June 8, 2011

America's Hottest Investment: Farmland

Stephen Gandel:

This is usually a slow time of the year for farm sales. It's past prime planting season. Yet, Sam Kain, Des Moines area manager for land sales at Farmers National, is busy. He has 3 auctions this week. Most of the 30 or so bidders who show up will be farmers. But an increasing number of people buying land these days have no intention of planting seeds, at least not themselves. They are investors and a growing number of them are getting interested in farmland.

Just how hot is American farmland? By some accounts the value of farmland is up 20% this year alone. That's better than stocks or gold. During the past two decades, owning farmland would have produced an annual return of nearly 11%, according to Hancock Agricultural Investment Group. And that covers a time period when tech stocks boomed and crashed, and housing boomed and crashed. So at a time when investors are still looking for safety, farmland is becoming the "it" investment.

Posted by jez at 9:12 AM

April 12, 2011

Enterprise remains rooted in the land

Luke Johnson:

Farmers were the first entrepreneurs. About 10,000 years ago, in Phoenicia and Mesopotamia, humankind started to cultivate crops and converted from hunter-gatherers to settlers. This initiative enabled cities and, indeed, civilisation to flourish.

Since then, agriculture has developed into a modern industry. But it remains dominated by family concerns, headed by rural entrepreneurs focused on the same core issues as their ancient predecessors: land, water, weather, disease, soil and yields.

Traditionally, farms were passed down the generations, offering modest but volatile cash returns and the possibility of long-term capital appreciation - at least, for those who were not tenant farmers. But while more than 90 per cent of farms in countries such as Britain and the US remain privately held, big business has become seriously interested in the sector.

The soft commodities boom of recent years means that many institutions now see farmland as an attractive asset class and an offset against inflation. Hedge funds, private equity, pension and insurance groups are all investing in land in places such as Brazil, Ukraine and Africa. This weight of capital, as well as better farm incomes, has helped drive farmland prices up. Meanwhile, demand among these investors for agricultural opportunities in mature economies such as the US, Australia and Canada has also increased.

Posted by jez at 2:38 AM

April 10, 2011

Weekend Shopping Notes

Strawberries: 32oz @ Sam's Club $3.76, @ Metcalfe's 16oz for $3.00.

McCann's Steel Cut Irish Oats @ Trader Joe's $4.99.

Sabra Hummus 25oz @ Sam's Club: $5.96, 25oz.

Kangaroo Whole Wheat Pita Pocket @ Woodmans: $0.99.

Red Romaine Lettuce: $1.98/lb @ Metcalfe's.

Stonyfield Raspberry Yogurt $0.79 @ Woodmans

Chobani Greek Yogurt @ Sam's Club: $10.95 for 12.

Posted by jez at 7:07 PM

March 28, 2011

Consumers have a beef with Fed over inflation

Food riots, deposed Middle Eastern despots and now this? Last week, a Texas man brandishing an assault rifle was involved in a three-hour shoot-out with police and had to be subdued with tear gas after ordering seven Beefy Crunch Burritos at a Taco Bell drive-through and being informed that their price had risen from 99 cents to $1.49.

Late night comedians and serious pundits alike had a field day with the story, opining on issues like fast-food culture, obesity (the seven burritos contain 3,600 calories, double the recommended daily intake) and gun control.

With his petty gripe, the gunman, Ricardo Jones, is no Muhammad al Bouazizi, the self-immolating Tunisian fruit seller who inspired millions across the region to throw off the yoke of tyranny, but 50 per cent is 50 per cent in San'a or San Antonio. Food inflation is a global phenomenon.

Posted by jez at 10:41 AM

February 20, 2011

Nevada Museum of Art Panorama


Posted by jez at 9:16 PM

January 13, 2011

Study: We've Got Plenty of Land for Biofuels

Chuck Squatriglia:

One of the great arguments against biofuels is the wisdom, if not the morality, of using land to produce fuel instead of food. But research out of Illinois suggests it doesn't have to be an either-or proposition.

Researchers at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have found that biofuel crops cultivated on land unsuitable for food crops could produce as much as half the world's current fuel consumption without adverse impact on food crops or pastureland.

The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, identifies land around the world that is unsuitable for food production but could be used to raise biofuel feedstocks like switchgrass.

According to the researchers, many studies examining biofuel crop viability focus on yield -- how productive the crop can be. They wanted to examine land availability to determine whether it is possible to produce sufficient biofuel to meet demand without sacrificing food production.

Posted by jez at 7:53 AM

December 10, 2010

Tropical Flowers on a Wintry Night

Foster Botanical Gardens.

Posted by jez at 10:44 PM

December 6, 2010

Regulators Look at Farming Landscape

Ian Berry

Food prices are back on the march, and the powerful U.S. farm lobby faces a day of reckoning on Wednesday as the Obama administration wraps up a yearlong study into competition and consolidation in the agricultural sector.

The Departments of Justice and Agriculture are holding their fifth and final workshop to review the competitive landscape in food production and livestock rearing after a unique collaboration that has left some of the industry's largest players looking nervously over their shoulders.

Monsanto Co. is already embroiled in a Justice Department investigation into alleged anticompetitive practices linked to the sale and distribution of genetically modified seeds that dominate U.S. farming. Dean Foods Inc., the country's largest milk producer, has also seen antitrust officials move to block a small acquisition.

Lawmakers already have had to wrestle with external forces on the sector, such as the rise of speculative funds that critics contend have inflated prices. The latest run-up in commodity prices has also reawakened the long-running food-versus-fuel debate as Congress decides whether to renew subsidies to the ethanol industry.

Posted by jez at 12:17 AM

November 17, 2010

The global power of Brazilian agribusiness

The Economist Intelligence Unit

razil is world's fifth-largest country by geographical area and the largest in terms of arable land. Although only a fraction of its land is exploited, the country produces a highly diverse array of agricultural goods. This puts Brazil in a unique position to lead the global agricultural sector in the medium to long term. With an abundant supply of natural resources--water, land and a favourable climate--it has the opportunity to be the largest agribusiness superpower, supplying the world market while also providing affordable food for its own population.

The country already ranks as the top global supplier of products as diverse as beef, orange juice and ethanol, and is expected to continue to expand its exports in other areas as well, such as cotton, soybean oil and cellulose. Its markets are also diverse: China is now the largest market for Brazilian agribusiness products, and sales to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa are also growing rapidly.

To maintain this trajectory, Brazil must build on the significant improvements in productivity that underpin its current success and overcome the barriers to full realisation of its potential. Obstacles range from scarcity of credit to logistical logjams, from protectionist measures in key markets to environmental concerns.

Frontier regions are a testament to what is right, and wrong, with Brazil's agribusiness sector. The rich harvests from the country's vast hinterland have more than paid back public and private investment in research to create new plant varieties adapted to the region's soil and climate. Large-scale production and professional management have helped to offset the high costs and tight margins of farming such areas. Attracted by the promise of growth, investors have both financed agriculture's expansion and provided technological know-how. Yet agricultural endeavours in these regions are burdened by inadequate transport and insufficient storage capacity. Productivity in such segments as beef production and corn remains low. Margins remain tight.

Posted by jez at 9:38 AM

November 6, 2010

A Beautiful Saturday Morning @ The Farmer's Market

A few photos taken at Ela Orchard's space. Their apples are, of course fabulous.

