Posts Tagged ‘Agriculture’

Our American food

October 31, 2015

Hat tip to Hal Bauer

Why are small farmers more productive?

April 13, 2015

A study by an organization called GRAIN concludes that, although small farmers produce more than half the world’s food, they own only a quarter of the world’s land, and that their share is shrinking.

I think the same principle is at work here, to a lesser extent, as was the case in the USSR and China under Stalin and Mao, when forced collective farming resulted in starvation.

On small farms, owners are the same as managers, and, even if they have hired hands, they are not separate from the workers.  Naturally they will work harder, pay closer attention and exercise more independent judgment than if they were employees of a big corporation or a government.

Why, then, are large farming operations crowding out the small independent farmers?  My guess is that it is because they have economies of scale that lower operating costs per acre, more bargaining power in dealing with lenders, suppliers and food buyers, and, last but far from least, more influence with governments.


GRAIN – hungry for land: small farmers feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland.


Cannabis is the world’s most profitable crop

March 28, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Source: Information Is Beautiful

The passing scene: March 20, 2015

March 20, 2015

When a Summer Job Could Pay the Tuition by Timothy Taylor as the Conversible Economist.


When I attended college in the 1950s, any young American could earn enough working at a full-time summer job, and a part-time job during the school year, to pay tuition at a state university.  The USA is generating just as much wealth per person as it was then, so there is no inherent reason why that shouldn’t still be possible.

Wrong-Way Obama? by William Greider for The Nation (via Truthout)

The world economic situation is very much like it was on the eve of the Great Depression of the 1930s.  World leaders need to work together to create jobs, and to write down debt that is a burden on economic growth and never going to be paid anyway.  The Transpacific Partnership Agreement is the exact opposite of the kind of international agreement that is needed.

Who Owns the Post Office? by Mark Jamison for Save the Post Office (via Angry Bear).

The Founders of the United States didn’t think of the Postal Service as a business.  They thought of it as a means of binding the nation together.   Benjamin Franklin, once a postmaster, would have been shocked by closing of post offices in small towns because they didn’t generate enough traffic.

How Parents in One Low-Income Town Are Raising Hell to Save Their Schools by Alan Richard on Alternet.

School teachers will tell you that the key to better schools is parents getting involved.   Parents in a small town in Mississippi have figured out how to make that work.

Peasant Sovereignty? by Evanggelos Valliantos for Independent Science News.

A recent study of nine European countries is the latest study to confirm that peasants and small farmers are more productive than large mechanized farms based on industrial agriculture.  If decision-makers are concerned about feeding the world, they should be thinking about how to get land in the hands of hard-working peasants who have little.

Turning Japanese: coping with stagnation by Roland Kelts for The Long+Short.

Japan is considered a failure by some because its economy isn’t growing.  But the Japanese economy and culture work well for the Japanese.  We Americans could learn something from them.

Who will own the Ukrainian breadbasket?

May 19, 2014

SMEs are “small and medium enterprises”

The rich black soil of Ukraine is the nation’s greatest asset.  The soil made Ukraine the breadbasket of Europe and Russia in an earlier era, and while nowadays Europeans import wheat from North America, the Ukrainian land is still a coveted prize.

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Note that none of this is certain.  Click to enlarge.

Investment in farmland by wealthy Ukrainians has tripled in the past five years, and the previous Ukrainian government discussed allowing foreigners to purchase Ukraine land.

There was even talk that the Chinese would lease an area larger than Massachusetts for 50 years.  I put this under the heading of “interesting if true.”  The fact that something is discussed doesn’t mean it will happen.  But Chinese have been buying up large amounts of farmland in Africa and Australia, so there is no reason why they wouldn’t be interested in Ukraine.

The conflict with Russia has disrupted both Ukrainian grain exports and the Ukrainian harvest, but this is temporary.  Analysts seek a great potential in Ukraine as a breadbasket, not for Europe and Russia, but for the rising middle class of Asia.

Who will own the breadbasket?  Ukraine has accepted a rescue package for the International Monetary Fund, which typically demands that countries open up their resources to foreign investment.  Presumably, in the current state of affairs, this would not include Russian investment.

The struggle in Ukraine is not only a conflict over language, ethnicity and political ideology; it is a struggle for control of resources.


