Add this then as yet another cost of corn ethanol.

Many people are blaming the huge midwest floods on the land use practices in the area, aggrevated by planting of more corn — this is the kind of additional cost we are talking about.

Some biofuels may harm environment more than help. Corn ethanol number one

This should hardly be news, but many policy-makers still don’t realize this. Our wildlife, water, and economy will suffer unless this is understood better. Politics also plays a role as many corn producing states are up for grabs in the upcoming election. Many politicians will decide it is safer to cater to corn ethanol for now.

Some Biofuels Might Do More Harm Than Good To The Environment, Study Finds. Science Daily.

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