Posted by jez at 11:31 AM

September 3, 2010

A September Country Drive

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:02 PM

August 15, 2010

Door County Barn

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:40 PM

June 19, 2010

Madison Farmer's Market Bounty

A beautiful day after a rainy/stormy week. Much to be thankful for.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:46 PM

June 12, 2010

Madison Farmer's Market Photos

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:00 PM

June 6, 2010

Ukraine Agriculture: Investment climate will determine yield

Amid all the doom and gloom, one sector in the country’s economy has a bright future and promises high yields.

Despite a deep recession that sent gross domestic product plunging 15 per cent last year, some budding domestic agribusinesses reported double-digit growth.

Agriculture was one of the few economic sectors to grow, albeit a small 0.2 per cent rise.

But to see the real potential, one must look further ahead. Global demand for food is expected to surge in coming decades. And Ukraine is well positioned to benefit.

With its rich black soil, favourable climate and proximity to markets, experts say the country could go far beyond regaining its position as the breadbasket of Europe.

“Ukraine is already among the top five grain exporters in the world,” says Andriy Yarmak, an agribusiness expert. “With investment, it could double its recent annual harvests and “become one of the top exporters of meat in about 10-15 years”.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:51 PM

May 10, 2010

Interview: Jung Garden Center's Dick Zondag

Patricia Olsen:
MY grandfather started our mail-order company 100 years ago. In the early 1950s, customers were driving to Randolph, northeast of Madison, to see what they were purchasing by mail from us, and my dad saw an opportunity to start a local garden center.

One of my first jobs was to take the orders for shrubs from the garden center to a storage area and to take the shrubs to the customer. I was 11. I also hoed the weeds and detassled corn.

In the 1990s, the two branches of our family split the business. The Jungs received Jung Seed Genetics, which sells agronomic seeds to farmers, and the Zondags got the catalog division and the garden centers.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:50 PM

April 25, 2010

A worm farm rewrites the start-up rules

Henry Hamman:
The drive up to Coalmont, Grundy County, Tennessee, winds through beautiful countryside – hardwood forests, open meadows, meandering creeks. The land also bears the scars of decades of poverty – collapsed chicken houses, signs advertising “wood for sale”, a faded placard taped to a mailbox printed with the words “Indoor yard sale”. The roadsides are littered with posters for forthcoming local elections; around here, a $50,000 salary as county clerk makes a person part of the economic elite.

This is hardly Silicon Valley or Wall Street, but I am in Coalmont to interview a captain of industry, one of the county’s biggest employers, someone you might even call a visionary – the owner of what must be the world’s only vertically integrated worm factory. Silver Bait LLC produces fishing worms by the millions. But that’s only the beginning of what it produces. The walls of the 170,000sq ft worm factory are made of giant concrete blocks that the company produces onsite. Likewise, the pre-stressed concrete columns and beams in the building. Silver Bait also produces its own corrugated metal roofing on a machine the company’s founder, Bruno Durant, designed and built.

French-born, 50-year-old Durant grows 300 acres of corn here, to feed his worms, and he harvests it with second-hand machinery he renovated in his onsite equipment- maintenance building. He invented his own machinery to harvest the worms and he is about to complete work on a device that will mechanise most of the rest of the worm-­culture process.

He’s also about to put in place a full-scale packing line (designed by himself and built in his onsite machine shop). The worms are dispatched for sale in small plastic containers made in his onsite injection-moulding machine and are delivered to his customers – bait wholesalers across the eastern US – in his company’s refrigerated trucks. He does purchase peat from Canada as the growing medium for his worms. But that’s about all he buys in.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:40 PM

March 18, 2010

Farming in France

Financial Times Video:
Video from the current French agricultural fair.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:27 PM

July 25, 2009

2009 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days VR Panorama Scenes

View five vr scenes from "Tent City": Scene 1 / Scene 2 / Scene 3 / Scene 4 / Scene 5. After clicking, place your mouse in the image and pan in any direction.

View a still image library here.

More photos and vr scenes from the Craves Brothers farm, taken last fall.

Crave Brothers website and the Wisconsin Farm Technology Days website.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:01 PM

July 22, 2009

2009 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days - Photos

Website and directions. Many more photos here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:47 AM

May 28, 2009

Organic Dairies Watch the Good Times Turn Bad

Kate Zezima:
When Ken Preston went organic on his dairy farm here in 2005, he figured that doing so would guarantee him what had long been elusive: a stable, high price for the milk from his cows.

Sure enough, his income soared 20 percent, and he could finally afford a Chevy Silverado pickup to help out. The dairy conglomerate that distributed his milk wanted everything Mr. Preston could supply. Supermarket orders were skyrocketing.

But soon the price of organic feed shot up. Then the recession hit, and families looking to save on groceries found organic milk easy to do without. Ultimately the conglomerate, with a glut of product, said it would not renew his contract next month, leaving him with nowhere to sell his milk, a victim of trends that are crippling many organic dairy farmers from coast to coast.

For those farmers, the promises of going organic — a steady paycheck and salvation for small family farms — have collapsed in the last six months. As the trend toward organic food consumption slows after years of explosive growth, no sector is in direr shape than the $1.3 billion organic milk industry. Farmers nationwide have been told to cut milk production by as much as 20 percent, and many are talking of shutting down.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:31 PM

November 16, 2008

Fall Into Winter - More

Photographed while raking leaves this weekend. More here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:07 PM

November 7, 2008


Johann Johannsson:
The album has a theme, although it's more loose and open to interpretation than on my last album, IBM 1401, a User's Manual.

One of the two main threads running through it is this idea of failed utopia, as represented by the "Fordlândia" title - the story of the rubber plantation Henry Ford established in the Amazon in the 1920’s, and his dreams of creating an idealized American town in the middle of the jungle complete with white picket fences, hamburgers and alcohol prohibition. The project – started because of the high price Ford had to pay for the rubber necessary for his cars’ tyres – failed, of course, as the indigenous workers soon rioted against the alien conditions. It reminded me of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, this doomed attempt at taming the heart of darkness. The remains of the town are still there today. The image of the Amazon forest slowly and surely reclaiming the ruins of Fordlândia is the one that gave spark to this album. For the structure and themes of the album I was influenced by the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, Herzog and Kenneth Anger. I was interested in a kind of poetic juxtaposition and an alchemical fusion of themes and ideas, which I feel is similar to the way Anger uses montage as an alchemical technique - as a way of casting a spell. During the making of the album, I also had in mind the Andre Breton quote about convulsive beauty, which he saw in the image of "an abandoned locomotive overgrown by luxurious vegetation". There is a strong connection to the IBM 1401 album in terms of both thematic and musical ideas and I see the two albums as belonging to a series of works.
Fascinating and quite pleasant. Clusty Search: Fordlandia.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:28 AM

October 5, 2008

Madison Farmer's Market Flowers

Late afternoon light.

Posted by jez at 7:26 PM

September 23, 2008

Garden Sunrise

Posted by jez at 11:41 AM

September 19, 2008

Madison Farmer's Market Flowers

Posted by jez at 8:45 PM

July 18, 2008

Biofuels Deathwatch Map

Craig Rubens:

Biofuel plants have been put on hold faster than your phone company’s tech support line. With corn and soy prices hitting record high prices and an ethanol glut flooding the market, ethanol’s profit margin per gallon has dropped to a meager 25 cents from $2. That’s causing numerous ethanol and biodiesel plants to get put on hold or downright canceled. Hundreds of millions of gallons of production capacity and hundreds of millions of dollars in biofuel investments are now hanging in limbo, as investors hope prices will level out.

That’s not to say that ethanol is dead in the water. There’s a variety of positive reports coming out on the future of the industry — there’s reports that see a meaningful future for ethanol , as well reports saying ethanol could be deliver a better-than-expected energy return. Add in a healthy merger and acquisition market and biofuels will play a role in the future of weaning the U.S. off oil.