Why America needs its farmers

October 2, 2013

Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms in Virginia, is a famous organic farmer.  Also smart—he puts his chicken coops on wheels so that he can have fertilizer wherever on his farm he wants.

Back in August, he heard a talk by Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture.  Vilsack said that in 2012, the number of American farmers declined.  The percentage of Americans who are farmers have been declining for some time, but 2012 was the first year that the actual number of farmers declined.

Vilsack said American needs its farmers, and the reason he gave surprised Salatin, and surprised me, too, although maybe it won’t surprise you.

SalatinJoel.PolyfaceWhat could be the most important contribution that increasing farmers could offer to the nation? Better food? Better soil development? Better care for animals? Better care for plants?

Here’s his answer: although rural America only has 16 percent of the population, it gives 40 percent of the personnel to the military.  Say what?  You mean when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, the bottom line—you know all the cliches—the whole reason for increasing farms is to provide cannon fodder for American imperial might.  He said rural kids grow up with a sense of wanting to give something back, and if we lose that value system, we’ll lose our military might.

So folks, it all boils down to American military muscle.  It’s not about food, healing the land, stewarding precious soil and resources; it’s all about making sure we keep a steady stream of youngsters going into the military.

Click on A Letter from Joel Salatin to read his full account of his encounter with Vilsack.

Click on Polyface Inc. for Salatin’s Polyface farm web page.

Click on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farming Wisdom for more.

Hat tip to corrente for the link.

Let’s war on the enemy within: Feral hogs

May 2, 2013


For more than a decade, the federal government has been handling out military equipment to local governments while expanding the budget and capabilities of the Department of Homeland Security.   It is time to use this equipment and capability on a dangerous enemy within:  Feral hogs.

You think I’m kidding?

wild_hogs_7The feral hog population of the United States numbers in the millions.   Nobody knows how many there are.  One source says there are 5 million in the USA, another that there are 2.5 million in Texas alone.  All agree that their numbers are increasing rapidly and that they are spreading to all states of the Union.

Feral hogs destroy an estimated $1.5 billion worth of  livestock and crops every year.  They kill  game animals and destroy the natural habitat—the latter by rooting up trees, shrubs and plants until nothing is left but a wasteland.   They carry diseases and parasites than can spread to people and livestock.

They breed frequently and have large litters.  Game experts say it is necessary to kill 60 to 70 percent of the wild hog population every year just to keep the population stable.

Copy_of_SL_8_21_08_Gone_hog_wild!_part1On a visit to San Antonio, I met a man who makes a living hunting feral hogs.  He said they typically weigh hundreds of pounds, and he has seen tracks of a hog that must have weighed 1,000.

The feral hog population originated with the first Spanish settlers of the Southwest, who brought herds of pigs with them to assure a secure meat supply.   U.S. pioneers in the South and Southwest would typically let their hogs roam free, and hunt and kill them when they needed meat to eat.   Natural selection made the surviving wild hog population more intelligent and adaptable.

The turning point came when sportsmen imported wild boars as game animals.   Wild boars are ferocious, intelligent and hard to kill.  They have thick skulls and thick hides, and can be killed only by a well-aimed, high-caliber bullet hitting a vital organ.  A wounded wild boar is one of the most dangerous creatures on earth.   And they have no natural predators, at least not in North America.

trophyboarhogSome wild boars escaped into the wild and inter-bred with the existing feral hog population.  The result was a super-hog, like something out of a Michael Crichton novel.   When I read about these creatures and their adaptability and ability to learn, I give thanks that they don’t have opposable thumbs.

Feral hogs can’t be controlled by ordinary hunting methods.   We need to mobilize our war technology—helicopter gunships, infrared sensors, killer drones, signature strikes.  We also could use the help of people who have stockpiled high-caliber, military-type weapons.  They could make a good contribution by organizing into well-ordered militias and fighting an undisputed enemy within.

Feral hogs are gaining a foothold in New York state, but they’re not yet a noticeable problem here in the Rochester area.  We have deer, which have lost their fear of humankind, wandering into the suburbs and sometimes into the city, which is a big nuisance.  A farmer friend of mine is troubled by coyotes, which have migrated from west to east in North America.  But as yet, no feral hogs.

The feral hog situation is much worse in some parts of Europe.  Wild boars wander into urban areas in Germany and have been known to attack people.  Some of them are radioactive, a lingering result of the Chernobyl disaster, although all that really means in practice is that their meat is not safe to eat.