Posted by jez at 10:43 AM

June 19, 2008

Tammy Baldwin's Office on the Farm Bill

Dear Mr. Zellmer:

Thank you for contacting me about the 2007 Farm Bill (the Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act, H.R. 2419). It is good to hear from you, and I apologize for the delay in my response.

As you know, the U.S. House of Representatives recently considered the 2007 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation which touches on a number of agriculture-related issues, including commodity price support programs, nutrition programs, alternative energy, and rural development.

After a considerable amount of deliberation in a conference committee, the House and Senate each passed a conference report that represented the resulting policy compromises. You may be interested to know that I joined my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass this conference report by a vote of 318 to 106.

While I believe that the U.S. House of Representatives should have taken this opportunity to implement expansive agricultural policy reforms, I supported the conference report because it does contain some noteworthy improvements in the Farm Bill programs. The alternatives to reauthorizing the Farm Bill this year were to extend the previous version of the farm bill or to revert to regulations dating to the 1940s. In my view, neither of these alternatives are desirable or acceptable.

The aspects of the conference report that I strongly support include expanding and updating the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, and investments in nutrition programs that help 38 million American families afford healthy food. For the first time, the MILC program will include the cost of feeding dairy cows as a factor for triggering program payments, a relief for Wisconsin dairy farmers who face increasing costs of inputs. The nutrition title includes an additional $10 billion to expand food stamp eligibility and increase the minimum weekly benefit, as increase funding for many worthy programs such as food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and schools providing healthy snacks to students.

I am pleased that the legislation makes progress in lowering the income limits for wealthy farmers to qualify for federal farm payments, although I believe these limits should be made even lower to ensure payments go to those farmers who need the aid the most. Under the conference report, individuals making over $500,000 in non-farm income, or $750,000 in farm income, would become ineligible for federal payments. This report ceases Conservation payment eligibility at incomes of $1 million. In contrast, the 2002 Farm Bill discontinued federal farm payments to individuals earning over $2.5 million.

The conference report also makes progress on several issues I have long-supported. These reforms include levying the Dairy Import Assessment against companies that import dairy products into the U.S., and implementing mandatory Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) for all meats. I am also very pleased it contains a farm flexibility pilot program that will allow farmers receiving direct payments for commodities to opt out of these payments on a year-by-year basis, and grow fruits and vegetables for processing. This program is especially meaningful for the Upper Midwest, and I am hopeful the program will prove successful and be expanded in coming agricultural authorizations. Additionally, the 2007 Farm Bill conference report:

Increases the Wetland Reserve Program's (WRP) enrollment ceiling to more than 3 million acres;

Reestablishes the WRP's budget authority at $1.3 billion over five years, through 2012;

Authorizes the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to enroll 32 million acres from 2010-2012, a 7.2 million acre decrease from the 2002 Farm Bill;

Provides a one-time $84 million mandatory funding for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program during fiscal year 2009, $24 million over previous discretionary funding levels;

Rejects Farm Credit Service proposals to expand their lending authority and deviate from their stated mission;

Directs the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to review studies on the use of random source animals for research, and consider the recommendations in those studies to end the black market trade in stolen pets;

Provides for penalties for animal fighting ventures, increases penalties for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and prohibits the importation of puppies under the age of 6 months.

You may be interested to know that shortly after the House vote the Senate also passed the conference report by a vote of 81 to 15. I am disappointed that the President vetoed this bill, but I am pleased that both the House and Senate voted to override the President's veto. However, due to an administrative error the bill vetoed by the President and passed into law by a veto override was only part of the conference report Farm Bill. As a result, I joined my colleagues in the House in passing the same version of the Farm Bill as new legislation. This identical copy is still pending in the U.S. Senate, and will likely be passed. It is my hope that in light of the veto override the President will acknowledge widespread support for this Farm Bill and sign it instead of forcing a second veto override vote.

In a country as vast as ours, crafting legislation that addresses vastly different regional and industrial priorities is painstaking, and often contentious, work. I believe the 2007 Farm Bill conference report does represent some positive changes in our agricultural policy, and it is my hope that a consensus will exist for far greater reforms in the future. Please know that I will keep your thoughts in mind as the U.S. Congress continues to consider the 2007 Farm Bill.

Again, thank you for sharing your views. Your opinion matters to me. If I can be of service to you in any other way, please do not hesitate to let me know. As a security precaution, all mail sent to Congress is first irradiated. This process causes significant delays. To ensure the fastest response, I encourage all constituents who have access to the internet to contact me through my website at http://tammybaldwin.house.gov.


Tammy Baldwin
Member of Congress

P.S. I regularly send out email updates on federal issues and opportunities. These reports also include regular surveys through which you can express your opinion. If you would like to receive these email updates, you may sign up by visiting my website at: http://www.house.gov/formbaldwin/IMA/get_address_news.htm

Posted by jez at 9:30 PM

June 11, 2008

Russ Feingold's Office on the Farm Bill & Special Interest Legislation from Herb Kohl

via email, in response to my message:

Dear Mr. Zellmer,

Thank you for contacting me to share you concerns about the Farm Bill. I appreciate hearing from you. While I was disappointed by the lack of reform to the commodity programs in the Farm Bill, significant improvements were made in other areas of the bill to assist small and medium farmers.

As you may know, the House approved the final version of the Farm Bill on May 14, 2008, by a vote of 318-106. The Senate passed it the following day by a vote of 85-15. The President vetoed the Farm Bill on May 21, 2008. The House voted to override the veto the same day, and the Senate the next day. I was pleased to support both the Farm Bill itself and the motion to override the President's veto. The bill became law on May 22, 2008, although an enrollment error meant that the Trade and Food Aid Title was not included. The House and Senate have passed a new version of the bill to correct the error.

For instance, the bill restores the payment rate for the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program and, for the first time, factors in the cost of production for farmers. MILC is vital for Wisconsin's dairy farmers, and is an extremely responsible program as it kicks in when times are tough and covers only a certain amount of milk. Thus, it targets small and medium farms rather than subsidizing the expansion of large farms.

The bill also makes significant improvements to nutrition programs, including Food Stamps and the Emergency Food Assistance Program, totaling more than $10 billion over the five-year life of the bill and accounting for about three-quarters of total spending in the bill. Other positive provisions of the Farm Bill include a new livestock title, which contains important competition provisions and over $4 billion for agriculture conservation programs. The bill also provides more funding for smaller-scale programs such as the Community Food Program, Value-Added Producer Grants, and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program.

I was also able to have several amendments accepted to the bill on a range of issues important to Wisconsin farmers. I was particularly pleased to have an amendment accepted to strengthen the office for small farmers at USDA.

I share the disappointment I have heard from some Wisconsinites that the reforms in the Farm Bill don't go far enough. I supported a number of amendments to reform the bill when the Senate considered it in December 2007, including an amendment offered by Senators Byron Dorgan (ND) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to cap subsidy payments to the largest producers. I also filed an amendment with Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to trim direct payments. In addition, I supported and cosponsored an amendment offered by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and John Sununu (R-NH) to trim government subsidies to crop insurance companies, and voted in favor of an amendment offered by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would have prohibited farm support payments to wealthy individuals. I was disappointed that these amendments failed. The final bill does reform the commodity support programs by modestly trimming direct payments and reducing the adjusted gross income eligibility cap, but more reforms are needed.

To read my full statement on the bill, please visit here. While we may not always agree, I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Speaking of our politicians, Bruce Murphy notes some special interest assistance from Senator Kohl and link to this New York Times article:
Senator Herb Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin, persuaded the Appropriations Committee and the full Senate to accept legislative language benefiting Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay.

The hospital’s lobbyists include Theodore H. Bornstein, a former chief of staff for Mr. Kohl, and Bill Broydrick, whose Web site quotes a description of him as “the state’s No. 1 super lobbyist.”

The Kohl provision would allow the Green Bay hospital to expand by building a new cardiac catheterization laboratory.

The issue often puts lawmakers in the awkward position of having to choose between doctors and hospitals.

Critics say that when doctors have a financial stake in a hospital, they have an incentive to send patients there because they not only receive professional fees for their services, but also can share in hospital profits and see the value of their investment increase. Such arrangements can lead to greater use of hospital services and higher costs for Medicare and other insurers, say the critics, including many in Congress.

My email to Senator Kohl:
Dear Senator Kohl:

I hope this message finds you well.

I am writing to express my disappointment at your support for the "Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay" carve out in what I believe to be upcoming health care legislation.


Such narrow special interest treatment is at odds with your "Nobody's Senator but Yours" mantra.

These carve outs simply increase costs for middle America.

I am disappointed.

Best wishes,

Jim Zellmer

Posted by jez at 1:19 PM

June 6, 2008

Senator Kohl's Office on the Farm Bill

I received an email from Senator Kohl's office regarding my recent Farm Bill Vote (he voted for it) correspondence:

Dear Mr. Zellmer:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me about the 2008 Farm Bill. I appreciate hearing from you and apologize for the delay in my response.

As you know, Congress recently overrode President Bush's veto of the 2008 Farm Bill and I supported that effort. Though it may not be perfect, I believe this farm bill puts our rural communities first and provides the means to enhance the quality of life for people in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. It
provides substantial improvements to federal nutrition programs, increased commitment to conservation, and a significant investment in renewable energy.

I was particularly pleased that the bill continues the national dairy assistance program I helped create in the 2002 Farm Bill. The Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program is a way to provide dairy farmers support when prices plummet. And when prices are strong, the program goes dormant. The Farm Bill extends the MILC program through fiscal year 2012, increases the quantity of per-farm eligible milk to more accurately reflect trends in the dairy industry, and restores the original 45% payment rate beginning in 2009. Moreover, it includes a 'feed cost adjuster' which acknowledges the tremendous challenges many dairy producers face because of high feed prices.

The Farm Bill will also help millions of low-income Americans who struggle to put food on the table each day. It includes nearly $7.8 billion for improvements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program, and $1.26 billion for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which helps supply food banks. The SNAP will see a number of important reforms that include an increase in the minimum benefit (which had not been updated for 30 years) and changes to encourage retirement and education savings among program participants.

The legislation shows a continued commitment to conservation. It extends and expands important programs like the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). These programs work well in Wisconsin and deserve to be sufficiently funded.

I am pleased that the Farm Bill also contains a provision I helped author to facilitate interstate commerce for state-inspected meat. Wisconsin produces some of the finest specialty meat products in the world and our processors are gaining more and more attention across the region. Enhancing their ability to move state-inspected products in interstate commerce has been an objective of mine for many years and this bill represents a significant step forward on that front.

While I voted for and would have preferred stricter farm program payment limits and eligibility requirements, the bill does make progress on this front. I heard from many Wisconsinites on these complex topics and ultimately came to the conclusion that this new Farm Bill was one that I could support.
We have renewed our commitment to rural America to ensure that farming remains a viable industry in our nation.

Your input was important to me and I will certainly have your comments in mind as the new Farm Bill is implemented.


Herb Kohl
U.S. Senator

Posted by jez at 12:07 PM

June 4, 2008

Message to Tammy Baldwin, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl Regarding the Farm Bill Vote

I sent this email to Representative Tammy Baldwin along with Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl regarding their support for the pork laden farm bill:

Dear ___________:

I am writing to express my disappointment in your vote for the pork laden farm bill.

Similar to the support given for a 5% large corporation offshore tax rate a few years ago, this legislation benefits only the rich on the backs of middle class taxpayers.

I am surprised and disappointed.

Jim Zellmer

Much more on the farm bill here.

Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind, to his credit, voted against the farm bill:

“Today Congress squandered the best opportunity in decades to reform our wasteful, outdated subsidy system.

“We need a Farm Bill, but we need the right kind of farm bill. Let me be clear: This bill is not a reform bill. It is not even the illusion of reform. Continuing to send unlimited subsidies to millionaires is not reform. Creating a new disaster entitlement program is not reform. And setting ourselves up for billions in unaccounted spending is not reform. The president was right to veto it.

“As families kick off their summer vacations this weekend facing the highest gas prices ever, skyrocketing food costs, stagnant paychecks and a lagging economy, I urge them to ask their member of Congress how they could justify sending unlimited taxpayer subsidies to agribusinesses and wealthy landowners making up to $2.5 million a year in profit.

Related: Wisconsin Radio Network notes that Green Bay Democrat Steve Kagen and Wausau Democrat David Obey also voted for the farm bill.

2007 Farm Subsidy Database by Congressional District.

Posted by jez at 8:50 AM

April 11, 2008

Waterloo's Crave Brothers Featured on NBC Nightly News

Roger O'Neill video takes a look at the Crave Brothers use of methane - from their cow poop - to power the farm and 120 neighboring homes. The farm includes a cheese factory.

Posted by jez at 6:46 PM

March 20, 2008

A Superb Easter Ham

Milwaukee's European Homemade Sausage.

Posted by jez at 9:28 PM

March 5, 2008

Kill the Farm Bill

Alex Tabarrok:

Farm subsidies in the United States go to just a handful of crops, corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, and rice. Most fruits and vegetables are not subsidized, at least not directly but don't forget opportunity cost!

David Zetland has the dirt.

Posted by jez at 9:22 AM

January 19, 2008

How Brazil outfarmed the American farmer

Susanna Hecht & Charles Mann:

Phil Corzine is not abandoning Illinois. A longtime soybean farmer in Assumption, a small town east of Springfield, he is firmly loyal to his state - he once ran the Illinois Soybean Checkoff Board, a program in which Illinois farmers promote Illinois soybeans. But the 1,300 acres Corzine planted in 2007 are not in Illinois, or even in the Midwest. They're in central Brazil, in the state of Tocantins, part of a big swath of soy-producing lands that stretch between the Andes and the Atlantic forest and from northern Argentina to the southern flanks of the Amazon basin. Soylandia, as this immense region might be called, is almost entirely unknown to Americans. But it may well be the future of one of the world's most important industries: grain agriculture.

Mainly out of curiosity, Corzine visited Brazil in 1998. Like most U.S. soy producers, he'd noted Brazil's rapid rise in the trade - from amateur to global power in the space of a couple of decades. Its scale of operations, however, stunned him. A big farm in Illinois may cover 3,000 acres; spreads in Soylandia are routinely ten times bigger. Conditions there were primitive, Corzine thought, but Soylandia was going to expand in a way that was no longer possible in the U.S. With three partners he raised $1.3 million from more than 90 investors, mostly Midwestern farmers. In Illinois, he says, that kind of money "can't even buy the equipment, let alone the land." In Brazil it was enough for Corzine's group to acquire 3,500 acres in 2004. Since then, the land has almost doubled in value as other American investors clamored to get into Brazilian soy. This year Corzine, now 49, raised another $400,000. "We feel like what's going on is long-term positive," he says with Midwestern understatement.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 AM

December 16, 2007

Cattle rustling on the rise in California

George Raine:

The other day, two young heifer calves were stolen from a dairy in Tulare County. The thieves drove them to Kings County, where they apparently discovered to their chagrin that the animals were branded.

That would make selling them difficult. If they tried to sell the calves at a livestock auction, the state brand inspectors would want to see proof of ownership. Cops on the case think the thieves figured they were toast. So, they simply tossed the animals out of their car in downtown Hanford, in front of the flour mill at Sixth and Green streets, and drove away. A car came by and struck and killed one of the calves. The other one wandered a mile away, ending up in a man's front yard.

There was weariness in Greg Lawley's voice as he told the story. "They have no regard for animals," said Lawley, chief of the Bureau of Livestock Identification at the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

"Makes you sick," Lawley said of cattle rustling redux.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:20 PM

September 26, 2007

Let the East Bloom Again

Richard McNider & John Christy:

THE United States faces two major security challenges this century. Both involve water.

The increasing demand for water in the Western United States in an era of diminishing supply has put America’s highly efficient agricultural system in jeopardy. At the same time, our nation’s energy demands have led President Bush and Congressional leaders from both parties to call for more domestic production of biofuels like corn ethanol. Some agricultural experts fear that the country does not have enough water and land to both replace the declining agricultural production in the arid West and expand the production of biofuels.

There is, however, a sustainable solution: a return to using the land and water of the East, which dominated agriculture in the United States into the 20th century.

Until the middle of the 1900s, much of our country’s food and fiber was produced east of the Mississippi River. Maine led the nation in potato production in 1940, and New York wasn’t far behind. The South, including Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, dominated cotton. Large amounts of corn were grown in almost every state for consumption by the local livestock and poultry. Regional vegetable markets, especially in the mid-Atlantic states, served the population centers of the East.

By 1980, Western irrigation and improvements in transportation had largely destroyed this Eastern system of agriculture. Irrigated cotton in Arizona, California and Texas displaced the cotton economy of the Deep South. Idaho and Washington became the nation’s major potato producers. Corn production became more concentrated in the Midwest.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:59 PM

June 25, 2007

Eliminate Agriculture Subsidies?

Andrew Martin:

Mr. Kind, a six-term congressman, has introduced legislation that would drastically reduce farm subsidies while pouring more money into land conservation programs and rural development. He gathered 200 votes for a similar bill in 2002 and says he believes he has additional momentum this time around.

“There are so many reasons to do it,” Mr. Kind said, ticking off high crop prices and increasing pressure from foreign trading partners as two reasons to curb subsidies. “Now we are going to see if this Congress has the stomach for meaningful reform.”

To no one’s surprise, Mr. Kind’s crusade has raised the hackles of the powerful farm lobby and its supporters in Congress, who describe his proposal as naïve, ill conceived and even dangerous.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:50 PM

May 12, 2007

A Better Cheddar?

George Raine:

On the outskirts of Modesto, John Fiscalini, with an assist from cheesemaker Mariano Gonzalez, makes the world's best extra-mature traditional cheddar.

You can look it up. In the World Cheese Awards held in London in March, an 18-month-old cheddar from Fiscalini Cheese Co. was awarded the trophy in the category, the first time in the contest's 20 years that a British entry didn't win.

Down the road from Fiscalini Farms, in Hilmar (Merced County), Hilmar Cheese Co. operates the world's largest cheese and whey-products manufacturing facility. The company makes 1.4 million pounds of cheese every day and will make 500 million pounds this year. It produces 1 out of every 8 pounds of cheddar and Monterey Jack made in the nation.

California cheese production is on a roll. The state is about to pass Wisconsin -- America's Dairyland -- as the nation's leading cheesemaker.

Stornetta's - Northern California.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:25 AM

April 4, 2007

State ready for energy research lab

This column by Tom Stills, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, ran in the Stevens Point Journal:

A joint proposal was filed Feb. 1 by the UW System, UW-Madison and Michigan State University to open a federal energy research lab in Madison. Molly Jahn, dean of the UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has described the proposal as a strong fit with faculty, staff and student projects related to bio-energy. Those projects are taking place in disciplines that encompass biology, agriculture, engineering, natural resources and the social sciences. . . .

It will be months before the next phase of the federal selection process begins, but the collaborative effort should merit a hard look in Washington. If Wisconsin is successful, it could mean several hundred jobs and tens of millions of dollars within five years.

Posted by Ed Blume at 12:03 PM

December 20, 2006

Federal Subsidies Turn Farms into Big Business

Gilbert Gaul, Sarah Cohen & Dan Morgan:
The cornerstone of the multibillion-dollar system of federal farm subsidies is an iconic image of the struggling family farmer: small, powerless against Mother Nature, tied to the land by blood.

Without generous government help, farm-state politicians say, thousands of these hardworking families would fail, threatening the nation's abundant food supply.

"In today's fast-paced, interconnected world, there are few industries where sons and daughters can work side-by-side with moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas," Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said last year. "But we still find that today in agriculture. . . . It is a celebration of what too many in our country have forgotten, an endangered way of life that we must work each and every day to preserve."

This imagery secures billions annually in what one grower called "empathy payments" for farmers. But it is misleading.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:11 PM

December 10, 2006

Dairy Industry Crushes Innovator Who Bested Price-Control System

Fascinating, by Dan Morgan, Sarah Cohen and Gilbert Gaul:
In the summer of 2003, shopers in Southern California began getting a break on the price of milk.

A maverick dairyman named Hein Hettinga started bottling his own milk and selling it for as much as 20 cents a gallon less than the competition, exercising his right to work outside the rigid system that has controlled U.S. milk production for almost 70 years. Soon the effects were rippling through the state, helping to hold down retail prices at supermarkets and warehouse stores.

That was when a coalition of giant milk companies and dairies, along with their congressional allies, decided to crush Hettinga's initiative. For three years, the milk lobby spent millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions and made deals with lawmakers, including incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Last March, Congress passed a law reshaping the Western milk market and essentially ending Hettinga's experiment -- all without a single congressional hearing.

"They wanted to make sure there would be no more Heins," said Mary Keough Ledman, a dairy economist who observed the battle.

At the end, participants said, Reid was plainly exasperated. "I'm not listening to any more of this," he said. "I'm out of here."

Reid made his move on Dec. 16, with the Senate chamber nearly empty. He brought up the milk bill, which passed a few minutes later by "unanimous consent," a procedure that requires no debate or roll call vote if both political parties agree. Reid and Kyl said in recent statements that their goal was to level the playing field for milk producers.
Our elected officials at work.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:33 PM

December 3, 2006

Revenge of the Garlic Farmers, or More Feeding at the Public Till

Alexei Barrionuevo:
For decades, the fiercely independent fruit and vegetable growers of California, Florida and other states have been the only farmers in America who shunned federal subsidies, delivering produce to the tables of millions of Americans on their own.

But now, in the face of tough new competition primarily from China, even these proud groups are buckling. Produce farmers, their hands newly outstretched, have joined forces for the first time, forming a lobby group intended to pressure politicians over the farm bill to be debated in Congress in January.

Nobody disputes that competitive pressures from abroad are squeezing fruit and vegetable growers, whose garlic, broccoli, lettuce, strawberries and other products are a mainstay of world kitchens. But the issue of whether the United States ought to broaden farm subsidies beyond the commodity crops like corn and cotton, which have historically been protected, is a big flashpoint.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:10 PM

October 2, 2006

Fools to the Farm

Daniel Griswold:
A hearing in the House Agricultural Committee last week highlighted everything wrong with U.S. farm policy. In preparation for writing the 2007 farm bill, House members heard from 17 witnesses representing every possible farm lobby —from cotton to corn, sugar to potatoes, rice to eggs, and sorghum — but not a single spokesperson for the interests of the American people as a whole.

Fewer than two percent of Americans farm for a living, and only a third of those farmers receive subsidies. Yet the interests of subsidized and protected farmers dominate every farm bill discussion in Washington. The broader interests of the United States and the other 98 percent of Americans are systematically ignored.

The biggest losers from U.S. farm policy are taxpayers. From 2000 to 2005, Congress spent an average of $17 billion a year in direct payments to farmers. That's real money, even in Washington. Most of those payments did not go to small "family farms," but to large operations and agribusinesses, including some Fortune 500 companies. Indeed, according to the Environmental Working Group, the top 10 percent of recipients collected two-thirds of the payments on offer, and the top 5 percent collected 55 percent.

Trade barriers and domestic price supports also force tens of millions of families to pay higher food prices. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.S. farm programs transferred an average of $10.5 billion a year from U.S. food consumers to producers from 2003 through 2005. That amounts to an annual food tax of $140 for a family of four — a regressive tax that falls most heavily on poor families that spend a larger share of their budgets on foo
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:34 PM

September 6, 2006

Farmer's Market Flowers

More on the Dane County Farmer's Market.

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:16 PM

August 27, 2006

Reduce Foreign Oil Consumption: Buy American Olive Oil

George Raine:
Cesar and 34 other California Olive Ranch field hands each seek to plant between 1,200 and 1,500 trees during a seven-hour workday, a tough quota. "You get used to it,'' he said.

California Olive Ranch is already the largest orchard for olive oil production in the United States, and the largest milling facility, producing 25 percent of California's olive oil. Now it is more than doubling in size with the planting of 500,000 olive trees on its 883-acre site in Glenn County
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:58 AM

July 4, 2006

Manure Power

Claudia Deutsch:
In fact, more utilities are thinking of buying the gas outright. Pacific Gas and Electric has agreed to transport gas from a big digester that Microgy, a digester manufacturer, is building in California. Right now Microgy plans to sell the gas on the open market, but Robert Howard, vice president for gas transmission and distribution, said P.G.& E. may buy some gas itself. "This technology provides pipeline-quality gas and reduces carbon emissions, so of course we're in favor it," he said.

The environmental boons are many. According to Agstar, digesters are already keeping 66,000 tons of methane from escaping each year into the atmosphere, while generating enough energy to power more than 20,000 homes.

And technologies, some of which have been around for decades, have finally grown more reliable. "There's been a lot of time and energy spent on making these as effective and efficient as possible, so anaerobic digestion will be a growing business," said Daniel J. Mannes, vice president of Avondale Partners, a securities research firm that recently initiated coverage of the Environmental Power Corporation, the company in Portsmouth, N.H., that owns Microgy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:12 AM

July 3, 2006

Freedom to Farm: Program Pays $1.3B to People Who Don't Farm

Dan Morgan, Gilbert Gaul and Sarah Cohen:
Even though Donald R. Matthews put his sprawling new residence in the heart of rice country, he is no farmer. He is a 67-year-old asphalt contractor who wanted to build a dream house for his wife of 40 years.

Yet under a federal agriculture program approved by Congress, his 18-acre suburban lot receives about $1,300 in annual "direct payments," because years ago the land was used to grow rice.

Matthews is not alone. Nationwide, the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post.

Some of them collect hundreds of thousands of dollars without planting a seed. Mary Anna Hudson, 87, from the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston, has received $191,000 over the past decade. For Houston surgeon Jimmy Frank Howell, the total was $490,709.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:27 AM

July 2, 2006

Dinner Potatoes: Fresh from Eau Claire via the Farmer's Market

Dashing around the Farmer's Market early Saturday morning, I picked up 5lbs of potatoes. The (late teen/early 20's?) daughters were moving a bit slow as they organized the vegetables and filled my bag with red potatoes. I inquired about this and one mentioned that they "got in late", then had to get up at 2 for the drive to Madison. I asked where their early morning journey began? Eau Claire - 178 miles.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:16 PM

June 8, 2006

Greenleaf: A Local Food Exchange

Rick Barrett:
When a farmer walked into Whole Foods wanting to sell a huge sack of morels, store employee Heather Hilleren watched a futile effort unfold.

The farmer didn't have vendor credentials, and it would have taken two weeks to get them. By then, the freshly picked morels would have spoiled.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:18 AM

May 24, 2006

Life in the Fast Food Lane: Rockwall Texas Culvers

Frank Bruni:
Flame, or at least a suggestion of grilling or broiling, matters. That's a principal reason a Whopper bested a Big Mac, cooked on a griddle. It's why the new roster of one-third-pound charbroiled Thickburgers at Hardee's tasted better than the steamed slivers at Krystal, a White Castle analogue in the South.

Buns matter. The large, doughy one on the classic Whataburger created ample space for three slices of tomato and a sense of heft that felt good in the hands, good in the mouth. The generously buttered, crisply toasted ones on Culver's burgers, called butterburgers in honor of those buns, exalted whatever they encased, which included seared, loosely packed patties with more charred edges and, as a result, more flavor.
Bruni last covered the 2004 Bush campaign. Perhaps there's a lesson in this.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:55 AM

May 1, 2006

Organic Goes Mainstream

Carol Ness:
Thirteen-and-a-half million servings of organic romaine, radicchio and baby greens. That's how much Earthbound Farm, the biggest organic produce company in the country, sends across America from its gigantic San Juan Bautista processing plant every single week.

That's one big bowl of salad -- way bigger than when Myra and Drew Goodman started Earthbound Farm in their Carmel Valley living room in 1984. They now farm 26,000 organic acres.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:19 AM

April 21, 2006

Earth Dinner

The Earth Dinner:
To the extent that's possible, try to find foods that are locally produced, seasonal, fresh and flavorful! If they are organically grown—that's even better! If it's not local, that's okay. It's a chance to celebrate the farmers from other regions or countries. If your having a potluck dinner, remember to ask your guests to do their best to find out about the origins of food they bring to share and how it was grown.
via Kristian Knutsen.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:46 AM

March 18, 2006

Choosing the World's Best Cheese

University of Wisconsin:
Cheese championships are hardly a spectator sport, but cheese-lovers will have a unique opportunity to observe the 2006 World Championship Cheese Contest right here in Madison. Free and open to the public, the contest is slated to take place at the Monona Terrace Convention Center on March 21-23.

While UW-Madison scientists don't usually compete, they do influence the contest's outcome. This year, for instance, Mark Johnson, a scientist at UW-Madison's Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research will join an international panel of judges that will include cheese connoisseurs from France, Japan, the Netherlands and South Africa. Another judge on the 15-member panel will be a Puerto Rican, Leyda Ponce de Leon, who earned a doctoral degree in food science at UW-Madison in 1999.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:45 PM

Fight Against Farm Subsidies

Scott Kilman and Roger Thurow:
A movement to uproot crop subsidies, which have been worth nearly $600 billion to U.S. farmers over the decades, is gaining ground in some unlikely places -- including down on the farm.

In Iowa, one of the most heavily subsidized states, a Republican running to be state agriculture secretary is telling big farmers they should get smaller checks. Mark W. Leonard, who collects subsidies himself and campaigns in a white cowboy hat, told a room full of farmers recently that federal payments spur overproduction, which depresses prices for poor growers overseas.

"From a Christian standpoint, what it is doing to Africa tugs at your heartstrings," Mr. Leonard told them. Last year, he helped humanitarian group Oxfam International in its anti-subsidy campaign by escorting a cotton farmer from Mali to church gatherings near his farm in Holstein.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:37 AM

March 7, 2006

How Wisconsin Lost Its Big Advantage in the Ginseng Game

Jane Zhang:
In a cramped shop filled with stale aromas of Chinese herbs, Keary Drath, a stout Wisconsin farmer and self-appointed ginseng sleuth, picked up a dry, wrinkly ginseng root, broke it in half and chewed it.

Clerks and customers of Ginseng City Trading Inc., stopped haggling in their rapid-fire Mandarin and stared. "From China," he declared. "Not Wisconsin."

"What's the difference?" asked a shocked customer, Max Chen, who has used ginseng for 20 years. "They all say it is Wisconsin ginseng. I know Wisconsin's is superior."

Mr. Drath, 42 years old, wishes he had an easy way for Mr. Chen and millions of other ginseng buyers in Asia and in Chinatowns all over the world to make the distinction. The future of Wisconsin's century-old ginseng farming business, now under attack by global rivals, depends on it.

The root has been worshiped as an energy-balancing folk medicine for 5,000 years. Ginseng -- or Ren Shen, meaning "Man Root," in Chinese -- has two types. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has a cooling effect. Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) provides a hot rush of energy.

With its rich loam, sunlight and cool summers, Wisconsin -- especially Marathon County in the central part of the state -- produces premium American ginseng. It is more potent and more bitter than American ginseng grown elsewhere.

To an untrained eye, dried Wisconsin roots look the same as those produced in great quantity in Canada and China. Mislabeling and product mixing abound.

And that is threatening the livelihood of Wisconsin's ginseng farmers, whose roots trace back to the early 1900s when the four Fromm brothers began cultivating ginseng in Marathon County. Ginseng isn't easy to cultivate: It takes four to five years to grow ginseng under wood or fabric canopies.

"Kids are easier to raise than ginseng," says Stephen Kaiser, 59, of Rozellville, Wis., who has been grown ginseng since 1977. "Kids only get colds, flu or pneumonia, but ginseng, it tends to die very easily."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:47 PM

February 2, 2006

Small Dairyman Shakes Up Milk Industry

Ilan Brat:
The milk fight, which is being watched in the industry from coast to coast, started because Mr. Hettinga runs a rare hybrid operation. Most dairy businesses either only produce milk, or only process it. He does both. As a result, he falls into a protected class that isn't bound by an arcane system of Depression-era federal rules. Under it, milk processors selling into specific geographical areas, which cover most of the country, must all pay into that area's pool for subsidizing milk prices. But so-called producer-distributors have always been exempt.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:18 PM

December 3, 2005

Run Your Car on Cow Fuel

Alister Doyle:
A C$14 million factory near Montreal started producing "biodiesel" fuel two weeks ago from the bones, innards and other parts of farm animals such as cattle, pigs or chickens that Canadians do not eat.

"We're using animal waste to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said marketing director Ron Wardrop of Rothsay, which runs the plant.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:24 PM

October 23, 2005

Voluntary Milking System

DeLaval Voluntary Milking System:
The Voluntary Milking System (VMS) allows cows to decide when to be milked, and gives dairy farmers a more independent lifestyle, free from regular milkings, the company says.

DeLaval was started in 1883 by Swedish inventor Gustaf de Laval. It sells a variety of dairy supply and "cow comfort" products aimed at increasing dairy yields. It claims to lead the automatic milking machine market, with a 53 percent share, and says it has sold more than 1,000 VMSs, in all European countries, Canada, Japan, and Mexico.
Slashdot has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:48 AM

October 4, 2005

World Dairy Expo ("The Art of Dairy") Arrives in Madison

My father emailed these photos from Tuesday's World Dairy Expo. More pictures here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

July 16, 2005

Organic Farming 101

Deborah K. Rich:
Apprentices leave the program at the end of their six-month term proficient at pest control, propagation, irrigation and maintaining soil fertility with organic matter. They also leave with a network of instructors, farmers and former apprentices to turn to when questions arise, and they often leave with a job offer in hand from a contact made at the apprenticeship. Most importantly, they leave firmly committed to practicing and promoting agricultural systems that work within the limitations imposed by natural resource cycles.

UC Santa Cruz's Apprenticeship in Environmental Horticulture evolved from student interest in the 3-acre garden installed on campus by Alan Chadwick in the late 1960s. Using only hand tools and organic soil amendments, Chadwick molded a steep hillside near what was then the center of campus into a highly productive vegetable, fruit and flower garden.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:15 PM

June 28, 2005

Feingold/Obey on USDA Ginseng Grant

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and Congressman Dave Obey announced today that the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin has received a Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) Program grant of $76,500 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The grant will help Wisconsin ginseng producers continue to produce blemish-free ginseng while maintaining low chemical residues to help overcome international barriers to their product. Feingold and Obey have long worked to protect both Wisconsin ginseng growers and their produce with truth in labeling legislation. In April of this year, Feingold and Obey introduced, in their respective houses, truth in ginseng labeling legislation to protect producers and consumers of ginseng.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:59 AM

June 4, 2005

Organic Milk in Short Supply

Michele Norris (audio):

ome supermarkets are having trouble stocking organic milk as demand has outstripped supply. And strict organic regulations make it difficult to increase production. Norris talks with Vermont dairy farmer George Siemen, CEO of Organic Valley.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

April 14, 2005

Tractor Pulling: John Oncken Takes a Local Look

John Oncken:
A little background on tractor Pulls. They began with farmers gathering on Sundays to see who had the best tractor. Farmers took turns pulling a flat stoneboat or sled onto which men jumped as it was pulled down a dirt track. When the weight was too much and the tractor stopped, the distance was measured. Tractor pulls took off as a sport with the advent of the modern "sled," which gradually adds downforce weight.

The Wileman brothers started a small tractor pull in Edgerton in 1995, Kraig says. "Kurt and I built the track and ran it for a few years."

When the 140-cow dairy herd of Crazy Acres was sold in 1998, the Wileman brothers got serious about tractor pulling.

A year later the boys were competing in local and statewide events with the Badger State Tractor Pullers Association. Their big boost came when they began using better engines.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:08 PM

February 20, 2005

City Dwellers Plow Money into Farmland

Stephanie Simon takes a look at the city "slickers"/dwellers who are buying up farmland as an investment and renting it back to traditional farmers:
Seeking steady, secure investments to round out their portfolios, big-city investors are increasingly buying Midwest farmland, spending $100,000 to $500,000 per field.

Many hire professional farm managers to maximize their profits. The managers, in turn, hire farmers like Wyant — sometimes offering them a stake in the crop but often paying them by the hour (or the acre), like a hired hand.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:55 PM

February 9, 2005

Farm Subsidies: Out of Control

Four recipients of federal farm subsidies who likely don't need the handout:
  • David Rockefeller, the former chairman of Chase Manhattan and grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, who received 99 times more subsidies than the median farmer;
  • Scottie Pippen, professional basketball star, who received 39 times more subsidies than the median farmer;
  • Ted Turner, the 25th wealthiest man in America, who received 38 times more subsidies than the median farmer; and
  • Kenneth Lay, the ousted Enron CEO and multi-millionaire, who received 3 times more subsidies than the median farmer.
Read more here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:54 AM

January 25, 2005

Brazil's Amazon Agribusiness Boom

Martin Kaste takes a look Brazils conversion of millions of acres of the Amazon rainforest into soybean fields. Good for agriculture exports, but how good for the Amazon?
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:53 AM

December 26, 2004

Big Farms & Farm Subsidies

For despite the fact that farm income has doubled in two years, federal subsidies have also gone up nearly 40 percent over the same period - projected at $15.7 billion this year, and $130 billion over the last nine years. And that bounty is drawing fire from people who say that at this moment of farm prosperity, the nation's subsidy system has never made less sense.

Even those deeply steeped in the system acknowledge it seems counterintuitive. "I struggle with the same question: how the hell can you have such high government payments if farmers had such a great year?" said Keith Collins, the chief economist for the Agriculture Department

Timothy Egan reviews a topic that SHOULD be discussed and acted upon in Washington.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

December 12, 2004

Wisconsin Agri-Business: South American Competition

Larry Rohter takes us to Brazil where he explores the world's new breadbasket.

Sometime over the next decade or so, Brazil, which Secretary of State Colin L. Powell described as "an agricultural superpower" during a visit in October, hopes to pass the United States as the world's largest agricultural producer. But the trend is far broader and can be felt also in parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay, with a deep impact on the region's economy and environment. And it has spurred a debate that has mainly focused on expansion into areas where the Amazon rainforest is thought to be jeopardized.

"There has been a silent revolution in the countryside" since the 1990's, Brazil's minister of agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues, said in an interview in the capital, Braslia. The past four or five years in particular, he said, have been "characterized by spectacular growth and a huge increase in demand" abroad for foodstuffs, which has given Brazil "the capacity to compete with anyone."

Related Links: Alltheweb Clusty Google Teoma Yahoo

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:02 AM

November 5, 2004

Sonoma Apple Farmer on their declining market

George Snyder:

Walker and his extended family -- kids and grandkids who help him with the annual apple harvest, which is just winding to a close -- are among the last of a hardy breed who for decades put Sebastopol and the fertile hills surrounding the town on the map as the apple capital of the world.

"Thousands of tons of apples used to be shipped out of Sebastopol all across the country," said Walker, who produces about a thousand tons and 25 varieties of the fruit annually, 70 percent of it processed into juice or vinegar and apple sauce, with the rest sold as fresh fruit. "I grew up with my dad raising apples," he added, "and it's very difficult to keep up changing amid all the changes. There's been a tremendous change in the last 15 years in terms of keeping up with regulations and agriculture and the markets," he said.

"There used to be a lot of people to sell to, like food stores, but a lot of the chains have consolidated and often demand more volume than many growers can provide. There's been a disruption of the whole industry," he said.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:10 AM

September 9, 2004

Agricultural Finance

Years (decades!) ago, I worked briefly for a bank. I recall that ag lending was, at the time, at best a poor stepchild to commercial lending. This Economist article provides a fascinating look at Rabobank's (Dutch Bank) acquisition of Farm Credit Services - a US Government sponsored lending entity. Perhaps some Wisconsin Financiers should think about this...

Aug 26th 2004

Why is a Dutch bank moving into agricultural finance in America?

WHAT on earth is Rabobank up to? This Dutch co-operative bank has been
busily expanding its franchise in farm-finance, an area American banks
have done everything to avoid since a meltdown in the 1980s. If that
was not odd enough, Rabobank's most recent move is truly unique. At the
end of July, it reached an agreement to buy Farm Credit Services of
America, an institution that is a component of America's odd network of
government-sponsored entities (GSEs). That agreement has unleashed an
unholy row.

These financial institutions, including the well-known housing-finance
giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, enjoy the implicit backing of the US
Treasury, and thus low funding costs, as well as tax breaks. All of
these advantages would be lost if Rabobank's purchase goes through.

But no GSE has ever before agreed to a buyout. And soon after
Rabobank's offer, a backlash began. A sister institution in Minnesota
made a counter-offer backed by a lobbying group representing other
government-backed farm lenders. Two American Senators have called for
Congressional hearings. Concerns have been voiced about whether the
sale of Farm Credit Services could weaken the overall farm-credit
system: might a foreign buyer be less sensitive to local conditions?
The biggest question is, however, unlikely to be raised: whether the
offer for Farm Credit Services means that, finally, it is time to scrap
the GSE system entirely. "The reason the farm-credit system came into
existence is that no one else would provide credit," says Ray Goldberg,
a professor at Harvard Business School. "Now someone else will." The
same argument, it will not have gone unnoticed, applies to Fannie and

Founded in 1916 as the first of the GSEs, the farm-credit system is now
over-regulated and fragmented. It encompasses about 100 different
financial institutions with $95 billion in assets. Farm Credit Services
is one of the largest, with almost $8 billion in assets drawn from just
four states: Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and Wyoming. It initiated the
sale to Rabobank, and will pay heavily to ensure it goes through. It
currently has a net worth of $1.3 billion, and will pay a fee of $800m
to leave the overall farm-credit system. Rabobank will then pay $600m,
or a bit more than the remaining book value, with the proceeds
distributed to the shareholders of Farm Credit Services, who comprise
most of its customers.

It is easy to see the deal's logic for each side. The odd four-state
limitation for operations means that Farm Credit Services has
increasingly run into problems servicing customers whose operations
have expanded into adjacent states or even internationally. By law,
moreover, Farm Credit Services is unable to take deposits. If its
acquisition goes ahead, these and other restrictions would be lifted.

For Rabobank, the acquisition is a small piece of a larger plan. Since
2002 it has purchased a bank in California, covering the farming areas
from Fresno to the Mexican border; an agricultural-land finance company
in St. Louis; and an Iowa-based farm-credit institution. And Rabobank
would like to make further acquisitions that would give it better
access to meat processors and breeders in the south, as well as tomato-
and citrus-growers in the southeast. It has an agreement with
government-controlled banks in western Canada that could lead to an
acquisition there, and has become a huge force in the
agricultural-banking markets of Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. It
plans to expand in emerging economies, too.

Such enthusiasm is less odd than it looks. True, agriculture is
notoriously cyclical and has been shrinking as a percentage of the
global economy for years--not very attractive features for lenders. But
a powerful niche player could overcome these obstacles. And it can sell
derivatives to farmers attempting to hedge weather and price
fluctuations. Rik van Slingelandt, head of Rabobank's international
operations, says that, with the farming industry consolidating
globally, farmers will want a global financial institution.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:26 AM

August 17, 2004

Organic Farmers

Stephanie Hemphill discusses the growing demand for organic food and the implications for farmers:

People are choosing organic food in a big way. Sales of organic food have been increasing steadily. You'd think having more demand for your product would be great. But for people who grow organic food, it's a mixed blessing. When you can't supply as much as the customer wants, it can be difficult. Some farmers are trying creative ways to fill the demand.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:14 AM

July 6, 2004

Ag Robots

Interesting decentralized approach: the idea is to replace bulky farm equipment with swarms of precision helpers that can maintain an entire field autonomously. More here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:40 PM

May 31, 2004

Farmer's Market Bounty

Gorgeous flowers from the Dane County Farmer's Market.

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:47 PM

May 23, 2004

Monsanto vs. Saskatoon Farmer

Interesting intellectual property case: Monsanto went to court to stop a Saskatchewan farmer from replanting genetically modified canola seeds (without payment of an annual license fee). Wired News | NY Times.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:41 AM

May 14, 2004

Methane Digester: generating electricity from cows

One would think that this type of thing should happen here first....
Maria Alicia Gaura writes:

After 25 years of persistent work, Marin County rancher Albert Straus has figured out a way to run his dairy farm, organic creamery and electric car from the manure generated by his herd of 270 cows.

Cheered on by a small gathering of engineers, environmentalists and fellow farmers, Straus stepped into a utility shed Thursday, switched on a 75- kilowatt generator, then stepped outside to snip the ribbon spanning a spanking-new electrical panel.

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:17 PM